Baggage Claim – Family Baggage
Sycamore Creek Church
February 10 & 11, 2013
2 Samuel 13:1-22
Today we begin a new series called Baggage Claim. That begs the question: What is baggage? I suspect if we ask everyone in the room what “baggage” is, we’d get a lot of different answers, so let me begin with some thoughts on what I think baggage is.
Baggage is a lot of things and most of them have something to do with sin. Baggage can be unconfessed guilt from past sin. Not all guilt is bad. Guilt that leads to confession is good guilt. Baggage can also be persistent guilt left after confession of sin. Guilt is not always good. Sometimes it is the inability to receive forgiveness from God. Baggage can also be painful memories or scars from sin committed against you, things your memory just won’t shake, feelings of worthlessness, or feeling alone.
We all accumulate baggage. Every saint has a past but, every sinner has a future. This series is about the fact that while you can’t change your past, Christ can change your future.
I recently met an artist who takes old stuff that people have thrown away and turns it into art. He told me that a good part of his motivation is in repurposing things and using them in a way that their maker had not originally designed it for. My imagination was sparked. While our maker did not design us to accumulate baggage, perhaps there is some art that can be created from it.
So what I want to do in this series is to help you not accumulate baggage in the first place, but if you already have it, to know what to do with it. I want you to be able to name clearly what the baggage is, and to have a clear path forward for how to receive God’s grace to dump it and live a new baggage-free life or to have it created into some new piece of artwork.
This not a series of condemnation and judgment, but it is a series of truth telling. Truth telling and compassion, mercy, and grace are not mutually exclusive. Actually there is no true compassion without truth telling. Jesus models truth and mercy together when he encounters a woman caught in adultery.
John 8:10-11 NRSV
Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”
We’re going to look at divorce baggage the next two weeks, and end the series with sexual baggage. But today we’re looking at family baggage. There’s a great movie called How to Train Your Dragon that is about a father and son that have different expectations about the role for the son. Will he be a dragon slayer or not? Here’s two short clips to set the stage:
Here’s the problem that we all run into: We all want a family, just not ours (sometimes). All our families are broken. Broken from divorce, abuse, a distant parent, an over involved parent, addiction, and on and on. There is no perfect family. And when our families accumulate baggage we tend to deal with the baggage with one of two extremes: severance or silence. We sever the relationship. We kick the offending family member out of the family. We excommunicate them. Or we are silent about it. We pretend it never happened. Or we simply never talk about it as a family. Toward which extreme do you or your family tend to err?
Today I want to take a look at a pretty extreme case in the Bible of a family accumulating baggage. If you’re a guest here this morning, this story may perplex you. You may even wonder why it’s in the Bible. Here at Sycamore Creek Church, we look to the Bible for practical guidance, but the Bible doesn’t always tell us what to do. Sometimes it only reports what happened. It gives us a story to chew on together as a community. That’s what we’re looking at today with the story we’re about to read. It’s not a story that describes how we’re supposed to behave. It probably tells us a lot more about how not to behave, unless we want to accumulate serious baggage. But it clearly illustrates how baggage tends to push us to one of two extremes: severance or silence. Watch for those two extremes as you hear the story of the rape of Tamar.
2 Samuel 13:1-22 NRSV
Some time passed. David’s son Absalom had a beautiful sister whose name was Tamar; and David’s son Amnon fell in love with her. Amnon was so tormented that he made himself ill because of his sister Tamar, for she was a virgin and it seemed impossible to Amnon to do anything to her.
But Amnon had a friend whose name was Jonadab, the son of David’s brother Shimeah; and Jonadab was a very crafty man. He said to him, “O son of the king, why are you so haggard morning after morning? Will you not tell me?” Amnon said to him, “I love Tamar, my brother Absalom’s sister.”
Jonadab said to him, “Lie down on your bed, and pretend to be ill; and when your father comes to see you, say to him, ‘Let my sister Tamar come and give me something to eat, and prepare the food in my sight, so that I may see it and eat it from her hand.’”
So Amnon lay down, and pretended to be ill; and when the king came to see him, Amnon said to the king, “Please let my sister Tamar come and make a couple of cakes in my sight, so that I may eat from her hand.”
Then David sent home to Tamar, saying, “Go to your brother Amnon’s house, and prepare food for him.” So Tamar went to her brother Amnon’s house, where he was lying down. She took dough, kneaded it, made cakes in his sight, and baked the cakes.
Then she took the pan and set themout before him, but he refused to eat. Amnon said, “Send out everyone from me.” So everyone went out from him. Then Amnon said to Tamar, “Bring the food into the chamber, so that I may eat from your hand.” So Tamar took the cakes she had made, and brought them into the chamber to Amnon her brother.
But when she brought them near him to eat, he took hold of her, and said to her, “Come, lie with me, my sister.” She answered him, “No, my brother, do not force me; for such a thing is not done in Israel; do not do anything so vile!
As for me, where could I carry my shame? And as for you, you would be as one of the scoundrels in Israel. Now therefore, I beg you, speak to the king; for he will not withhold me from you.” But he would not listen to her; and being stronger than she, he forced her and lay with her.
Then Amnon was seized with a very great loathing for her; indeed, his loathing was even greater than the lust he had felt for her. Amnon said to her, “Get out!” But she said to him, “No, my brother;for this wrong in sending me away is greater than the other that you did to me.” But he would not listen to her.
He called the young man who served him and said, “Put this woman out of my presence, and bolt the door after her.” (Now she was wearing a long robe with sleeves; for this is how the virgin daughters of the king were clothed in earlier times.) So his servant put her out, and bolted the door after her.
But Tamar put ashes on her head, and tore the long robe that she was wearing; she put her hand on her head, and went away, crying aloud as she went. Her brother Absalom said to her, “Has Amnon your brother been with you? Be quiet for now, my sister; he is your brother; do not take this to heart.” So Tamar remained, a desolate woman, in her brother Absalom’s house.
When King David heard of all these things, he became very angry, but he would not punish his son Amnon, because he loved him, for he was his firstborn. But Absalom spoke to Amnon neither good nor bad; for Absalom hated Amnon, because he had raped his sister Tamar.
Sometimes in other churches after the Bible story is read, the person reading the Bible will say, “The Word of the Lord.” And the people respond, “Thanks be to God.” If I was in one of those kind of churches and heard the story read, I’d be inclined to say, “No thank you, God!” This is one seriously messed up family. They are severing relationships and remaining silent in all kinds of crazy ways that just accumulate more and more baggage. So let’s unpack this story and see what we can learn.
Amnon, David’s eldest son and heir to the throne, rapes Tamar, his half sister and Absalom’s full sister. David does little to nothing. He gets angry, but anger isn’t enough in the face of such horrific injustice. Absalom, Tamar’s full brother, and David’s second eldest, takes vengeance for his sister and eventually kills Amnon, putting himself in line for the throne. David’s sons are playing out a familiar story of violence in David’s own life. If you are familiar with David as a king, you will remember that David saw a good looking woman he wanted named Bathsheba, but she was married to one of his elite warriors, Uriah. After getting Bathsheba pregnant, he has Uriah killed on the front lines of battle. David’s own violence begat the violence of his sons, and David has the opportunity to break the cycle but does not. He and almost everyone in this story resort to one of two extremes: severance and silence.
Absalom’s resort to severance is extreme: kill his half-brother. David’s initial response to Absalom after Absalom kills Amnon is also severance. Absalom is cast out of the family and stays away for three years.
Absalom also tells Tamar to remain silent about the injustice. He attempts to silence the victim. But Absalom learned this from his father, who is silent about Amnon’s great injustice. Absalom also speaks neither “good nor bad” to Amnon. He doesn’t confront him, he remains silent about it either way. There is a conspiracy of silence against Tamar. Don’t talk about it. That hurts. It puts our family in a bad light. Let’s just be quiet about it and pretend it never happened. It hurts too much to talk about it. David also remains silent in the long-haul about Absalom’s murder of Amnon. While Absalom is cast away for three years, when he finally is allowed to come back, David says nothing about the past circumstances.
Interestingly enough, Tamar, the victim in the whole story does neither. She is neither willing to sever relationships nor remain silent. When it comes to severing the relationship with Amnon when he tells her what he wants, Tamar uses one of the few cards her culture of the day gives her to play: she suggests that they get married. She suggests this both before and after the rape. In our culture that affords women equal rights as men, it is hard to imagine Tamar offering to marry the man who violates her in this way. But in her mind, the other option in her day was complete disgrace. She chose the lesser of two evils. But when Amnon discards her, and Absalom tells her to be quiet, she does neither. She privately and publicly laments. Tamar is unwilling to sever relationships or to remain silent in the face of baggage.
My family has its own accumulation of baggage. My father had an affair that effectively ended the marriage. My parents were divorced when I was in elementary school. They and my step-parents have gotten along in various spurts that go up and down. It is hard to talk about such things within one’s own family. It is easier to remain silent or to get out of the family all together. But that’s not the best way to handle baggage. It’s really not claiming it all. Baggage in families is best claimed and then dealt with through forgiveness, not the forgetfulness of severance or silence. Here’s the whole point of this message: Family requires forgiveness, not forgetfulness. Family baggage requires forgiveness, but forgiveness doesn’t mean no consequences. Forgiveness is a kind of ability to remain in a relationship even with tension, seeking open and honest truth while also seeking mercy and compassion.
I navigated this with my own dad by spending a year in counseling during my sophomore year of college. That year of counseling culminated in my dad spending a weekend with me at college going to see my counselor with me. It was the turning point in our relationship. We turned away from severance and silence and toward claiming the accumulated baggage and forgiving one another. You may think it odd that I say, “forgiving one another” but over time I have come to see that in my own woundedness, that I had wounded those around me. Confession and forgiveness had to work both ways.
If you’re wondering how in the world you’d break the silence within your family around something painful, let me offer you a way forward: a “fierce conversation.” I was first introduced to a great book by Susan Scott titled Fierce Conversations by John Savage, a mentor and coach of mine over the years. A fierce conversation is not a status update or tweet. Those are not appropriate or helpful forums for dealing with family baggage. A fierce conversation happens face to face. It is fierce because it is honest. Scott suggests several steps in a fierce conversation, but I want to mostly focus on the beginning. A hard fierce conversation often begins with a carefully crafted sixty-second statement. This statement has seven parts:
- Name the issue.
- Select a specific example that illustrates the behavior or situation you want to change.
- Describe your emotions about this issue.
- Clarify what is at stake.
- Identify your contribution to this problem.
- Indicate your wish to resolve the issue.
- Invite your partner to respond.
This conversation is requested ahead of time, and this statement is practiced ahead of time (even in the mirror). Let me give you an example of an opening sixty-second statement. I’ve taken my own relationship with Sarah, exaggerated it a bit, mixed in some of the issues that I’ve heard from you, and created an opening sixty-second statement from Sarah to me. She would ideally have asked for this conversation ahead of time and practiced this opening statement. So here it is:
[Name the issue:] Tom, I’d like to talk to you about the effect your actions have been having on our family lately. [Examples:] Tuesday morning while we were sitting at the breakfast table, you snapped at me saying, “Can’t you see I’m reading the newspaper.” On our drive to Ann Arbor Friday night you spoke very few words to me. Sunday night you sat in your chair surfing the internet without interacting with Micah or me. [Describe the emotions:] I’m getting really concerned about the possible consequences this is having on all of us. I feel distant from you in these moments. Sometimes I feel numb or even a little scared. [Clarify what is at stake:] There is a lot at stake here: the long-term thriving of our marriage and our family, and your role in helping Micah learn healthy ways of interacting with his family as he grows up. [Identify your contribution:] I think I have contributed to this situation myself. Sometimes I am very critical of you, or don’t respect when you need some silence. Other times I don’t know what the right questions are to ask you to help begin a conversation. I’ve also not brought this up at helpful times before. [Your wish to resolve the issue:] I’d like to work toward resolving these issues. [Invite response:] I want to understand what is happening from your perspective.
Her next move is to be quiet, and listen. Let me offer three tips for moving forward in the conversation that follows. First, institute the Three Question Rule: ask three questions before you make a statement. When you ask for a response, it is likely that you will begin to feel threatened. Be patient with your partner by asking clarifying questions. This will help your own natural defensiveness subside. Ask questions like, “Tell me more about…Help me understand what you mean when you say…I’m not fully understanding how this is making you feel. Can you clarify…”
Second, substitute “and” for “but.” When you follow a statement someone says with “but” you’re saying their statement doesn’t matter. When you follow it with “and”, you’re saying both statements matter. For example: You want me to complete this project by tomorrow, BUT I’ve got two other projects I have to get done first, is very different than You want me to complete this project by tomorrow, AND I’ve got two other projects I have to get done first. Or here’s another one: You want me to watch the kids this afternoon, BUT I need some quiet time to finish reading my training manual, is very different than You want me to watch the kids this afternoon, AND I need some quiet time to finish reading my training manual. “But” tells the other person that what they said doesn’t matter. “And” invites shared ownership of the problem and shared brainstorming for a solution.
Third, when you want to make a statement, try this approach. Describe the statement as a thought or theory running through your mind that you want input on. Say, “This thought was running through my mind. What do you think of it?” I used this approach recently in a very sticky and delicate situation. I had a working theory in my mind of why someone was doing something that they were doing, but if I was honest with myself, I wasn’t sure my theory was right. So I said, “I have a theory, but I don’t know if it’s right. Here’s my theory. What do you think of it?” Instead of that person getting defensive, I got some extra information from them that convinced me that my theory wasn’t right, and it all happened without either of us getting defensive.
One of the best ways to help discern how to have a fierce conversation that leads to forgiveness and reconciliation is by running your conversation ideas by others. At Sycamore Creek Church, we try to create environments where friendships can thrive that help you have partners in the process of learning how to forgive your family and work through the baggage accumulated in your family. We call these environments small groups. They’re a group of three to twelve people who meet regularly to guide one another in loving God with everything you’ve got and loving your neighbor and your family as you love yourself. What fierce conversation in your family do you need to have this week or next? What small group of spiritual friends do you have that will help you prepare for that fierce conversation?
Imagine with me for a moment having true and honest conversations with your divorced parents about the where-to-stay-or-visit dilemma when you come to town. Imagine having a fierce conversation with that abusive family member who treats you like a verbal punching bag at family get-togethers. Imagine finding forgiveness for that distant parent that never suggests you get together for anything. Imagine figuring out how to not sever the relationship with that over involved parent who regularly calls you offering advice you’re not looking for and haven’t requested. Imagine not remaining silent in your family about the addicted family member who is always missing commitments because of their addiction. Imagine neither severing these relationships nor remaining silent about the pain in them.
Jesus sets the example for this in himself. Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (John 1:17 NRSV). In Jesus, God was neither willing to sever the relationship with his creation or remain silent. And Jesus came showing us what grace and truth look like when they exist together in the same person, in the same family. In the family of God, there are no carry-ons. Lay your baggage at the foot of the cross.Share on Facebook