"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
- - Ezra Taft Benson
July 08, 2015
Salvation "From Generation to Generation": Healing Family Patterns
by Kathryn Grant

The other day, while waiting for dinner to cook, I grabbed a novel a friend had loaned me and started to read. After getting a sense of the story in the first few pages, I flipped to the final pages and scanned enough to understand the conclusion. Now I could enjoy the book.

Way to ruin a good novel, you say? You’d have a point. But as I found myself wondering why I’d done that, I suddenly remembered that my grandmother used to do exactly the same thing. Now I found myself repeating the same pattern.

As you work on family history, especially in the generations closest to you, you may become aware of behavioral patterns in your own family. Some are relatively lighthearted, such as the pattern my grandmother and I share of reading the end of a novel first. Others carry more weight.

We may see positive family patterns, such as scripture study, meaningful Sabbath observance, or service. And since we’re living in a fallen world, we’ll likely see some negative patterns too — perhaps a habit of complaining, or giving someone the silent treatment after a disagreement, or shifting blame to others instead of taking responsibility ourselves.

Trivial or serious, positive or negative, family patterns are part of our mortal experience.

In her book Something More, Catherine Marshall devotes a whole chapter to what she calls the “Law of Generations.” In it she relates the story of a courageous father who saw and changed a damaging family pattern.

This father, whom she called Sam, found himself deeply uncomfortable in situations where strong emotions came to the surface, either positive or negative. It was so bad that he would try to remove himself from the situation if he could. On the surface, it didn’t make sense to him. Why was he doing this? But as he looked back in his life, he realized that he had seen his father do the same thing.

Several months after he began noticing this pattern, Sam got in a minor argument with his wife, not realizing she was already on edge from a difficult day. When she began to cry, he was startled to see their six-year-old son flee from the room.

He went upstairs to find his son in bed, rocking back and forth — just as Sam himself had done as a child. Sam realized that a pattern was being repeated through the generations, and it wasn’t a pattern he liked.

The turning point came for Sam when at noon one day he found himself slipping into a church. Feeling the need to take his fears to God, even then he saw resistance in himself: what if he cried?

But, sensing he was at a turning point, he humbled himself and told the Lord how much he needed Him. In response, he felt the Lord reaching out to him, and he did cry — tears of joy. That day saw the beginning of healing in his family.

Although family patterns influence us, they are not inevitable, and we are not locked into them. We can draw on the Lord’s enabling power to break their grip on us and our families. I love these hopeful words of George Q Cannon:

If any of us are imperfect, it is our duty to pray for the gift that will make us perfect. Have I imperfections? I am full of them. What is my duty? To pray to God to give me the gifts that will correct these imperfections….

No man ought to say, "Oh, I cannot help this; it is my nature." He is not justified in it, for the reason that God has promised to give strength to correct these things and to give gifts that will eradicate them....

Every defect in the human character can be corrected through the exercise of faith and pleading with the Lord for the gifts that He has said He will give unto those who believe and obey His commandments. (Millennial Star, Apr. 23, 1894.)

We’re here to learn and grow and progress, and healing our families is part of that. And if you’re the only one who sees a negative pattern and wants to break it, who knows but what you are come to your family “for such a time as this.” (Esther 4:14.)

Replacing negative family patterns with positive ones may not happen instantly. But it can be done through our faith in Christ and the cleansing and enabling power of His Atonement. “My righteousness shall be for ever, and my salvation from generation to generation,” the Lord says. (Isaiah 51:8.)

Your choice to seek the Lord’s help to change negative family patterns could be a key to healing for generations.

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About Kathryn Grant

Kathryn Grant is a user assistance professional with a passion for usability and process improvement. She also loves family history and enjoys the challenge and reward of building her family tree.

As a child, she lived outside the United States for four years because of her father's job. This experience fueled her natural love of words and language, and also taught her to appreciate other cultures.

Kathryn values gratitude, teaching, learning, differences, and unity. She loves looking at star-filled skies, reading mind-stretching books, listening to contemporary Christian music, attending the temple, and eating fresh raspberries.

Kathryn teaches Sunday family history classes at the BYU Family History Library, and presents frequently at family history events. For more information, visit her Family History Learning Resources page

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