When our sons were still in high school, we gathered them up, along with my parents, and went to south Mississippi to visit the places my parents had grown up and started their lives. We saw the house where my father lived, a kudzu-covered, dog trot sharecropper’s shack outside of Bay Springs. We saw the school he attended and the roller-skating rink where my dad and mom first met.
We called it the “Glenn Historical Tour” and it changed my sons’ lives forever. My sons had heard my father’s stories. They had heard him talk about how poor his family was, but they had always heard my father tell about his reality in funny stories. Dad had always told the boys that his family was so poor that at Christmas, they would sit around and exchange glances.
Now, that’s a funny story and my father was a master storyteller. For that reason, I don’t think my sons understood the full reality of the poverty my father knew as a child. Now, they were seeing it. They sat on the front porch of the old home place and listened again as Dad told his stories. This time, he began pointing to the places where the stories happened, and this time, my sons understood the journey my father had made.
My grandfather died when my dad was 9 years old. My grandfather’s death threw the family into poverty. Trying to get away from the crushing poverty, my grandmother abandoned my father and his little brother when my father was sixteen. My dad cut one load of pulpwood every week, sold it for $25, and that’s the money my father and uncle lived on.
My dad ran a gas station, roller-skating rink, and worked as a doctor’s assistant. He joined the Air Force and learned electronics. That opened the avenue into the middle class for my mom and dad. During that week, my sons began to understand the price my father had paid for the life we now enjoyed. My father broke the poverty cycle in my family. Because of his hard work, I was able to go to college and find a career that allowed my sons to go to college.
What would have happened if my father didn’t break the cycle? Then, it would have fallen to me to do so. That would have changed everything.
I probably wouldn’t be a pastor. I would have had to make other life choices. I wouldn’t have been able to afford the education required.
I wouldn’t have met Jeannie, my wife. I met her at seminary. If I wasn’t going into the ministry, I wouldn’t have been at seminary.
That means we wouldn’t have had Chris and Craig. “You’re here,” I told them, “because your grandfather broke the cycle.”
I will always be grateful for the price my father was willing to pay for our family.
I tell his story often. One, because I’m proud of him, and second, I end up talking to a lot of people who are trapped in cycles – cycles of addictions, bad decisions, bad relationships, and so forth. They don’t believe they can get out of these cycles. They are convinced they’re trapped. They don’t think they can ever be free. They see themselves as victims of the cycle.
Child abusers, most of the time, were abused as children. Addicts, most of the time, have addicts in their families. On and on it goes. The sins of the fathers are indeed visited upon the children.
We see this relentless cycle in the story of Israel’s journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. God would bless and Israel would thrive. Success would lead Israel to become inattentive and complacent. Their attitude toward sin would become more and more casual. This casualness would lead to several warnings from God, and then, after everything else had failed, God would bring a harsh judgment on His people. Israel would repent and the cycle would start all over again.
The Hebrews believed time had a destination, that history was going somewhere. Other world views saw time as a circle, constantly retracing its own steps. Whether we realize it or not, most of us see time as a circle and we see ourselves trapped in this same old cycle.
The resurrection is the breaking of that cycle. While Easter is celebrated as Christ’s victory over death, we forget that the resurrection gives us power over all the “little deaths” we deal with every day. Cycles of anger and defensiveness, pettiness and jealousy, greed and envy – all cause our days to circle in frustration and self-defeat.
Christ promised to make all things new, including us. We need not be victims of our anger, resentments, or grudges. We don’t have to be trapped in the violent circle of repaying evil for evil. Yesterday’s mistakes do not hold us hostage in today’s present.
It takes a little faith. It takes a little work, but in the power of the Risen Christ, we can break the cycles that are breaking us.
Give your family a gift that will make a difference for generations – a life free of cycles of repeating failures. Christ has opened the future for us. As Paul reminded the Galatians, “For freedom Christ has made us free. Stand firm then and do not submit to a yoke of slavery again.” (Galatians 5:1, CSB)