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Family Pain

Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain (Psalm 127:1, ESV).

There’s no pain like family pain.“Unless the LORD builds the house,”the house will be built in vain and filled with pain.

Family life is neither the earning place nor the learning place; it’s the churning place where what we earn and learn is consumed. It's not the public place that generates praise and notoriety, but it’s the private place that can drain public accomplishment of every ounce of satisfaction. Family life is difficult and draining if neglected but delightful and dynamic if prioritized.

If life is not working at home, it’s not working period—no matter how “successful” we may be in other places. This is true in our time, and it was definitely true in Bible times. Consider King David’s life, and just a few of his public highs and private lows.

High: defeated the giant, Goliath. Low: persecuted by his jealous father-in-law, King Saul.

High: military victories and the crown. Low: adulterous relationship with Bathsheba.

If family is the biggest target of pain in our hearts, then our children are the bull’s-eye. David learned this truth firsthand with his rebellious son, Absalom, whose life unfolds like the sordid story line of a soap opera. Absalom murdered his half-brother as retribution for raping his sister, Tamar. Estranged from his father, Absalom led a coup, turning David’s most trusted advisors against him, and he chased his dad from the throne and out of Jerusalem. David waited in exile while the shattered remains of his army were out fighting his own son.

In 2 Samuel 18, two runners approached King David with an update from the front. David didn’t care about the battle, the victory, or his throne. What he desperately wanted to know was whether Absalom was safe—the very son trying to overthrow him, the son who would kill him if he had a chance!

When David learned Absalom was dead, he “was deeply moved and went up to the chamber over the gate and wept. And as he went, he said, ‘O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son’” (2 Samuel 18:33)! The enemy was his own flesh and blood. Those we love most are also those to whom we are most vulnerable.

The Bible makes no effort to candy-coat the pain families can experience. In fact, Scripture is rife with examples of dysfunction: the family of Noah, the man of faith; of Eli, the Lord’s priest; of Hosea, God’s chosen prophet. The stories parallel our own lives and proclaim the truth that there is no pain like family pain. Modern statistics uphold this truth: even Christian homes are crippled by divorce, absent parents, abuse, and financial distress.

So is all hope lost? Hope starts by identifying our problems as sin. Until we are willing to call the issues in our home what they really are—my sin, my neglect, my avoidance of the issues, my refusal to live according to Scripture—we are closed to the grace of God for transformation. If we call an indiscretion what God calls iniquity—we forfeit His grace.

The good news is God can transform your family. Family pain can be healed if you are willing to acknowledge its source and deal with it His way.

Only God can change our families. “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain” (Psalm 127:1). Unless you are linked in partnership with God, all your efforts to transform your family are in vain. But if you are partnering with Him, your best days are ahead.


  • Reflect on a time in your life when you experienced deep family pain. What did you feel during the low points? What seeds of hope helped you endure?
  • Lay out before God the seemingly insurmountable problems in your family now. What would you love to see Him heal or resurrect?

Lord, thank You for the hope found in You alone. I need Your hope to sustain me. My family isn’t all it should be, and it’s causing heartache and pain. I acknowledge the root problem is sin, and I confess my own sinfulness. [Be specific.] Please cleanse me of my sin and make me right first with You, then with my family. Please heal us. I won’t propose how—You don’t need me to script it—but I lay my problems before You and plead for Your help. Please build our house, that my labor will not be in vain. I ask this in the name of Jesus, the cornerstone of my life and my home, amen.

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