Families: Fabulous. Messy. Beautiful. Painful.

I have three sisters. We are close and enjoy being together when we can, as we are spread from coast to coast. We tell stories (that grow with the re-telling) and we laugh a lot. Mom is always surprised by the stories that apparently she wasn’t aware of at the time.

Sometimes (fortunately not that often) a situation will spark something between us and I seem to revert to my childhood role, issues, and responses. I expect to hear myself say, “I’m telling mom!” It’s a very strange phenomenon.

I have seen this same pattern present in other families. I was talking with a friend who was going ‘home’ for the holidays. This friend is grown with a family of her own. She voiced her hesitancy to go and face the uncomfortable family dynamics that have not changed since her childhood. I instantly got a picture in my mind of a merry-go-round. Families are like merry-go-rounds. When we get together it only takes one person to bring up an old grievance, to accuse someone else or to harp on something. It’s the music that accompanies a merry-go-round and as soon as that music begins the family climbs onto the merry-go-round and we go around and around, airing old grievances, arguing or blaming or getting offended. If you are yellers, people begin to yell. If you are cold and withdrawn, the family begins to fracture and drift apart. If you are drinkers, the alcohol comes out to numb the tensions. Family dynamics are like a long-running merry-go-round.

I explained this picture to my friend and suggested, “When you hear the music, don’t get on the merry-go-round.” In essence, choose not to engage in old patterns that are hurtful and unhelpful. A couple of weeks later I got a call from her. “I hear the music! I hear the music!” It took a second for me to put context to her proclamation. Oh!

“I didn’t get on the merry-go-round! I didn’t get on!” It was so very fun to hear her talk about how she didn’t engage in old patterns and consequently she wasn’t upset or wounded. She chose her role and held to it. It was a huge victory for her.

Whether in your family of origin, workplace team or circle of friends, there is probably just such a pattern of interaction. There might be extreme competitiveness at your job; you may find jealousy rearing its ugly head among your friends. You don’t have to engage. Don’t let others determine who you will be or how you will react. Learn and practice patience, forgiveness, kindness, gentleness….all of those wonderful qualities that keep our heart and mind at peace. There may be countless unhealthy and unhappy merry-go-rounds in your life. Stand your ground. Be the person God is working in you and through you. When you hear the music….don’t get on the merry-go-round.

Continuing on….

Family dynamics are influenced and shaped by so many things: generational habits, addictions, sound faith or the lack of it, bitterness that has never been dealt with, losses through death, divorce or abandonment, well-loved children who become loving parents and grandparents, and on it goes. We cannot control or erase all of the influences that have shaped our family but we can choose what we will carry forward. Who do you want to be? What do you want your family to be (as much as in your power, of course.)

Centrifugal force is power that draws you away from the center when something begins to spin (think of a playground merry-go-round that you push to make it go faster and faster). When a merry-go-round gets going fast things begin to slide off…things like grace, forgiveness, kindness, sanity. As tensions and words grow the very things we’ve been developing in our lives get sucked out of us and we are just hanging on in this destructive merry-go-round. Don’t lose who you are becoming. When you hear the music…don’t get on.

My daughter-in-law once said to me, “Thanks for teaching your son to talk through EVERYTHING.” Her playful smirk told me that it wasn’t always an easy trait for someone who didn’t grow up with a mother like me. Thankfully, she loves me and lets me talk through EVERYTHING. Airing our thoughts and feelings as much as we know how to is a part of our family dynamic…good or bad, its what happens on our merry-go-round.

My grandfather was an alcoholic and an abuser. A huge part of our family dynamic was not talking, not saying what was going on behind closed doors. Perhaps that’s why I have this deep need to keep things in the open. I never want to lose my voice or hide in the shadows again. (I admit that I may overdo it sometimes….I seem to have a lot of words.)

We do not have to be solely the product of our family merry-go-round. Those things may have shaped us but they do not have to define us. Those family patterns that are healthy and uplifting and connecting are worth holding onto. Value them and practice them. It’s the other things that we find on the merry-go-round that I’m suggesting we just stop exposing ourselves to. When you hear the music…don’t get on that merry-go-round.

Further reading:

(Scriptures are from the New Living Translation unless otherwise noted.)

Matthew 22:38-40  Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.”  MSG

Colossians 3:13    Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.

2 Timothy 1:7  For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.

Romans 12:2  Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

Romans 12:9    Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good.  

Romans 12:18    Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.

Galatians 5:22-23    But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control…

2 Corinthians 4:16-18   So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.  MSG

6 thoughts on “Merry-Go-Round

  1. Thanks so very much for this message, as it really hits home for me in my life right now. I am now fighting not to get on the merry-go-round and it is difficult to stay off of it. I am going to print this message to read again, so I can continue to stop getting on the merry-go-round. Blessings, Lisa


  2. Many years ago, I took a conflict resolution class. The teacher had an amazing presence. The way she spoke reminded me of Maya Angelou. Anyway….She gave us a scenario, and asked us how we would handle it, and what we would say. We all thought we were pretty witty, convincing, right! But the natural response for what we were offering was more conflict, maybe even alienation. She told us that we don’t always have to engage, even when we’re convinced we’re right. “Remember, there’s power in the walk.” This has stayed with me for nearly 20 years. Sometimes, I can even follow her advice.


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