There is nothing like a game of Wii to reveal that the best of families quickly goes from looking like the old Leave It To Beaver show to The Munsters show. In the family room, we discover that we are all dysfunctional. We can be overly competitive, afraid of conflict, have control issues, etc.   And “It’s easier to see across the room than to look in the mirror.” I can see my spouse’s anger, perfectionism, inability to take criticism a lot easier than I can see my own insensitivity, critical spirit, or blind need to always be right.  From our perspective it looks something like this:

  • My husband is a workaholic, it’s hurting his relationship with the kids.
  • My wife is overly sensitive, it makes our communication impossible.
  • My mother-in law is a perfectionist.
  • My oldest child won’t listen to anything I say.
  • My daughter is obsessed with boys and won’t focus on what matters.
  • My father was emotionally unavailable to me.
  • My mom is constantly critical of everything I do: my housecleaning, the way I raise the kids, the way I discipline, etc.

We all have a mental list. A list of all the people across the room, don’t we?  I know I do.  I can tell you right now exactly what my wife, my kids, my brother, and my parents all need to do to “be better.” In fact, I live in the delusion that if “they” would fix their “issues,” all with me would be fine.   But here is the truth. We are all dysfunctional. Every family has as many dysfunctions as there are people in it.  And until we look in the mirror, we won’t be able to build stronger relationships with those across the room.  Here is how Jesus says it…

Matthew 7: 3 And why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but not consider the beam that is in your own eye? 4 Or how will you say to your brother, Let me pull out the speck out of your eye; and, behold, a beam is in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of your own eye; and then you will see clearly to cast out the speck out of your brother’s eye.

Jesus shows us that we all have specks in our eyes. We all have some kind of dysfunction we bring into our relationships with our “brothers,” spouses, families, and parenting. He then puts his finger on the Real problem.  It’s easier to spot the “little sliver” across the room, than to spot the giant beams and logs in our reflection in the mirror.

My brother and I have not talked for two years. If I told you the whole story, I would look like the unsung hero, and he’d be a cross between George Custanza and Cruella Devile in the way he decided to cut off contact.  I’d paint the whole picture of how he made a mountain out of a mole hill, gossiped about my wife and I, giving us the ultimatum of being verbally abused or cutting off contact, and we chose… Not to be cussed out again.  But…. I realized this principle, “It’s easier to see across the room than to look in the mirror.” I have a tendency, like all of us to clearly see how wrong the other person is in a conflict, and not be able to own what I did by looking in the mirror. So, over the past two years, I have continually written emails requesting the chance to keep communication open.  Two months ago, after two years, he wrote back giving his side. I read it and immediately dismissed his concerns as overreaction, zoomed in on the words that were emotionally charged, and felt more justified than ever… BUT! I knew I needed to look deeper into the mirror, and try to really see this from his side and try to own my part.  I really tried to think about this from his perspective and think about his accusation that I had “trivialized and patronized his concerns” and mocked them rather than address them.   I went back and thought about the parts of the story I had “left out” of my memories… I was able to remember a, “I am better than you” tone that I had used in my phone conversation telling them to “just get over it.”  I also recalled my email where I openly mocked their basic accusation with dripping sarcasm.  And as I looked in the mirror.   I still think I am more right than not, BUT, I wrote an email of apology for the things I was able to see, and told him I was open to hearing more about the things I couldn’t.   We still aren’t talking yet, but we are in contact again.

If you and I want stronger families, we’re going to have to wrestle with this reality.  Let’s look at a story in the Bible which will help us learn: 1) WHAT WE SEE ACROSS THE ROOM,  2) WHAT WE NEED TO SEE ACROSS THE ROOM, and 3) HOW TO LOOK IN THE MIRROR.

There is a family in the Bible with plenty to see across the room. A woman named Naomi is conversing with her daughter in laws and is hurting, but at the same time pushing them away. While they’ve been friends and family for a long time, Naomi keeps pushing away the people who are tryant to help her. She says, RETURN, GO AWAY, TURN BACK… and yet they sense she is hurting and needs them to be near…

8 And Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each to her mother’s house. The LORD deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. So she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. 10 And they said to her, “Surely we will return with you to your people.” 11 But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters;

Naomi is hurt and wants to withdraw. Push away her two daughter in laws. She is depressed, discouraged, and worn out from life’s punishment. So she pushes others away. Now, if we started the story here we might say, “Why is she always pushing people away?”  “Why is it so hard to get close to her?” or “She doesn’t seem very welcoming.”

11 But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Are there still sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands? 12 Turn back, my daughters, go—for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, if I should have a husband tonight and should also bear sons, 13 would you wait for them till they were grown? Would you restrain yourselves from having husbands? No, my daughters; for it grieves me very much for your sakes that the hand of the LORD has gone out against me!

Naomi is being the typical martyr. She takes things very personally. As her daughters resist her attempts to withdraw and try to go with her, she becomes irrational. She says things like, “I know why you are staying… You are hoping I’ll have more sons you can Marry!”  What? His daughters are in their 20-30’s and they are hoping she’s gonna to have sons that grow up to marry? Of course not, this oversensitivity, personalization, and then martyrdom as she responds, “The Lord has gone our against me” makes it a challenge to even help her in her pain. No matter what you do, she questions your motives. She is angry at God, Angry at others, and feels like  God is out to get her. the Bible is full of stories about imperfect people.  That’s part of what makes it unique from the books of other religions.  As a result, it is a great book on the struggles of real life.

19 Now the two of them went until they came to Bethlehem. And it happened, when they had come to Bethlehem, that all the city was excited because of them; and the women said, “Is this Naomi?” 20 But she said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. 21 I went out full, and the LORD has brought me home again empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the LORD has testified against me, and the Almighty has afflicted me?”

Naomi comes back to her home town and introduces herself by a new name. No longer will she be called Naomi meaning pleasant, No No. Her new name is Mara, meaning bitter. From the bitter herbs used in the Jewish Passover meal. She is bitter.  And she wants people to remember to call her bitter. Remember how bad and mean God has been to her?  Remember that she was once full, but now empty?  Let me pause for a moment and ask, how many of you have a family member who could also be named “Bitter?” (don’t raise your hands )  This might be the teenager that whatever you do is never enough. The mother who always finds a way to look on the dark side and find the glass half empty.


If we back up about 5 verses, we learn What we need to see.
1 Now it came to pass, in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehem, Judah, went to dwell in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. 2 The name of the man was Elimelech, the name of his wife was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion—Ephrathites of Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to the country of Moab and remained there. 3 Then Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died; and she was left, and her two sons. 4 Now they took wives of the women of Moab: the name of the one was Orpah, and the name of the other Ruth. And they dwelt there about ten years. 5Then both Mahlon and Chilion also died; so the woman survived her two sons and her husband.

Naomi’s name means pleasant, and she had a very pleasant demeanor. But the last few years have been tough. She is living during a time when a foreign nation had conquered the land, a great famine had kept her husband from finding a job, The family had to sojourn or move because of the challenging economic conditions. They had to leave their family and friends.  And after having left their family and community network, Naomi’s husband passed away. And in a short sad sentence, the writer tells us “she was left.” Alone…with two sons…with responsibility.

Do you see the symptoms and reasons behind Naomi’s dysfunctionality? Now back to our original premise: Before we look across the room, we need to look in the mirror. As long as you and I think that we don’t have any dysfunction, we will –in our hearts- think we are superior (better than) the “Naomi’s” in our family. And that pride will destroy our family’s ability to move toward healthy relationships. As long as you are looking down on someone, you will never be able to move forward. But, when we admit our dysfunctionality… By looking in the mirror. We are able to see other’s dysfunctionality, not as a scarlet “A” but with compassion as we adapt to help each other.
I am dysfunctional enough to quickly criticize, rather than have compassion.   We are quick to critique, rather than search for the reasons someone acts the way they act, and replace critique with compassion.  We are quick to point out others flaws rather than have empathy.


14 Then they lifted up their voices and wept again; and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. 15 And she said, “Look, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” 16 But Ruth said: “ Entreat me not to leave you,  Or to turn back from following after you;  For wherever you go, I will go;  And wherever you lodge, I will lodge;  Your people shall be my people, And your God, my God.17 Where you die, I will die,  And there will I be buried. The LORD do so to me, and more also,  If anything but death parts you and me.”

Notice the way Ruth, Naomi’s daughter in law, refuses to leave her. She refuses to let her go. She sticks close to this bitter, angry, and withdrawn woman. She says, “I am going with you. I will go where you go. Live where you live, and die where you die.  Why would she do this? Why would Ruth stick with her?  She tells us in verse 16… “I want your God to be my God.”

Why would Ruth want Naomi’s God to be her God? Remember that Ruth grew up in a different time and culture as Naomi. The God of the Bible was foreign to her. And she too has experienced the pain of losing her father-in-law, husband, and brother in law. Right?  So Ruth draws upon her own experience and sees her own pain as a way to show compassion to her mother-in-law. But here is the real secret.

The reason Ruth is able to draw near to a woman with such dysfunctional behavior is because she discovered a God that draws near dysfunctional people. The God of the Bible pursues you and I when we are at our worst.  In fact, when we realize how arrogant, selfish, and unkind we are to others, we are able to experience his mercy. God not giving us what we deserve. We are able to experience His grace. God giving us what we don’t deserve.  As long as you think you are “worthy of God’  and easy to love… you will never fully see how his love can melt over you. God offers you unconditional love… when you least deserve it. He offers unconditional respect to you, when you are the least respectable.  He offers to make you clean and forgiven when you are the dirtiest and most unforgivable.  God created us to be part of his family, but we withdrew, just like Naomi. We made excuses for the logs in our eyes, trying to rationalize them and claim to be martyrs.  We became bitter at God for not giving us the painfree comfortable lives we think we deserve….  We are Naomi.  Jesus is Ruth. He pursues us. The Bible says that God demonstrates His love for us, while we were yet sinners. While we were bitter. While we were angry. He demonstrates his love for us.   He offers his grace to us. His patience to us.   And as you see God as Ruth, and You as Naomi… you are now able to be Ruth for the Naomi in your family. This is the power of Grace. Amazing Grace.

  • I can be patient with a son because God was even more patient with me.
  • I can adapt and accommodate a difficult spouse because God adapted and accommodated me by coming in the form of a child and dying on a cross.
  • I cannot give my mother what she deserves because God didn’t give me what I deserved.
  • I can be kind to an unkind brother because God offered His kindness when I was unkind to Him.


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