Key Scriptures: Genesis 46-48 and 50, 2 Timothy 1:5-6, Romans 12:1-2, 2 Corinthians 5:17, Ephesians 4:22-24, Ephesians 5:1-33, Psalm 145:4, Deuteronomy 6:5-7, Joshua 4:20-22, Proverbs 22:6, Joshua 24:14-15
Guiding Question: What are ways we can break past negative cycles from our families or in our own past and copy or create positive cycles from our families or other Christian families?
Introductory Activity: Ask students if they know what a “family business” is. Explain that often a successful family business is run by members of the same family for generations. Examples of family businesses they might be familiar with include Walmart, Volkswagen, Ford, LG, Comcast, Dell and IKEA. There are also family “businesses” that aren’t so wonderful like the mafia in multiple cultures. These family members pass on a legacy of crime to future generations. Explain that there are other things families can pass on from one generation to the next. Have students list some possibilities. Make sure they include things like habits, hobbies, genetics, careers and faith.
Lesson: (Questions for students are in bold italics.) Just because a family owns a particular business or is known for a particular talent or trait, does not mean that every family member will repeat that cycle. There are many families where everyone, but one person is a doctor or a parent who was raised by an abusive parent doesn’t abuse his or her own kids. When that one person does something different from past generations, it’s called “breaking the cycle”. A person can also break their personal cycles. For example, someone who has a cycle of choosing inappropriate people to date, can break the cycle and make better choices in the future.
Read or review the stories in Genesis 46-48 and 50. What kind of cycle had Jacob and Esau been in when they were younger? What did they do to break that cycle and have a better relationship in the future? What kind of cycle had Joseph and most of his brothers been in when they were younger? (Benjamin was too young to be involved.) How did Joseph and his brothers break that cycle earlier in the story? How did they make that change more permanent at the death of Jacob? How did Joseph react when Jacob tried to continue the cycle of reversing the blessings for Joseph’s sons? Why do you think he reacted that way?
Jacob, Esau, Joseph and his brothers realized they were in a negative cycle that needed to stop. Otherwise, bad things could continue to happen. In fact, family feuds are a great example of what can happen when people don’t get past one or even a few bad incidents and forgive one another. These brothers took active steps to apologize, make amends when possible and forgive one another. It’s interesting that Jacob and Esau lived separate lives after their reconciliation, but the lack of animosity between them made both of their lives better – even separated by distance.
But sometimes, there are good cycles in our families or in our lives that we want to keep. Let’s read a few examples of cycles people wanted to repeat and the steps they took to make sure that happened. Read the following verses and describe the positive cycle and what the scripture tells us or we know from other scriptures those people did to repeat the positive cycle.
- 2 Timothy 1:5-6
- Psalm 145:4
- Deuteronomy 6:5-7
- Joshua 4:20-22
- Joshua 24:14-15
- Proverbs 22:6
Notice in every case, those who wanted a positive cycle to continue had to take concrete action to make it more likely the cycle would continue for more generations. Parents like Eli, Samuel and even King David who didn’t always take the time to do the things necessary had children who broke a positive cycle instead of keeping it.
There are also some cases where a positive cycle needs to be tweaked to become even more positive for future generations. The Apostle Paul is a great example of that. Paul was evidently raised in a family that loved, worshiped and obeyed God. They made sure Paul had the best possible spiritual education under one of the most famous rabbis at the time. Paul was continuing that positive cycle. But, when he was stopped on the road to Damascus and later taught by Ananias that God wanted him to do something differently, Paul did not hesitate to tweak his family cycle to be more pleasing to God!
Sometimes the hardest negative cycles to break are the ones we have gotten ourselves caught up in. Cycles where we commit the same sins over and over. It can feel like it’s impossible to break out of those cycles and live the godly life we are called to live as Christians. Some people give up and become enmeshed in sin for years. Others remind themselves of these scriptures. When they sin, they stop, ask God for forgiveness and make changes so it won’t be as easy for them to commit that sin when tempted again. Read these verses. What do they tell us about the ability we have to change and break the negative cycles of sin in our lives?
- Romans 12:1-2
- 2 Corinthians 5:17
- Ephesians 4:22-24
- Ephesians 5:1-33
Skills Activity: Review the basic principles in the lesson. Point out that breaking negative cycles isn’t easy or everyone would do it. It takes intentionality. It is something they may have to work on for years, depending on the issue. Continuing good cycles isn’t always easy either. Wanting to do the same thing and actually doing the same thing are different. Generally, people who have created positive cycles have put a lot of intentional effort into doing so. If you don’t copy their effort, your results probably won’t be the same.
Walk your students through the following steps to teach them how to reflect on and deal with cycles. Some students may need extra mentoring in this area. Regular check-ins to see how they are doing from teachers and mentors can also help.
- Think about your family and your own life. What are some negative cycles that need to be broken? What are some positive cycles you want to repeat and pass on to future generations? (Note: This is not an exercise to encourage parent bashing. In some cases, it may be necessary to work with students to help them understand what they view as a negative cycle may actually be a positive one.) Make a list for each category.
- Prayerfully, decide which of those things are matters of taste (“I want to break the cycle of having a blue living room that every generation has had for a hundred years.”), which things are things God would want you to copy and which are things God would want you to change or eliminate.
- Create a plan for making needed changes. Your plan should include:
- A list of a series of small steps in the right direction
- Current consistent behaviors you can tie any new desired behavior to during your day (If you always eat breakfast, planning to spend time at breakfast in prayer will make it easier to remember.)
- Cues/reminders to help you remember good new things you are trying to do or to avoid certain negative things
- Boundaries you will establish to make it harder for you to make poor choices. For example, if you always do drugs with a certain group of people a boundary might be that you won’t hang out with that group of people any more. Healthy boundaries can remove irresistible temptation from your path.
Application Challenge: Review the scriptures from the lesson and the plan you created. What specific, concrete things do you need to do right now to work on that plan? Remember, consistency is an important key to successfully breaking or copying cycles.