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Modern Family
How to make a blended family work
By Tom Brown

            The Brady Bunch was the first TV family to deal with the concept of blended families. If you are part of a blended family, I am sure you are thinking, “My family looks nothing like the Brady Bunch, but more like The Adam’s Family.”  Let’s face it: the modern family looks very different than the traditional family of yesteryear. The change has not been good. The family has gone through a great crisis.

            Divorce is common place. More and more women are pregnant out of wedlock. Children are the causalities of the disintegration of the traditional, nuclear family. Despite the fact that the modern family with divorce and unwed pregnancies is not God’s ideal, God can still bless it.

            Jesus met a woman at the well who was not part of the traditional family. Her family looked more like today’s family. She had been married five times, and she gave up on marriage and was shacking up with a guy. By the way, I did some research and found out her name. Her name was Elizabeth Taylor. Kidding aside, she was not happy.

            She came out during the hot hour noon sun to draw water from the well. She was an outcast. She did not associate with the women in the village. She felt rejected. Then she met Jesus.

            There was something about Him that made her shift focus from her disappointing life to her relationship with God. Jesus promised her living water if she would believe in Him. At once, she told all her neighbors about Jesus. She no longer allowed shame to stop her from following Christ. If you are part of the modern family: single mother, divorcee, or step parent—don’t let the past stop you from following Christ. God can forgive you. He can give you wisdom to make wiser choices, and the strength to live a better life.

Jesus Acknowledged her Past

            Jesus told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”  

                “I have no husband,” she replied.

            Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband.  The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true” (John 4:16-18).

            Jesus acknowledged that the woman had five husbands. I find it interesting that people have interpreted Jesus teachings as to exclude the possibility of remarriage. Yet, Jesus acknowledged she had five husbands. I think we need to confess our past if we are to learn from it and let the past make us better people.

            Jesus also mildly reprimanded the woman for living with a man without the benefit of marriage, “The man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.” To have the best life God wants for us, we have to repent of any current sins we are committing. You can’t be asking God’s blessings on your relationship when you don’t want to get married. 

            Maria came to me and asked if she could get counseling with her and her boyfriend, Javier 1. I agreed. They came to my office and proceeded to explain how they constantly fight, they have problems with one of the kids from a previous relationship and they needed guidance. I asked if they were living together, and they said they were living together for two years. I said, “Are you aware that you are living in sin?”

            They had a blank look. Then they looked at each other, “Well, we have mentioned the possibility of getting married, but we aren’t sure if we are ready.”

            I had to do my pastoral job by explaining that unless they get married, they will continue to live without the full blessing of the Lord. They won’t have the full wisdom or strength to make their relationship work without God.

            I find many couples like Maria and Javier: they struggle, and they want God’s help without doing what God says to do. Jesus will not stoop down to your level just to allow you to stay on your level. He wants you to come up to His level. You can’t continue making the same mistakes over and over again and yet expect God’s blessings.

            For example, sister, you can’t keep sleeping with guys and getting pregnant, and yet, come to the Lord and ask him to bless your life. He will bless your life, but you have to learn to abstain from your passions until you get married. Yes, God forgives your past, but not so you can continue repeating your mistakes. He gave you grace to change.

            The lesson we learn from Jesus talking to the woman at the well was we should acknowledge our past and repent from our current mistakes so we can receive the full blessings of God. Jesus even used this woman as an evangelist since she won many people in her town to Christ. God is not through with you because of your past mistakes.

God hates divorce

            “I hate divorce,” says the Lord God of Israel (Mal 2:16). God does not hate people that are divorce, but He hates divorce because of the pain it causes people. I thank God I have been married to the same woman all my life. This has caused me to avoid needless pain, confusion and complications.

            However, when someone has been divorced they experience an almost unbearable pain. The pain is emotional and financial. It also can also be spiritual pain. Bonnie had been a very faithful member of my church for years, but when her husband left her and got remarried, it crushed her. Not only was she hurt emotionally, but she was hurt spiritually. Eventually she left the church and to my knowledge has stopped serving the Lord. Bonnie is not alone. There are many women like her. Men too. They have become disillusioned with God and the Church because of their divorce.

            Divorce also causes additional baggage in a new relationship. Most people who are divorce will eventually get remarried. However, the person marrying the divorced person is not just marrying one person; they are accepting the past lives of the person, which includes their children and even a relationship with their ex spouses. Their finances are also affected. They may have to pay child support. Visitation rights are also thrown into the mix. As you can see, the reason God hates divorce is because of the pain and complications it can bring us. However, God will work with the situation you are in to bring about the best possible life you can have. But you have to trust God and do things His way.

Why Divorce hurts so much?

            Divorce has two parts: first is the legal side and second is the emotional side. Jesus dealt with both in the passage in Matthew 5:32 “It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement” (KJV). There are two words used here: first is “put away” and the second is “divorcement.” Divorce is legal and instant; however the putting away literally mans to let loose and to tear away from that which was bound. This takes time.

            Divorce is tearing the bonds that were glued. If you can picture two papers bound together with glue, and after years, you try to tear the paper apart from each other, you can imagine the papers will not be the same. There will be pieces of one paper still attached to the other. You can’t simply cleanly tear apart the two papers glued, and neither can you break the bond of marriage in a clean manner. There will be pieces of you stuck with the other person.

            This is why resentment is normal in divorce. While it’s normal it is not inevitable or even desirable. Unforgiveness keeps the ungodly bonds connected to the ex. This is why it’s hard to form a godly relationship with the new spouse until you forgive the ex spouse.

            “Oh, that’s too hard to do. I am not going to forgive him for what he did to me.”

            Forgiveness is not primarily for the other person’s benefit, it is for yours. By forgiving you release the grace and mercy of God into your life. Jesus said, “But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your sins” (Mark 11:26). We all make mistakes, and even if you are not the primary fault of the divorce, there are areas in your life you need God’s mercy, and by forgiving, we release God’s full mercy and grace in our lives. And we need God’s grace and mercy in a new marriage.

            If you are the cause of the divorce, then you need to ask God to forgive you for deserting your spouse and possibly even hurting your children, and if possible be reconciled to your former spouse. “To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife” (1 Cor 7:10-11). So if neither of you have been remarried, then you owe it to God, your former spouse as well as to your children to work at being reconciled which means remarried again. For some of you you might be crying, “Ouch!” But that is the command of “the Lord”.

Step Parenting

            The Bible says almost nothing about step children or step parents, except that step parents cannot have sex with their step children. “Do not have sexual relations with both a woman and her daughter. Do not have sexual relations with either her son's daughter or her daughter's daughter; they are her close relatives. That is wickedness” (Lev 18:17).  In other words, don’t pull a Woody Allen on your step daughters. Outside of this explicit instruction, there is nothing specific in the Bible about raising step children. However, we do have the Holy Spirit in us to guide us and there are examples in the Bible that can give us principles in raising step children.

            The first thing you must realize is that there will be a natural inclination to treat your own biological children better than you would treat your step children, and you must avoid this.

            Cinderella is a great fairytale that reveals a not so fairy-truth about step parents. Ella had a wonderful, loving father, but when he died, the step mother took control. And as the story goes, she mistreated Ella and banished her to the cinders to work, hence the name Cinderella. No step parent sees themselves as Lady Tremain. After all she was the wicked step mother. However, wickedness is very subtle. It doesn’t easily reveal itself. It manifest in little ways, and as a step parent, you must guard yourself from showing favoritism toward your own biological children.

            The second thing you must realize is that you are not the biological parent and therefore you do not have the “right” to discipline the step children in the same way you would discipline your own children.

            “For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. (Heb 12:7-8). Step children are neither the illegitimate children nor are they your true children. Thus, the discipline you bring them must consider this truth. First, you do have a responsibility as the step parent to bring some discipline in the household, but you must be considerate toward the “true” parents, the biological ones.

            For example, if my wife died and I remarried a woman with children, I would not bring out the paddle to discipline her children, without considering her and the true father’s feelings. If their true father did not want me to spank his kids, then I would not spank them. I have to be considerate toward the true parents. Yet many step parents not only discriminate against the step children, but they are harsh with discipline. You are sure to bring discouragement and bad feelings in the hearts of your step children if you go that direction.

            My step father Red was an ideal step father. First, I remember my mother talking to my sister and me about Red. She said, “You can call Red, Daddy if you want.”

            Just then, Red jump up and said, “Oh, no, Tommy and Cathy, you have your father, and I am not replacing him. You don’t have to call me Dad. You can call me Red.”

            He was not interested in titles. He simply became a dad to me without needing to be called dad. To tell you the truth, Red has been more of a dad to me than my own dad was. Yet, I still call him Red.

            Another thing Red did was he never disciplined us. He did not yell. He never showed anger toward my sister and me. He always understood that the discipline responsibility lay with my mom and my dad. As I look at Red’s example, I think he got it right. To this day, I have a great love for my step-father Red.

1 Maria and Javier were not their real names.

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