Have you ever noticed that God uses family life to teach us important spiritual lessons? For example, He uses the childhood experience of being disciplined by our parents to teach us obedience, respect for authority, and the blessing that comes in discipline (see Heb. 12:4-11).
God also uses the experience of being a parent to teach us humility (we just can’t control them, can we?) and prayer (nothing will drive you to your knees more than the task of parenting!). He uses conflict in relationships to teach us about forgiveness; marriage to teach us about love, sacrifice, and trust; and sex to teach us about vulnerability, surrender, and oneness.
Without question, family life is one of God’s most powerful tools for shaping us into the image of Christ.
And I’m convinced that God uses the stepfamily experience to teach His children about choosing love.
God chose to love us
1 John 4:9-10 tells us, “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (NIV).
God chose to love us even when we didn’t love Him. Even more, Romans 5:8 encourages that even while sinners, God loved us. Despite our lack of love for Him and our sinful state, God sent Jesus as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. He loved us with everything He had.
Jesus didn’t have to give up heaven’s power or prominence to be born of a virgin, but choosing love required Him to do so. In so doing Jesus, like all children, learned obedience at the hands of his parents. He also experienced something else. Being born of a virgin afforded Him the opportunity to be chosen when His earthly father (read “stepfather”), Joseph, chose to love Him. The One who chose to love us without reason, was Himself chosen.
Emulating God’s marvelous choice
One of the often hidden gifts of stepfamily living is the opportunity to emulate God’s marvelous choice to love. Stepparents choose to love children who are not their own; stepsiblings grant one another the honor of being called family; stepgrandchildren are called heirs and granted inheritance; and stepchildren experience the “adoption” of stepparent love. Ultimately, these experiences reveal the Father.
Romans 8:15-17 says, “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” (NIV).
1 John 4:11 tells us that “if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” Stepfamilies have an incredible opportunity to reflect the “choosing love” of God and in so doing teach spiritual lessons that have eternal purpose, lessons that lead children and parents alike to a fuller understanding of God’s love for each of us.
Biological parents, marvel at the way your spouse loves, cares for, and offers blessing to your children. Show them your appreciation for their choice to love.
Stepparents, even if you’ve said it before, be sure to tell your stepchildren how committed you are to them. Tell them what an honor it is to share in their life.
Ex-spouses, find the grace to communicate a message of gratitude to your ex-spouse’s mate (i.e., stepparent to your children). Tell them you value the blessing and care they provide to your children.
Parents, encourage stepsiblings to show kindness to each other and communicate appreciation for one another.
God didn’t owe us a path to reconciliation, but He created one. Christ didn’t have to be born, suffer, and die for our redemption, but He chose to anyway.
You don’t have to be family for one another, but you are choosing to be family anyway. You are choosing love. Amazing!
Holidays and special celebrations offer great times to sit around and tell stories. For stepfamilies this presents an opportunity to reminisce about your growing family story. Doing so reinforces your developing family identity and helps to solidify relationships. Sharing your “family travelogue” is one way connect around your family story.
If you traveled to a foreign country for a month, upon your return family members would probably ask for your travelogue—the story of your journey. They would ask where you ate, what you liked, what famous sites you saw, what was most exciting or disappointing, etc. They’d want to know what the journey was like for you.
Similarly, a family travelogue asks each person to share what the stepfamily’s journey has been like for them. Ask questions like:
- What was your first impression of your future stepfamily members?
- How has life with your mom/dad/children change since the wedding?
- What has been the most fun for you?
- What has been the most difficult transition for you?
- Share a favorite family memory.
- What painful emotions have you been feeling lately?
- What fears do you have about this stepfamily or yourself?
Try not to be defensive or take comments personally. Listen openly and celebrate the evidences of love that is growing in your home.
If you’re ministering to stepfamilies:
Affirming stepfamilies publicly is always good ministry. It affirms their heart, confronts their fear that others view them as “second-class Christians,” and reminds the church that God redeems and restores. Try to incorporate the message of this article into a Christmas sermon, class, or devotional presentation. Find a stepfamily in your congregation who can serve as an illustration of the “choice to love.” Everyone can be encouraged by their example.
©2012 by Ron L. Deal. All rights reserved. The “family travelogue” idea is adapted from Becoming a Stepfamily, by Patricia Papernow, 1993, Gardner Press.
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