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Stepping Up in a Stepfamily

The exciting message of the cross is this: God loves and forgives the imperfect people in stepfamilies just like he does the imperfect people in biologically intact families.
By Ron L. Deal


"Thanks for recognizing that we're not the church's dirty little problem."

John was spiritually paralyzed by his past. "I just never thought I could go back to church again, after the divorce and all. And to top it off, I went and got remarried. Everyone knows stepfamilies are not considered whole, just mended parts of what's been broken."

His statement captures the spiritual struggle of many Christian stepfamily adults. Guilt over decisions or actions that contributed to a divorce and a sense of shame from living in a "less than whole" family situation lead many people to feel as if they are "the churches dirty little problem." For others, an overwhelming feeling of unworthiness keeps them in a "holding pattern" around God and his church, but never "touching down" in his love. These dynamics often combine to create spiritual barriers for stepfamily members that distance them from God's healing power.

Second Class Citizens?

I responded to John's spiritual guilt and shame by suggesting that even though he didn't live in an "ideal family" configuration, he wasn't a second class Christian in God's Kingdom. "God's plan for one man and one woman for life does bring greater harmony to the home, but living in an intact family does not determine our worth in God's eyes, nor our ability to receive forgiveness." I went on to share with John the truth about many of the characters of the Bible who were men of great faith, but whose families were far less than ideal.

"Abraham lied on two occasions saying Sarah wasn't his wife. He was afraid for his life so he disowned her. How selfish is that?" I pointed out. Sarah and Hagar fought over which of their sons would be the most important in Abraham's family. Much like a modern-day stepfamily, there was jealousy, bitter rivalries, and loyalty conflicts between Abraham and his two wives (see Gen. 16, 21). And the problems didn't stop with his generation. If we analyze the families of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph—the Family of Promise—we see power struggles, family secrets, exploitive and coercive relationships, marital game-playing, manipulation, and parent-child alliances for selfish reasons. Furthermore, the dysfunction continues to mushroom through the family of David, who is called a "man after God's own heart", but whose household included a premeditated murder to cover an affair, an out-of-wedlock pregnancy, a son who replicates his father's disgrace by raping his half sister, and a brother who avenges her humiliation by murdering his brother. John was beginning to feel a little better about his past and current stepfamily.

Forgiveness for All

Stepfamilies need to understand this critical message: there are no second class citizens in God's Kingdom simply because there are no first class citizens. We're all just sinners in need of a Savior. If God could use imperfect men like Abraham and David for his purposes, why can't he use people in stepfamilies? If God can bring redemption to the houses of Isaac and Jacob, can't he bring redemption to yours? The exciting message of the cross is this: God loves and forgives the imperfect people in stepfamilies just like he does the imperfect people in biologically intact families. He is ready, willing, and able to welcome stepfamilies into righteousness. The only question is will you step up to receive his forgiveness? Will you step up to renew your relationship with him or remain paralyzed by your guilt and shame?

His door is always open—step on in.

Adapted from The Smart Stepfamily by Ron L. Deal, Bethany House Publishers. Used with permission.

FamilyLife is a donor-supported ministry offering practical and biblical resources and events to help you build a godly marriage and family. 



Meet the Author: Ron L. Deal

Ron Deal

Ron Deal is a marriage and family author, conference speaker, and therapist. He is founder and president of Smart Stepfamilies™ and director of FamilyLife Blended™, the ministry initiative of FamilyLife® to stepfamilies (for more visit www.RonDeal.org and www.FamilyLife.com). 

Ron is author of The Smart Stepfamily: Seven Steps to a Healthy Family (and DVD series), The Smart Stepdad, Dating and the Single Parent, The Smart Stepmom (with Laura Petherbridge), and The Smart Stepfamily Marriage: Keys to Success in the Blended Family (with Dr. David Olson). A highly sought-after, recognized expert in marriage and blended families, Ron is a member of the Stepfamily Expert Council for the National Stepfamily Resource Center, and is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Licensed Professional Counselor with over 25 years experience in local church ministry and family ministry consulting. He is a featured expert on the video curriculum Single and Parenting (2011, Church Initiative) and his material is widely distributed by a variety of family education initiatives

Ron served as a member of the Couple Checkup Research Team (headed by Dr. David Olson, PREPARE-ENRICH) which conducted the two largest studies of marital strength ever accomplished. They surveyed over 100,000 marriages and remarriages (over 200,000 people) and examined the qualitative differences between highly satisfied marriages and low-quality marriages. The results of their groundbreaking research for couples are published in the books The Couple Checkup (Olson, Larson, & Olson-Sigg, 2008) and The Smart Stepfamily Marriage (Deal & Olson, 2015), and are featured in Ron’s newest seminar for dating, engaged, married, and remarried couples, the Couple Checkup Conference.

Ron is a popular conference speaker and has appeared in dozens of national radio and TV broadcasts both in the U.S. and Canada. His daily 60-second radio feature, FamilyLife Blended, is heard by thousands each week around the country and online. He has appeared on Fox News, MSNBC, ABC’s Nightline, WGN-News, The Mike Huckabee Show, FamilyLife Today, Focus on the Family, HomeWord with Jim Burns, Celebration, and The 700 Club, and his work has been referenced online (e.g., ABCNews.com, Today.com), in magazines (e.g., Essence), and in newspapers throughout the world (e.g., USA Today, New York Daily News, Chicago Tribune, Atlanta Journal, and Minnesota Star Tribune). The May 2012 issue of Ladies' Home Journal featured Ron's therapy work with a blended family couple in their popular feature column “Can This Marriage Be Saved?” Ron has written feature family articles addressing a variety of family matters for a variety of publications and online magazines including Focus on the Family magazine, ParentLife, The Family Room, Gospel Today, Christianity Today, and HomeLife magazine. On a regular basis Ron trains therapists, marriage educators, and ministry professionals at conferences around the country and has spoken at the National Stepfamily Conference, and the Utah and Arkansas Governors' conferences on the family.

Ron and his wife, Nan, have three boys. Their middle son, Connor, died unexpectedly in February 2009 at the age of 12. In his memory, the Deal's have partnered with Touch a Life Foundation to rescue and rehabilitate children in Ghana, West Africa, from trafficking. They would be honored if you would help them sing Connor's song. Visit Connor's Song to learn more about this ministry and to hear Connor sing.

In addition to FamilyLife sponsored events Ron is available to present his Couple Checkup Conference or Building A Successful Stepfamily conference in your church or community. Learn more here.

 

 

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