“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.

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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.