Friday, October 29, 2010

My Family to Our Family, Blending Families When Getting Remarried

This fall at Ada Bible Church, we have started a new class called Marriage Prep - Remarriage. It is led by Brian and Marcie Johnson and they are doing a terrific job leading a handful of couples who are considering a second marriage. Recently, Brian wrote a piece on the challenge of blending families when a couple remarries. Brian gave me permission to share this with you -- it is very insightful and offers a lot of wisdom on this topic.

Failed family dynamics are the primary reasons second marriages do not make it past the second year. In fact, marriages with children are 50% more likely to end in divorce then second marriages with no children. The issue can be summed up with the vast differences in expectations and the seemingly never ending battle to find common ground. Rather then balancing you and your fiancĂ©e’s expectations, you now have to consider the expectations of each child as well as your former spouse. The only factor that remains constant is that all of you will be on different pages much of the time. Some expectations you will be able to work with, but several others you will not. Navigating this ever changing dynamic is one of your greatest challenges as a newly wed. Your family can be the source of your greatest pain as well as your greatest joy. The key is nothing short of being patient, graceful and merciful over and over again.

Unfortunately, the true family dynamics don’t really start to unveil until after the wedding ceremony. While things are likely to be going strong up until the wedding day, life seems radically different after saying “I do”. Before marriage, children are ‘excited’ about the potential changes and appear to be on board. You’ll hear awesome things like, “He’s such a fun guy to hang out with, I can’t wait until he’s here all the time!” But, after the vows, the realities of the experience set in and conflict can occur.

Many children lack the emotional maturity to be able to proactively verbalize their expectations in a healthy non-confrontational manner. They are much more apt to respond to circumstances as they occur in what appears to be anger or resentment toward any one of the family members. If you confronted them on “why” they are acting out, I’m pretty sure you would hear something like, “I don’t know..I’m just mad!” In the absence of being able to openly discuss issues, parents are often left with connecting actions and reactions to get a clue as to what the root cause is. If you are not the primary custodial parent, finding the root cause of the emotional upheaval is even more difficult. Depending on the child, some causes may be school, friends, your home environment or the other parent’s home environment. It takes a lot of grace and patience to sift through the negative responses to establish a root cause, but it is fundamentally necessary.

Believe it or not, your former spouse will also have a profound influence on your family whether you like it or not. He or she may be threatened by your new marriage and persuade the children to think and act in ways that preserve their role as the biological parent. The level of his/her influence over your children’s attitudes may depend on the amount of time he/she spends with them and how deep that relationship is. If your former spouse is the primary custodial parent, how he/she responds to your new marriage can be a powerful influential factor that may leave you feeling helpless to alter things. If the spouse is not involved at all, at some point in your child’s life, they will want to experience the love of the missing parent. Both of these factors are beyond your control and are likely to cause friction in the new family. A child that feels secure in having a loving relationship with both biological parents will be more likely to adapt to the upcoming changes then if one parent is missing or not involved.

Failed expectations equates to failed hope. When the family doesn’t function in the way you envisioned prior to marriage, disappointment sets in for many of the family members. A step parent may have unrealistic expectations coming into a marriage (whether they were verbalized or not) and when the actual dynamic unfolds into something different, they can’t help but feel disappointed. Your child's expectations are not much different in this regard, their idealistic view of the new marriage is far from reality and usually remains unspoken. Long term disappointment leads to despair, which leads to resentment for several of the family members. I believe the hardest hit are the children and the step parent. As tension rises, the obvious (and unfortunate) solution is to force the biological parent to decide between the kids and their spouse. In a sense, it’s a divorce of sorts, but this time, it’s between the kids and the parent. Unresolved conflict between any of the family members is something that absolutely needs to be addressed. The hard part is dealing with the external factors that are beyond your control.

If you find yourself reading this a few times to try and digest it… good! The point is to illustrate the vast array of expectations that need to be blended on common ground in order to find peace in the home. Using pre-marriage indicators are not really a good barometer for success, because things change radically after the vows. So, all this leads to the question, “How on earth do we do it?” The common ground resides in Christ. If the Lord is pulling you into this marriage, then His plan is better then anything you can imagine or hope to have. Let Him have control and you should stay in prayer, fervently! Due to the complexities involved, if you wish to be married at Ada Bible Church, a requirement is for any couple who is considering a second marriage, it requires them to attend family counseling to develop a game plan prior to marriage as well as modify the plan after the wedding day. You will develop a strategy on how to integrate your family under specific circumstances as well as develop a keen sense of warning signs that things are starting to go off track. This then can establish a solid foundation in which not only your marriage can be built, but your new family can as well.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

What I've Been Reading

Interesting article about work-related stress (click below):

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Making It Worse

It was not dogma that moved the world, but life. W. M. Ramsay

A.W. Tozer, one of the most gifted Christian writers, entitled his most famous work Following Hard After God. It’s a great title. It says it all. It is one of my favorite books and I can remember reading it some years ago. The book said it like it is, but in a gentle and beneficial way. It broke me down and yet it lifted me up. The best writing is remarkable; it not only speaks eloquently, but in an obvious way cuts to the heart with its nouns, verbs and prepositional phrases. However, in thinking about that title today, strangely enough, one can also follow too hard after God. A person can miss the point in why they follow Him at all.

We really can learn a lot by looking at the life of Peter. He is the disciple of disciples. Go look at the life of Peter in the New Testament books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. In the gospels, he’s passionate, conceited, arrogant, single-minded, legalistic, cruel, selfish, focused, foolish, long-winded, big-on-himself, and yet dedicated to Jesus big time. Can you see the hypocrisy and duplicity? Can you see the problem? On the one hand, he had it right (put Jesus Number One in your life) and on the other he had it all wrong (hot-headed and two-faced). Peter was two people—the passionate follower and the loose cannon. The central problem was that his passions were misguided. 

Here’s the key, they were based on rules and not relationship. Let’s say it one more time, Peter based his life on rules and not relationship and that’s where all that junk came from and why he nearly missed the point entirely. It just wasn’t in his heart--literally. All of this stuff came from what he knew—to know God meant to obey the rules, follow the instructions to a "T," to know the manual inside and out. This was the mode of operation found exclusively in the Old Testament and the kind of stuff that the Israelites got hung up on. Peter was just continuing the cycle.

It all began really well with Jesus when Peter met him fishing; but then Peter made it worse. He became a terror—mean-spirited, angry and entirely missed the point. He was becoming all that he wasn’t supposed to be. Let’s just give a few descriptors to who Peter was becoming: stern, hollow, had to follow all the rules at all costs, a mile wide but an inch deep, perfectly obedient, working only on his own strength, had all the answers, and hypocritical. That’s just a few. Jesus, however, was going to teach him something new. Jesus was going to move Peter to a place where he was supposed to be—into friendship. When he gets to that place, compare that same guy in the rest of the New Testament, beyond the gospels. He is a totally different guy in those other books, in particular through his own two letters (I and II Peter) we see this clearly. He’s slow with his words; he’s generous; he’s kind and patient; he puts others before himself; he’s got love by the horns. Peter finally became Jesus’ friend and it took a miracle unlike any other that Jesus performed, and it happened on a beach (read John 21).

Brennan Manning in his book A Glimpse of Jesus relates this story. He remarks that a well-intentioned friend offered a eulogy to someone recently deceased: “John was a wonderful Christian. He never missed church, was married only once, and never told a dirty joke.” Manning's point in this part of the book is this: is that what a Christian's main goal in life is to be—gets to church on time and never says a cuss word? This is what can so easily happen when one ventures on with Jesus. Let’s admit it; it’s so much easier to follow a bunch of rules rather than be in a relationship with the One who is bigger than big. Boxing ourselves in with a bunch of set of laws, conventions and systems seems like the most sensible way. It’s easier that way. But it’s not the best way.

Think of the Pharisees. In some ways, Peter was acting just like them. First, they followed a bunch of rules and regulations for themselves, and then, in the end, put all that junk on others. This was exactly where Peter was going in his own life, and Jesus had to stop him and quick. You might remember that Jesus had made Peter the go-to-guy, referring to him as the Rock (Matthew 16:18) and if he was going to lead his church in this manner—he could have really messed things up! If Peter had had his way, being a Christian would have become some warped version of what Jesus intended—it would have boiled down to just following a bunch of rules. Do this; don’t’ do that. In this, Jesus had to drive home his point in a very striking and painful way to Peter. You might even remember how Jesus made that point with Peter; he used a rooster and a teenage girl to teach Peter a lesson or two. After that incident, that following week for Peter was a very long one. Life was put on hold and he had no idea where he stood. It was a terribly humbling experience. But in the end, he learned something that just could never connect with him in the previous three years of learning from Jesus. Throughout those three years that Peter knew Jesus, he kept getting it wrong. Now all of that was about to change. Sooner or later, he would realize that being a friend to Jesus was even better than being his disciple.

A couple of questions to ponder:
  • What do you think is the difference between "being religious" and "being in relationship with God?"
  • What might be some of the clues that a person is just being religious?
  • How can one "be in relationship with God?" (read John 14, pay special attention to verse six)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Pointing of the Finger

This is a ficticious short story written about a moment in the life of Peter from the perspective of one of the twelve disciples, Thaddaeus. It exemplifies the reality of what Peter was like before he learned about the grace of knowing Jesus. 
To be honest, we were all getting sick and tired of him. I think even Jesus was fed up, because every now and then Jesus would just let into him like I never had seen before. Jesus was very serious in these times and he made sure that you understood that he wasn't joking. He did this all too often with Peter. 

Again, I want to be honest about this, Peter was very difficult to get along with. He had to do it his way and no other. That was the thing that puzzled us all so much, because on the one hand, Jesus could be so hard on Peter, but then at the other, Peter was always at his side and seemed to be his favorite. Often, this perplexed us. I remember one time in particular when Jesus had left us for a few hours and ventured off to be by himself--Peter just went crazy, telling us all what to do; he chided almost every single one of us, but specifically both Thomas and Bartholomew really got it that day. He went on and on about how he was disgusted with their subtle criticisms of where we were going and how we were spending our time. He lost it, ranted, raved, and cursed them as his face got redder and redder. We all just stood there, white-faced and our mouth's open, amazed at what we were seeing and hearing. We couldn't believe the words that were coming from his tongue. This was when I began keeping my distance from him. Peter could be passionate, but he can also be dangerous. He seemed only to hurt those around him with his words. As my grandfather would say, it is never good to befriend the dangerous.

The incident that really pushed everyone over the edge was just yesterday. After this, out of all eleven of us, I don't think Peter has one friend; maybe his brother Andrew, but that is just because they are brothers. Granted, it was late and we were hungry and most of us were a bit edgy, because we knew that something was about to happen, but I still cannot understand how he could say such words, especially because of all that we had gone through in the last years as brothers. Jesus was trying to get it into our heads that by going to Jerusalem something was going to change, something dramatic was going to occur. Admittedly, we were all a bit afraid, but that was no way to talk to someone. To be honest, I was a bit angry that Jesus didn't confront him more on his attitude toward us.  

It wasn’t what Peter said so much as how he said it. He spoke with venom. As Jesus was telling us in his own way that there would be challenges ahead for us as we went to the city; Peter in his loud and boisterous way, spit into the air his words, “Jesus, these, these, may forget about you, but I will never.” Angrily, he was pointing his finger, sweeping it across us all. Again, he shouted, "These, Rabbi, may forsake you, but not me!" After that, I never trusted Peter. Maybe he had more zeal than all of us, but for some reason his motivation was not right. I can't put my finger on it, but I wouldn't be surprised if things end badly with him. His eagerness is strong, but his gentleness is none. Nothing good can happen to a man like that. There is only one hope for him; Jesus is going to have to do something dramatic to change this man.