On a shelf in my house, there it sits—the quintessential, pink piggy bank. I remember the first day it was dropped, injured, and promptly glued back together. Over the years it has been shaken violently in search of a stubborn copper penny. The piggy bank was dropped on the floor and knocked off the shelf. Its snout has been broken off and taped back together. I had never intended to be the owner of a fractured piggy bank, but once I did the work of gluing and taping it back together, I found that it still held my money just fine. I have come to love that piggy bank because of its flaws rather than in spite of them.
Family is a lot like my fractured piggy bank. Our family situations do not always go according to plan. What starts out in perfect condition, can get dropped and end up cracked or broken. Sometime we find ourselves in a situation that seems so broken; all the tape in the world won’t fix it. The reality is we live in a world where divorce and stepfamilies have in some way affected everyone. If you haven’t been affected, you know someone who fits the bill.
To be honest, I find it encouraging that the family narrative in the Bible often displays more dysfunction than perfection. Cain killed his brother Abel; Noah cursed his son; Abram lied twice about his wife being his sister; David committed adultery; and that is just the tip of the Old Testament iceberg. Even a survey of the New Testament narrative reveals families who had a difficult time co-existing. The Bible uses a lot of ink on family conflict, but the take home in those stories is not their inability to get it right, but God’s ability to redeem them and draw them closer to Him.
Maybe you feel like your normal teenage life and divorce had a head on collision and divorce won. Then after peeling yourself off the pavement you were catapulted into a brand new stepfamily with a new adult you don’t even really like. Even if it seems your life got wacked off its intended course, the good news is, God has never lost sight of you for a moment. He knows right where you are and He can help you navigate this tumultuous season of your life.
Respect is necessary: Love grows over time. Sometime there is pressure—when a new stepfamily is formed, for a teenager to instantly love their new stepparent. Go ahead and take that pressure off yourself. The Bible teaches us very clearly to honor, or respect, those who have authority over us. Love is something that has to grow out of mutual experience. It doesn’t miraculously appear because two people in your life shared a thirty minute ceremony. Respect, on the other hand, is essential. Forming a successful stepfamily means that each member has to figure out what to expect and find his/her role inside the family unit. This is a process that takes time.
We have to understand that all family members come to the process with baggage from their previous experience—and we have to understand that no one is perfect. If an atmosphere of respect is fostered, love has a better chance to grow.
Communication is a vital tool to navigate your way through any conflict. How you choose to communicate determines whether a situation achieves resolution or only becomes more inflamed. As a teenager in a stepfamily, you can use communication to keep your family unit in constant turmoil. James wrote, “The tongue . . . is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8). Your words can do a lot of damage. Yet, it is really important for you to communicate. Bottling your feelings up and not dealing with them will only bring anger, bitterness, and inner turmoil–the trick is to figure out the right way to communicate. James didn’t leave us hanging; he gave us some good advice. James 1:19 reads, “Understand this my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry” (NLT). It’s easy to just want to focus on how we feel and what is happening to us. When we listen to other people, we have a better chance of understanding their perspective, which brings a larger context to the conflict. When we understand, we have a better chance at resolution and peace in our homes.
We can’t do it on our own. Love, peace, joy, temperance (self-control)—these are fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5—meaning these things are not natural to us. They are experienced by us when we are filled with God’s Spirit. The only way to navigate this season of your life successfully is to lean into God, seek after His Spirit, and let Him manifest these traits in your life.
When all else fails, think about this. Jesus Christ was a stepchild. As a young boy, Jesus lived in a home with Mary, his biological mother; Joseph, his stepfather; and siblings who were the children of Joseph and Mary. I think that puts you in very good company. The prophet Isaiah said, “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 53:4). When you pray about your family, you can feel confident that God knows exactly what you are talking about.