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Last week in Blended Families Part 15: Helping Children Adjust we talked about the two major pitfalls into which parents in blended families fall: either becoming overly focused on the children’s outward behavior or turning their children into victims. Today we’re going to talk about biblical communication and God’s methodology for change.
Some children in blended families adjust quickly and easily, but others struggle with fear, worry, anger, and loyalty conflicts.
Children may be angry about losing their position in the family, losing the dream of their original family being restored, unwanted changes, jealousy toward new step-siblings or any number of other things.
One of the most important skills in overcoming anger and building good relationships is learning how to communicate in a loving, God-honoring way. Ephesians 4 contains some of the clearest passages on the subject of communication. The principles can be summed up in 4 easy to understand “rules” that you can apply and teach your children.
4 Rules of Communication
- Be honest.
- Keep current.
- Attack the problem, not the person.
- Act, don’t react.
Ephesians 4.25 says:
Therefore, putting away lying, “Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,” for we are members of one another.
Sounds simple enough, but being honest is more that just not telling a lie. It’s, also, more than blurting out the unadulterated truth. It involves being open and transparent in a loving way.
The first part of being honest is to communicate. “Let each of you speak …”
The second part is to speak truth. It’s not enough to just “not lie.” We must also speak truth.
For example: If, after you and your husband agreed not to make any unnecessary purchases, you put those shoes you wanted on your credit card, slipped them into the house when you’re husband wasn’t home, and simply never brought it up, you may not have lied, but your weren’t being honest either.
Our children need to understand the same principle. Instead of just punishing them for not telling you about a bad grade, sit down and explain why it’s wrong from God’s Word. Let them know that you struggle with living God’s way, too. Use it as an opportunity to teach them how much we need His help to live His way. Turn it into a gospel moment.
Whether they listen attentively or roll their eyes, you’re planting seeds.
So we and our children are to speak and to speak truth, but we must also learn to speak the truth in love. Ephesians 4.15 says:
[B]ut, speaking the truth in love, [we] may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ.
For example: If your child grew up learning to make his bed and keep his room reasonably neat and now shares a room with a step-sibling who doesn’t seem to know what a clothes hanger or a hamper is, the answer isn’t to tell his sibling he’s a slob.
Instead, help him learn to pray (another gospel moment) and ask God for wisdom about talking to his brother. It could be something like, “Hey, I’m not crazy about cleaning the room either. I used to resent it when my mom made me stay home until I did. But I learned it’s easier to just get it over with. It looks better when my friends come to hang out, too. Can I give you a hand?”
So rule #1 is: “Be honest.” Speak. Speak the truth. Speak the truth in love.
26 “Be angry, and do not sin”: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, 27 nor give place to the devil.
We live in a sin-cursed world. We’re sinners living with other sinners. Sometimes we’ll offend others. When we do, we need to be good repenters and quick to ask for forgiveness, as we’ve discussed in earlier posts in this series. It’s, also, true that others will sin against us. Sometimes in grievous ways, ways that tempt us to anger. In some cases, the initial feelings of anger are not sinful, but we need to deal with those feelings in biblical ways or they can quickly become sinful.
There are two sinful ways of responding to anger. The first is to explode, which we’ll talk more about in a minute. But the other, is to clam up. Clamming up might seem more godly, but it’s an illusion. Remember God is looking at the heart. We can keep quiet on the outside, but be seething on the inside. Sooner or later that kind of anger will erupt somewhere. Either we’ll turn it inward on ourselves or eventually we’ll explode on someone else because we’ve given the devil a foothold.
Instead, we need to deal with the issue quickly, either by choosing to forgive, not just brushing it under the rug, but truly forgiving and letting it go. Or we need to go to the other person using these 4 rules of communication as our guidelines.
So rule #2 is “Keep current.” Don’t stuff things or pretend problems don’t exist. Deal with them in biblical ways.
Attack the Problem, Not the Person.
29 Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
Verse 29 says we’re to put off that kind of corrupt communication. Instead we need to attack the problem by putting on speech that is edifying and gives grace to the hearer. Edifying speech is speech that builds up rather than tears down. Even when we need to discuss a problem, criticism can be constructive instead of destructive.
When God gives us grace, He gives us what we need, not necessary what we want, but not what we deserve either. Grace-filled speech is the same. It’s not speech that puffs another up and tells them only what they want to hear, but we aren’t to unload on them by giving them what we think they deserve either.
So rule #3 is “Attack the problem, not the person.”
Act, don’t react.
31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.
Our sin nature says, “You push me, I push you back!” It says, “You cross me, I’m going to give you a piece of my mind” or “I don’t get mad, I get even.” These are your exploders.
We excuse our sinful reactions by saying, “She knows how to push my buttons.” Or, “That’s just the way I am, I have a quick temper.” We minimize, justify, or blameshift, instead of taking responsibility and calling it what it is … sin.
We need to put off bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, slander, and all kinds of evil behavior. If you study out those words you’ll find it covers all kinds of anger: explosive outbursts, slamming and throwing things, yelling, inner bitterness, slander and more. In their place we’re to put on kindness, tenderheartedness (compassion), and forgiveness.
With the very person and in the very circumstance where we’re being tempted to anger, we’re to choose to act with kindness, compassion, and forgiveness. That often means doing so in spite of our feelings to the contrary and requires asking God for His help.
So rule #4 is “Act, don’t react.”
God’s Methodology for Change
Notice all the biblical rules of communication (and most other aspects of our Christian life) involve both putting off sinful behaviors and putting on new righteous behaviors (Eph. 4.22-24). We call this the “put-off/put-on process.” It’s God’s methodology for change and growth.
God uses tests and trials, coupled with our willingness to put-off sinful responses and put-on righteous ones, to help us and our children grow to become more Christ-like.
This isn’t easy, in fact, it’s impossible to do without a changed heart, something only God can do when we recognize our need for Him and ask Him to change us from the inside out.
So rather than turning our kids into victims or making excuses for them, we need to help them see how God wants to use these things for good in their lives (and ours!). They are opportunities to point our children to the Savior.
Next week, we’ll talk about how to help our children handle fear and loyalty conflicts.
*Some information in this series was developed from a Bible study by Jeff & Amy Baker.
Some of the subjects I’ll cover in future blogs:
Blended families in the Bible
Damage control—healing the mistakes
Dealing with in-laws and out-laws
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