Monday, May 23, 2011

The Children of Divorce: Choosing New Family

I’m slowly reading through The Children of Divorce: The Loss of Family as the Loss of Being by Andrew Root. The following is the third post interacting with the book and my own experiences.

For the first time in my life, I am a little brother. My dad got married a couple of weeks ago to a wonderful woman who loves him very much, and both of her daughters are older than I am. The oldest was having quite a fun time calling me “little brother”, which made it quite weird for me because “little brother” has never been part of my identity. But to be honest, it is probably not as weird for me as it would have been if we were all living in the same household.

I cannot imagine how weird it may have been for my youngest brother when he went from being the baby in my mom and dad’s family to being the oldest in my dad’s home in his second marriage. The challenge to navigate in both of those worlds as he formed (and is still forming) his identity would have been and is great.

In his book The Children of Divorce: The Loss of Family as the Loss of Being, author Andrew Root writes that the “pure relationship” nature of marriage today allows people to choose relationships in which “the self is free of obligatory structures”. Root writes that a relationship chosen by two individuals who have committed to marriage based on their love for one another is a “pure relationship [that is] contingent on the choice to be together outside of any kind of coercion.” (pg. 39) In contrast, “children are bound to their parents not by choice but by biology.”

My parents have both chosen new spouses. As good as their new spouses may be to them (and they are), I have not chosen my new family and I have no biological bond with them.

I will always be the child of my mom and my dad. My current reality is that I will always live in the tension caused by the divorce. How much time does each “family” get? Where do I stay when I visit “home”? How many stories do I share that involve the other parent? What do I reveal or not reveal on facebook? Root writes:

"When the biological obligatory bond is broken, and one world becomes two separate worlds, children are forced to form identity not through the solid place of shared being, but through choice. Children must be two selves in two different families, neither which firmly hold them in biological correlation.” (pg. 42)

Children of divorce struggle with identity issues in blended families. I do not know how to be “little brother”. It is not a role that I am familiar with in a family. I have always identified with being the oldest brother. Those of us who get to minister to and love these children must understand these issues and the complexity that comes with it. The children must be given the freedom and time to “choose” to love those that were “chosen” for them. Parents who have chosen divorce and then remarriage should understand that it is both complex and difficult for the children to navigate the world of blended families. The “new family” dynamic will never look like the “old family” dynamic.

As an adult child of divorce who has found his identity in Christ and His church, it is easier for me to love my new step-family because I can “choose” to love them as brothers and “big” sisters in Christ. But it will take time, and the bonds formed will be different than the biological bonds I have with my parent’s children.

I pray that my “new" family will have patience with me. I am still very attached to my “old family.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

3 Keys to a Healthy Marriage

A relative of mine looking to get married soon asked this question the other day: How do I avoid divorce?

Knowing her story, and knowing that both of her parents had been married multiple times, I appreciated her question. Someone else answered her in the moment, but this is how I would have answered.

In my almost six years of marriage I have discovered that in order to keep the relationship with my wife healthy, I must remember these things:

1) Communicate expectations clearly. Every relationship has roles and responsibilities. Each individual must be up front in letting the other know what they are expecting of their spouse. If you expect your husband to hang the toilet paper so it hangs from the front, tell him before getting mad at him. If you expect dinner ready at 5:00pm, communicate it. If you expect that you and your spouse will go to bed at the same time, communicate it. If you do not communicate it and your expectation is not met, you cannot hold your spouse responsible for what they do not know.

2) Give without holding back and without expecting anything in return. Marriage is about trusting your spouse with your life. Make sacrifices to show that they are the most important person in your life. If you cannot trust the person you are planning to marry, you should reconsider making the commitment to that person.

3) You are on the same team. Marriage is not a competition. Spouses are not in opposition to one another. When you criticize, demean, or harshly rebuke your spouse you are only hurting yourself. Previously I wrote about having a greater purpose in marriage. My wife and I are united in our mission to pursue God and make him known. Be about your greater purpose and understand that when there are disagreements, there is no winning or losing if you are on the same team.

There are obviously more keys to a healthy marriage. What would you add?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Maniac Shooting Flaming Arrows of Death

Jokes are convenient ways to turn frustrating situations or individuals into something we can understand and control. When a situation is turned into a joke, we control the punch line. When a person is turned into a joke, the joke teller holds the power over the person (the punch line).

In a conversation before a meeting this week, a friend of mine called me on my increasing use of sarcasm. He was right. Sarcasm is defined as harsh or bitter derision or irony. I have a tendency to increase my use of sarcasm when I feel like I have arrived in a position of leadership or authority. It is a weakness that I use to help me feel like I am “right” or “in control”. It is less work to deride someone I do not understand or disagree with than it is to seek restoration. It feels better to me to make a joke out of someone when I want to be “right”.

I am grateful for my friend’s accountability.

It would have been easy for me to say “I was only joking”. But sarcasm has its roots in bitterness. Proverbs 26:18-19 says “Like a maniac shooting flaming arrows of death is one who deceives their neighbor and says, ‘I was only joking!’” When we use sarcasm in an attempt to make light of a situation we knowingly and unknowingly use our words to shoot flaming arrows of death at our intended targets.

In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians he writes “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29) When we use sarcasm, it only benefits the joke teller. My hope is that my words are helpful in building others up. God’s desire is that we use words to encourage and make others look good. Paul goes on to say in verse 30 that our words can grieve the Holy Spirit. Our words can make God sad. That is definitely not on my to do list.

Before you make that crack about your senior pastor, or about that one board member or elder, check yourself. Before you tear down your parents with “witty” jokes, check yourself. Before you make a generalized statement about men or women, or about kids these days, check yourself. Or before you tear down your teacher or a politician, check yourself.

Instead, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32)

Thursday, May 12, 2011

What are your stories about?

What stories are you telling in your everyday conversations?

We’ve all got stories we like to tell. Some of us have stories that we will share with everyone we come in contact with. We have stories that everyone around us have heard over and over and over again.

What are those stories about?

I was realizing the other day that I have a tendency to tell stories that make me look good in comparison to other people. Sometimes, probably often, I tell the stories that prove my “right”ness as they measure up to someone else’s wrongness. I’m getting uncomfortable with those stories. I’m tired of justifying my life’s “successes” based on someone else’s “failures”.

I would rather tell stories that make others look good. I would rather boast on the accomplishments of the people around me than criticize their weaknesses. I want to tell stories of how God delivered me from my weaknesses and mistakes.

What are your stories about?