In our current cultural and historical moment, it is common to have blended families. Single parents form new households, people wait later in life to get married or have children, and people who have been through divorce find the courage to marry again. But blended families have been present throughout human history, and we see them prominently in Scripture and in African American history.
We think of the patriarchs like Abraham and Jacob. Abraham with children from different women, and Jacob who had a large family with multiple wives and children with each of them. We can think of Moses who was adopted, Esther who was raised by her uncle, and Ruth, whose story revolves around her second marriage to Boaz. David who had children from different relationships and caused strife, and of course we remember Joseph, the stepfather of the Savior Jesus Christ.
In many African cultures, grandparents live with their adult children, children who are orphaned are raised by the closest of kin or the closest neighbor, and fathers have children from multiple relationships. During our history as Africans in America, the extended and blended family systems were how we survived slavery, Jim Crow, and the ongoing attacks on Black family life.
Growing up, I knew uncles who raised their wives’ children from previous relationships, I had aunts who raised their nieces, nephews, and grandchildren. We had cousins who had a different mother or father than their siblings, and cousins on their second and third marriages. My story is not unique in the Black community. But interestingly, these realities of complex blended families are almost treated as taboo in our conversation and daily lives.
I grew up with both of my biological parents married and in the same house. When I started dating the woman who became my wife, some people around us were surprised and concerned because she already had two daughters from a previous relationship. I was single with no children, a couple of prestigious degrees, and a good job, so for many people the thought of dating—let alone marrying—a woman who had children was a letdown or an offense. But it has been an incredible joy and an experience of God’s love to raise two daughters who are mine through chosen relationships and one who is mine biologically.
Don’t get me wrong, raising children is one of the greatest challenges you can ever have, most of the parents out there will agree with me. But it is also one of the most rewarding journeys a person can undertake. Raising children who do not share your blood takes a special person. But if I’m honest, I feel similar about my call to parenting all of my children as I do to being a husband. Let me break the myths: marriage is not for everyone. Raising children is not for everyone, either. But both are callings for many of us. And as Christians, we know both take the grace and power of God to do well.
Being able to raise and care for children who are mine not by blood and obligation, but by relationship and choice gives me a different perspective on how God loves us as His adopted children by the Spirit. Apostle Paul says in Romans 8:14–15 (NLT), “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, ‘Abba, Father.’”
When you raise children who are adopted into your family, you are able to share your spirit and more importantly God’s Spirit with them—even if you may not share blood. Having adopted children is different than having biological children for me. But it does not make the relationship any less important, loving, or powerful, just as when God adopted us by His Spirit. God’s love toward us as His adopted children is the same as His love toward Jesus, His only begotten Son. That is a powerful revelation and goal for our love as people in blended families: to love every member the way God loves Jesus, the way Jesus loves us, the way we are called to love one another. Although our relationships in blended families may be different, the love should not be different.
Having a blended family is not for everyone. But with intentionality, grace, and patience it can be an amazing experience of God’s love. Scripture and history show that blended families have always been part of God’s people. It is not a moral failure to bring children into a new family or marry someone with children. It should not be taboo to have a blended family. Our response as believers to blended families is clear: love them as Jesus loves us.
Sex is a good thing. For all human history, human beings have had sex and been aware of their sexuality. It is a fundamental function of creation to reproduce that God instituted from the beginning. But sexuality is not simply about reproduction. It is about the awareness and expression of our bodies. We are spiritual beings, but we are also natural beings. God created us that way on purpose. If we were meant to be all spiritual, we would have been created like angels, but God made us from the earth on purpose. Jesus Christ came to us IN THE FLESH, not as a spiritual principle, a vision, or a disembodied being. Jesus was circumcised on the 8th day according to Jewish law, as all Jews were. This was a sexual act with spiritual meaning that is literally at the heart of the Old Covenant. Unfortunately, as New Covenant Christians we often overfocus on the spirit and miss the fact that the New Covenant is literally made because of Jesus’ BODY broken for us and blood shed for us. It is Jesus’ humanity, not spirit that is the sacrifice that reunites us with God. The conversation is different depending on your stage of life. Believers who are married with kids need to have different conversations than single believers in early adulthood, or teenagers, or those who are divorced, or single after the death of a spouse. But regardless of our age or station in life we need to do a better job having these conversations as Christians. Here are 3 major reasons why Christians need to talk about sex.
God created us to be sexual beings
Every person was designed to be sexual, and that goes far beyond having sex. When God created Adam and Eve, they were meant to relate to one another sexually and their relationship to be closer than parent to child in future generations. They were naked and unashamed of their bodies (Genesis 2:24-35). There are any number of reasons why believers are ashamed of their sexuality today, many of them unfortunately from bad teaching in churches. But that is not the design of God. We were created to relate to one another sexually BEFORE sin entered the world.
Christian sexuality is meant to be different
A lot of our confusion, angst, shame, sorrow, and frustration with reconciling our sexuality with our faith is because of a Biblical principle that Christian sex is meant to be different than sexuality for those who don’t follow Christ. The covenant between God and Abraham made Israelite men sexually different from their neighbors in other nations (Genesis 17). The Law of Moses set up sexual limitations and regulations that were meant to distinguish Israel from other nations. The principle always pushed toward relationship with God reflected in our sexual relationships with others. The word used in scripture is holy, but to translate that our modern culture we might say intentional, purposeful difference that honors God. Paul picks up this Jewish principle in the New Testament by articulating a vision of sexual relationships that is monogamous, mutual, caring, and loving that reflect Christ’s love. We have often been caught up on the restrictions and missed the vision in the church. We have to be responsible with our sexuality because we are accountable to God in a different way as followers of Christ. We are called to be vulnerable, loving, and intentional with our sexuality in a way that is different than the world around us.
We should love and not fear our sexuality
1 John 4:18 reminds us that perfect love casts out all fear. The world has set false standards that promote fear, violence, and mistrust in sexual relationships. We have no need to rehearse the many ways popular culture, corporate interests, and sociopolitical forces use and abuse sexuality. Often their goals are to use sex to make money and create false intimacy. But for many believers we have been taught to fear sexuality to maintain holiness. It has caused believers to have arrested development, face shame and ridicule, leave churches, and seek unhealthy sources to define their sexuality. We rarely speak of the difficulties many newly married Christian couples face around sexual expectations, communication, and formation because of ignorance, self-rejection, and fear. We do not talk about the struggles teenagers face with loving their bodies instead of hating and fearing them. We do not deal with the choice to not have sex as young adults instead of treating sex as an uncontrollable inevitable impulse. We are afraid of the word intimate because we have been taught it is dirty. Our bodies are not beasts to be tamed. They are part of us to be loved. Paul Himself would agree with this, treating our bodies as a Temple of God means loving and tending to them with the utmost care (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Not fearing and avoiding them as we abuse them and let them be abused by others. But Jesus loves us. He loves our bodies. He wants us to love God with our bodies just as we do with our minds and hearts. And we make sexual choices that build intimacy and protection with our romantic partner. We do not discuss the why of a holistic view of Christian sexuality which sets us up for pain before and during marriage. But we should talk about sex. We should love our bodies and our sexuality. We should define what sexual holiness means as believers in terms of what we choose to do instead of what we feel we can’t do. We should honor God’s design for sexuality by loving our neighbors as we love ourselves, sexuality included.
Christmas is a stressful time for many, so not surprisingly it’s also known as the season for arguments.
Some assume it’s because we share the time with family members, who we’re more likely to argue with because of bottled-up resentment or some other annoyance we’ve been secretly nurturing. Others put it down to alcohol.
But, in either case, under normal circumstances, people are usually adept at keeping potentially hurtful comments to themselves. So why is it that we’re more likely to say things we might later regret during Christmas?
Over the past three years, we’ve been studying why people say things they later regret. Released in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, our research discovered in eight experiments over three years the same variable consistently explains why people disclose things that cause them anguish.
From innocuous faux pas to more serious disclosures of secretive information, in each experiment we found “arousal” explains tendencies to disclose information that probably should have been concealed.
Christmas is stressful, and stress leads to chronic arousal. When people are aroused, they’re more likely to say things they probably shouldn’t.
So what is arousal? And why does it cause people to say things they later regret?
Essentially, arousal is the degree to which an individual is awake and alert. You might assume being awake and alert would increase rather than decrease the accuracy of what we say – but this appears not to be the case.
The reason is that arousal uses up so-called “cognitive resources” — basically brainpower. Because there are less conscious cognitive resources available for controlling what comes out of our mouths, our minds default to more automatic, and seemingly less considered, responses. When we lose conscious control over what we say, it becomes more likely we’ll disclose information that we would otherwise keep to ourselves.
Our research finds that information we’re usually careful about concealing, such as secrets and very personal information, is more likely to be disclosed when we default to more automatic responses. We found arousal makes people reveal more personal information, disclose secrets, reveal incriminating information and share frowned-upon experiences with strangers.
In our first experiment, we asked participants to write dating profiles. We evoked arousal with half the participants. They disclosed more embarrassing, emotional, intimate and even incriminating information on their dating profiles than those who were relatively relaxed.
A posthoc study found those people who disclosed such information were less likely to be chosen for a date. The study suggests people who aren’t chilled out are viewed as less ideal partners.
In our second experiment, we found people were more likely to disclose times when they said mean or malicious things to others online, suggesting that arousal increases the disclosure of information that people do not normally like to disclose. Relaxed people, it seems, are better at concealing information and keeping secrets.
In our third study, we evoked arousal by getting people to jog on the spot for 60 seconds. The results found participants were more likely to share embarrassing stories (open up to others) after physical exercise. Usually, people might disclose personal information like this to friends and family, but it seems people are more likely to open up to strangers when aroused. This finding suggests that doing physical exercise together might be a better way of getting to know someone than more docile pursuits such as sitting around.
It seems that lowering arousal is the key to gaining more control over what we say. The problem is that the times when we ought to be careful — such as job interviews, media engagements, important work meetings, or romantic encounters — are often arousing, and it is not easy to remain calm and relaxed.
So what are some things people can do to minimize unintended disclosures and save the family from a memorable Christmas for the wrong reasons?
Some techniques are known to reduce daily stress levels and are useful for situations when we’re most riled up. These approaches include consciously controlling your breathing and listening to chilled music. Other techniques for longer-term benefits mirror the advice of health professionals – reduce how much coffee you drink, eat a balanced diet and get enough sleep.
Not only do these steps make you healthier, they also reduce your stress levels and ultimately your control over what you say.
So when you’re opening your pressies or digging into your turkey this Christmas, try to chill out and relax. Turn on the music, breath deeply, and reduce the chance of saying something you might later regret.
Brent Coker, Academic – University of Melbourne, University of Melbourne
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.