Family Problems Solved by Bible Counsel
1, 2. (a) What are some causes of disrupted families? (b) Why should the problems of those in disrupted families be of concern to all? (1 Corinthians 12:26)
“WIVES [choose] to be divorced, children to be disinherited, . . . rather than be unfaithful to Christ,” wrote Arnobius, a professed Christian of the fourth century.* Yes, even then, bitter religious opposition by unbelievers split up families. Jesus stated that those who had “greater affection” for family members than for him would not be worthy of him. Hence, there would be “a sword” causing division in some households, because of the believer’s showing less love for his family, “yes, and even his own soul.” (Matthew 10:34-37; Luke 14:26) Such divisions in families continue to our day.
2 Though the Christian may do all he can to keep the family intact, some unbelieving mates simply are not “agreeable to dwelling” with the Christian, and a separation or a divorce ensues. (1 Corinthians 7:12-16) Disrupted families also occur because during “the conclusion of the system of things” there has been a ‘cooling off’ of love for God and his laws, including those regarding marriage. (Matthew 19:6, 9; 24:3, 12) In the United States the divorce rate increased 236 percent just between 1960 and 1980! Since about three out of five divorcing couples in the United States have children, those in broken homes face complex problems. Usually when people learn the truth of God’s Word, their family life improves, but some persons were involved in divorces before becoming Jehovah’s Witnesses. Sometimes even a Christian who failed to apply Bible counsel earnestly at home has ended up in a divorce. (John 13:17) What can Christian parents do under these circumstances to rear children to love Jehovah?
“Fellow Feeling” Vital
3. What suffering is caused by divorce?
3 In Malachi’s day certain Israelite men were treacherously divorcing their wives. The “weeping and sighing” of these rejected women as they appealed for God’s help were, in effect, “covering with tears the altar of Jehovah.” (Malachi 2:13-16) The breaking up of a marriage today is likewise painful, even if there are solid Scriptural grounds for the breakup. Though the husband and the wife suffer, the children often suffer more.
4. (a) In what ways do children suffer when their parents divorce? (b) How can a parent help the child?
4 Even if the divorce brings relief from abuse, a child’s whole world sometimes seems to fall apart. Hence, it is necessary for a believing parent to show out-of-the-ordinary love and understanding in handling the situation. “I was always in the middle. I felt divided,” explained a youth whose Christian father obtained a Scriptural divorce when the boy was five. “I kept my true feelings to myself. This caused bouts of depression.” Helping a child deal with such intense emotions requires that a parent have “fellow feeling” and be “tenderly compassionate.” (1 Peter 3:8) The child may be silent out of guilt, feeling that he is in some way to blame for the divorce. A parent needs patiently to explain that he loves the child and that the divorce is not the child’s fault.
5. Why should a Christian parent endeavor to end hostilities with the ex-mate?
5 Bitterness between parents can become intense, especially so when religious issues are involved. Yet, rather than “paying back injury for injury or reviling for reviling,” the believing parent should consider the welfare of the child. (1 Peter 3:9) In her book Growing Up Divorced, Linda Francke states: “Parents who are hostile to each other make these children’s problems far more difficult and even destructive. Not wanting to risk alienating either parent, the child can withdraw from positive relationships with both parents.” Yes, “bitter jealousy and contentiousness” are not only wrong but can even estrange the child from you. (James 3:14, 16) Thoughtless verbal attacks against an unbelieving parent can deeply hurt a child. (Proverbs 12:18) If an unbelieving ex-mate wishes to continue the conflict, “as far as it depends upon you [the believer], be peaceable with all men.”—Romans 12:18-21.
Protect Your Child’s Heart
6. After custody is determined, what can be a problem with some parents?
6 After custody is determined, there may still be difficulties to contend with. “One of the major problems,” states a report from the Watch Tower Society’s branch in Australia, “is that the parent who has gained custody of the child tends to relax . . . Even a parent in the truth can lose sight of the basic reason he or she wanted custody of the children. The primary reason should be to bring them up as true worshipers of Jehovah.” To do so requires constant effort.—Ephesians 6:4.
7. (a) Why should a child be taught to respect the unbelieving parent? (b) How can you reason with a child if the unbeliever engages in unchristian conduct?
7 Of course, a law court often grants visitation rights to the parent who no longer has custody of the child. Can these be respected while still protecting the child’s heart? Yes, and as appropriate, the child should show due respect to an unbelieving parent. If during the visit the unbeliever engages in unchristian conduct, rather than build hatred by condemning that parent, the believer can explain to the child that God has set standards of conduct in the Bible and that “each of us will render an account for himself to God,” the final Judge. (Romans 14:12) Yet, make clear that such conduct is not to be imitated. Discreetly show that though some people do not live by these standards, in time many change because of seeing a Christian example in the child and the ex-mate. In this way, it may be possible for the child to have a measure of respect for that parent. A divorced couple’s differences about religion should not prevent a parent from affecting the child in a positive way. The Christian parent will “let [his or her] reasonableness become known to all men.” (Philippians 4:5) What, though, if the unbeliever tries to undermine godly training?
8. How did two parents prepare their children for visits to opposing ex-mates?
8 Preparation for the visits is the key! One Christian mother whose ex-husband became an apostate reported: “Before the visit, I would study with the children about how their conduct would be regarded by Jehovah. We would act out situations. I would say: ‘If your father says this or that, how will you answer?’” Another Christian who was divorced because she became a Witness adds: “Before [my two teenagers] leave for their weekend visit with their father, we say a prayer asking Jehovah to be with them and to help them to witness to their dad, especially by their fine conduct.”
9. How can Christian parents imitate the example of Moses’ mother?
9 An unbelieving parent with visitation rights may try to woo the child with lavish gifts, expensive entertainment, and other recreational pleasures. Jochebed, the mother of Moses, (and Amram if he was still living) knew what would face Moses when he was turned over to Pharaoh’s daughter. So she no doubt applied herself in shaping his sense of values while he was still with her. (Exodus 2:1-10) Despite facing the tempting “treasures of Egypt,” Moses made his own choice to follow godly principles. He “esteemed” his spiritual privileges as real riches! (Hebrews 11:23-26) Christian parents should similarly prepare their children to meet such temptations by discussing Scriptural material that focuses on spiritual treasures.* Children often see through the shallow motive of a parent who would attempt to buy their affection.—Proverbs 15:16, 17.
10. In an extreme situation, what are some factors for a parent to consider?
10 In some extreme cases, such visits may pose a serious threat to the child. A parent would have to decide what to do under the circumstances, prayerfully evaluating the severity of the threat, the legal recourse available, and the possible consequences of refusing to honor visitation rights.* Avoid rash actions that could put into question your fitness as a parent.—Galatians 6:5; Romans 13:1; Acts 5:29; 1 Peter 2:19, 20.
Use “Practical Wisdom”
11. When a Christian parent loses custody, what must he or she recognize?
11 What if it is the Christian parent who has only visitation rights? When the child is no longer in the Christian home, that parent has limited spiritual control over the child. (1 Corinthians 7:14) For instance, the faithful patriarch Abraham would likely have insisted that his son Ishmael, like Isaac, marry a fellow worshiper. But after Ishmael, still a teenager, and his mother Hagar were dismissed from the household, Abraham was unable to prevent Hagar from arranging for Ishmael to marry an Egyptian who evidently was not a worshiper of Jehovah.—Genesis 21:14, 21; 24:1-4.
12. (a) What positive effort may a noncustodial Christian parent make? (b) Illustrate how a Christian parent can ‘use wisdom to success.’
12 Despite what might be limited opportunities, a noncustodial Christian parent can do much to instill in the child a deep love for Jehovah. To do so, the parent must “safeguard practical wisdom and thinking ability.” (Proverbs 3:21) Yes, more than intensity of effort is needed. “If an iron tool has become blunt and someone has not whetted its edge, then he will exert his own vital energies [with little results]. So the using of wisdom to success means advantage.” (Ecclesiastes 10:10) For instance, on occasion the unbeliever may make excuses to prevent access to the child. Rather than make an immediate issue of this, a parent may get better results by applying Proverbs 25:15: “By patience a commander is induced, and a mild tongue itself can break a bone.” Patience and mildness, though not easy to show when one is faced with unjust restrictions, can soften even one who is as hard in his opposition as a bone. (Compare 2 Timothy 2:23-25.) Arguments can often be avoided by your being punctual and following suggestions (not in conflict with the Scriptures) that are given by the custodial parent regarding the child’s care. If you are concerned that the unbeliever is making derogatory remarks about you to the child, remember 1 Peter 2:15: “By doing good you may muzzle the ignorant talk of the unreasonable men [and women].” If you set a good example, the child will see who is right.—Proverbs 20:7.
13. How can a believing parent make a visit truly beneficial?
13 During the visits, endeavor to put the Word of God into the child’s heart by, whenever possible, personally studying spiritual material with him and by taking him to congregation meetings. Even if there are stringent legal restrictions, the parent can informally refer to God’s creative works, and in other ways help the child to love God. (Romans 1:19, 20; Matthew 6:28-30) Jesus recognized the limitations of his listeners. He “would speak the word to them, as far as they were able to listen.” (Mark 4:33, 34) So in addition to discussing serious spiritual matters, engage in other upbuilding activities, such as visiting with good friends, including some who are of the child’s age. (Proverbs 13:20) Enjoy wholesome recreation together. Make the visit a precious occasion. Reasonable discipline shows love. (Proverbs 13:24) At times, however, the problems may seem overwhelming. Pressures come from many quarters. How can all of these be endured?
Rely on Jehovah
14. What assurance do we have at Psalm 37:23, 24?
14 Concerning a person in whose course of life Jehovah “takes delight,” David wrote: “Although he may fall, he will not be hurled down, for Jehovah is supporting his hand.” (Psalm 37:23, 24) Yes, a Christian struggling with the pressures of a disrupted family may at times “fall” in terms of frustrations, disappointments, and legal or financial reversals, but he will not be spiritually “hurled down” completely. As the New Berkeley Version renders the phrase: “When he falls, he shall not be down and out.” Why? Because Jehovah offers his hand of uplift by means of his holy spirit and his loving worshipers.—James 1:27.
15, 16. How have some in disrupted families been sustained?
15 One Christian woman, after her opposing ex-husband was granted custody of her two young children, stated: “When matters were taken completely out of my hands, I learned really to rely on Jehovah. I have learned to accept what he allows and not try to take things into my own hands. I am still learning. It’s a hard lesson.” However, she is making full use of her visitation rights and has drawn comfort not only from her new husband, a faithful Christian elder, but also from others in the congregation.
16 Another Christian whose apostate ex-husband kept the children with him for several months against the court’s ruling, said: “I was so depressed that I thought I was going to fall apart. The one thing that kept me from losing my mind during that period was being involved in the field ministry.” Her daughter, who was seven at the time, took a firm stand for Jehovah, even enduring several beatings by her father because she refused to read his apostate literature. When she returned to her mother, she was determined to stick even closer to Jehovah. These and other faithful servants have seen fulfilled Psalm 54:2-7: “O God, hear my prayer; . . . look! God is my helper; Jehovah is among those supporting my soul. . . . For out of every distress he delivered me.” Yes, we can count on Jehovah’s support!—1 Corinthians 10:13.
17. How can parents in disrupted families help their children, with what possible reward?
17 So if you are a parent in a disrupted family, be sensitive to your child’s feelings. Fortify that one’s heart with God’s Word. If you only have visitation rights, then exercise “practical wisdom” as you use these to the full. Have confidence in the power of God’s Word planted in a receptive heart. (1 Thessalonians 2:13) Seeing a child come to love Jehovah is well worth all the effort.
Against the Heathen, Book II, 5.
See “Youth’s Greatest Opportunity” in our August 15, 1985, issue, as well as “How Do You View Material Possessions?” in the book Your Youth—Getting the Best out of It, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
The Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act in the United States says: “A parent not granted custody of the child is entitled to reasonable visitation rights unless the court finds, after a hearing, that visitation would endanger the child’s physical health or significantly impair his emotional development.”
Do You Remember?
□ How can the custodial Christian parent protect the child’s heart?
□ How will “practical wisdom” help a believing parent who has only visitation rights?
□ What assurance is given at Psalm 37:23, 24, and how does Jehovah fulfill this promise?
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Use visitation rights to inculcate the truth into your child’s heart, but combine this with other wholesome activities