1. What are some things that may cause divisions in families?
HAPPY are those who belong to families in which there is love, understanding, and peace. Hopefully, yours is such a family. Sad to say, countless families fail to fit that description and are divided for one reason or another. What divides households? In this chapter we will discuss three things. In some families, members do not all share the same religion. In others, the children may not have the same biological parents. In still others, the struggle to make a living or the desire for more material things seems to force family members apart. Yet, circumstances that divide one household may not affect another. What makes the difference?
2. Where do some look for guidance in family life, but what is the best source of such guidance?
2 Viewpoint is one factor. If you sincerely try to understand the other person’s point of view, you are more likely to discern how to preserve a united household. A second factor is your source of guidance. Many people follow the advice of workmates, neighbors, newspaper columnists, or other human guides. Some, though, have found out what God’s Word says about their situation, and then they applied what they learned. How can doing this help a family to maintain peace in a household?—2 Timothy 3:16, 17.
IF YOUR HUSBAND HAS A DIFFERENT FAITH
3. (a) What is the Bible’s counsel regarding marrying one of a different faith? (b) What are some basic principles that apply if one spouse is a believer and the other is not?
3 The Bible strongly counsels us against marrying someone with a different religious faith. (Deuteronomy 7:3, 4; 1 Corinthians 7:39) It may be, however, that you learned the truth from the Bible after your marriage but your husband did not. What then? Of course, the marriage vows still hold. (1 Corinthians 7:10) The Bible emphasizes the permanence of the marriage bond and encourages married people to work out their differences rather than to run away from them. (Ephesians 5:28-31; Titus 2:4, 5) What, though, if your husband strongly objects to your practicing the religion of the Bible? He may try to hinder you from going to congregation meetings, or he may say that he does not want his wife to go from house to house, talking about religion. What will you do?
4. In what way can a wife show empathy if her husband does not share her faith?
4 Ask yourself, ‘Why does my husband feel the way he does?’ (Proverbs 16:20, 23) If he does not really understand what you are doing, he may worry about you. Or he may be under pressure from relatives because you no longer share in certain customs that are important to them. “Alone in the house, I felt deserted,” said one husband. This man felt that he was losing his wife to a religion. Yet pride kept him from admitting that he was lonely. Your husband may need the reassurance that your love for Jehovah does not mean that you now love your husband less than you did in the past. Be sure to spend time with him.
5. What balance must be kept by the wife whose husband is of a different faith?
5 However, something even more important must be considered if you are going to deal with the situation wisely. God’s Word urges wives: “Be in subjection to your husbands, as it is becoming in the Lord.” (Colossians 3:18) Thus, it cautions against a spirit of independence. In addition, by saying “as it is becoming in the Lord,” this scripture indicates that subjection to one’s husband should also take into consideration subjection to the Lord. There has to be a balance.
6. What principles should be kept in mind by a Christian wife?
6 For a Christian, attending congregation meetings and witnessing to others about one’s Bible-based faith are important aspects of true worship that are not to be neglected. (Romans 10:9, 10, 14; Hebrews 10:24, 25) What would you do, then, if a human directly commanded you not to comply with a specific requirement of God? The apostles of Jesus Christ declared: “We must obey God as ruler rather than men.” (Acts 5:29) Their example provides a precedent that is applicable to many situations in life. Will love for Jehovah move you to render to him the devotion that rightly belongs to him? At the same time, will your love and respect for your husband cause you to try to do this in a way that is acceptable to him?—Matthew 4:10; 1 John 5:3.
7. What determination must a Christian wife have?
7 Jesus noted that this would not always be possible. He warned that because of opposition to true worship, believing members of some families would feel cut off, as if a sword had come between them and the rest of the family. (Matthew 10:34-36) A woman in Japan experienced this. She was opposed by her husband for 11 years. He harshly mistreated her and frequently locked her out of the house. But she persevered. Friends in the Christian congregation helped her. She prayed incessantly and drew much encouragement from 1 Peter 2:20. This Christian woman was convinced that if she remained firm, someday her husband would join her in serving Jehovah. And he did.
8, 9. How should a wife act to avoid putting unnecessary obstacles before her husband?
8 There are many practical things you can do to affect your mate’s attitude. For example, if your husband objects to your religion, do not give him valid causes for complaint in other areas. Keep the home clean. Care for your personal appearance. Be generous with expressions of love and appreciation. Instead of criticizing, be supportive. Show that you look to him for headship. Do not retaliate if you feel you have been wronged. (1 Peter 2:21, 23) Make allowances for human imperfection, and if a dispute arises, humbly be the first to apologize.—Ephesians 4:26.
9 Do not let your attendance at meetings be a reason for his meals being late. You may also choose to share in the Christian ministry at times when your husband is not at home. It is wise for a Christian wife to refrain from preaching to her husband when this is unwelcome. Rather, she follows the apostle Peter’s counsel: “You wives, be in subjection to your own husbands, in order that, if any are not obedient to the word, they may be won without a word through the conduct of their wives, because of having been eyewitnesses of your chaste conduct together with deep respect.” (1 Peter 3:1, 2) Christian wives work on more fully manifesting the fruits of God’s spirit.—Galatians 5:22, 23.
WHEN THE WIFE IS NOT A PRACTICING CHRISTIAN
10. How should a believing husband act toward his wife if she is of a different persuasion?
10 What if the husband is the practicing Christian and the wife is not? The Bible gives direction for such situations. It says: “If any brother has an unbelieving wife, and yet she is agreeable to dwelling with him, let him not leave her.” (1 Corinthians 7:12) It also admonishes husbands: “Keep on loving your wives.”—Colossians 3:19.
11. How can a husband show discernment and tactfully exercise headship over his wife if she is not a practicing Christian?
11 If you are the husband of a wife with a faith different from yours, be especially careful to show respect for your wife and consideration for her feelings. As an adult, she deserves a measure of freedom to practice her religious beliefs, even if you disagree with them. The first time you talk to her about your faith, do not expect her to discard long-held beliefs in favor of something new. Instead of abruptly saying that practices she and her family have cherished for a long time are false, patiently endeavor to reason with her from the Scriptures. It may be that she feels neglected if you devote a great deal of time to the activities of the congregation. She may oppose your efforts to serve Jehovah, yet the basic message may simply be: “I need more of your time!” Be patient. With your loving consideration, in time she may be helped to embrace true worship.—Colossians 3:12-14; 1 Peter 3:8, 9.
TRAINING THE CHILDREN
12. Even if a husband and his wife are of different faiths, how should Scriptural principles be applied in the training of their children?
12 In a household that is not united in worship, religious instruction of the children sometimes becomes an issue. How should Scriptural principles be applied? The Bible assigns the father primary responsibility for instructing the children, but the mother also has an important role to play. (Proverbs 1:8; compare Genesis 18:19; Deuteronomy 11:18, 19.) Even if he does not accept the headship of Christ, the father is still the family head.
13, 14. If the husband forbids his wife to take the children to Christian meetings or study with them, what can she do?
13 Some unbelieving fathers do not object if the mother instructs the children in religious matters. Others do. What if your husband refuses to permit you to take the children to congregation meetings or even forbids you to study the Bible with them at home? Now you have to balance a number of obligations—your obligation to Jehovah God, to your husbandly head, and to your beloved children. How can you reconcile these?
14 Certainly you will pray about the matter. (Philippians 4:6, 7; 1 John 5:14) But in the end, you are the one who must decide what course to take. If you proceed with tact, making it clear to your husband that you are not challenging his headship, his opposition may eventually lessen. Even if your husband forbids you to take your children to meetings or to have a formal Bible study with them, you can still teach them. By your daily conversation and your good example, try to inculcate in them a degree of love for Jehovah, faith in his Word, respect for parents—including their father—loving concern for other people, and appreciation for conscientious work habits. In time, the father may notice the good results and may appreciate the value of your efforts.—Proverbs 23:24.
15. What is the responsibility of a believing father in the education of the children?
15 If you are a husband who is a believer and your wife is not, then you must shoulder the responsibility to bring up your children “in the discipline and mental-regulating of Jehovah.” (Ephesians 6:4) While doing so, you should, of course, be kind, loving, and reasonable in dealing with your wife.
IF YOUR RELIGION IS NOT THAT OF YOUR PARENTS
16, 17. What Bible principles must children remember if they accept a faith different from that of their parents?
16 It is no longer uncommon for even minor children to embrace religious views that are different from those of their parents. Have you done that? If so, the Bible has counsel for you.
17 God’s Word says: “Be obedient to your parents in union with the Lord, for this is righteous: ‘Honor your father and your mother.’” (Ephesians 6:1, 2) That involves wholesome respect for parents. However, while obedience to parents is important, it must not be rendered without regard for the true God. When a child gets old enough to begin making decisions, he bears an increased measure of responsibility for his actions. This is true not only with regard to secular law but especially concerning divine law. “Each of us will render an account for himself to God,” the Bible states.—Romans 14:12.
18, 19. If children have a religion that is different from that of their parents, how can they help their parents to understand their faith better?
18 If your beliefs cause you to make changes in your life, try to understand your parents’ point of view. They will likely be pleased if, as a result of your learning and applying Bible teachings, you become more respectful, more obedient, more diligent in what they ask of you. However, if your new faith also causes you to reject beliefs and customs that they personally cherish, they may feel that you are spurning a heritage that they sought to give you. They may also fear for your welfare if what you are doing is not popular in the community or if it diverts your attention from pursuits that they feel could help you to prosper materially. Pride could also be a barrier. They may feel that you are, in effect, saying that you are right and they are wrong.
19 As soon as possible, therefore, try to arrange for your parents to meet some of the elders or other mature Witnesses from the local congregation. Encourage your parents to visit a Kingdom Hall to hear for themselves what is discussed and to see firsthand what sort of people Jehovah’s Witnesses are. In time, your parents’ attitude may soften. Even when parents are adamantly opposed, destroy Bible literature, and forbid children to attend Christian meetings, there usually are opportunities to read elsewhere, to talk to fellow Christians, and to witness to and help others informally. You can also pray to Jehovah. Some youths have to wait until they are old enough to live outside the family home before they can do more. Whatever the situation at home, however, do not forget to “honor your father and your mother.” Do your part to contribute to peace in the home. (Romans 12:17, 18) Above all, pursue peace with God.
THE CHALLENGE OF BEING A STEPPARENT
20. What feelings may children have if their father or mother is a stepparent?
20 In many homes the situation that presents the greatest challenge is not religious but biological. Many households today include children from previous marriages of one or both of the parents. In such a family, children may experience jealousy and resentment or perhaps a conflict of loyalties. As a result, they may rebuff the sincere efforts of the stepparent to be a good father or mother. What can help to make a stepfamily successful?
21. Despite their special circumstances, why should stepparents look to principles found in the Bible for help?
21 Realize that in spite of the special circumstances, Bible principles that bring success in other households apply here also. Ignoring those principles may, for the moment, seem to relieve a problem but will likely lead to heartache later. (Psalm 127:1; Proverbs 29:15) Cultivate wisdom and discernment—wisdom to apply godly principles with long-term benefits in mind, and discernment to identify why family members say and do certain things. There is also a need for empathy.—Proverbs 16:21; 24:3; 1 Peter 3:8.
22. Why may children find it difficult to accept a stepparent?
22 If you are a stepparent, you may recall that as a friend of the family, you were perhaps welcomed by the children. But when you became their stepparent, their attitude may have changed. Remembering the biological parent who is no longer living with them, the children may be struggling with a conflict of loyalties, possibly feeling that you want to take away the affection that they have for the absent parent. At times, they might bluntly remind you that you are not their father or their mother. Such statements hurt. Still, “do not hurry yourself in your spirit to become offended.” (Ecclesiastes 7:9) Discernment and empathy are needed in order to deal with the children’s emotions.
23. How may discipline be handled in a family with stepchildren?
23 Those qualities are crucial when one is administering discipline. Consistent discipline is vital. (Proverbs 6:20; 13:1) And since children are not all the same, discipline may differ from one case to another. Some stepparents find that, at least to start with, it may be better for the biological parent to handle this aspect of parenting. It is essential, though, that both parents agree on the discipline and uphold it, not favoring a natural offspring over a stepchild. (Proverbs 24:23) Obedience is important, but allowances for imperfection need to be made. Do not overreact. Discipline in love.—Colossians 3:21.
24. What can help to avert moral problems between members of the opposite sex in a stepfamily?
24 Family discussions can do much to head off trouble. These can help the family to keep in focus the most important matters in life. (Compare Philippians 1:9-11.) They can also assist each one to see how he can contribute toward attaining family goals. In addition, frank family discussions can avert moral problems. Girls need to understand how to dress and comport themselves around their stepfather and any stepbrothers, and boys need counsel on proper conduct toward their stepmother and any stepsisters.—1 Thessalonians 4:3-8.
25. What qualities can help keep peace in a stepfamily?
25 In meeting the special challenge of being a stepparent, be patient. It takes time to develop new relationships. Earning the love and respect of children with whom you have no biological bond can be a formidable task. But it is possible. A wise and discerning heart, coupled with a strong desire to please Jehovah, is the key to peace in a stepfamily. (Proverbs 16:20) Such qualities can also help you to cope with other situations.
DO MATERIAL PURSUITS DIVIDE YOUR HOME?
26. In what ways can problems and attitudes regarding material things divide a family?
26 Problems and attitudes regarding material things can divide families in many ways. Sadly, some families are disrupted by arguments over money and the desire to be rich—or at least a little richer. Divisions may develop when both mates work secularly and cultivate a “my money, your money” attitude. Even if arguments are avoided, when both mates work they may find themselves with a schedule that leaves little time for each other. A growing trend in the world is for fathers to live away from their families for extended periods—months or even years—in order to earn more money than they could ever earn at home. This can lead to very serious problems.
27. What are some principles that can help a family under financial pressure?
27 No rules can be laid down for handling these situations, since different families have to deal with different pressures and needs. Still, Bible counsel can help. For example, Proverbs 13:10 indicates that needless struggle can sometimes be avoided by “consulting together.” This involves not merely stating one’s own views but seeking advice and finding out how the other person looks at a matter. Further, working out a realistic budget can help to unify family efforts. Sometimes it is necessary—perhaps temporarily—for both mates to work outside the home to care for added expenses, especially when there are children or other dependents. When this is the case, the husband can reassure his wife that he still has time for her. He along with the children can lovingly help with some of the work that she might normally handle alone.—Philippians 2:1-4.
28. What reminders, if observed, will help a family to work toward unity?
28 However, keep in mind that while money is a necessity in this system of things, it does not bring happiness. It certainly does not give life. (Ecclesiastes 7:12) Indeed, overemphasis on material things can cause spiritual and moral ruin. (1 Timothy 6:9-12) How much better to seek first God’s Kingdom and his righteousness, with the assurance of having his blessing on our efforts to obtain life’s necessities! (Matthew 6:25-33; Hebrews 13:5) By keeping spiritual interests to the fore and by pursuing peace first of all with God, you may find that your household, though perhaps divided by certain circumstances, will become one that is truly united in the most important ways.