With the recent news of the Ashley Madison hack and the exposé of a number of Christian men who either had signed up for the service or, worse, actually used it, Bob Heywood gives his thoughts on what some of the first steps need to be on the part of the offender. Bob lived through his own journey of needing to rebuild trust with his wife after years of secretive pornography usage. This three-part series does not answer the legitimate question of whether the offended spouse should stay or leave, but if the marriage is to survive and grow, these first few steps will be critical.
You’ve been found out. You’ve messed up and you’ve messed up big time. You have violated the boundary lines of sexual activity that God has put in place, and you have crushed your wife. You think you know how bad it is. But chances are good you still aren’t thinking clearly right now. You haven’t a clue how deep sexual betrayal runs. You can feel the pain you caused, but you still don’t know all the ins and outs of your sin.
The real issue right now for you is this: Will you honestly look at the damage you have done to your wife, and to your marriage? Will you name it and own it?
The worst first step you can make is to say “I’m sorry” and plead that you won’t ever do it again. Sorry is not going to be enough this time, even if you think it will ease the pain. But whose pain are you trying to heal at this point? If your goal is to get rid of the pain and move on, then you are just doing what your sexual sin was trying to accomplish in the first place: rid yourself of pain.
As much as you might want to put your marriage back together, I believe the real issue is not about how couples move forward again or how they are going to pick up the pieces.
The real issue right now for you is this: Will you honestly look at the damage you have done to your wife, and to your marriage? Will you name it and own it?
You have to own up to the fact that your behavior has crossed lines that bring death to a relationship. We can speculate about what Adam and Eve were thinking about before they ate the fruit. But it was when they ate the fruit that death occurred. They crossed the line, and everything changed.
By doing what you did, you crossed the line; you’ve eaten the forbidden fruit. Everything has changed now. The fallout is deeper than you think. Maybe Adam and Eve wouldn’t have eaten the fruit if they could have seen the possibility that their one action would eventually lead, through uncountable years of human history, to a world overrun with violence and suffering. But that doesn’t really matter right now. We are living in a world that they created, and we keep sustaining. So you must face your own self-made catastrophe because you didn’t consider the consequences.
No matter how your wife found out about your sexual sin (whether you got caught or you confessed), she now needs to process the fact that she doesn’t really know who you are. A whole chunk of your life has been lived in secrecy from her. Now she feels like she has been living with a stranger all these years. You may think this isn’t so big a deal, but it is. Can you imagine what the wife of Dennis Rader felt after finding out that she was married to a serial killer for 30 years? For three decades she related to a man who lied to her every minute of every day. I know that sounds like an over-the-top example, but do you get the point? How can your wife easily trust you again, when (for how long? how many years?) you presented a part of yourself to her, every minute of every day, that was a lie?
You shouldn’t be surprised that she is now asking herself questions like, “Does this mean that every time he walked out the door and said he was just going to the store he was really going somewhere else?” She may feel like she has to turn into some sort of private investigator or detective. This wasn’t her calling when God asked her to be your wife. She is wondering what these women on the Internet have that she doesn’t have. She struggles with wondering what is wrong with her, even when she isn’t to blame at all for what you did. She wonders if her husband ever really loved her at all, or if that just another lie.
I know I’ve been very negative up to this point. But one thing I’ve learned in my own journey is that God works in real time. He does his work in reality. It does us no good to paint the picture different than it really is. The corner we’ve painted ourselves into looks bleak.
But there is hope! And it can only start when we get real with what our behavior has done—how it has deeply hurt—our spouse and honestly face up to the damage we have inflicted. It can’t start any other place. Start naming the damage—to God and to her.
“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17).
12 Aug 2015
In an earlier blog, Dave White talks about whether it is ever appropriate to tell you children about your own sexual struggles and sin from the past. To read the post and see the video piece, click here. In this video blog, Dave talks about some strategies for talking to your kids about sex and sexuality.
05 Aug 2015
In an earlier post (below) Dave White talks about whether it is ever appropriate to tell you children about your own sexual struggles and sin from the past. In the video (above) Dave gives a number of options on how to do this.
Do you have sexual skeletons in your closet? Many Christian parents do, and as their kids edge toward the teen years, they begin to dread the questions that may come and begin to ask their own: How can I expect my kids to hold the line sexually when I failed at their age? Isn’t disclosing my own failures giving them license to do whatever they want?
In light of these concerns, does it ever make sense to open the closet door and let your kids see your past?
It depends. There are some kids in a place of rebellion, looking for any excuse to act out. The parent/child relationship may be so contentious that any vulnerability will be exploited and used later to lash out and possibly wound when you seek to address your child’s behavior. Were you a Christian while you were sexually active? This could cause your Christian teen to think they can sin now and repent later. All of us should pause and seek the Spirit’s guidance in broaching these issues with our kids.
That said, in the vast majority of cases, I believe it can be wise and helpful to let your kids see into the closet. Here are three good reasons why.
First, your story can provide a cautionary tale. Even if you were spared the harsh consequences of STDs or an unplanned pregnancy, you can discuss the soul damage that can occur when we don’t follow God. Our “anything goes as long as it doesn’t hurt someone” culture tells us we can indulge sexually with impunity, but God says it is a sin against our very selves (1 Corinthians 6:18). Our kids need to hear that there are unseen consequences in carelessly squandering God’s great gift in this area of life. There can be some real losses later in life. Even if the sin was only with your spouse prior to marriage, you can share the challenges this may have caused early in marriage, the way it impacted the joy of your honeymoon, etc.
Listen: I’m not big on scare tactics. Graphic STD photos aren’t helpful to show to your teen. But there is a benefit to hearing that this is God’s world and following him is the only path to true blessing and joy.
Second, it gives glory to the God who redeems. My past is extremely messy, and my kids have known it for a long time, getting more details at age-appropriate stages. Why do they know this about me? I want them to know that my life is a testament of God’s grace! The Spirit of God has radically changed me from the inside out. They need to know that God forgives sinners and there is no one beyond his grasp. I praise God that the man I was 20 years ago would be unrecognizable to my kids (and not just because of the Afro!).
Real honesty removes you from any pedestal that would cause you to eclipse Jesus. He alone is the righteous one, and your kids should know that you’re as needy as they are for his grace—and that means today, not just in your distant past! One of the most crucial things we do in passing on the Christian faith to our kids is to model authentic faith, which revolves around confession and repentance.
During a season often marked by growing distance between parents and teens, this is a way for you to build a bridge relationally. Being vulnerable, inviting your kids to know the “real” you, invites a reciprocal response. True, they may not be willing to open up, but at the very least it lets them know you want a deeper relationship. The essence of relationship is to be “known,” so we should be striving to let our kids really know us in age-appropriate ways. And it is always huge for teens to be treated as the budding adults they are.
Finally, your kids need to know that the gospel speaks to their sexuality, affected by the Fall, as is everything. “Youthful lusts” are a powerful force at this age. All teens enter these turbulent years wrestling with physical desires they’ve never experienced before, and to make matters more difficult for them, parents generally are not asking them about this stage of development. So, kids are wrestling with strong physical and emotional feelings and desires, and the real-life guidance they need is sadly lacking from their own parents. If no one speaks about these struggles, then, to them, neither does the gospel. But it does!
This is a crucial time for them—and you, as their shepherding parents—to apply the gospel in deeper ways! Our sexual struggles (and failures) are often a significant place of learning our utter dependence on God’s Spirit and the body of Christ to grow and live in the way we are called to live in Christ. And the best way for your kids to learn these things is for you to be vulnerable about your own neediness, and encourage them with how Christ and his people have met you in your own struggles with sexual sin.
For further thoughts look for our mini book, Raising Sexually Healthy Kids, published by New Growth Press, available at harvest-usa-store.com/minibooks/.
“I never realized how frivolously I have treated what sex is. I never saw it as something magnificently created. I know that sex is something that God wants us to control, but it’s out of control in my life. How did I get to the point that I both want it and loathe it at the same time?”
Matt (name changed) voiced this opinion following our presentation of “God’s Design for Sex,” which is one of our teaching segments of our Finding Sexual Sanity seminars. In that section, we try to get across the biblical view of sex and sexuality. So many Christians think that the biblical view of sex is predominantly negative: “Don’t do that until you’re married.” And then, if or when you are married, keep it under control, and don’t get too caught up in its pleasures.
How in the world did we, in the church (and not to mention those outside of the church), get to this pathetic conclusion?
Lots of reasons, but I think one thing we continue to miss: We are not doing a good job of proclaiming the wondrous gift that sex is, and so, too many Christians are falling into sexual sin and disorder as they wrestle with strong sexual desires and relational desires.
In Matt’s case, it was pornography. He knew that engaging and looking at pornography was wrong, but its pull on his mind and body was overwhelming to the point of addiction. Saying “no” to his desires, asking God for forgiveness, and forcing himself to stay away from the computer were failed strategies. His marriage was suffering, too.
It was important for Matt—and it’s crucial for anyone finding themselves caught in an obsessive (if not addictive) downward spiral of looking at porn—to discover what the underlying “idols of his heart” are that fuel all this. Sexual sin is a sign of deeper issues. And those deeper issues use sex as a means to gain what the struggler feels he or she must have in life. (Look at our blog postings on 1 Thessalonians 4 for a quick overview of the power of idols and desires. You can click here.)
Matt needed, and continues to keep needing, to pinpoint those non-sexual wants, desires, and longings that set him up to turn to pornography. Success is never measured by what we have stopped doing in our lives that brings harm. Looking at our failures is never enough to give us a desire to want to change. We need to know what is ahead—what will really give us freedom and joy. In other words, what is the thing to replace what we want to stop?
Listening to his support group talk about the beauty of God’s design for sex struck a chord of hope in Matt. He never considered that grasping a high view of sex might cause him to see sexuality as a gift from God, that God wanted him to use to its fullest delight, that God was not prudish about sex. That God had good reasons for designing its rules and boundaries, and they were not so that we would fail to enjoy it. As one writer recently described the Christian view of sex, “Not to mention the core Christian idea that sexuality is, itself, a necessary evil, and something that must be repressed.”
Really? Where do you find that in Scripture?
Matt left the support group that night encouraged that his struggle with sex had a new angle which could help him. While he still needed to actively repent of his deeper idols and engage in effective accountability with others to overcome his sin, he could now learn to look at the good reasons for God’s design for sex and begin to desire to protect something so good. Then he could begin to experience the goodness, beauty and wonder of sex with the person God gave him to do so with: his wife.
18 Nov 2014
Atlantic Monthly has a distressing but highly informative article on teen sexting, “Why Kids Sext:” http://m.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/11/why-kids-sext/380798/
It’s a great read. But, be prepared to be distressed and a bit unnerved.
It’s not just distressing because teens are taking naked photos of themselves and sending them to others (usually boyfriends), but what appears to be a “so what” attitude about doing this by these same kids. While the majority of teens who sext do so consensually, there are still terrible unintended consequences that can occur, and the article points out several. More disturbing are those situations where some teen girls cave in to relentless pressure to send photos to boys. That’s not only manipulative; it can turn criminal when the naked photo of a minor is distributed online.
But in spite of attitudes changing about this activity, one thing also remains: the double-standard of girls losing out and being shamed, while boys are seemingly immune from consequences. In the ongoing descent into sexual chaos which our culture pushes, some things never change.
It’s an article worth reading by every parent. But what should a parent do once they’ve read it? Let me suggest four ways to respond.
One, I suggest you don’t react in fear and grab your child’s cell phone and demand to look at what’s in it (though you might very much want to do that!). And, don’t rush to punish your teen if he or she has done something like this. You won’t win your child’s heart by over reacting, and that’s the key here. Behavior is important (because behavior has real-world consequences), but character is paramount, and helping your child understand her heart is what will ultimately help her to shape her behavior to do what is right (and honor God in the process).
Two, don’t shut down access to technology, either. Taking away the cellphone or restricting Internet use won’t really work in the long run. Technology is too embedded in our kids’ lives (and ours), and trying to shut down what is ubiquitous, and what society is increasingly relying on, will only drive your teen underground. Trying to control our kids’ lives will only train them to be deceptive. It’s not control you want over your child’s life; it’s involvement in their life.
Three, parents need to wisely interact with their teens regarding their use of technology. Yes, they need monitoring. They need supervision and guidance. Think long and hard before giving your young child a smartphone. They are fun, informative, fascinating—and potentially dangerous They can be portals to some of the darkest corners of life. Are your children using smartphones, tablets, laptops, video game devices? Unless you oversee their usage and know where they are going on the web, they WILL access bad sites and maybe engage with people who can seriously harm them. And you won’t know about any of this, because web browsers are now almost universally private when it comes to concealing the history of accessed websites. Effective filters and accountability software should be as mandatory in homes as smoke-detectors. Seriously.
Four, start talking to your children about sex and their sexuality. The silence of parents is driving our kids to the most broken places on the planet to learn about sex: from the Internet, and increasingly they are emulating the practices and standards of pornography as being normative for sex. But God’s message on sex is that it is a gift to be given in a committed, covenantal union between a husband and wife, and that protecting it until such time comes is not only ideal, but it is also realistic. Not easy in today’s over-sexualized culture, but not unattainable, either. Honoring God with our sexuality is worth pursuing—for ourselves, and for our children.
We can help our children navigate this journey. But they need us to speak up. They need us to be involved, helping them to see and understand what God has said about using his gift of sex, and how their hearts need continual direction to align their sexuality with sound, wise, life-affirming biblical practices.
The benefits and blessings of managing their sexuality are life-long. When you show them the way, you’ll be learning how to live with this awesome gift, too.
To learn more how to talk to your kids about sex and how to oversee their use of technology, go to http://harvest-usa-store.com/ and check out Harvest USA’s mini books, like iSnooping on your Kid: Parenting in an Internet Age and What’s Wrong with a Little Porn when You’re Single?
The title of this article presupposes two things: First, your children are being exposed to pornography, and second, you are already responding even if you are doing nothing. Maybe you are tempted to toss aside this article with a shrug, “Well, my kids haven’t been exposed and I am careful to protect them. I don’t need to read this.” But watch an hour of prime time television and you have seen pornography. Drive past any number of billboards while on a trip and you have seen pornography. Look at the fashion posters in the clothing stores at the mall and you have seen it, in some form.
Don’t believe it? Here is one problem to begin with: We have a very limited definition of pornography. Most of us think of pornography as something found on the Internet, or in adult book stores or behind the counter in convenience stores. While dictionaries might define pornography as pictorial or literary renderings of obscene material related to nudity or the sex act, it is much broader than that. Pornography is anything the heart uses to find sexual expression outside of God’s intended design for relational intimacy. It is anything that tempts and corrupts the human heart into desiring sensual pleasure in sinful ways.
By this definition, we live in a pornographic culture. Think of everything you see on a given day, from driving to the office to watching TV at night. Beer and soap advertisements, as well as underwear ads, all use the human body in provocative ways to catch the attention of the audience. It is not so much that sex is used to sell products, but that products are being used to sell sex. A woman groaning erotically while having her hair washed in a TV ad is not encouraging us to think about clean hair, but about having a sexual encounter.
What is happening here? The culture is attempting to feed our hearts. It tells us our lives are incomplete without the product it is trying to sell us. And when sex is used to sell it, it implies that the product will give us something even more enticing: it will make us into a beautiful woman or man, or draw one toward us, or possibly lead to a sexual encounter.
The sensuality of our culture has laid the groundwork, in some sense, for why overt pornography (like what is common on the Internet) has such power over us. The endless stream of sensual and sexual images touches upon the inner hunger for more, which is a result of living in a fallen world. The need for human relationship, a good creation but itself broken by sin, is something the culture teaches can be filled, not by long-term friendships or marriage, but by sexual and sensual pleasure whenever you can get it. This is why a definition of pornography must be broader in scope. The messages and images we are bombarded with today entice our hearts into desiring sexual and sensual pleasures in ways that are far outside of God’s boundaries.
These are the messages your children are inundated with beyond measure. When thinking about the critical issue of protecting your children from viewing or engaging in much more damaging pornography, you need to know that, daily, your children are being brainwashed into thinking that they need to be sexually active to be happy and fulfilled. You need to address the overarching problem of how our culture sexualizes everything before your children become addicted to pornography. There are two major things you can do.
1. Create a nurturing environment to talk about sex with your children
The first thing parents need to do is just begin talking about sex. This is easier said than done, as the issue of sexuality is so closely connected to matters of one’s past behavior, shame, sin, present behavior, and all the brokenness that the Fall has brought down on sex. But if you don’t begin bringing this subject into the open in your home, you will leave your children defenseless against a culture that is quite willing to talk about sex (and show it) to your children.
Start by working to create a safe environment in your home to talk about emotionally difficult things. Many parents think they are protecting their children by not talking about sex, but in reality they are creating an environment where the children will learn that sex is a taboo subject. As kids grow older, if you have not been talking regularly about sex with your children, then how will they deal with the normal sexual urges and desires they will have growing up? If there is no clear message coming from you, then you can pretty much know where it will be coming from. What’s worse is, if the only time they hear you talking about sex is when you are critical of it (judging other’s behavior), or if your only message is to not have sex before marriage, then they will grow up helpless against the onslaught of unbiblical messages coming their way.
Start by examining God’s view of sex
To teach your children about healthy sexuality, and to begin creating a nurturing environment to talk about it, first examine your own view of sexuality. Is your understanding of sex grounded in Scripture, or is it more based on your own parental upbringing or experiences? There is no way to avoid the impact of your own upbringing here, but it is critical to make what God’s Word says about it paramount. The Bible is very free in discussing sexuality. In Genesis 2:25 we read that Adam and Eve were naked and not ashamed. The Bible says there is nothing wrong with the human body and sexuality; it was the sin of Adam and Eve in disobeying God that caused sexuality to be distorted. It is only after they rebelled against God by eating the forbidden fruit that suddenly they were ashamed by their nakedness. In Proverbs 5:15-19 husbands are encouraged to rejoice in their wives—to enjoy their wives’ breasts and to be drunk with her loving-making. In the Song of Solomon we have vivid descriptions of the joys of sexuality in the context of marriage.
So, what message are you giving your children? Do they see sex as a beautiful gift from God to be enjoyed within the context of marriage, or do they see it as something embarrassing that cannot be discussed? Are they being taught, by your words and your actions, that sex in the context of marriage is something that is right, good, exciting, and life-affirming?
Set the stage on this topic early on with your children. Even if you are late in the game, don’t hesitate to start it now! Learn what the Bible says about sex and let your own misunderstandings and distortions be shaped by God’s Word. Let God’s view of sexuality become yours. If your children are young, talk to them openly and in age-appropriate ways about sex: what it is for; why it is reserved for marriage between a man and a woman; how they should think and feel about sex and their own bodies. If your kids are older, do the same thing, but with teens you may only get an audience by coming at the topic “sideways.” Engage them in conversation over movies, television, news stories, etc. Ask them what their peers are saying about sex and relationships. This can be a good way to get them to open up about their own concerns and struggles about sex, which can then lead into a more “direct” talk on the subject.
Address the deeper longings of their hearts
Talking about the physical or aspects of sex with our children is not enough. There is more to sexuality than Biology 101. But even talking about the emotional aspects of sex is still not enough. Sex begins not with the biology of our bodies, but with the longing for relationship in our hearts.
The beginning of this article focused on the fact that our culture uses a “porn is norm” approach to entice our hearts to want something that will fill our hearts with what we lack. Advertisers clearly understand the human heart, that we have deep inner longings that never seem to be adequately met. That is why pornography is so powerful. Until our children understand why they can feel lonely in a crowded room… until our children understand why they wish life had a happy ending like the movies… until our children understand why they can be sad for no apparent reason… until they understand the longing and emptiness that is always there inside of them, they will never know how to defend themselves against the strong, enticing pull of pornography.
We need to consistently communicate to our children that everyone has these inner longings that cannot be completely fulfilled in this life. This is not to create despair but to give hope. This is Christianity 101: sin has shattered everything in the world, and our longing for something more in life is a sign that points us toward the One who alone can ultimately fulfill us. We were created to be completely fulfilled in an eternal relationship with God, and from that all human relationships would flourish. But now, because of our broken hearts, even the best relationship we might have with God and others will leave us, in this life, longing for more.
Knowing this, about what we are made for and how sin has broken and impaired this relationship with God and others, can help our children identify their longings and resist the inevitable pull to meet them in false and sinful ways. Knowing why we have these longings is one of the best pieces of wisdom a parent can impart to a child. It will give the child a way to process all sorts of emotions and temptations.
Ask the right kinds of questions
How do you address these inner longings with your child? First, do what Jesus did: ask questions all over the place! Parents who only want to make sure their children don’t do anything wrong will generally engage them with commands and lectures. But parents who are wiser, knowing that their children are sinners like themselves and will do wrong things, will engage their behavior and their hearts with probing questions. The first recorded words from Jesus in the book of John is a question: “What do you seek?” When addressing the disabled man at the pool of Bethesda, who obviously wanted nothing more than to walk again, he asked him a question, “Do you want to be healed?” Jesus always engaged a person at the level of the heart. We must do the same with our children. Do not just settle for what you see on the surface, their behavior. Dig deeper, for the sake of their souls!
When seeking to engage your child’s heart, watch your own heart! It is easy to ask questions that can be asked in a way that seeks to expose someone for judgment. Are you seeking information just so you can lower the ax? Are you trying to uncover behavior so that you can punish or “ground” your child? The wrong kind of questions, coming from the wrong kind of motive, will drive a child deeper into seclusion and secrecy—the very place sin, especially sexual sin, thrives.
Instead, ask questions that invite your child’s heart to show itself. Ask questions that help him talk about his feelings (positive and negative) and not just get him to explain his behavior. For example: “You’ve been spending a long time on your computer. What is it that you enjoy doing on it?” If you, instead, acted on your fears and directly asked, “Are you looking at porn?” you would close the discussion down immediately. Use an open-ended question to start off the conversation and then follow it with similar questions. You may (or may not) in that conversation get much detail, but a lifetime of engaging your child with questions that help them to be real is what you want to do.
The right kind of questions will affirm the child as being a person of value (created in the image of God) and someone you love and care about. The right kind of questions will allow the child to express his or her hurts and pains. The right kind of questions will uncover the deeper longings that they wrestle with and allow you the opportunity to share truths about God and how to live life by his grace. Ask yourself when talking with your child, “Is this question going after behavior or is it trying to reveal the heart? Am I seeking to expose for judgment, or am I seeking to know their soul?”
Listen with the right way of hearing
Second, as you ask your questions, be careful to genuinely listen and not overreact. Often our children will share something they have done, or a fantasy they may have, and we will react in a knee-jerk way. This is understandable, because we as parents are very protective of our children, but overreacting when they have risked being vulnerable with us will communicate to them that you will not love or understand them on that level. Staying calm and connected with him or her tells your child that your love for them is real, especially when they are being real and honest with you. When you do this, you are in a position to speak into their lives and have them listen to you. By really listening to them, you will find that they will be more willing to allow you to share with them your own concerns, listen to any alternate ways of thinking or behavior you might share with them, and, more importantly, help them wrestle with what God’s Word says as you look to the Scriptures for answers.
Understand their world with the right kind of knowledge
Third, take the time to learn what your child is up against. Enter his or her world. This may mean that you have to do some research. You may have to educate yourself about what his or her peers believe. For example: Did you know that many teens think that they can have oral sex with numerous partners and still be a virgin? Are you aware of how many ways your child can be bombarded with sexual images (the Internet, message apps, text messages, photo sharing sites, etc)?
Every generation has faced sexual temptation and has been pulled to behave in ways that are outside of God’s design. But this generation, with its proliferation of ways to gather information and communicate, is clearly up against the most formidable temptations that have ever existed. As their parent, you must stay on top of what your child faces every day.
Part of taking the time to learn about their world is also determining the extent of the problem your child might be facing. You need to know the dangers out there and also what your child has gotten into. So if you discover your son is visiting adult sites on the Internet, find out, in a non-threatening manner, how often he does this. What kinds of sites (heterosexual, homosexual, streaming videos, etc.) is he visiting? Such a string of questions might sound like you are grilling him, so how you ask will be critical to “invite” him to be honest with you. It is critical that you seek to discern the extent of your child’s behavior, constantly affirming to him that you are not doing this so that you can punish, but to figure out how best to help. Do not let a witch-hunt mentality develop. Instead, hold onto the idea that you are like a surgeon trying to determine the extent of the cancer so that you can treat the patient. Look for patterns in the behaviors that might reveal the deeper heart issues.
Remember that your goal in all of this is to look for the motives of the heart that might be leading your son or daughter into dangerous territory. Keep circling back in your mind to the fact that everyone’s sinful behaviors come out of sinful decisions made to address the core issues of the heart. Your goal is to help your child see, as much as possible, what is happening beneath the surface of his or her behavior.
2. Lead by example
It should be obvious that the course of action described above cannot occur in one conversation. It is a life-long process. Start doing it now. Carefully build that environment in which you and your children can take steps to be real and open with one another. Asking good questions directed at your child’s heart, listening well, and understanding the world in which he or she lives will go a long way toward creating such a nurturing environment.
But lead now. Don’t wait for tomorrow. Technology is rapidly advancing, and the culture is rapidly moving away from traditional (read: much less Christian) values. You cannot shield your children from problems and sin in this world. You can only shepherd them and give to them the lifelong tools of thinking and behaving that will better help them resist the pressures they will inevitably face once they are grown-up and on their own.
If your children are young, start talking to them now about God’s design for sex (see “Take Courage! Parents and the Dreaded Conversation,” another article on this website).
If you have found that your children have been looking at porn—and again, the odds are overwhelming that they have—go to our bookstore to order a copy of our mini book, iSnooping on Your Kids: Parenting in an Internet World. This mini book will give you further tools on how to talk to your kids about healthy sexuality and the destructive effects of pornography, along with many practical, technological, preventative steps to take.
To help teach your child what are the subtle ways porn impacts and twists one’s mind and heart in ways that destroy relationships, read our mini book, What’s Wrong with a Little Porn When You’re Single.
You might be thinking right now, with the direction the culture is going, that your children are doomed to make it through their childhood, much less their whole life, without escaping this scourge. Remember this, though: The good news is that the first followers of Jesus Christ found themselves in a culture just as deeply broken and sexualized as our own. The Greek and Roman pantheons thrived on unlimited and outrageous sexual debauchery. The early church was filled with people who were coming out of lifestyles of immorality (I Corinthians 6:9-11). Yet the truth of the gospel overcame the pressures to conform to that culture. The gospel then is the gospel now: It is God’s grace that trains us “to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives” (Titus 2:11-12, ESV).
God’s Word still speaks powerfully to these issues. You can have the faith that as you share this same gospel with your children, they will experience hope and change. Our hope as parents does not falter, because Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever.
14 Jan 2014
My long journey to Harvest USA began more than 10 years ago. It was then that my husband confessed to me that he had a problem with pornography. He told me that it had started when he was twelve years old.
Married for five years then, I had sensed that something was amiss in our relationship. Something was drastically impacting our ability to relate to each other, both emotionally and physically. His confession made sense to me, but it also devastated me.
I had been raised in an evangelical Christian home. I had no previous exposure to issues of this nature. My husband was resistant to counseling. This was extremely painful to me. He took the attitude that, “We’ll solve our own problems.” What little counseling we did receive was harmful, especially to me. I was basically told that I must be sure to keep having sex with him and this would, eventually, solve his problem. This further exacerbated my feelings of blame and shame.
Along the way, many unanswered questions lurked in my mind. What was the matter with me? Why did my husband need to look at other naked women? Why hadn’t just getting married cured him of the pornography problem as he had thought it would? What if my husband got involved with or decided to leave me for one of these other kind of beautiful women?
There seemed to be nowhere for me to find solace. I felt obligated to protect my husband’s reputation, so I hid our problems and his for years. I didn’t feel that I could walk up to a girlfriend at church and say, “My husband struggles with pornography; what does yours struggle with?”
I felt that this was one of the church’s unacceptable, politically incorrect sins. I also didn’t share this situation with my own parents or friends. Nor did I feel that I could actually talk with my husband about it at all. He had rejected the idea that he might actually have a sexual addiction. To my husband, the pornography wouldn’t really be a problem—unless I let it be—unless it bothered me. More blame. I was also angry that God had allowed me to marry a man with this addiction, although I had prayerfully sought his will in seeking a marriage partner.
It was as if I was in a car being driven along the interstate. My husband was driving. I kept asking him to stop—to get off at the next exit, or the next, or the next. Yet he was committed to traveling on the same dangerous route, unabated. This left me feeling unprotected and insecure.
The loneliness, together with his refusal to seek help, led me into a state of denial for years. I always knew the problem was there, but felt paralyzed to effect any change. My motto became to make the best of my marriage and family life and continue trying to keep it together with my three daughters. I lived in this place for over ten years!
Then, three years ago, I discovered that the problem exceeded just pornography. My husband was also having an affair. It was at this time that I was at a conference at another church where I saw a brochure for a Harvest USA seminar. I was astounded that there was actually a ministry to those struggling with these kinds of things. I called to find out if there was something available for wives. There was.
I began to attend the Wives Support Group. I felt immediate love, acceptance, and understanding for where I was. Talk about a shelter in a time of storm! There’s an old hymn that says, “There is a balm in Gilead that heals the wounded soul.” This group became my Gilead, where God used other sweet sisters in Christ to lovingly begin the process of helping and healing.
You see, there are no words to express the relief the first time I heard one of my sisters in the group share her gut feelings—and tears—over how her own husband’s problem with pornography affected her. I was able to say, “That’s me! She knows all about what it’s like. I’m not crazy!”
But it wasn’t just the comfort of having others there who were walking the same road. No. I was often challenged to see my own sin as well. Others confronted me about my own self-protection strategies throughout these years. I came to see that my determined self-sufficiency was sin as well—a basic lack of trust of God. In my own attempt to control my reaction and response to this situation over the years, I discovered the harm I also had been doing.
In my own anger, in hiding my pain throughout the years, and in not being candid or honest with my husband, I had basically bought into protecting him from the consequences. Years ago I had made a commitment not to convey to him how wounded I was by what he or the pornography was doing to our marriage. I, too, had been pretending. God began to show me how much I had become enmeshed in my husband’s issues—and the damage I had done in my own commitment to protect his secret.
I had participated in much false pretense. My silence had also served me well.
I began to learn that I did have a voice in the relationship. I did not have to keep silent. Most importantly, I could trust God to be all I needed him to be for me in the times when my words to my husband would not be well-received. Many times they were not. I realized that for years I had been using my husband and my family for my own personal comfort and happiness; these things had become idols in my life. Over the past two years, I have also discovered that God is not so much concerned with my own personal happiness as he is in enabling me to find him in the midst of every trouble and circumstance.
Despite my desire to see my marriage healed, I now walk through the dreadful valley of divorce. Grieving the loss, right now I know that divorce is God’s way of protection for me and my daughters. Looking back over it, I now realize that we were a family that needed to be disrupted. God, in his goodness, has allowed my family’s world to be turned upside-down. Once I would have been very fearful of this kind of disruption—done anything to prevent it—and hated the idea of brokenness. Although I still don’t relish it, the Lord has allowed me to be broken, and I realize that it’s in this place where I am the most teachable. I have realized that he and his promises will never forsake me—as a soon-to-be single mom with three children.
Through all this process, the Wives Support Group has been a lifeline which God blended with my own personal counseling. He has used all this both to redirect my life and to give me hope in God, especially when things appear hopeless. A Puritan prayer says it best.
“Let me learn by paradox
that the way down is the way up,
that to be low is to be high,
that the broken heart is the healed heart,
that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
that to have nothing is to possess all,
that to bear the cross is to wear the crown
that to give is to receive,
that the valley is the place of vision.
Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from the deepest wells,
and the deeper the wells the brighter your stars shine;
Let me find your light in my darkness,
your life in my death,
your joy in my sorrow,
your grace in my sin,
your riches in my poverty,
your glory in my valley.” 1
1 Puritan Prayer from The Valley of Vision, Arthur Bennett, Editor, Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh, 1975.
* This is a guest post by ‘Sharon,’ a pseudonym.
An anti-drug commercial opens with a middle school student innocently walking in the door from school, only to discover the dining room table covered with sex education materials—including scale models! The father casually suggests they could talk about drugs instead of sex.
Though humorous, the commercial poignantly illustrates a sad reality: Sex is the last topic kids and parents want to discuss. Research demonstrates that fewer than 15% of parents discuss sexuality with their children. It is tragic that this crucial area of life and obedience is sorely neglected in most Christian homes. We are woefully neglecting God’s calling as parents if we fail to address this issue from a biblical perspective. The most important aspect of our calling is to pass on the faith to our children, providing a biblical worldview and helping our kids see their lives as caught up in the story of God’s redemption.
Just as in the 1st-century Greco-Roman world, the 21st-century American church has the opportunity to be radically counter-cultural: We can honor Christ with our sexuality in a sexually insane culture. But our children need to be trained, and that begins by stepping out of our comfort zones and risking the “dreaded conversation…”
1. Start with yourself
How do you speak to your kids about sex? Begin by looking inward. You cannot instill a healthy understanding of sexuality in your child if your own perspective is warped by past (or current!) sinful experience, sexual abuse, or unbiblical thinking about sex. First, many Christians approach the blessed sexuality of Christian marriage with a shame-based prudishness that is as unbiblical as wanton promiscuity. We need to see that, from Genesis to Revelation, the Bible is unashamedly positive about sexuality. The ecstasy of sex is by design! God concentrated the nerve endings in our genitals and crafted the glorious intensity of an orgasm. Sex is a good gift he invites us to delight in.
Song of Songs is a “God-breathed” celebration of human sexuality. Historically, the church allegorized this book, limiting it to a description of the relationship between Christ and the church. Even modern interpreters can be a little gun-shy. For example, our English translations make accurate, but very “safe,” decisions in rendering the original Hebrew—which would make most of us blush. So, educating our children begins with bringing perspective on sexuality into conformity with the wonder of God’s design.
Secondly, all of us are born with a fallen sexuality that needs redemption in Christ. Living in a fallen world, we are impacted by our own lust and the “full-court press” of a sexually insane culture. “Good” sex is ripped out of its covenantal design of deep relational and spiritual intimacy and diminished to outward, physical appeal. We believe the lies of porn and romance novels. Sex becomes centered on self. Personal gratification eclipses God’s design of selfless service. And the shame of our past sexual sin doesn’t magically disappear when we enter marriage. Apart from intentionally working through those issues, many couples remain crippled in this area of their relationship. Further, many of us live with the deep scars of sin and exploitation against us. The gospel speaks to all these things, but you must be willing to expose them to the light.
Starting with personal examination assumes married couples will discuss these things together, prior to engaging their children. Make sure that you have a mutually agreed upon strategy. Be prepared to respond when the questions start coming.
2. Start positive
It is very sad that most conversations about sex with our children (especially teens) focus on the negative. Begin by offering a biblical perspective on the blessing of sexuality. After all, the issue initially arises because children want to know where babies come from. Thus, in their eyes, it is naturally the glorious blessing God created it to be. Rather than a dreaded, one-time ordeal, sexual conversations should begin early and continue throughout the child’s life.
3. Do it together
Further, it is essential for both parents to be engaged. Candid conversation demonstrates that in God’s design, shame does not have to accompany sexuality. When sexual conversation is restricted to the same-gender, parent it fosters misunderstanding because every other subject is readily discussed as a family. Treating sexuality as a natural, healthy aspect of Christian living is the beginning of the best sex education you can offer your child.
This provides an additional challenge for single parents. They should prayerfully consider the assistance of other family members or close friends. Since my wife’s passing, I have been blessed to have other women come alongside my daughters and help them in areas I can’t speak into as a man. This underscores the importance of living the Christian life as a “body.”
4. Start small
If you wait until your child is 10-12 years old to talk about sex, you missed the boat! Statistics reflect the average age of exposure to pornography is 9. Many men I work with began masturbating prior to puberty. Kids today have instant access on their cell phones to material that was unavailable in adult bookstores 20 years ago.
When do you start? As soon as your child begins to ask questions, they are ready for accurate, age-appropriate answers. At 4, my twin girls asked questions about pregnancy, and my wife explained that God made a “special hug” for mommies and daddies to enjoy and that sometimes this makes a baby. That was enough. As they became aware of physical gender differences, we began to discuss the mechanics more specifically and use “technical” terms for body parts. Take advantage of natural inroads—I remember drawing sperm and an ovum on a napkin at the dinner table. Be careful to not go overboard in detail, but allow their questions to dictate the depth of the discussion. Starting young is easier on everyone. A child with no shameful associations regarding sex or their genitals makes the conversation less embarrassing for the parent as well.
As your child moves through elementary school, it is important to start explaining ways in which sexuality is affected by the curse. Sober warnings about pornography and the dangers of inappropriate touching are crucial (I began the latter even before my children could talk). Explaining, from a biblical perspective, issues of same-sex attraction is often necessary because this issue is becoming more prevalent in extended family, neighbors, or schoolmates. Even in the midst of these discussions, be sure to keep Christ and his redemption of broken things at the center.
5. Expand and ramp up
Although beginning with “family-wide” conversations as children approach puberty, it is appropriate to allow for gender-specific instruction about bodily changes, masturbation, etc. Again, single parents must recruit the help of other godly adults to participate in this crucial season of a child’s life.
The teen years provide a wondrous opportunity for parents to begin conversations that are more vulnerable. Proverbs 5-7 presents a great blueprint. Beginning repeatedly with “my son…”, these passages poignantly depict the lure of sexual sin: “For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil” (5:3, ESV). Proverbs 7 describes in great detail sexual sin’s promise as the adulteress expresses her ability to satisfy every craving of the young fool. The father is essentially telling his son, “This looks good. It looks foolish to pass this up!” However, biblical wisdom is seeing the end from the beginning, so the father warns, “But in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps follow the path to Sheol” (5:4-5).
Although these passages speak directly to fathers and sons, the same principles apply to mothers and daughters. Are you honest with your teen about your own struggle with temptation or do you present yourself as one who is past all that? These passages urge gut-level honesty and transparency, walking alongside our maturing children, teaching them as individuals that sexual integrity depends upon God’s grace and the community of faith to remain pure.
As your child ventures out to college and adult life, the conversations should continue. Be willing to ask frank, uncomfortable questions about the pressures they face—outwardly and inwardly. Your sober warnings focus on safeguarding the treasure God has given to them in their sexuality.
Does it seem overwhelming? As in all of parenting, God promises to give us more grace and wants us to grow in our relationship with him as we face these challenges by faith.
14 Jan 2014
It was halftime during the 2011 Super Bowl. We were with extended family at our home. During the second quarter, my brother-in-law logged onto our family computer to catch up on business emails. When logging out, it’s his custom to clear the history from the computer so his company’s passwords are not saved. In doing so, he brought up the recent history and found some websites that troubled him.
He alerted my wife (his sister), and they both viewed several extremely graphic pornographic websites that had been saved in the computer’s history. They discussed it for a few moments and decided to pull me away from the game to confront me about what they had found.
I am in my mid-forties, a father of four children. Based on the ages of our kids and the graphic nature of the websites, they assumed the websites were connected to me. After we settled that it was not me, I proceeded to view the websites and knew we had a big problem. These sites were not just topless women or partially nude couples, but included images with violent sex, orgies, and graphic sexual positions. Although I was shaken up by the content, I was determined to find out who in our family was drowning in this stuff. I don’t really know why, but I suspected that it was my youngest, my ten-year-old son.
During the rest of the game, I was in and out of the family-filled TV room, pacing, praying and thinking of words to say—words that would both confront and also leave the door open for honesty. Near the end of the game, families began to pack up and head out. It was a school night, and our family was starting to fade. My ten-year-old son poked his head into the office where we keep our computer. He said, “Goodnight,” and I said the same back. Before he hit the stairs, I got up and said to him, “Hey, have you been looking at anything you shouldn’t be looking at on the computer?” He quickly, and with confidence, replied, “Me? No, I haven’t at all.” I said, “Okay, good.” He then started upstairs, but I gently stopped him and asked him to come back down into the office. He did. I said to him, “I’m going to ask you one more time; think before you answer. Have you looked at anything you shouldn’t have looked at on that (pointing to the desktop computer)?” He paused, looked away from me, then to the floor and said, “Yes.”
When I tell you I have never seen a look of shame and guilt so clearly, I am being totally honest. I did not feel anger or disappointment. I reached out and embraced my boy, whom I later learned had been sucked in by the power of Internet pornography for a long time. I embraced him; he wept, I wept, and we rocked as we had done so often when he was an infant. During the next several hours, he confessed his daily habit of viewing pornography at certain “safe” hours (when our daily family pattern would allow him time on the computer while others were out of sight). Other times were with friends at sleepovers, where they would use their iPod Touches, Internet-capable game consoles, or smart phones to surf pornography websites. Through his tears, he described how bad he felt about himself and how powerless he felt in trying to stop.
The hour was now 2 am. We were both beat, and we were still embracing. Instead of disappointment and anger, I felt relief and a deeper love for my son who was almost asleep in my arms. As I carried him to bed, I thought about God’s yearning to have us in the same place every night: After a day of messing up, if we only felt the “ease” to relax in his arms, tell it all as it really is, and then find the peace to collapse in his arms…that’s exactly where he wants us. He does not want us living a lie, running up the stairs, brushing our teeth, burying our secrets, and going it alone.
Once I placed my son in his bed, he fell asleep and subsequently woke several times during the next hour calling out my name to discuss and confess some more. Eventually he got everything off his chest and finally fell asleep.
I did not sleep that night, nor did my wife. We talked. We cried. We prayed. We argued. The weight on us was heavy. The next day was long. I was desperate to help my son, and I felt incompetent to do it myself. I reached out to several close friends, one of whom was John Freeman from Harvest USA. I told him everything. There were long pauses, as I could not speak through the tears. John was patient. When I was done, all I could do was ask him, “Will my son be all right?”
John didn’t take the role of an expert, but rather a deep and close friend. He did not at this time encourage me to seek outside help, as he thought we had everything we needed within our family. He did not blithely point to Bible verses or books but instead reminded me of my close relationship with a God who loves me and would never turn his back on me. John comforted me and gave me the courage to be a loving father to a hurting and scared son who was full of shame. He encouraged me to be a safe place for my son, someone to talk to and help interpret what he had seen and what he was feeling. He suggested that a remedy would not come instantly, but would come over a long period of time as I grew into being a safe and loving place for my son to come and rest.
John’s words, along with those of other men who know me well, helped me rise up to become the place where my son could find grace, forgiveness, and “ease” so he could move beyond the trap he found himself in.
Now that my son had felt the healing and cleansing power of confession and forgiveness, the days ahead became darker for me.
The subsequent days were filled with despair and discouragement in thinking about what my child had been exposed to for a long time. Conversations between my wife and I were nonstop about what to do now and how this could have happened. For one of the first times in our 24-year marriage, the conversations were starting to dramatically break down and anger crept in. I did not know it at first, but I was slowly coming to terms with my guilt of removing our home Internet filter years ago (because it was a nuisance). I started to admit to myself that we had been lax in forming our daily schedule, which allowed for consistent unsupervised time after school, and our naïveté of allowing him full access to Internet-capable devices for his personal use at a very young age. I have been through dark seasons in my life, and I rank this as one of the most difficult.
The weight that was on our hearts that Super Bowl Sunday lightened as time passed. In the weeks that, followed the opportunities to speak to my son, my wife, and my girls about these topics and about God’s unwavering love for us no matter what we do, think, feel, or see were many.
We now have a top-rated content filter on our computer, are clear with our kids about the dangers of web-enabled devices, have set up “house rules” for our family and friends regarding those devices, and have kept this topic in the forefront of family discussion. This was a wake-up call, but instead of being a start to an ugly, downward cycle, it has opened our family to a better way of dealing with the ever-present world of pornography and, more than that, the relentless and never-ending love that God has for each of us. Through this I am reminded that there is nothing we can do that will cause God to withhold his love and affection for us. All he wants is for us to collapse in his arms; give him all of our troubles, shame, guilt, and secrets; and then to find rest in him.