The following blog is an article from our 2021 Harvest USA Magazine entitled Standing Firm for His Glory. To read more articles from this issue, simply click here or visit www.harvestusa.org/magazines/.
“Godly husband, godly father, godly leader in the Church.” That was how I so wanted to be perceived by others, but it was a lie, and I hated myself because of it. The truth was that, for decades, I had struggled with sexually addictive behaviors: masturbation, pornography, and—eventually—binges of phone sex with other men. This was a secret that I was once convinced I would take to my grave because, if anyone knew the truth of who I was, I was sure I’d be despised, rejected, and abandoned by all, including my wife and children.
The fact that I struggled with sexual brokenness isn’t surprising, especially in light of my story and the fact that I have a sinful nature and live in a fallen world. I grew up in a Christian home with godly parents, but I carried a deep wound. My dad excelled in whatever he did, and others fully expected me to follow in his footsteps, but what he excelled in was not what I wanted to pursue. Indeed, I avoided his world because I feared that I might fail and be rejected by him and others. And so any deep connection with my dad was absent. He didn’t give me the physical touch, the play, the frequent affirmation that I so desperately wanted and needed.
A therapist said to me decades later, “You were a nine- or ten-year-old boy, walking across an emotional desert, desperate for a drink of water, and you found one. It just happened to be from a polluted well.” The polluted well was the attention of an older neighborhood boy who introduced me to sexual activity. This would set in motion a decades-long history of struggle with same-sex attraction and sexual acting out. While I was still attracted to women, there was always the pull of the other that produced overwhelming guilt, toxic shame, and repeated, desperate calls to God to remove this despised thorn.
My early sexualization was punctuated by two other traumatic events during adolescence. When I was 14, my dad invited a 24-year-old man with whom he had a professional relationship to spend the night—to share my room—when this man was in town for a special event. Little did my dad or I know that the conversation this man engaged me in after the lights were out would quickly turn sexual and would lead to sexual activity that left me devastated with guilt and shame. Similarly, a sexual encounter with a predatory college professor at age 18 would also reinforce the extent of the brokenness I felt.
During my time in professional school, I fell in love with a wonderful Christian woman, and we married soon after. Finally, I thought; surely marriage would fix me. Marriage was what I needed in order to quit doing the things that brought so much pain. And it did work, for a while. But, gradually, the same old sexually addictive behaviors crept back into my life. I told myself that I was only trying to reduce the stress resulting from my job.
I thought that once we had children, I would stop. I would have to stop. But the children came, and my sin didn’t stop. Against a backdrop of frequent masturbation and binging on pornography, I kept trying to find a way to stop, believing that God and I could sort this out, that no one else needed to know.
When I was in my mid-30s, my family and I were members of a small, reformed church in the Midwest. I was approached about serving as an elder. I resisted at first, feeling like a hypocrite, but after repeated overtures from the pastor and a godly man on the church’s session, I agreed to have my name placed before the congregation. I told myself that if I were elected to the office of ruling elder, I would have to stop doing what brought so much guilt and shame. I was elected to the office of ruling elder and ordained, but, much to my disappointment, the miraculous healing I was seeking did not materialize. It was not long before I was engaging in the same old addictive patterns, at times contemplating whether suicide wouldn’t be a better alternative.
And so the pattern was set, and the decades passed. Where was God in all of this? Why wouldn’t he remove this thorn? I became more and more convinced that there might not be any hope for me, disregarding all that I had been taught throughout my life about God’s faithfulness. In my early 40s, my wife and I were in a new city as a result of my work, and the evidence of God’s faithfulness to me began to take form, although I would not see that until years later. My wife, while serving on the missions committee of the church in which I was also serving as a ruling elder, came across a request for support from Harvest USA. I can remember her saying while she was reading the literature, “This is the most grace-filled, redemptive approach to helping individuals escape their bondage to sexual sin that I have ever seen.” I was intrigued and began reading it myself. I found a modicum of hope, but I was still too prideful to confess my sin to my pastor or my wife.
I see much more clearly now how God was at work in my heart even in those dark times. I would eventually confess my sexual brokenness and the details of how I acted out sexually to my pastor in a moment of desperation. He met me in my brokenness; he held me, he wept with me, he repeated the truth of the gospel to me, and he encouraged me to tell my wife about my sexual struggle. It was a proper suggestion but one that I had too much fear to pursue at that time, but, in that moment, I was met with the goodness and grace of the gospel by my pastor, and it gave me hope.
I told myself that this is what it would take—confession of sexual sin to my pastor—to break the hold that my sin had on me. Once again, I received short-term relief, but my sinful, addictive patterns soon grabbed hold of me again.
So I continued to struggle until, several years later, God gave me a desire to pursue bi-weekly telephone counseling with David White, who was Harvest USA’s Men’s Ministry Coordinator at the time. David kindly and patiently worked with me to help me see my profound brokenness. He too encouraged me to confess my sin to my wife. When I finally did so in a moment of great guilt and shame following a binge of acting out, we were thrown into a major crisis that led to intense marital counseling and a sexual sobriety contract in which I promised to disclose to my wife within 24 hours any sexual acting out. Finally, I thought to myself, this is what it would take to enable me to stop. But it didn’t. Fourteen months later, I binged again while my wife was out of town and continued my deceit by failing to confess to her as I had promised. I was convinced that if I kept my promise to confess to her, I would lose my marriage and my family.
The truth always comes out, and I am grateful now that that was true in my case. Two months later, my wife confronted me, and I knew that I had to answer her pointed question honestly, confessing to what had happened months earlier. We were immediately thrown into another crisis, but, in retrospect, this moment was God’s gift, for God used my desperation to save myself and my marriage to get me to a twelve-step fellowship meeting with other men, many of whom were Christians, and the missing piece to my decades-long search was found.
After God created Adam, he pronounced, “It is not good that man should be alone.” Yes, God gave Eve to Adam as a helpmeet, but he also designed Adam for deep connection with others. Man was created for real intimacy, something I had never experienced because I was too fearful that I would be completely rejected and abandoned if anyone knew what I had done.
As I began attending twelve-step meetings and experiencing an honesty from others that I had never before experienced, I slowly discovered that God used my deepest fear of others knowing my most shameful secrets to bring true repentance and healing. As I began to let go of my secrets and discover anew God’s goodness, kindness, and unfathomable grace, the transformation of my heart began.
While this transformation would occur slowly over the next few years, I discovered real intimacy, not only with these other men who loved me and encouraged me to walk in obedience, but also real intimacy with my wife and my children. I developed deep friendships with other men that were transformative. I gradually came to realize that this was what God designed me for, that there was no way I could have ever been freed from my addiction to lust without the community of other broken but redeemed brothers in Christ.
My wife and I have done a lot of therapeutic work over the past twelve years. There have been some rough times along the path of healing, but now, more than ever, we both see God’s merciful hand in our lives, confirming again and again the good news of the gospel. For that, we are both grateful. And the pastor to whom I had confessed my sin years earlier has walked with us through many rough times; I am grateful that he is still my pastor today. He loved me, and he showed up as the hands and feet of Christ when I did not think myself worthy of God’s love.
Today, my life is much different than it was for those many decades during which I attempted, in my pride, to live life alone in order to protect my secrets. I have a much more profound intimacy with Jesus, who makes me and all things new. I have the great honor and privilege of sponsoring and mentoring six amazing young men, ranging in age from 27 to 40 who, like me, struggle with sexual brokenness but, by God’s grace, are living in freedom and seeking to walk in obedience before God one day at a time. God gives me a front-row seat to watch the Holy Spirit at work in these men’s hearts and minds.
I will always be grateful for Harvest USA. Its ministry of hope, healing, and forgiveness rooted in the reality of the gospel touched my life during a dark time of my soul and led surely and amazingly to the reality of knowing God and others in a way I never thought was possible. And I am grateful that I have a church today where my pastors know my story and have often sent other men to me—to share my story and to sit with them in their brokenness, offering the hope of the gospel and of deep friendships with other men who struggle as I do. I no longer have to live life as the hypocrite who desperately wanted to be affirmed by others as “godly husband, godly father, godly leader in the Church.” Today, I have a fresh realization of the truth of the gospel and my desperate need for true intimacy with God and with other men.
In this article, we do not disclose our ministry recipient’s real name because he has requested to remain anonymous.
02 Dec 2021
Name: Chris Torchia
Hometown: Lancaster, PA
Position: Director of Parents and Family Ministry
Description of work at Harvest USA: I am primarily responsible for overseeing all the direct ministry to parents and families, as well as contributing to our equipping ministry through creating resources to educate the church in these specific areas. Although I often meet individually with parents and family members, the majority of my ministry is conducted through facilitating biblical support groups for parents whose child has embraced an LGBTQ+ identity. These groups aim to provide parents with a safe and supportive community to share their struggles, understand their child better, and explore the role God is calling them to have in their child’s life. My equipping efforts seek to educate the Church in how to properly understand and care for hurting parents dealing with these challenging issues.
How did you get to Harvest USA? I first heard about Harvest USA while I was in my last semester of seminary, at a men’s breakfast for my church. I remember being struck by how theologically sound and surprisingly practical the teaching was. I spoke with the former president of Harvest USA, and he shared with me some potential job opportunities to consider. Because I was about to finish my counseling degree and didn’t know what was next, the timing was perfect. I began my career with Harvest USA in the Men’s Ministry and shortly after was asked to get involved in our ministry to parents. Unmarried with no kids at the time, I thought, “Why not?!,” and jumped in. By God’s grace and many long hours spent with parents, I found my niche there and eventually ended up overseeing all our ministry to parents and families.
What is your favorite Scripture? One of my favorite verses is Proverbs 1:7:
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
fools despise wisdom and instruction. (ESV)
I have always been the kind of person with more questions than answers, which has given me a strong desire for wisdom and understanding. This is especially true as I wrestle with the complexities of my own heart and the lives of people I care for. I love this simple verse because I have witnessed how it proves true over and over again. I have found that true knowledge and understanding begins and ends with fearing the Lord and not being right in your own eyes. This passage has several implications, not least of which is the guidance, protection, and life that come from writing God’s words on your heart and treasuring his commands within you.
What is your favorite thing about living in Philadelphia? I actually just moved with my family back to the Lancaster area after living in Philadelphia for 10 years, but what I love most about Philly is that it has so much character. From the rich history of Old City, the Italian market, and the Rocky Steps (yo, Rocko!) to the scenery of Fairmount Park and the Wissahickon Trail, the foodie scene, and, of course, the infamous northeastern hospitality; you can find a lot of flavor in this city. I also appreciate that Philly is a city of neighborhoods and small enough to get to know people—if you can stick around long enough to get past the seemingly tough exterior.
Can you tell us an interesting fact about yourself? Before my Harvest USA days, I had a pretty illustrious career as a breakdancer. For more than 12 years, I was part of a Christian breakdance crew that performed for various venues and taught workshops and classes for kids and adults. Through this art form, the Lord allowed us to have a flourishing outreach and discipleship ministry, which led me to discover my strengths in ministry and pursue counseling as a career. Providentially, the Lord also opened the door for me to teach dance workshops in the Dominican Republic, where I met my now wife of five years!
A Means of Coping
Hearing the painful news that your son or daughter is embracing an LGBTQ+ identity can cause any Christian parent to feel profound pain and heartache. I often sit with mothers and fathers who share stories filled with complex relational challenges and heartbreaking circumstances. I have also watched parents resort to all kinds of measures to manage their emotions and pain—from seeking some sense of control by lecturing their children and by turning to sources of comfort to self-medicate or simply trying to distract themselves from thinking deeply about their child altogether. These behaviors are commonly referred to as coping mechanisms. Conscious or unconscious, coping mechanisms are developed to manage painful and uncomfortable emotion. They help us survive traumatic events, endure stressful circumstances, and find some sense of comfort or assurance that everything is okay. I would like to take a closer look at the very common, but often subtle, coping mechanism of denial.
Surprisingly, denial can be healthy in the middle of a surprising or traumatic event, as denial allows you to be removed enough from an overwhelming emotion so that you can function until you have time to process the situation. Take the mom in this story, for example: A middle school teacher checks her email on a lunch break and discovers that her 17-year-old daughter is taking hormone therapy through the family insurance plan. Because the mom can’t afford to allow the weight of this discovery to completely undo her in that moment, she temporarily removes herself from her emotions before getting back to her classroom, knowing she just has to finish her day and make it to the car before breaking down in tears. Or consider parents who are completely taken off guard by their son disclosing to them that he identifies as gay. Rather than exploding from shock and devastation, they exercise self-control and compose themselves when hearing their child’s news, responding in words of love and care, despite how significant of a blow they had just received. In these ways, denial can certainly aid in the moment when the need to control difficult emotions is critical. It can also give a parent time to process his or her child’s issues at a pace that the parent can manage.
Even though denial can play a healthy role in parents’ emotional process, it often lingers much longer than is helpful. Although initial denial alleviates negative feelings and reactions, prolonged denial is detrimental, only making matters worse over time. Consider a few ways hurting parents may persist in denial as a means of coping with their situation:
- Not believing their son or daughter is telling the truth about his or her perceived sexual or gender identity. It can be tempting to minimize what your child feels about herself, perhaps chalking it up to confusion or just going through a phase. Certainly this could be a possibility for some kids, but if your child is truly embracing an LGBTQ+ identity and you continue to dismiss it, then this will only lead you to hurt your child and damage your relationship with them.
- Pretending that their child’s sexuality or gender identity is their own issue to manage and doesn’t really affect the parents. Denial can give a false sense of resolve by reasoning that your child’s issues affect him or her alone and therefore you needn’t be directly involved or impacted. This is commonly the case for fathers who feel that there is no sense talking anymore about the issue if they can’t fix it. This reasoning minimizes the grief your child has caused and keeps you from sharing the painful burden you are carrying, besides keeping your child at a distance.
- Pretending that your child’s sexual or gender identity will resolve itself and will go away in time. Because denial shields you from uncomfortable realities, it also prevents you from engaging in what is really going on in the life of your child: his story, his relationships, his day-to day-reality. If your child lives outside the home or you have a cordial relationship as long as this issue is not brought up or acknowledged, you may be tempted to resist God calling you to engage in loving your child by bringing up her sexual identity; this gives you a false reassurance that things will work out without your direct involvement. This kind of denial hinders a parent from loving his child in a personal and relevant way.
Remaining in denial can feel safe and comforting, but, in the long run, denial will only hinder you from participating in the work that God desires to do in and through you from these hard circumstances.
Embracing Growth and Change
When seeking to cope with uncomfortable and painful circumstances, we must consider how Scripture offers guidance to us in our heartache. Romans 5:2–5 says,
“Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
This passage invites us to embrace hardship and suffering because of all that God wants to produce through it: endurance, character, and hope, grounded in the love of God! This is certainly not a common go-to coping mechanism, yet walking through suffering in faith is the only coping strategy that is firmly grounded in the love of God and hope of his redeeming purposes.
Prolonged denial is focused on temporal relief and avoiding the responsibility of confronting your unpleasant reality. Although this can alleviate the anxiety and pain in the moment, if prolonged, it results in cutting off access to the means of healing and growth that God is willing and ready to provide.
If you are a Christian parent of a child who embraces an LGBTQ+ identity, take a moment to examine yourself. Where are the places of denial that God may want to address in your heart? Perhaps you need to finally acknowledge your child’s same-sex partner, ask more details about your child’s experiences as he wrestled with his gender identity, or simply talk to a friend or spouse about how you are really feeling this week concerning your child.
If you know a parent who may be in stuck in a place of denial, consider pursuing them out of love. Ask them to talk to you more about how they are feeling. Consider how you can discover what God may desire to do in his or her life from this difficult trial.
May you be comforted with the knowledge that God not only desires to alleviate the burden of your pain and discomfort, but he also wants to use these circumstances to demonstrate his providential care and strength through your life.
The following blog is an article from our 2021 Harvest USA Magazine entitled Standing Firm for His Glory. To read more articles from this issue, simply click here or visit www.harvestusa.org/magazines/.
“But isn’t it just a lust problem?” Mike asked. I was explaining to Mike the Harvest USA Tree Model, the core content of our ministry to both individuals and churches. Mike wanted to believe what I was saying about the deeper aspects of his sin. It gave him hope that there was a path to victory in his fight against the porn habit he’d been losing for years, because willpower certainly hadn’t worked. His objection revealed a problem that most of us encounter when thinking about our sin.
Mike’s question forces us to seek a more complete understanding of sin. We tend to think of sin in simple ways that only scratch the surface: I’m tempted; I fall; I repeat. But a biblical view of sin goes much deeper. This is what our Harvest USA Tree Model illustrates.
Jesus describes sin as having a source deep within us, in the heart, the epicenter of where our intellect, will, and affections all converge. In Matthew 15:18–19, Jesus said, “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” Thinking of our hearts as part of a tree originates from Jesus’ words in Luke 6:43–45: “For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his heart produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” Building upon these verses, our Tree Model pictures the heart as the source of a tree, the seed.
The Seed: Our Hearts
The most basic characteristic of the seed, or heart, is that it is fallen. The word “autonomy” summarizes the sinful inclination of our hearts. We desire self-rule rather than being ruled by the authority and care of God. Our desire for autonomous independence from God affects every aspect of our lives. It shapes our reactions to our circumstances and experiences; it skews our deepest desires; it taints our functional worldviews. These are the inner workings of sin that bear fruit in what we do. The following three make up the other elements of the tree: the soil, the roots, and the trunk.
The Soil: Our Circumstances and Experiences
The soil is the context for the seed. The parents to whom we were born, our families, and our peers are all part of the soil. It is all the things those people do to us or for us—or neglect to do. It is everything that happens to us, good or bad. We are praised, abused, affirmed, attacked, protected, or wounded. We experience trauma and suffering, or we live in shelter and safety. Together, these experiences comprise the context in which our fallen hearts are active.
It is important to note that the soil is influential but not determinative. The influence of experience and context can be profound and must be taken into account if we want to understand and turn from entrenched sin patterns, but our circumstances do not determine our actions. Our fallen hearts are always interacting with the soil, interpreting and responding to both positive and negative experiences.
The Roots: Our Deepest Desires
One of the ways in which our hearts interact with our contexts is by desire. We were created to receive certain blessings and gifts from the gracious hand of our Creator. As his image bearers, God gave us desires for security, significance, glory, affirmation, love, purpose, and order. Marriage, fellowship, friendship, and other social connections were intended to be conduits of love, affirmation, affection, and intimacy as we became “fruitful and multiplied,” according to God’s blessing.
We still want all of these blessings that were given or promised to us, but now our hearts want them autonomously. We don’t want to receive God’s blessings in his way, in his time, according to his authority or design; we want them on our terms. Second, the soil itself is cursed, and the world and the relationships in it are broken. This combination means that our desires are problematic for us. Separated from God, the true source of every blessing we could rightly desire, we tend to substitute counterfeits to suit our fallen hearts. These counterfeits become our idols. When we speak of idols of the heart, we are referring to desires that have become so important to us that they have replaced God in our hearts. They control us, so we sometimes refer to these as controlling desires.
The Trunk: Our Functional Worldviews
Our idolatrous desires both shape and are shaped by our thinking. We develop patterns of thought that form the grid for our interactions with our world. We sometimes call these “shoots” because they arise out of our hearts’ interaction with the soil, but, because they continue to grow until they are strong and fixed, we can also call this the trunk. Both terms refer to our functional worldviews—our unspoken and largely unconscious set of beliefs about God, the world, ourselves, and other people, which form the basis for our daily lives. These are not the doctrinal affirmations you would likely recite if asked to describe what you officially believe. Instead, this set of beliefs is reflected in the ways that you actually live.
The Gospel: New Hearts, New Trees
The Tree Model illustrates that our behaviors—the fruit—are but a symptom of how the tree is functioning. When you hope in Christ, he renews your heart, and your entire tree is renewed. The Bible promises us a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26–27) and describes and our new life as being “in Christ” (Romans 8:1), “hidden with Christ” (Colossians 3:3), and—using a tree metaphor—“grafted into” the tree of salvation (Romans 11:17). The new heart and new life that Christ gives is the beginning of an entirely new tree. In the gospel, our true and eternal identity is in Christ, even though we still battle with the patterns and baggage of our old ways. Rather than simple self-discipline and willpower, though, the real source of change is new faith and affections in our hearts, redeemed desires, and transformed worldviews—all given to us in Christ.
Back to Mike
So how did this help Mike, the questioning struggler with whom I was speaking? By examining his soil, Mike identified a few influential experiences: His dad abandoned the family when he was nine, and his mom became an alcoholic, leaving Mike to care for three younger siblings. By outward appearances, he succeeded admirably in this role, proving himself capable and receiving praise from others, but Mike’s heart became controlled by a fear of chaos and a strong desire for both control and affirmation—his roots. He developed the unspoken belief that, on one hand, people were a threat to him; on the other hand, their adoration of him was essential to his worth. He believed he must control people and things at all costs. Pornography was the fruit. In it, he fantasized about the adoration he craved while holding complete control and avoiding the chaos and threat of relationships. Now, no longer autonomous but armed with faith that his heart and identity were new in Christ, Mike brought all the truths and promises of the gospel to his experiences (soil), his desires (roots), and his thoughts (trunk).
Of course, this is a simplified and condensed version of Mike’s story. In reality, change happens over a lifetime of discipleship, in relationship with others in the Body of Christ. This is why we want leaders and individuals in churches to have this tool. We use our Tree Model to train people in a biblical view of sin and the gospel.
A few years ago, I talked to a man whose girlfriend had recently told him about her past, which included intimate relationships with women. When I asked what he thought about that, he said, “I want to marry a woman someday that has been through something hard. Dirty dishes in the sink aren’t as important to a woman who has walked through the fire.”
That comment has stayed with me for years. His perspective was refreshing. Instead of seeing his girlfriend’s past as a disqualification from being marriage material, he saw it as just the opposite. She had persevered and endured things that he knew very little about, but what he did see in her was a woman whom the fire had shaped through suffering.
2 Corinthians 5:16–17 says, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” These verses are loaded with meaning, but Paul is acknowledging how, after his conversion, he no longer evaluated people by external, human standards but rather by who they were in Christ, as new creations. Just like the Christian’s sins are paid for by Christ’s substitutionary death, the Christian’s old value systems are replaced with Christ’s righteousness. The cross frees the believer to live a life controlled by the love of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:14–15).
What does this have to do with the person you are dating and his same-sex attraction? It has everything to do with it! If this is a part of your girlfriend’s past, God counts her old life as ended. If this is a part of your boyfriend’s present, the power of sin has been broken. While this sin struggle may still be a part of his or her life, it no longer controls, and it certainly isn’t what defines that person.
The man in the story from above didn’t see the outward sin struggle of his girlfriend; instead, he saw her heart and, therefore, her beauty as a new creation in Christ. This is really hard to do when you are dealing with something that you perhaps don’t understand. If you are being really honest, maybe your boyfriend or girlfriend’s struggle feels even worse than other sins to you, but here are a few things to keep in mind:
Check your own sins first.
It is tempting to look at other people’s sins like they are worse than your own (Matthew 7:3–5). We might even see others’ sins and not really know how to deal with them. Before you allow yourself to worry about the nuances of your boyfriend or girlfriend’s sin, you should have the humility to first examine yours. If we see ourselves rightly, we are less likely to hold struggles against someone else because, after all, we all struggle. Some of us just struggle with things that are more public than others’ hidden sins.
Not every same-sex friend is dangerous.
A common misconception is that if someone is attracted to the same sex, then they could be attracted to anyone of the same sex; therefore, no one of the same sex is safe. This is simply not true! Same-sex attraction looks different for each person, just as heterosexual attraction does. We would never say that a person is attracted to every single person of the opposite sex, so we shouldn’t impose that assumption on people who have an attraction to some persons of the same sex.
Resist the temptation to project others’ sin into the future.
It can be tempting to over-fixate on how your boyfriend or girlfriend’s struggle will impact the future. You may wonder, “Will they always struggle with this? What if we get married and this becomes a larger issue? Will I be enough?” These are scary questions, but you don’t even know how your own sin struggles are going to present themselves in the future, so don’t waste time trying to predict theirs. If God plans for this person to be in your future, he will provide the grace needed to walk that out with this person.
With those caveats in mind, here are five things you can do to care well for your boyfriend or girlfriend’s heart:
- Seek to understand your boyfriend or girlfriend’s heart. Resist the temptation to be a detective who only wants to know whether your girlfriend is going to struggle with this particular sin while you date her. As with any sin struggle, pain, heartache, confusion, and misunderstanding accompany sexual sin. If you learn what this experience has been like for your significant other, your questions might be answered, and you might even be surprised by the strength and faith that has led him or her to Jesus.
- Treat this struggle the same as you would any other struggle. Instead of responding with, “I don’t know what to do about this,” you should simply do what we are called to do as Christians: Extend love and grace (1 John 4:7, 1 Corinthians 13). Bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2, Colossians 3:13). Forgive one another (Ephesians 4:32). Show Christ’s love (John 15:12, Romans 12:10). Die to self (Luke 9:23). And so on.
- See Christ at work. Truly see your boyfriend or girlfriend as a person, not just his or her struggle. Marvel at his or her perseverance. Look with wonder upon your boyfriend’s awareness of his dependency on Jesus. Respect your girlfriend’s strength as she stands upon God’s promises. God allows our struggles to bring us to himself. If this is what God uses in someone’s life, it is not for you to change or fix the struggle; after all, he or she will have to do the same thing for your struggles by appreciating God working in you.
- Discern your emotional response. Work to understand the root of your heart’s response to this information. What is the cause of your fear, intimidation, anger, or insecurities? Are you worried? What specifically about this concerns you? Are you afraid? Are you intimidated? What is it that you don’t feel capable of addressing? Why? God might use this in your life and heart as much as he is using it in your significant other’s.
- Acknowledge your significant other’s humility and courage to entrust you with this. To be honest is to be brave. It would be far easier for your girlfriend to keep this from you than it is to invite you into her struggle. Don’t miss an opportunity to encourage your boyfriend for taking the courageous step of being known in this way. Whatever you do, don’t use this information as a weapon. Instead of distorting the struggle to be all about you, how might God be giving you a unique opportunity to be a reflection of Christ, who diffuses shame and loves us with tenderness (Ephesians 5:1–2)?
You probably did not anticipate a sexual struggle like this to be one of the challenges in your dating relationship. Perhaps you knew you would have to deal with selfishness, different priorities, and baggage from each other’s pasts. Likely, God has surprised you with caring about someone whose story contains a significant sexual struggle. Is God’s grace sufficient to let Christ’s love compel you forward and to refrain from looking at this person from a worldly point of view (2 Corinthians 5:14–17)?
If marriage is in view for your relationship, you will need to realistically face this struggle together, as with any sin. To a degree, most marriages experience things like intimacy challenges, painful feelings of rejection, and loneliness.* Ultimately, all of us need to unlearn our culture’s slavery to spontaneous passions and instead learn intentional and sacrificial intimacy. The unique nuances of walking alongside a spouse dealing with same-sex attraction is different for each couple. None of these challenges should be minimized, and, as you walk this out together, inviting others whom you trust into this challenge is a wise and perhaps necessary choice.
Whether your relationship continues moving forward or not, you have an invitation to love this brother or sister by imitating Jesus. The patience, understanding, and care you model to her through your dating relationship might be what God uses to show her Jesus. Men and women who drink deeply of the grace of Jesus and forsake the attractions that feel so natural to them are courageous. They should not be made to feel like they are unlovable but, rather, should be embraced with the compassionate love of Christ through his people—especially those whom they are moving towards in romantic relationship. This is not other to Jesus, and it shouldn’t be to any of us either.
* For further reading about same-sex attraction in marriage, see Tammy Perlmutter’s article, “My Mixed Orientation Marriage,” on our website.
Join Shalee as she talks about commonly deferred hopes, dreams, and expectations; the painful feelings that accompany these unfulfilled longings; a biblical way of hoping well; and how God sees our pain and wants us to come to him.
In any family, conflicts between parents and their children are to be expected. Especially as a child grows into adulthood, it is only natural for them to develop their own unique beliefs, values, and worldviews that may differ from those of their parents. Although parents can invest all the time and energy in the world into instilling biblical values into their children, they have little control in determining who their children will become. I can still remember the feeling of unease when my dad was preparing to lecture my brothers and me after we had done something foolish. Of course, I already knew everything my dad was going to say, so it registered about as well as Charlie Brown’s teacher saying, “Wah, wah, wah.” (Little did I know I would be here sitting in my mid-30’s reflecting on how true my dad’s words were in those lectures!)
When a child adopts values and beliefs that go against the teachings of Scripture, Christian parents find this extremely challenging, resulting in tension, arguments, and conflict. Perhaps there isn’t a clearer place this can be seen today than in Christian families with an LGBTQ+-identified child. The child’s worldviews, adopted from the LGBTQ+ community that contrast directly with biblical worldviews, often result in tremendous turmoil among family members.
Let’s consider just a few of the arguments and presuppositions of the LGBTQ+ community that conflict with a biblical worldview.
- “My experience of sexuality and gender is the truth I must follow and the authority by which I come to understand myself,” versus, “God’s Word is the ultimate authority that informs how I understand myself and my experiences, including matters of sexuality and gender.”
- “My sexual or gender identity defines who I am; therefore, it should be celebrated and embraced as good,” versus, “Sexual or gender struggles are a result of my broken condition as a sinner. Although my desires may feel natural and right, they must not be gratified or embraced as good if they contradict the Word of God.”
- “To disagree with my sexual or gender identity is to speak against me as a person and therefore is both unloving and an attack on my psychological wellbeing,” versus, “God’s love accepts me as I am, yet works to conform me to his holy character, so that I might be free from the bonds of sin and alive in righteousness.”
Do any of these conflicting values and beliefs resonate with what you have experienced between you and your child? Perhaps you can identify others that lie underneath the disagreements and tension.
Consider the Apostle Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 10:3–5: “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”
Paul defines these arguments and opinions that rise against the knowledge of God as spiritual strongholds. These strongholds include false beliefs, thoughts, arguments, and reasoning that stand in opposition to the truth of Scripture. Individuals who embrace them will be bound by them and, in turn, will be unable to see God or themselves rightly. The fruit of this bondage manifests itself in a person’s behavior.
Paul is giving us insight into where the real battlefield is: the spiritual realities at work in your son or daughter’s heart. Your child’s underlying beliefs that stand in opposition to the truth of God’s Word become a stronghold that can be seen in the fruit of their actions and words. Paul’s reminder to the church of Corinth is the same reminder we need today: Our struggle is not against flesh and blood!
Not against flesh and blood
We are often far too shortsighted when it comes to doing battle against the issues we see in our children. Typically, parents try everything in their own power to address the behaviors they see. This might look like wanting to talk sense into their child, giving them articles or books to read, rebuking or disciplining them, and trying to convince them of their error. Although these strategies may have their place, they are often a means of doing battle with ”flesh and blood” and are misguided in addressing the real powers at work. Paul’s words remind you that your aim must be set at doing battle against the spiritual strongholds that undergird your child’s beliefs. It can be helpful to consider where the bulk of your efforts and energy is directed to. Are you waging war according to the flesh or by the Spirit of God against the spiritual strongholds that exist?
Weapons of our warfare
Parents who belong to Christ possess great power to do battle for their children. In fact, according to this passage, you have divine power to do battle against the strongholds that exist in your child! This is true because of the One who is in you, as 1 John 1:4 says: “The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” Because of the victory Christ has over sin and death, you can have confidence that battling for your child is not in vain. But how do you do this?
God gives us divine power through the spiritual weapons available to us in Christ. These weapons, as Paul lays out in Ephesians 6:10–18, consist of the shield of faith, the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, and the shoes fitted with the readiness given by the gospel of peace. When parents suit themselves up with the armor of God and remember to pray on all occasions, they are most prepared to battle effectively for their children. Here are a few closing questions for you to consider as you examine the weapons of your warfare.
- Do you pray truth over your child more than you speak it to them? Speaking truth has had an important place in your role as parent through the years. But if you still are acting as if your own words, or even your persistently repeated biblical words, are the primary weapon that will reach the strongholds, you are mistaken. The more you recognize that the battle belongs to the Lord, the more your prayers to him will outnumber and outweigh your own words to your child.
- Does the truth of Christ guard your heart from despair and hopelessness for your child? Despair and hopelessness are bad fruits that can indicate a reliance on your own strength and effort, which simply cannot win and so can only lead to despair.
- Are you concerned with your own personal growth in righteousness, even as it pertains to how you relate to your wayward child? The true battle of prayer always brings us, ourselves, to transforming relationship with Jesus. As James says, “the prayer of a righteous person has great power” (James 5:16).
- Do your words and actions toward your child reflect the demeanor of one who is controlled by the peace of God? If you are not resting in the power of God alone, it will show in fruit like frustration, anger, manipulation, or a tendency to take over and make things happen the way you want them to.
- How might you grow in discerning when you are waging war according to your flesh? According to the power of the Holy Spirit in you?
May you remember that your struggle with your son or daughter is not against flesh and blood, and that God has given you divine power to combat the spiritual strongholds that grip your child’s heart and mind.
06 May 2021
Our world today is obsessed with self-concept and “identity.” We have never been more encouraged to form thoughts about ourselves and to shape our lives by those thoughts. But what our culture lacks is an objective truth beyond ourselves by which our self-assessments might be shown to be false and harmful.
The Bible is full of stories of people just like us—people who are blind to who they really are and blind to their own blindness! Since Adam and Eve, we humans have tried to understand ourselves under the guidance of our autonomous hearts. The result is that we alternate between thinking too highly of ourselves and thinking too lowly of ourselves. We are either building ourselves up in pride, arrogance, and entitlement or descending into self-defeating despair and depression. The lies we believe about ourselves have contributed to the power of sin over us.
Consider some of the characters whom we know from Scripture. Let’s try to straightforwardly state the things they believed about themselves.
- First, Adam and Eve thought, “I am like God.” Then, “I am more able to discern good and evil than God.” And finally, “I am a doomed rebel. My only hope is to flee God.”
- How about Lamech, Cain’s descendant who thunders menacingly at his wives, “…listen to what I say: I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold, then Lamech’s is seventy-sevenfold” (Genesis 4:23–24). How does Lamech define himself? “I am powerful; I am entitled to fear and respect.” Or, could it be, “I am unsafe and vulnerable, and I must protect myself by controlling others with violence and fear?”
- How about the son in Jesus’ parable who has come to be known as the “prodigal” (Luke 15:11–13)? What does he believe about himself as he asks for “what is coming to me” and then goes off to squander it in “reckless living?” “I am entitled to ease and prosperity. I flourish because I am true to myself.” And, after he came to his senses, returning with his rehearsed speech to his father, perhaps he thought, “I am an unlovable failure.”
- How about Saul, after having been anointed by Samuel as God’s choice to be king, cowering and hiding among the baggage (1 Samuel 10:20–22)? “I am doomed to failure.” “I must rely on my own resources and strength to succeed.” “I am a fraud; if people ever saw me truly, they would reject me.”
Do you recognize any of those thoughts in yourself? Do you cling to self-thoughts that are both exaggeratedly autonomous, independent, and selfish, as well as fearful, condemning, and self-loathing? Are you the one whom David describes, “Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in his heart; there is no fear of God before his eyes. For he flatters himself in his own eyes that his iniquity cannot be found out and hated” (Psalm 36:1–2)? Or does your heart speak with the voice of Psalm 22:6, “But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people?” Those with sexual sin in their past and present know both sides of these thoughts about self, often simultaneously.
What can be done? How does one find freedom from such destructive thoughts?
The answer lies outside of yourself. The supreme lie of our current world may be the ever-present message that you must define yourself, that you find your identity within, whether in your experience or in your heart (defined in the Disney way). That is the oldest lie humans were ever told. But the truth is that you do not have the authority to define yourself. None of us do. So who does?
If we do look outside of ourselves, our first tendency is to look to other people. Their praise or their abuse weighs heavily in our self-identification. Of course, the psalmist thinks he is “a worm and not a man,” for he is “scorned by mankind and despised by the people.” If you have been bullied or abused, you may find it easy to think of yourself as “as a worm and not a man.” Also, many of our relational and sexual choices have the aim of surrounding ourselves with the society of those who (we think) will rescue our broken sense of self or reinforce our chosen identity. But other people do not have authority to define you.
The authority to define you lies outside of yourself, not merely in the sense of being outside of your individuality. It is outside of your nature. Only your Creator defines you. And if you have spent your lifetime defining yourself, the identity your Creator gives you will surprise you. Remember that prodigal son? Even when he returned to his father’s house, he only brought with him his self-plausible ideas about who and what he was. The father completely surprised him with love, life, and glory that he could not have anticipated. It turned out he was not a worm, not a failure, not a slave—neither a slave to his own desires and choices nor a slave to his father’s anger and justice. He was a beloved son. What a surprise.
Will you stop defining yourself and let God begin to surprise you?
Awhile back, when I led a discipleship group for women seeking to overcome sexual sin, I was amazed at how prevalent abuse was in the stories of these dear sisters in Christ. It’s not that abuse is an unusual part of the backstory of women who come to us; sadly, most who reach out to us for help have experienced sexual abuse in one form or another. What made this group different, though, was the depth of trauma that was so common across the board among group members. I took in their courageous sharing with sobriety, heartbreak, anger, and confusion.
The very questions that many of them asked were now flooding my thoughts: “Why, God? Why did you allow this? What good could possibly come from this? How are they supposed to trust you when you didn’t stop this from happening?”
These are difficult questions, and there are no easy answers. It is too much for me to sort through why God allows what he does. It is too great for me to discern whether sin is to blame or if it is just a result of the fallenness of this world—or both. I admit that I have given in to demanding answers from God as I have attempted to sort through confusion created by others’ suffering.
In those times, I turn to Isaiah 55:8–9, which says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than yours and my thoughts than your thoughts.” There are answers that my finite mind can’t understand, and it lies in the character of who God is and the fact that he knows all of the things I don’t.
But, as helpers, what are we to do when God allows us to come face to face with what seem like “splashes of hell”?¹
If we’re going to truly identify with Jesus in this world, it’s important to realize a few things as a helper. First, hearing traumatic stories is hard, but it is a part of our calling as believers to bear with one another, and Jesus is compassionate to us in this process. Second, we can hear, hold, and steward these stories wisely.
Hearing Traumatic Stories Is Difficult
In Genesis 34, we read about Dinah, the daughter of Leah and Jacob, who was horrifically raped by a man named Shechem. This chapter largely focuses on her brother’s response to the rape, which resulted in his anger boiling over into murder as a form of retaliation. But consider for a moment what it would be like to sit with Dinah. What anguish would you hear her heart express? What fears did this experience cause to rise up in her? What questions is she struggling to find answers to? It would be an understatement to say that her answers would be hard to hear and, most likely, grieve our hearts.
Now let’s consider Jesus: We see him entering into these broken spaces with people. He knew the story of the Samaritan woman who had slept with and married many men (John 4) and the woman caught in the very act of adultery (John 8:1–11). We don’t know the details of those actual relationships and what exactly those women endured leading up to the moment they encountered Jesus; we only get a glimpse at where they ended up. Yet Jesus wasn’t overwhelmed by their sin or suffering. He saw them and engaged them through his questions, listened to them, offered hope, and even offered himself.
We can do this too, but we need to be prepared: Hearing traumatic stories is difficult. We need to be aware of a few possible temptations for us helpers.
- Dependence on self. Many of us can rely on ourselves to heal, fix, and come up with answers for pain that often doesn’t have easy solutions.
- Pride. Our desire to help can get mixed in with pride that convinces us, “Look at what a great helper I am by hearing such traumatic stories!” Or we can begin to think someone needs us in order to get better.
- Avoidance. In many ways, it is easier to ignore hard things. We put our heads in the sand and pretend it away, or we even run away all together.
We need to remember that we aren’t entrusted with abuse stories unless they have first been heard, seen, and known by Jesus. He cares for the sufferer and for us, the one called alongside those who have endured horrific pain.
Dane Ortlund says in his book, Gentle and Lowly, “In our pain, Jesus is pained; in our suffering, he feels the suffering as his own even though it isn’t—not that his invincible divinity is threatened, but in the sense that his heart is feelingly drawn into our distress. His human nature engages our troubles comprehensively. His is a love that cannot be held back when he sees his people in pain.”²
Holding Difficult Stories Can Be Done Wisely
So what should we do when someone comes to us and wants to open up, to share a painful experience of abuse with us? What about childhood sexual abuse, domestic violence, sexual harassment at work? This is a wide and deep topic with lots of necessary detail that would need to be explored in each situation.
Let me offer four key starting points to keep in mind.
- Pray. Prayer must be utilized often as we confront this type of evil. Pray for wisdom to know what God is inviting you into as a helper, for God to guard your own heart as you listen, and for heart healing and comfort for the person sharing.
- Listen and learn. Don’t worry about having the perfect theological answer or the right thing to say. Intentional listening and seeking to understand the person in front of you will help eliminate your responses that lean towards, “I don’t know what to do with what I’m hearing.” Jesus was the ultimate question asker, and he already knows the ins and outs of a person’s heart and situation.
- Get the help you need. As we have talked about, being a helper in these situations can take its own toll on you. Hold the person’s story with honesty and integrity, but invite others to know you in this so they can pray specifically for you. In addition, seek safe spaces to talk about how the weight of these stories is impacting your heart.
- Help the person connect with someone trained in trauma care if needed. Often, the most helpful and loving thing we can do is to acknowledge that we care yet aren’t equipped to address certain experiences of trauma. So, seek to help this person connect with someone who is trained to help in these areas. Practical ways to do this are offering to research professionals in your region, making a phone call to learn more about their specific areas of focus, and providing contact information to the person in need. This doesn’t mean we eliminate ourselves from the situation, though, because God gives us the Body of Christ, and there is wisdom in coming alongside hurting people together.
People who are willing to begin facing abuse and trauma are courageous. To invite someone else to know about that truth is even braver. So, while it is an honor to be entrusted with such stories, we, as helpers, need to be prepared for how those stories will impact our hearts. We also need to be prepared that removing the blinders of the depth of evil and suffering around us is often painfully uncomfortable.
When my co-leader and I finished the group I mentioned earlier, we marveled, with tears, at what we had witnessed in the lives of the group members. They had grown forward, healing had gone a bit deeper, and the pull of sin was lessening. Their stories of trauma had changed us as we bore witness to Jesus, the One who draws near to the brokenhearted (Isaiah 61:1–3).
Jesus was moved to compassion when he saw the needs of those around him (Matthew 9:36 and 14:14). As we sit with those who have experienced abuse and trauma, may we be moved to compassion, knowing that, although it is hard to hear such stories, Jesus is the one who redeems, restores, and enables us to hold challenging stories wisely.
¹ Joni E. Tada described suffering this way. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tU6q1r1Z9jg&t=2s, last accessed 2/24/21.
² Dane Ortlund. Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers. Wheaton: IL, Crossway, 2020. 46.