03 Feb 2022
My husband and I recently discovered the term “trail magic” in a blog post by Kelsey Miller called “No One’s Forgotten About Us,” in which she reminisces over 2021 and looks ahead into 2022. The term refers to a practice among hikers that includes random acts of kindness and generosity to other hikers at particularly difficult parts of the trail. It seemed to us that “trail magic” is an apt metaphor to describe the Lord’s presence in our decade-long walk with our daughter who identifies as LGBTQ.
Years ago, I shared the news that my daughter is gay with a friend who counsels women struggling with sexual sin. I fully expected that she would suggest I launch my pursuit of my daughter by reading a book or attending a conference. To my surprise, her strongest advice was much simpler and more straight-forward: love my daughter.
I took a favorite old calligraphy of mine—“It’s the art of loving that will be the one great work of your life”—and placed it where I would see it every morning as I began my day. But seeing and doing are two different things. My heart insisted that our daughter’s embrace of an LGBTQ identity was a problem to be solved, and, because I see myself as a good problem solver, someone who gets the job done, loving and waiting patiently are among my biggest struggles.
As I tried to solve this “problem” and deliver a good outcome, I found my plans thwarted at every turn. Instead of unity, hot conflict erupted, or a cold shoulder resulted. Instead of displaying confidence, I displayed weakness. Fortunately for our daughter, God limited my contact with her for a season. Another family member experienced several adverse health events in quick succession, and I was needed for round-the-clock care shifts. One night, near Christmas, overwhelmed by the combined weight of my loved one’s frailty and our daughter’s spiritual coldness, I cried out to the Lord for help to get through the next hour. When I looked up from my prayer, I noticed that the Star of Bethlehem was painted on the wall in the hospital room. It was a visual reminder of Jesus, our Emmanuel, God with us. At the perfect moment, God had sprinkled some much-needed “trail magic” on my path.
As the months after our daughter’s coming-out rolled past, I searched for ways that I could launch the “love offensive” that my friend had suggested. But, search as I might, the only opportunity that I had was to help her as she moved from apartment to apartment during her first years after college.
One move happened when a career change took her to another state. We were anxious as moving day approached because a significant winter storm was forecast for our city. I cried out to the Lord through Psalm 18:32–33 to go ahead of me, arm me with strength, keep my way secure, and make my feet like a deer’s (especially on the narrow, winding stairs to my daughter’s third-floor, walk-up apartment).
Throughout the day, the Lord provided “trail magic” in the form of life-sustaining kind and generous acts that helped to speed us on our way. Our city’s narrow streets are at their worst after a bad snowstorm and notorious for scarce, poorly shoveled parking spaces. But we arrived at my daughter’s apartment early on the morning of moving day, delighted to find a space large enough to accommodate the capacious U-Haul and two cars that carried her pets and household items. More “trail magic” happened when our SUV turned out to be too short to haul some of the furniture destined for storage at our house, but the local rental agency had a panel van available in just the size we needed. The turn-around window of time was short, but we managed to drive to our home in the suburbs, unload the van, and return it on time with a full gas tank. Only on the way back to our daughter’s apartment did I realize that I had left my purse on the van floor! So much for being in control. But the next renters kindly returned the purse—more “trail magic.”
I think the Lord knew just how weak and inadequate we were that morning, how ill-equipped we were for the job. So he carried us through. The move ended well in that one of our daughter’s friends drove her safely to her new apartment in a distant city. We inherited a shed full of her possessions and two pets to foster, but our relationship with our daughter remained distant.
We now lived farther away from her than ever. My husband and I felt keenly the loss of the frequent contact we had treasured when our daughter lived closer. Over time, our relationship became even more distant. Eventually, she cut off even phone contact because we could not embrace her newfound lifestyle in the way she wished. All that remained to us was to pray for her and to trust that the Lord, our loving, faithful Shepherd, is sovereign everywhere.
Some years later, our daughter began to accept occasional phone calls from us. Sometimes, she even called us. “Trail magic.” During one call, we mentioned a possible vacation together, and she said, “If you go, my partner and I could meet you there.” Instantly, our casual daydreams crystalized. Within three days, we finalized airline and hotel reservations for a short visit the next month. We held our breath, hoping her offer to drive all that way was serious. She responded to our plans by making plans of her own.
Just days before our trip, unexpected storms throughout the country threatened to destroy our travel plans. Weather forecasters on one coast breathlessly announced the cancellation of many flights; similarly, breathless forecasters on the other side of the country predicted travel chaos due to torrential rain, thunderstorms, even a tornado.
Amidst the uncertainty, we all ventured out. Along the way, three of our flights were cancelled, our luggage was lost, and our arrival at our destination delayed. But we turned the plans over to the Lord, depending on him to bring us to our destination if that was part of his plan. We all arrived at the destination, delayed but savoring what time we had.
Cancelled tours gave us more time to visit together. Casual takeout food replaced fancy meals at outdoor venues closed by bad weather. My plans for the perfectly executed visit vanished but were replaced by valuable lessons on how to trust God’s plan. We lived more slowly, more expectantly. To quote Scotty Smith, a PCA pastor and seminary professor, we were being freed “to live at the pace of grace, the music of heaven.” We could feel the Holy Spirit at work, “change(ing) our price tags and treasure.” This was more than “trail magic.” It was a shining miracle.
We left the vacation with our daughter, thankful for the time together and for the ways we saw the Holy Spirit changing us. She had gone to great effort to see us; our effort mirrored hers. We judged the time together a success because of the love shared and the seeds of love that we planted. Always before us was the admonition of Madeleine L’Engle that we draw our daughter and her partner to the Lord “…by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.”
Luminous miracles aside, though, the bigger picture of our love offensive with our daughter continues to be one of waiting. Like the love of the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son, our love for our daughter expresses itself in waiting and praying for her return to faith. Waiting can be lonely, especially if everyone around you seems to be living a life that is unfolding effortlessly. You can feel stuck, powerless, hopeless. But in this somber season, we wait with hope, knowing that God continues to work in our daughter’s heart, drawing her to himself with cords of love. We now know that only God can change her heart. We do not know the end of the story, but we trust the lover of our souls, whose mercy and goodness are as deep as the ocean.
Getting to this place on our journey has taken years and significant support from several sources. Our times in God’s Word remind us of his tender love for his people and faithfulness to keep his promises. A prayer fellowship we have with close friends who also have prodigal children provides us with a judgment-free zone where we can honestly share our burdens. We also draw strength from our monthly Harvest USA parents’ support group and the Shattered Dreams, New Hope curriculum. Through this fellowship, we have acquired new tools with which we can better pursue and love our daughter. Their example has helped keep our hearts soft and focused on our good Shepherd, our arms open to our daughter, and our eyes looking for new ways to show her the love Jesus has for us.
09 Jul 2020
It’s not enough to simply think about desires and beliefs in a vacuum. Our context and our circumstances strongly shape what our hearts believe and desire.
To learn more about this topic, consider purchasing one of our minibooks, Explaining LGBTQ+ Identity to Your Child by Tim Geiger and Raising Sexually Health Kids by David White. When you buy these books from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.
You can also read the blog, “Your Childhood Experience Matters,” which corresponds to this video.
26 Mar 2020
The book of Proverbs is given to us in the form of parents having conversations with their children. Some of the repeated topics in these conversations are sex and sexual immorality. In this video, Jim Weidenaar examines four characteristics of the parents’ talks in Proverbs that we can apply to conversations with our kids about porn: Be proactive. Be repetitive. Be positive. Be realistic.
To learn more about this topic, consider purchasing Raising Sexually Healthy Kids by David White or Explaining LGBTQ+ Identity to Your Child by Tim Geiger. When you buy these minibooks from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.
You can also read the blog, Six Dangers of Porn to Teach Your Kids, which corresponds to this video.
03 Oct 2019
As a teen, I had a major porn problem. And that was magazines and VHS tapes (does anyone remember the VCR?). But that’s nothing compared to what kids face today.
Teens are confronted with a staggering level of temptation. I would have failed middle school if I had access to the pornographic material now available to kids.
Here’s the sad, hard truth: it will be nearly impossible to completely shield your child. Porn infiltrated my Christian elementary school in 1979, and now the ubiquity of digital devices (forty years later) means porn is always at our fingertips. It is more realistic to plan how you will respond when exposure to porn occurs than to try to prevent porn from slipping through the inevitable cracks in whatever protection system you devise.
It is more realistic to plan how you will respond when exposure to porn occurs than to try to prevent porn from slipping through the inevitable cracks in whatever protection system you devise.
Here are four ways to do that:
- Respond in faith: don’t freak out!
Don’t give way to fear and begin extrapolating the worst case sexual scenarios awaiting your child. And don’t make it about you and your disappointment, as if your child failed you in some way. Depending on your temperament, avoid the two typical default extremes for most parents: bringing down the hammer or burying your head in the sand.
Instead, before talking with your child about their porn usage, thank God for exposing your child’s sin! Because God disciplines the children he loves (see Hebrews 12:5-11), this is evidence of his favor on your child. Trust God’s purposes here, believing he is wooing your child more closely to himself. Ask God for grace to enter into the situation and to give you his words of life to speak to your child. Abide in him as you love your child through this (see John 15:5). Don’t try to handle this alone!
- Be direct
Confront the situation— honestly and with love. Don’t dance around the topic or use veiled accusations like “Have you done anything I should know about?” Let your child know what you’ve discovered and express your concern. But remember: tremendous shame surrounds sexual sin. Your child already feels this, so be sure your approach points them to Jesus.
First, assure your child of your love and that there is nothing he can do to negate that. Second, remind him of God’s love and encourage him with the hope of the gospel. The essence of the Christian faith is God’s pursuit and redemption of us, not based on our worthiness, but the wonder of his matchless love and grace. Your child needs to be reminded of this confidence now more than ever!
Further, explain that these behaviors come from the heart. Help your teens begin considering how they turn to false comforts to cope with the challenges of life in a fallen world. It is helpful for you to model repentance here. What false comforts tug at your own heart when you are stressed and struggling? Acknowledge your own weakness and propensity to turn to the things of the world instead of God. Your self-disclosure demonstrates your own ongoing need for Christ’s mercy and the empowerment of his Spirit. Your child needs to see that her parent(s) also struggle with sin and weakness, so when she comes to you for help, she knows you understand.
Gently ask your child to open up about the history of his or her sexual struggles. Your own humility and openness about your struggles in this area may invite a responding honesty.
- Establish better safeguards
Hopefully you’ve taken steps to guard the technology in your home. If not, now is the time to start! Monitoring technology has vastly improved over the years. Some combination of parental filters and accountability software is necessary. For the home, the best software or devices are those linked directly to your Wi-Fi router. Usually there is the ability to place varying levels of restriction on different devices, so that a family PC or tablet can be set at a very high level of filtering to protect young children, while an older teen’s smart phone might have fewer restrictions while on the home network.
But the main thing is the capability of viewing the browser history on all devices. Some of these products also have an “on the go” feature that maintains filtering and tracks data usage of phones, iPads, etc., even monitoring the devices on other networks. I am intentionally not promoting specific products because new ones emerge regularly, but do some research and determine what will work best for your family. This is going to cost you something, but the money spent is worth it to protect your child’s mind and heart.
Good discipline is not punitive because Jesus was punished for us. Discipline, though painful at times, is intended to steer us in the right direction (see Hebrews 12:5–13). Discipline includes establishing wise and protective boundaries, proportionate to the age and maturity of your child.
Do not take lightly the effects of pornography. Take proactive steps, but avoid bringing down the hammer and exasperating them (as we are warned in Scripture: see Ephesians 6:4; Colossians 3:21). A total internet lockdown or relegating to flip phones might produce short-term compliance, but it is unlikely to form mature disciples of Christ. Only repentance and a deepening relationship with Jesus, modeled through your walk with Christ, will do that. Parent to those ends!
- Keep walking with them
It is important to realize that this will be an ongoing temptation. Again, porn is everywhere, and access is easy. Many parents are gung-ho when the problem first rears its ugly head, but don’t persevere in addressing these challenges. Be faithful in prayer and ask God to reveal sin, but don’t stop there! Stay on top of technology and be willing to ask the awkward questions about how your child is doing sexually. This includes ongoing monitoring of his relationships. Through it all, continue pointing them to Jesus and his love. Remind your child of the mercy that covers their sin and the power given to obey through his outpoured Spirit.
Editor’s Note: This blog is adapted from David White’s new book, God, You, & Sex: A Profound Mystery, which is available now. When you buy God, You, & Sex from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.
31 Jan 2019
Parenting is one of life’s greatest joys—and greatest challenges! One of the more daunting challenges that parents face is, “How am I going to talk to my children about the birds and the bees? Where do I start? What do I say? What age is the best? Do I really have to do this?”
For most parents getting started is the hardest part of talking to their children about sex. Why is that? FEAR. Fear of where these conversations will go, fear of the inability to answer their questions or fear of doing it poorly. I get that! I had to face my own fears, as well as the fear of the unknown because my parents had never approached this subject with me.
If you are a parent paralyzed by fear, not wanting to talk to your children about sex, let me have your attention for just a moment. Let me give you four ways of thinking about this intimidating subject so that you can, with God’s help, overcome your fears and do what God calls us to do as parents: raise our children in the Lord so that they might follow his ways when they become adults and spouses.
One, let me ask you to consider the phrase, “Pick Your Pain.”
All of us understand that these conversations are uncomfortable for most parents, but that pain pales in comparison with the pains that can come from a family where these conversations never happen. Children are then left to other outside influences and these days that can be quite perilous. If your fear feels overwhelming, let me urge you not to sit with that pain alone. Ask friends and other parents for help and prayer. Look for resources like the material I have developed.
Two, start the conversations early.
I have developed a different strategy that I have been teaching parents for years. I encourage parents to start at a much earlier age with much more simple conversations, not just one talk. When this happens, parents are given the power of the first impression and are better equipped to be the loving authority on this subject for their children.
Topics that are left OUT of conversations at home are left UP to others. Where there is a void of influence at home, it will be taken up by the culture at large.
Parents can overcome their fears once they know how simple some of these conversations can be. The beauty of God’s design is a great place to begin, making simple observations to our children about seeds and eggs, simple yet factual explanations of birth and conception. In fact, in our family, Dave and I usually started every answer to their curious questions with the phrase, “By God’s design…” And that got us started in the right direction.
Traditionally, parents wait for the pre-teen years to have THE TALK…but that is a completely outdated idea. When you think about it, having the most awkward conversation at the most awkward age is pretty much a recipe for disaster, so I understand the fears that surround that idea.
However, now some of you may fear that you have waited too long and now it’s too late. Fear not…it’s never too late. We suggest you get started right away, however, and begin with an explanation that this subject is now on the table. Yes, it will be tougher to do so if they are older, but use this opportunity to model repentance: ask for their forgiveness, and then follow through with the conversations that need to happen next, based on their ages and knowledge of what they already know. Remember, “Pick your pain” and embrace your role as their parent.
Remember, too, that this isn’t about you and your comfort level or your past, it’s about them and their future. You are not just shaping your child’s sexual values, you are casting a vision for someone’s future husband or wife.
What many parents have found successful is to begin a series of after-dinner walks. Talking about sex is best-done shoulder to shoulder and not eyeball-to-eyeball. Limiting your time is helpful, and taking a walk minimizes interruptions. Invite questions, and give plenty of grace. Don’t be afraid of the silent moments either. Don’t be afraid to say, “I’ll have to think about that and get back to you.”
Three, think like a sponge.
In my teaching to parents, I encourage them to think about a sponge being in the mind of their children. Let’s label that sponge “Curiosity about sexual things.” Children are born with this curiosity. “Where do babies come from? How is that baby getting out of mommy? Why do people kiss?”
We believe it’s best for parents to fill that sponge with the answers to those questions about sexuality because otherwise their children will absorb whatever they may pick up on the playground or the next click on the computer. I don’t say this to frighten parents but to open them up to the great opportunity that is before them. Before the hormones kick in, before the culture has its turn, you can have the power of the first impression.
You have the chance to fill the sponge, drop by drop, sprinkling small bits of information in everyday life! Let them absorb the facts and hear your values. Ask some curious questions yourself, “Why do you think God wanted two of every kind of animal on the ark?” If your child is older, raise a current topic about sexuality and ask “Why do you think people your age believe that?” Let them absorb the facts, engage in a conversation, and hear your values.
Who has the power to influence your children? According to research, that answer depends on the age of your child. From ages 0-7 parents have the strongest influence, from 7-11 teachers and coaches, and from 11-16 their peers. This makes sense because as their world widens, they are met with forces outside of the home that have new and different ideas that sometimes reinforce what was taught at home and sometimes challenge them.
Topics that are left OUT of conversations at home are left UP to others. Where there is a void of influence at home, it will be taken up by the culture at large.
Four, look to the future.
Remember, too, that this isn’t about you and your comfort level or your past, it’s about them and their future. You are not just shaping your child’s sexual values, you are casting a vision for someone’s future husband or wife. How exactly did God intend for us to understand sex? What words can we use to shape that vision correctly? How can we help our children to think biblically about sex?
Giving some thought to the answers to these questions can put us on the path to parenting our children purposefully on the subject of sex. No one does it perfectly—absolutely no one. So put the idea of perfection out of your mind. Instead of being paralyzed by fear, lean in to conversing with your kids as purposefully and as simply as possible.
This blog post also appears in our Fall 2018 harvestusa magazine, along with other articles for parents and families.
24 Jan 2019
Pornography is everywhere you look today. Between TV, movies, streaming videos and the internet, it’s become almost impossible not to find it. And the images are not just sexual (which can be detrimental to a young child); a great deal of sexuality on the internet combines sexuality with violence or sexuality and perversion. This stuff is shaping the minds of our children.
Nicholas talks about four major strategies to shepherd your child in their use of technology and gives some more helpful information on a topic that parents cannot ignore.
To learn more, read Nicholas’ blog: “4 Key Strategies for Parenting Children in Using Technology,” along with two other blogs for parents: “A Father’s Story: My Child Hooked on Porn,” and “6 Dangers to Teach Your Kids about Porn.”
With so much capturing our children’s attention—from smartphones to video games to social media—there are serious dangers they face in a world where problematic technology exists at their fingertips. The best solution is to jump in and manage all the technology that is used by everyone in the family. But for many parents, the mere thought of doing that brings up fear: fear of technological inadequacy and fear of World War III battles for control with their kids.
Sadly, tragically, the typical response most parents take is to ignore the threat and deny that their kids could look at porn: “Not my kids!” But such denial is leaving our kids defenseless, ushering them into a future of hidden sexual struggles, eroding faith, and relational brokenness. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Here are four key parenting strategies that, once started, can set your family on a path of not just sexual integrity, but honesty, transparency, and mutual dependency upon God and one another.
1: You need to talk about the good and the bad of technology.
Technology is not the villain here. But you need to think of it as a gateway; what are you going to allow through? What you allow through that gate will, if you open it enough, take up residence in the minds and hearts of your children.
You need to talk with them about both the upsides and the downsides of technology in a way that communicates respect for technology. You want them to understand what using technology can do for good, but also for evil. So you need to talk about the dark side of technology, about pornography and the worldview it teaches, and why you want to protect them from that. They need to understand that looking at pornography is much more than staring at naked bodies, it’s allowing in a corrupt and deviant worldview of sex and relationships that will erode the goodness of sex in the way that God has designed, and even, for some, entrap them in destructively addictive behavior.
2: You need to be their parent. Take charge.
You need to be their parent. You’re in charge of guiding them. You need to implement boundaries and controls over the family’s use of technology. That might not be popular, but it is absolutely necessary. Today, parents are fearful of, well, being parents. Parents have the right and the responsibility to oversee and inspect their kid’s devices and take them away if they misuse them. If you don’t, one day in the future their employer will when they misuse technology at their workplace.
This means using more technology to oversee how they are using their devices. I’m talking parental filters, accountability software, imposing time limits, and regularly checking in on what they are looking at. Do not see this as being an impossible task! It’s a bottom-line necessity. Letting them roam the internet without supervision is like dropping a young child off in a major city and letting them get home on their own. You just wouldn’t do that.
Be their parent first, before trying to be their friend. They will one day thank you for that.
3: You are not their Big Brother (or NSA).
But being their parent does not translate into a license to control them or deny them any privacy. You don’t want your oversight of their use of technology to be a Big Brother (or in current terms, an NSA—National Security Agency) experience. Supervising them is not secretly peering over their shoulder all the time.
Letting them roam the internet without supervision is like dropping a young child off in a major city and letting them get home on their own. You just wouldn’t do that.
So how do you not be a Big Brother? Basically, you will always tell them what steps you are taking, what you are doing, and why you are doing it. You will be checking up on them, but you will always be reminding them why you are doing this. You will keep them in the loop on everything. No secrets. No behind-the-back snooping that they are not aware of. Everything should be out in the open.
4: We’re all in this together.
Here is the “buy-in” that will help your children with this plan: We’re all in this together. The blocking, the restrictions, and the oversight include you, too. Why is this important? One, kids resent things they think are unfair. It helps them when no one is excluded. Two, as a parent you’re not free of this kind of temptation, either. When you visibly show that you also need help in managing sexual boundaries, you demonstrate how important it is to protect this gift that God has given to us.
You can’t shield your children from the world, nor should you. Ultimately, you can’t protect your children from the dangers of pornography unless you also teach them about God’s good design for sex and sexuality. You don’t want to teach about sex from an entirely negative slant, if all you do is talk about the dangers of misused sex.
There is a profound beauty about sex when it is boundaried in a committed, covenantal, self-giving relationship of marriage between a man and a woman. You need to do more than just tell your kids to wait; you need to talk, explain, and equip them to grow into the character of a future husband or wife for the glory of God.
And this involves you being a wise gatekeeper of technology.
Nicholas talks more about this topic in the accompanying video: How Do I Talk to My Kids About Porn? These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
17 Jan 2019
It was halftime several years ago during the Super bowl, and 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 websites full of porn 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-40s and a father of four children. Based on the ages of our kids and the graphic nature of the websites, my brother-in-law and wife 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 sites with extremely graphic sexual videos. 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 10-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 10-year-old son poked his head into the office where we keep our computer and said, “Goodnight.” I said the same back.
Through his tears he described how bad he felt about himself and how powerless he felt in trying to stop.
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 confidently replied: “Me? No, I haven’t at all.” I said, “OK, 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 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 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 smartphones or internet capable game consoles 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 2am. 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 tell it all as it really is and then find the peace to collapse in his arms, that’s exactly where God 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 him 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 which was John Freeman from Harvest USA.
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, never-ending love that God has for each of us.
John and I are close friends. 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, would 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; they 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 both that we had been lax in forming our daily schedule that 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 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, 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.
This blog post also appears in our Fall 2018 harvestusa magazine, along with other articles for parents and families.
10 Jan 2019
Porn is everywhere on the Internet. Everywhere. Type just about any word in a search engine and the chances are good you’ll strike something sexual. The links to pornographic posts, images, and videos are embedded in this medium.
The impact this has on your kids is devastating. Two forces are at work to make avoiding porn nearly impossible.
First, its accessibility. Because of technology, we are awash in 24/7 anonymous and accessible pornography. We’ve gone from the public realm of convenience stores and adult bookstores, to the anonymity of computers, to the instant accessibility of mobile devices. We now carry around the entire contents of an adult bookstore in our pocket.
Second, we live in a culture of hyper-sexuality. It’s the air we breathe. We are increasingly deadening our sensitivity to the biblical boundaries that actually protect what is good about sex. Many people (including Christians!) say, “There’s just nothing we can do about it,” or even, “What’s the big deal?”
Here is the big deal: Porn is a worldview, and, like any worldview, it becomes a set of “lenses” through which we look at the world, interpret what we see, and then live out. Porn teaches a destructive message about sex, human relationships, and what life is all about.
Christians have long been in the forefront of sounding the alarm about the effects of pornography on children, marriages, and relationships. But now even those outside the church are seeing what is happening and are reacting with concern.
The June 2018 issue of Philadelphia Magazine featured an article on Al Vernacchio, a sex education teacher in the Philly suburbs, who teaches a popular high school class about “porn literacy.” Here’s how the article describes his class: “The emerging subject is exactly what it sounds like: It’s grounded in the understanding that kids (whether we like it or not) are watching porn, and that we need to provide them with the critical thinking necessary to understand its messages.” Vernacchio clearly recognizes the reality of porn in the lives of students.
While Vernacchio isn’t telling his students not to look at porn, he does talk with them about the harm it can do. “Is porn harming our culture? Yeah, I think it is…and we have to find ways to stop that harm.”
Because parents are the chief disciplers of their children, we have to start—and continue to have—age-appropriate discussions about how viewing pornography will harm them deeply and profoundly. But first, we need to keep the conversation centered on this point: Christians do not have a negative view of sex. The Bible is extremely positive about sex and sexuality when expressed within God’s wise boundary lines. God created it for us, and God knows best how it should be used. Walls are for protection, and God wants us to enjoy his gift of sex and sexuality. When sex is used properly, individual lives and a whole society flourish.
But something so profoundly good is incredibly powerful. The Bible acknowledges the fact that sex can be dangerous—dangerous when it is misused; dangerous when it is out of control in one’s life. There are victims when sex is used wrongly.
The Six Messages Your Kids Need to Hear About the Dangers of Porn
One: Porn teaches a false view of sex and relationships.
Porn turns real people into fantasy objects to be used for my needs. It objectifies and demeans. Whole people are deconstructed into body parts—commodities to be used and discarded. On to the next encounter!
Porn teaches that the sexual act is what most matters, not building a loving relationship with the person.
Porn teaches radical self-centeredness—the images or videos cater to you, feeding the lie that people exist to serve your wants and desires. You begin to live more and more in a fantasy world—but the tragedy is that, the more you spend time online, the lonelier you become in real life. Porn becomes a substitute for real relationships.
Sex was designed for real relationships, but relationships take work, and the work of a good relationship takes years. Love is about giving, not getting. And sex is merely a part of it. While important in marriage, it is just one of many parts that work together to slowly shape a life and a relationship into something beautiful. Porn doesn’t teach that.
Two: Porn slowly drains vitality out of reality—and can lead to addictive behavior.
Here’s something that is universal: My life, your life, is never entirely what we hoped it would be. We live in a fallen world that dashes our dreams and gives us thorns and thistles, bringing suffering and hardship into our lives.
Sex involves the release of powerful brain chemicals that trigger intense pleasure. In many ways, we are wired to seek pleasure, even when our minds say it might be harmful. That’s what happens when people become addicted to substances, even though they know they’re destroying them.
Engaging in porn, with its objective of sexual release and pleasure, triggers the same reward or pleasure centers of the brain. As porn use increases, the mind and heart keep looking for a greater high. Like drugs, there are diminishing returns. You need more and more to get from it what you did at the beginning. This leads to greater depravity.
Our children need to know that viewing porn can be just a step away from enslavement. At Harvest USA, we see men and women who have lost years of their lives to compulsive porn use, while losing spouses, friends, careers, and sometimes even faith. What the world proclaims as sexual freedom, the Bible knows as slavery.
Three: Porn disconnects sex from love and respect and encourages aggression and abuse.
A great deal of porn is filled with images of aggression and violence—especially toward women. I’m not saying that all porn does this. But it is terribly easy to find violent and demeaning images online.
Vernacchio’s class is learning this. “While there’s little definitive cause-and-effect research on adolescents and porn… studies have shown that kids are often first exposed to porn—some of it depicting violent or criminal behavior—in their early teens. And analysis has correlated pornography usage with sexual aggression…”
Vernacchio, when asked what he thinks kids learn from porn, goes on to say, “They learn that men are supposed to be sexually aggressive…They learn that women are objects. They learn that in the absence of consent, you don’t need a clear ‘yes.’ They learn that sex doesn’t require communication.”
Think about college campuses, where youth and sex and alcohol mix in dangerous combinations. Then think about the amount of pornography being consumed by young men in particular. Having grown up in an online world, they have been consumers of porn for more than a decade. You cannot immerse yourself in this stuff and not have it affect you in some broken way.
Four: Porn teaches a lifestyle of lies and deceit.
Children will get this point because they’ve been doing it almost since they entered the world: hiding sinful behavior. The person looking at porn will cover his tracks. It may not be active lying, but over time you’ll be living a double life. And making sure you keep that part of your life hidden takes work! You can never really relax and be yourself, because the secrecy of your behavior—and the isolation secrecy breeds— makes that impossible. Keeping a part of yourself hidden is tiring, is deeply unsettling, and intensifies shame.
As a Christian, guilt and shame will dog your footsteps. And if you one day stop feeling guilty and shamed, then you are in a worse place—because you will have seared your conscience.
Ultimately, you’ll be playing games with God. You will feel profoundly unsettled in your walk with God. You’ll work hard to look good on the outside, all the while hiding what’s on the inside.
Many in the world will argue for moderation in using porn (even for teens) so that honesty is not compromised, but we need to see porn for what it is: poison. A destroyer of relationships, and the first relationship impacted is our relationship with God. The porn user who thinks it’s “no big deal” needs to face what Jesus said about lust (Matthew 5:27-28).
Five: Porn normalizes perversity and diminishes human dignity.
There is a general pattern of behavior for the porn user. The law of diminishing returns results in looking at edgier and more extreme images, thereby normalizing perversions. Perversity in pornography knows no bounds. Especially child pornography. Porn’s ugliest underbelly is its ability to push perversity to previously unimagined levels.
We have reached a point where we are no longer shocked by what we see. Paul’s encouragement to focus on “whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely…” (Philippians 4:8) is a crucial discipline to teach to our kids. Porn obliterates that, and it takes years to empty the mind of images after exposure.
Six: Porn makes you participate in abuse and global injustice.
Pornography is not a harmless, private activity. It is one of the major engines fueling the demand for sexual exploitation in all its forms.
Our children must know that many involved in the pornography industry come from abused and broken backgrounds. Sadly, pornography is seen by some women as an opportunity for a higher paying job.
But in the entire process, from filming to production to posting and distribution, people are used and exploited—including the consumer. In the complex web of sexual distortions that pornography weaves among its viewers, the dignity of men and women made in the image of God is increasingly defaced. Viewing it, engaging in it, contributes to the entire system of broken sexuality throughout the world.
There is one more thing, however, beyond these six points that should undergird everything we say to our kids.
In talking about sex and the dangers of pornography, morality is not the main objective. We have to connect what we say to the person and work of Jesus Christ. Paul puts it perfectly in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15: “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him, who, for their sake, died and was raised.”
The motive for sexual faithfulness is rooted not simply in achieving good morality but in a vital, trusting relationship with Jesus Christ. To magnify him is the ultimate goal of our talking to our kids about sex and seeing them grow up to follow him from the heart in this powerful area of life.
Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the Fall 2018 issue of harvestusa magazine.
13 Dec 2018
With the culture rapidly changing, more children are describing themselves along the lines of the LGBTQ+ acronym. While there are lots of reasons for why this is happening, Christian parents need to help their children understand sexual and gender identity from a biblical perspective, as well as help them communicate to their peers a Christian worldview of sexuality and gender. Read more about this in Tim’s blog, How to Talk with Your Kids about LGBTQ+ Identity.
There are many other resources on our website that will help you explain LGBTQ+ identity to your child. One additional resources is Tim’s minibook, Explaining LGBTQ+ Identity to Your Child: Biblical Guidance and Wisdom. This resource is available for purchase in three formats: eBook, Kindle, and Minibook 5-pack.