by John Fort
Director of Training
Summer is almost here and while many of the changes that come with summer are positive for your child, there are also some challenges that may affect their safety. Safety, in this case, is related to a child’s sexual integrity. Here are some things to think about.
SOME CHALLENGES OF SUMMER
Summer usually means increased unstructured time. Children have always had a greater tendency to “get in trouble” in the months they were not involved in structured educational activities. This does not mean children should not have free time or get a break during summer. Children may need help knowing how to use free time well, however.
At first unstructured time feels freeing to a child when summer starts, but often that freedom turns to frustration. I remember laying on the floor as a kid during summer and complaining loudly, “Mom, I’m bored!” Kids sometimes get into trouble in their attempts to cure boredom.
Any form of sexual stimulation, including fantasy, is exciting. It is also easier and faster to look up excitement online than to find excitement in a more healthy way. Quick and easy is attractive when a kid is bored.
Some children may feel disconnected if they are used to seeing other children every day, or at least more often during non-summer months. Children, like everyone else, need interaction with peers. Isolation is not good for anyone, much less children.
Sexualized media can feel like being connected to others, which is compelling if there is a sudden decrease in interaction with friends. It is a lot easier to indulge in sexualized content than to go find friends to play positive games together with.
Filling the Void
Sexual temptation for a child is often just a desire to “fill the void.” The void may be boredom or isolation. During summer months, both boredom and isolation often happen more frequently to a child.
SOME SOLUTIONS FOR SUMMER
Kids do not naturally know how to emotionally regulate themselves. When a child feels upset they do not know how to calm down without help. When a child feels depressed they do not know how to lift their spirits on their own. Parents are a child’s emotional regulator until the child learns how to regulate themselves.
However, you can not always be there when your child needs to regulate emotions. This is why it is better to help your child learn to respond well to negative emotions rather than you always “fixing it” for them.
For example, if your child is bored, rather than come up with something for them to do, help them brainstorm their own solution. Then, the next time they say they are bored you can say, “I showed you how to think of fun things to do. Why don’t you try it on your own this time?” Or, perhaps a stepping stone in the right direction might be, “Why don’t you go make a list of possible things you can do, then come back and tell me what you came up with?”
The more unstructured time your child has the more often they will need to resolve emotions on their own. Don’t expect them to be able to do this very well at first. While you may need to help a lot at first, your goal can be to wean them off of always needing you to be directly involved in helping them find positive things to do.
Teach Time Management
It will help your children if you set some basic guidelines for time management. When are they allowed to use digital devices? When can they go play with their friends? When is reading time during the summer months? When is it time to do chores?
Set up schedules early in the summer, not day by day. It can feel quite unsettling to a kid to wake up during summer, excited to have a day off, then be surprised to learn they have to do a list of chores. It would be helpful if the child knew ahead of time about the chore instead of being surprised by it.
If your child is eight or older, it is good for them to have some days where you are not deciding their schedule. You may have a couple of hours of the day that you have planned for them, but they do need to learn how to structure their own time.
Know What Your Kids are Doing
Extra unstructured time also gives a lot more opportunities for your child to get into things that can be harmful to them. Harmful situations often occur in the digital world, such as phones, tablets, TV, YouTube, electronic games, and so on. However, I will not discuss that here.
You can learn about digital safety at home here: A Family Digital Safety Plan
The only thing I will add here is that summer is not a time for your child to suddenly increase his or her use of digital devices. Whatever limits you have in place for digital devices during the school year should remain in place all summer. The extra free time in summer is not for your kids to play more video games or watch more movies.
What parents sometimes forget, however, is that the Internet is not the only place kids are exposed to sexual scenarios. The second most common source children are introduced to sexual topics and situations are other kids. This includes siblings, relatives, and kids in the neighborhood.
The scenarios include hearing sexual jokes, sexual stories, learning sexual terms, sexual experimentation, and potentially sexual abuse. Children introduced inappropriate sexual ideas and situations to each other long before the Internet existed.
I do not want you to suddenly be afraid for your child to spend time with other kids. Isolation is not healthy for any child. However, it is good to know where your child is, who they are with, and what they are doing.
Here are some family rules to consider:
I did say it is important to teach children how to come up with things to fill time on their own. That does not mean you should not help now and then. Your kids should get to do something really fun a few times during summer. Sometimes kids need a little help expanding their thinking.
Make a Family Calendar
A family calendar is where you put all the ideas in this blog together in one place. I would highly suggest using a large desk calendar rather than a digital one. These have lots of space to write and kids can see an entire month at a time. This helps kids see when something exciting is coming up if it is more than a week away. Put the calendar somewhere that everyone sees frequently.
Get the entire family together and create the first month together. To get by in from the kids, start by writing in a few fun things they want to do instead of starting with chores. Let them see when they get to do things they are really looking forward to.
Here are some things you might add next:
These are just a few ideas to get you started.
Your Child’s Free Time Schedule
You might have your child brainstorm a list of things they want to do during free time. If they want help, you can make a few suggestions, but try to help them come up with most of the ideas. Then, when free time comes have them get their free time list and pick something to do.
Help your child balance alone time with other children and even adults. Some children will gravitate toward time alone and others will want to always be with friends. Kids need some of both. If your child’s list is all alone activities or all group activities, challenge them to come up with some ideas on both sides.
This may sound overly structured, and it may be for some children, but it is a good place to start. If you see your child is doing well after a while you can ease off and see how they do on their own, without your reminders.
There will be Mistakes
No matter what you do, it is likely that your child will make mistakes during the summer. They might hear a sexual joke. They might see an inappropriate image. There is no reason to panic about this.
When something like this happens it is not because your child is a monster. Your child, like all other children, will sometimes make poor choices. When a child makes a poor choice it is an opportunity to teach them how to make better choices in the future.
Prepare for a Great Summer
Get started today!
You are the right parent to do this with your kids. You can do this. Now is a great time to plan for a safer summer!
by John Fort & Anne Kerr
Starting with Your Childhood
John: In my book, Honest Talk, I challenge parents to share with each other things about their past that they may have never shared with anyone. I ask couples to share something their parents did not tell them about sex that negatively influenced them. I also ask them to share with each other how they imagined God viewed sex when they were teenagers. Shortly after the book was first published a young couple told me that they had never talked about what shaped their sexuality when they were young with each other. They shared how much it helped their marriage to be able to talk about their childhood past. They learned things about each other they never knew and could better understand each other.
Anne: Sexuality is a central and integral part of being human. Sexuality is shaped over a lifetime beginning with the emotional bonds parents form (or don't form) as infants. Because of the ways past sexual encounters impact you, they can shape your views of yourself, your view of others, your world, and God.
Because sexuality is so significant to your life and because sexual experiences impact you so deeply, sexuality can also be an area of significant growth for you. An important part of that growth involves acknowledging the experiences and encounters that helped shape you.
Your stories matter. In many cases, they hold the key to healing from sexual wounding or finding freedom from recurring sexual struggles. As you think about your childhood experiences you can then respond with compassion to the child within you. This will then help you respond with grace and compassion to your own children and identify with the challenges they may face.
Preparing to Help Your Child: Remember what Childhood is Like
John: We are inviting you to take some time alone with God to think about some of the ways your sexuality has been shaped, starting in childhood. What messages did you hear about sex when you were young? Was sex portrayed as dirty or beautiful? Did you encounter pornography and what was your reaction if that happened? Did people refer to you in sexualized ways or objectify you? Did you come across a sexualized story or hear a sexual joke? Did you have other encounters or experiences with sex?
It is important to remember that most of these situations were beyond your control. Even those that you may have had control over, you certainly did not understand how to navigate them as a child. Make a list, mentally or in writing, of all the things that affected how you viewed sex and what your feelings were about sex as a child and teenager.
Anne: I hope and pray that you’ll consider doing this exercise, though it may not be easy. As you do, be kind to your younger self. Don't criticize or condemn. Remember that you were a child with limited information as sexual things began to enter your world. Perhaps you weren't protected or loved well. You likely experienced feelings of pleasure related to sexual encounters, which is completely normal. It may be helpful to let this inner child speak freely now. Often children are silenced in their most vulnerable moments by fear, threats, guilt, or shame.
I'd like to share some things to consider and pray about before you begin this exercise: Knowing your sexual history can be helpful but it may also be difficult to process or express. Deep feelings are often attached to these memories and you'll likely need to address some of the beliefs that surfaced from your experiences. Often it is not the trauma itself that causes the most damage but the lies or beliefs we adopt as a result of it. Such beliefs may be related to identity or worth. Ephesians 1:1-2:10 contains beautiful truths related to our true identity in Christ.
John: I suggest showing this post to your spouse if you are married. If you don’t feel safe sharing this information with your spouse, perhaps a close friend of the same gender. Then ask if they would be willing to share their answers with you and you share yours with them. If you can think of no one, consider seeing a counselor to help with this.
The purpose of this sharing is actually not about you, although I expect this process would benefit you. The purpose is so that you can be more helpful to your children as they navigate their own emerging sexual feelings, confusion, and questions. If you have not worked through your own childhood experiences with sexuality it will be difficult for you to have helpful conversations with your children to help them in theirs.
Questions to Discuss
Anne: All of your past experiences can and will be used by God who promises to work all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purposes (Romans 8:28). Trust God in this. He was there then, He is with you now, and He will guide you into whatever is next for you.
We are hoping that you and your spouse will be able to do this exercise together, but if not, whoever you decide to do this with, here are some things to discuss together:
Be Kind to Yourself so You can be Kind to Your Children
As you look with fresh eyes at the various influences that worked to shape your sexuality, remember to be compassionate and kind to your younger self. Ask God to lead you to the next step in your own recovery and/or redemption journey.
Remember, as difficult as this work may be, you're in a tender place with God. Becoming more comfortable with your stories and finding any needed healing will reap huge dividends as you work to become an ally to your child in today's culture.
Here are some resources for you as a parent that may be helpful in your own journey:
by John Fort
Director of Training at Be Broken
Safety for children in our digital world is a concern many parents ask for help with. To be clear, the digital world includes things like smart TVs, video games, tablets, and phones. All of these devices can access the Internet, which opens a Pandora’s box of harmful content to children. However, learning how to use these devices safely is a skill kids need before they turn 18.
The average age a child is first exposed to pornography is 9.66 for girls and 9.95 for boys. (Bentley, Lacy - 2016 - Gender & Childhood Pornography Exposure, Addiction/Brain Science) That means half of all children are being exposed to pornography before they are even ten. However, kids are usually exposed to pornography by accident, not on purpose. Studies show that 62% or more of children are first exposed to pornography while doing homework or some other accidental reason. (British Board of Film Classification, August 2019) Here are a couple of recent quotes to demonstrate this:
“Families say their kids were supposed to be using district-issued computers for schoolwork, but instead, kids were looking at pornography.”
(Josh Rosenthal, Nov 24, 2020 - Fox 5 News, Washington DC, https://www.fox5dc.com/news/montgomery-county-students-exposed-to-porn-on-school-is-laptops)
“One minute a child could be looking at their favorite toy [online] and the next thing you know there’s porn on the screen.”
(Niki Whitaker, executive director at the Baldwin County Child Advocacy Center, Jan 26, 2021 - https://www.wkrg.com/health/coronavirus/news-5-investigates-online-risks-children-face-with-more-screen-time-during-pandemic/)
Parents are usually not aware when their children are exposed to porn. One study interviewed over 2,000 children and their parents in 2019 and the following was discovered. (British Board of Film Classification, Ibid)
Things to Consider
It is unfair to expect a child to manage digital technology in a safe manner without significant help from parents. A child will not know what to do to avoid exposure to porn or what to do if they are exposed to porn without being taught.
Children have a harder time resisting porn than adults. A child’s sex drive grows to adult levels within two years after puberty but the part of their brain that helps them control their sex drive will not mature until their mid twenties. Expecting a child to resist pornography while at the same time having unrestricted access to smart TVs, video games, tablets, and smartphones is asking more than children are capable of.
Here are a few suggestions to help kids have a safer experience.
Less screen time is better for all of us, children in particular. Here are some guidelines from the Mayo Clinic. (Mayo Clinic, Health & Lifestyle, Children’s Health, Screen Time and Children: How to Guide Your Child. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/childrens-health/in-depth/screen-time/art-20047952)
I know this is hard. Most kids spend way more than two hours a day on screens, and thinking about reducing that time feels daunting. You probably know what it is like to have a kid melt down when you ask them to stop playing a video game or using a tablet. But an angry reaction to being asked to rejoin the real world should be a warning sign that kids are getting too dependent on the artificial, digital world.
Kids view the digital world as the real world. That is where many kids interact with their friends. It takes more work on your part, but helping your kids meet and spend time face-to-face with other kids is much better for their mental health. Limiting screen time is about much more than avoiding pornography.
When to Give a Child a Device
I’ve talked with a lot of professionals and my personal recommendation to parents is not to give a child their own Internet device until they are at least 14. Before you think I’m too restrictive, consider that the men who created this digital world did the same with their kids. Bill Gates did not allow his children to have cell phones until they were 14 and he strictly limited screen time for them until they were 17.
Steve Jobs prohibited his kids from using an iPad at all before age 18, even though he helped create it. (Chris Weller, “Bill Gates & Steve Jobs Raised Their Kids Tech-Free”, Business Insider, Oct 24, 2017) These men know more than you or I ever will about the digital world and look at what they considered critical for their own kids!
Alternatives to SmartPhones
That does not mean your kids cannot have a phone until 14, however. Today there are several companies that make devices that look like smartphones and smartwatches that have a camera, music, calculator, text service, and a phone, but absolutely no Internet access or ability to host apps. Some of these are better for younger kids and others have things like a map feature that young teens might want.
Rather than take up space here, I will point interested parents to this very recent post that compares these devices to help you decide what might be the best fit for your younger kids.
When it is Time for a SmartPhone
While you want to delay giving a child a smartphone it is best that your child learn how to manage a real smartphone before they leave home. You will have to decide when to allow them to have one as each child is different, but somewhere between the ages of 14 and 18 they need to learn how to use a smartphone safely.
This means locking the phone down at first so your kid cannot add apps on their own. Use something like the Bark app (bark.us) to see how well your child handles being online before allowing them to choose an app. When they are able to go a couple of months without misusing the Internet, allow them to select one app to start with.
When it is time to let them have one app, visit https://protectyoungeyes.com so that you are aware of the potential dangers of the app your child wants. This organization specializes in monitoring what all apps that children might use do and where the pitfalls are.
Other Ways Kids Access the Internet
Children access the Internet through other devices as well. In addition to computers, any smart TV and most video game consoles will allow the user to surf the web. It is smart to have monitoring software, such as Bark or CovenantEyes, on devices that allow them, but no software can monitor all these kinds of devices. If you want to monitor all Internet activity happening in your home you need something that operates from the home router.
I won’t take time here to explain how that works, but one solution is RouterLimits, which is a device you plug into your home router that monitors all Internet activity using your home WIFI network. That would include visitors to your home who you let use your WIFI.
Router Limits can also be used to restrict what times people can access the Internet. This means you could shut the Internet down in your home at night, in case kids try to use the Internet behind your back.
To learn more, visit: https://routerlimits.com
Prevention Science has clearly demonstrated that the three most important things to protect your child from getting involved with pornography (or any other harmful behavior for that matter) are parent-child bonding, healthy beliefs, and clear standards. In addition to bonding with your children and sharing your beliefs, you need to set very clear standards around Internet use in your home.
Here are a few family rules you might consider:
It is very important to note that any rules for children should apply to parents. If your kids don’t take their phones to bed, neither do you. If your child’s Internet history is monitored, so are the Internet histories of parents. I know this creates inconvenience, but there are two very big benefits of doing this:
This is a lot to think about! I would imagine that some of the ideas I am suggesting seem too hard or would require making a lot of adjustments for you, personally. So, rather than suggest you do all of these things, I have a simpler challenge for you.
Look through the Things to Consider again, and find one thing you would be willing to try. Just one. Even taking one of these steps will increase digital safety for your children. In fact, if your children can read well, have them join you in selecting one to start with!
This is not too hard, especially if you start with just one change. You can do this. Your children are in the right home, and you are the right parent to help them experience safety in the digital world.
More Family Care Resources
by John Fort
Director of Training at Be Broken
How do most parents first react when they discover that their child has engaged in pornography or other problematic sexual behavior? After the initial shock and possible feelings of fear or anger, parents typically think, “I’ve got to fix this!” The question I want to pose is, fix what, exactly?
When a child repeatedly accesses pornography, the pornography itself is not the cause of the problem. When a child engages in some form of problematic sexual behavior, either alone or with others, the behavior itself is not the source of the problem. These are symptoms of an inner problem, not where the problem started.
An Opportunity for Connection
If you discover your child is doing something sexually inappropriate, I would challenge you to think of it as an opportunity to connect. I realize that will be difficult and requires you to step back to take a deep breath first. However, allow me explain the value in doing this.
Children do not engage with pornography or sexual behaviors for no reason. They do not do these things because they are “bad” either. Something has to happen first, before the child seeks these things out. Something has to happen that causes the child to feel a need they do not know how to meet otherwise.
A child may expect to be punished or ridiculed, but when you as a parent react with caring curiosity it flips a switch in the parent-child relationship. The child realizes more clearly in that moment, “Oh, you do care about the inner me! It really is true that your love isn’t dependent on my behavior!”
They Don’t Know Why
It is a natural reaction for a parent to ask a child, “Why did you do that?” when they are caught engaging in problematic sexual behavior. Natural or not, it is unfair to ask that question. I guarantee you that your child likely has no idea. Children will also ask themselves, “Why did I do that? How could I be so stupid?” They don’t know, which likely makes them more ashamed of themselves.
If you have asked your kid why they did that, it is okay, you have done no permanent damage. We all ask the wrong question of our kids from time to time. You can be ready for next time with a better response.
An Opportunity for Discovery
After assuring your child that you love them, you can help them discover why they did what they did. This may take more than one conversation, but that is okay. More conversations only means a stronger connection between you and your child in the end!
Boiling things down to the very basics there are essentially two reasons a child would engage with sexually stimulating behaviors:
Thoughts and Feelings
Examples of thoughts and feelings that cause a child to escape through sexuality include:
I could list many more examples, but I think you get the picture. Thoughts, beliefs, and feelings can be too difficult for a child or even teenager to face alone. Without clear alternatives, children may turn to sexual stimulation. Dopamine does an excellent job of temporarily shutting these negative feelings down.
Sexually stimulating behaviors, which includes porn use, can temporarily make them feel better, good enough, safer, freer, and loved. Of course, all of this is artificial—they are not really suddenly good enough, safer, freer, or more loved—but it feels real enough to a kid.
Experiences that cause problems include early sexual experiences and abuse, but they can also include non-sexual experiences that felt very scary. Sexual stimulation can be an attempt to make sense of sexual situations in the past or they can be a way to block out painful memories of the past that are not sexual.
Sometimes the past experience was accidental porn exposure that made them feel very excited and good inside. They may want to return to porn, or whatever stimulating event they had, to get that feeling again. It can be that simple.
Four Simple Steps to Healing
You and Your Child
Your child is not bad if they did one of these things, they are just acting immature. Your child is much less likely to associate their sexuality with shame when you treat their immature misuse of sexuality as an opportunity to learn. This is especially true if you share your own stories of immature behavior in the past. Working through the “why” gives a positive spin on conversations that could otherwise be very difficult and painful.
You did not manage your sexuality perfectly when you were younger and neither will your child. Your child “messing up” is an opportunity for you to help them do better in the future. You can help your child respond in more productive ways to things like the need for excitement, freedom, and to cope with feelings and past experiences.
Get more help on this topic through our online parent-child course, A Family Game Plan for Tackling Porn Use
by Jonathan Daugherty
Founder and President of Be Broken
How does your story fit into the Prodigal Son story?
Jesus got a lot of opposition from the religious leaders of his day. They didn't like what he was saying about God and his kingdom; his teaching didn't fit their narrative. So, in order to combat their false narrative, Jesus told stories to illustrate what he was teaching about God and how life was to be lived in His kingdom.
One such story that Jesus told was about a father and his two sons (found in Luke 15). It was actually the third story in a string of stories Jesus told to try and communicate how God loves to celebrate when lost possessions of great value are found.
The story of the Prodigal Son is about Pride, Prostitutes, Pigs, and a Party. As the story unfolds, see where your own story might intersect and discover God's heart for you no matter where you are on your journey.
Pride (I want it my way!)
Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them." (Luke 15:11-12)
One day this son goes to his dad and demands that he give him his inheritance. This is a bold, arrogant move because the father isn't even dead yet!
Before we wag our fingers too strongly at this young man, we probably ought to examine our own hearts on this matter. For all of us, in one way or another, have demanded the same from our heavenly Father. We may think because of our hard work "for the kingdom" God owes us blessings of comfort and prosperity. Or maybe we have some understanding of the spiritual "riches" we have in Christ but think we can then just snap our fingers whenever we want to "actualize" such "heavenly wealth."
Pride blinded this young son to the actual goodness of his father and the riches he already possessed as a member of his family. The more his eyes became fixed on himself and his own desires, the less he was able to recognize and enjoy the love and presence of his father. Dad was no longer a person to be known, but merely a resource to fund the son's selfish whims.
Amazingly, the father gave the son what he asked of him. What grace! And what wisdom. Some lessons can only be learned by actually receiving what our selfish hearts demand.
Whenever I have pushed back in disagreement or anger on any of God's boundaries, I have learned the hard way that the source of such rebellion was pride. In the moment, I couldn't see the love and kindness and wisdom of God's restriction; I only saw it blocking me from what I wanted.
Many times God would eventually give me what I was asking for, and I would do with His resources exactly what the Prodigal Son did with his father's inheritance: run away from home.
Prostitutes (the "fun" of sin ... for a season)
Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. (Luke 15:13)
The son finally had what he asked for and he wasn't going to waste any time getting busy with living however he wanted. He split town and headed to a place where no one knew him and he wouldn't be "bothered" by those religious restrictions of his father and their community.
I'm sure the son was having a fun time. I had lots of fun while I was sinning. Sin is fun! It feels good. It feeds base cravings and urges. But it also operates like a snowball rolled down a white-capped mountain. At first it seems manageable, but eventually its size and speed become unstoppable and dangerous.
The text says this boy "squandered his [father's] property in reckless living." Some translations say "in sensuous living." Sin is about the senses consuming whatever they can. Taste, touch, smell, sound, sight. Notice how sin entices the senses to take; the basic nature of sin is greed.
In a short period of time the young man blew through all the money his father had given him. This is what happens when sin is allowed free reign in a life without any restrictions or boundaries.
God didn't establish boundaries for us because He doesn't like us or doesn't want us to succeed or be satisfied. His law was given to show us the insidious nature of sin and how it will utterly destroy our lives if we give into it. God's law is based in His love for us; He is a good Father!
And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. (Luke 15:14)
Eventually, the ways of pride and greed lead to loneliness and and even greater need. The Prodigal Son, like us, thought that if he pursued everything his heart wanted that he would find true satisfaction. Instead, he found himself broke and alone. His condition actually worsened. This is the nature of sin: it leads to destruction.
But the son wasn't quite ready to give up on his venture. He still thought he could solve his problem on his own. He hadn't yet reached the necessary point of brokenness that would lead him home.
Pigs (the brokenness of true repentance)
So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything. (Luke 15:15-16)
The Prodigals Son's selfish decisions eventually landed him far from home taking a job he likely would have never considered just a few short months before: feeding pigs.
This may not seem like that big a deal to you, especially if you live in a western, non-Jewish nation. But when Jesus told this story he was speaking to an all-Jewish audience. The imagery of this young man taking a job to feed pigs would not have been lost on them.
Pigs were considered an "unclean" animal according to Jewish law. the Jewish people were not to have anything to do with pigs. So, the fact that this boy even considered taking a job feeding them was an indication of just how far he had wandered from his home. But even more startling than this boy feeding the pigs was the feeling he was having toward them: envy.
"...he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate..."
There probably couldn't be a better way to describe the lowest possible feeling that a Jew could have than to say he envied a pig! And that is exactly where the Prodigal Son found himself, feeling lower than a pig.
But Jesus knows that this is a great place for a wandering soul to be. Sometimes it takes a journey of prideful self-indulgence to get us to finally acknowledge our sin and brokenness. Many a soul has found the hope and delight of God's grace while covered in the muck of a stinky pig pen. And this is exactly what the Prodigal Son discovered.
Party (the joy of a faithful Father)
But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father's hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.” (Luke 15:17-19)
The Son finally "woke up" and came to his senses. He realized where his pride had taken him and he remembered the kindness and goodness of his father. He then formulated a plan to repent of his sin and make amends with those he hurt by his selfish actions. He hoped and prayed that he might just get a bunk with the servants.
Little did he know that the kindness and goodness of his father ran so much deeper than he imagined.
And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate. (Luke 15:18-24)
The father spent every day since his son left scanning the horizon in hopes that he might see his silhouette coming down the road. Now, finally, after many days (probably months, at least) he sees the figure of his son returning -- and he cannot contain his joy!
He runs to his boy (something a Jewish man with his wealth would never be expected to do!) and wrapped him in his arms and kissed him. The son tries to get his confession out, but the father overwhelms his words with an avalanche of grace. He calls out to have him clothed like royalty and for party preparations to be made immediately.
Imagine yourself as this son.
The last time you saw your father you were demanding money from him in a way that wished he were dead. Now, as you return home, covered in caked on mud and filth from the pigs you envied, this same father is embracing you and showering you with kisses and demanding that a party be thrown in your honor.
How do you respond? How could you respond? Do you see that grace has the power to completely overpower your defenses of shame? Could you respond to such grace with a statement like, "But Dad, are you sure about this? I mean I really screwed up! This party is way too much."
Your heavenly Father knows every step you have taken in your wanderings from Him. He knows how you have squandered his wealth on reckless living. He has seen the heaviness of your heart as you stare with envy at the "pigs" you are feeding. He feels your brokenness as you come to your senses and begin your journey home.
No matter what you have done, God's heart bursts with joy when he sees your silhouette rise on the horizon. He can't contain his joy as he runs to you, smile on his face, to sweep you up in his arms, kiss you, and throw the greatest party you could ever imagine.
That's how much your Father loves you. If you've been wandering, will you come home to him?
by John Fort
Director of Training
Have you ever felt anxious about how to respond if your child asks a question about sex? An honest answer for some is to hope they just don’t ask. However, parents know it is better if we do, so that we can be the ones educating them instead of Google or one of their friends.
Even so, we would all like a few pointers for responding to a child’s curiosity about sex, so this blog will attempt to give a few. Here are three ways to speak into a child’s curiosity; two that are proactive and one that is responsive.
1. Get Ahead of Children’s Curiosity
Teaching children about sex protects them from inaccurate and inappropriate ideas about sexuality. When children are educated on God’s design for sex they will be able to spot a counterfeit. Educate to protect.
Children need information about sex at younger ages than was necessary in the past. Pornographic idea surround them. Sooner is safer. Here are two ways we can educate children.
Here are a few books that teach God’s design for sex to consider:
There are a wide array of illustrated encyclopedia-type books for kids on the human body. Many of these have child-appropriate images of the human body that could also be helpful for some families. These go in and out of print too fast to list any by name. You would have to check a local bookstore to find one you feel is right for your family.
When using any of these books, go through them first with your child, asking them if they have any questions as you do. After you have read it with your child, put the book with the other children’s books in your house. Tell your children they can read them any time they like.
Children need more than one reading of a book to fully grasp new ideas. Keeping these books with all the others portrays the idea that God made our bodies and our bodies are good, not something shameful that has to be locked away.
Bodies are not the only aspect of sexuality kids are curious about. Your child will hear a wide array of sexual terms and slang phrases that they will want to understand. There are some you may want to teach them rather than wait for them to be exposed to by someone else when you are not around.
Which words you choose to teach are up to you. One pastor I spoke with said when he was only eight his father taught him the meaning of every sexual slang word, including curse words, that his dad could think of. The dad wanted his son (who eventually became a pastor) to have that discussion together, not with other kids on a playground somewhere.
This pastor told me he was very grateful to his father for doing this. He was grateful that he could learn those words and what they really meant in a non-sexualized context. He said it was helpful to hear them in a discussion that also included how we should honor God and each other, rather than hearing them embedded in a sexual joke. The pastor said it helped him avoid inappropriate sexual talk as well as pornography as a child because he understood the greater context of sexuality and how these words did not reflect or honor God.
I am not suggesting you do the same as this pastor’s father. You know your child better than anyone and know what words they may need to learn from you first. The point of this story is to show that learning what words mean, even “bad” words, can be a protective measure if done correctly by a parent.
2. Responding to Questions
It is good to get out ahead of a child’s questions as outlined above, but there is no way to anticipate all the questions about sex a child will have. The hope is a child will to bring these questions to us, not Google or the older kids down the street.
Ask Me Anything
When we read a book about sexuality or have a conversation about sex, you can end with, “If you every have any question about sex at all, I want you to ask me. Any question at all. You will never be in trouble for asking questions.”
Some kids are innately shy and have a hard time asking questions like this out loud. If your child is like this, create a blank parent-child journal for you and your child. Ask your child to write his or her questions about sex (or anything else that is personal) and leave the journal somewhere for you to respond to later.
That is the easy part. The hard part is responding well when children ask difficult questions about sex. It is not uncommon for children to ask questions we never expected. Here are some examples of real questions kids have asked in Christian homes.
I will be the first to admit it is difficult to remain calm when children this young ask those kinds of questions. However, keeping calm is very important. How we react will determine if our child comes to us with future questions.
I was the 9-year-old child who asked my mother what masturbation was. Unfortunately, my mother did not react well. She became very agitated and refused to look at me. I don’t recall what she said, I only remember how upset my question made her. I never asked either of my parents another question about sex and went to older teenagers I knew instead. The education I got was very inappropriate and damaging.
Perhaps we need to practice answering this kind of question with our spouse or another adult. We need to be ready to smile and say, “I’m so glad you asked me,” when our kids ask us difficult questions about sex. We want to reward them for coming to us instead of someone else.
3. Drawing Questions Out
Even when we do everything right our children do not always think to ask a parent the questions they have that are rolling around in their heads. Parents should draw their children’s questions out on a fairly regular basis.
Every once in a while, more often as our children get older, have planned conversations about sex. Here are some tips to making those more effective.
Create a Judgement Free Zone
The term, “Judgement Free Zone” actually came from teenagers when Be Broken surveyed a group of Christian teens. The survey was to discover what parents can do to make talking about sex feel safer at home. Teens told Be Broken that they want a “Judgement-Free Zone” to have those conversations in.
So, parents can start a conversation about sex by saying, “We are going to have a judgement free zone. During this time I will not judge or punish you for anything you say or ask.” This gives our kids a sense of safety.
Ask About Others First
Even in a Judgment-Free environment kids may feel unsure how parents will react to difficult questions about sex. One way to help is to show them how you will react. Give kids a way to see how you will react to information about sex.
Start by asking what they are seeing and hearing other kids say and do. This is safer because you are not asking about them. Then let your kids watch you react to what they say about their friends before they have to ask their own questions.
You could ask:
If we can remain calm and thank them for sharing, this will prove to them that we are safe people to ask difficult questions about sex. Then we can ask, “What questions do you have about sex, or any of the things you see other people doing?”
We also have to watch our kids for signs of curiosity. This could be a child staring at an advertisement of scantily clad people, a look of confusion when they see something slightly sexual on a show or movie, or even while at the beach.
When we see our child looking confused or curious when confronted with anything that could be considered even slightly sexualized, we should ask them about it.
We might ask:
I know I often had the tendency to want to hurry past rather than press into any questions my children had in those instances. I have found it rewarding, however, when I dared to pause and ask my children what questions they have.
Overall, simply keep in mind that your children will have curiosity about sex at all ages. View them as continually curious. God made them this way, so there is no need to worry about their curiosity. Instead, be there to help them work through their curiosity in a safe, God-honoring way.
by John Fort
Be Broken Director of Training
Let’s be honest, there are certain questions we hope our children won’t ask. We are not bad parents for feeling this way. We don’t want to give our children unwise or uninformed answers. Part of our fear of answering difficult questions comes from a place of wanting to give good responses, but not always knowing what those are.
When a child asks a question about transgenderism, however, they do need a response. This means we need to be ready to reply. The good news is, a good response to questions about transgenderism does not need to be complicated.
The word “transgender” encompasses a sea of ideas, questions, thoughts, and situations, which is why it feels so confusing to us. The concept of gender is changing so rapidly in our culture that it feels impossible to keep up. It probably is, but that is okay.
A simple answer to questions about transgenderism does not exist. However, a simple answer is not what our children need. Our children need to learn to process complicated questions like, “What is transgenderism?” That is something we can teach.
Questions about transgenderism can come in many forms. Kids hear people all around them talking about gender in ways they don’t really understand. It leads to questions like the following:
You don’t have to understand all the issues to help children process these questions.
The first step when a child asks a question about gender it to invite them into your calm. Joining a child in their chaotic feelings will make them feel unsafe. When a child asks a question about gender—or any difficult question for that matter—slow down, take a deep breath, and relax your body. Move to a state of calm before you even try to respond.
If you feel fear, anger, or frustration rising up within you, deal with that first. Those are reactions that will not help your child. Relax before you talk.
If you are worried that you will not be able to react calmly to this kind of question, then start now practicing the discussions outlined below with other adults. Repeat these conversations until you can respond to the questions listed above and still feel calm.
Your First Actions
Before saying anything you should do something with your body that signals to your child that it was good that they asked you this question. Move closer to them. Face them. Kneel down if your child is still young and small, to get on their level.
Pause and let them see your face before you talk. Smile at them before you speak. Maybe even hug them.
Your body says more than your words, so use your body well.
Your First Words
The first words out of a parent’s mouth in response to this kind of question is very important. Our first words are more important than all the rest that follow. Our first words tell our child whether we are safe people to bring difficult questions to.
Here are some examples of really good first words to say:
Next we ask questions to better understand why our child is coming to us. It is very normal for us to worry when our child asks a question about something like transgenderism. We worry what influences have already affected them and we worry that our child may be struggling with gender themselves. It is normal for a parent to have these concerns.
Part of us may want to launch into a long lecture in hopes we can cover up the things we are worried about. Kids are not fans of lectures, however. It is unlikely that we would know what to say anyway without learning more from our children first. Questions are much more helpful.
We need to learn where our child’s question is coming from before we know how to respond. We also want to know what thoughts our child has been considering before they came to us. Here are some discovery questions you might ask:
We want to ask gently rather than make our child feel interrogated. We might even add that we are asking because want to be sure we really understand their question. Children want to be understood and this will make them feel cared for.
Critical Thinking Questions
After asking discovery questions parents may be tempted to launch into a teaching moment. That isn’t necessarily inappropriate, but there is another way. We can use questions to direct their thinking to the underlying concept of gender.
Here are some critical thinking questions for younger kids:
Here are some critical thinking questions for older kids:
We want to ask lots of questions before we make statements of our own. We want to engage our child’s mind and heart first. Even when we do share our thoughts, it is best to be short and concise rather than give a long lecture.
Here are some thoughts we might sum up with. These may be repeating things our child said when we asked them questions like the above, but repetition can be good.
Affirm Your Child’s Gender
An issue American kids face is that our culture has very narrow definitions of what it means to be male or female, masculine or feminine, compared to most of the world, and compared to the Bible.
In the Bible men hugged, kissed, danced, and played musical instruments. Women in the Bible risked their lives to save others, led armies, killed evil men, ran businesses, and built cities. It is not uncommon for the boys and girls in our culture who live most like men and women in the Bible are the ones who our culture would suggest don’t act like their gender.
All children need to be affirmed in their gender. All children sometimes feel insecure in their gender. We should regularly affirm the way God made them to live our their masculinity or femininity.
Here are some things you could do:
When My Kid is Confused
This blog does not address children who are confused about their own gender. That is a much longer topic to deal with. However, we want to point any parent in that situation to some sources of help. Here are two resources you might consider:
Children do not have questions about gender just once. Like all of us, children circle back to questions over and over and need to process their questions repeatedly. We can help them.
Perhaps bring the conversation up yourself sometime. We could ask, “What are you hearing about gender these days,” followed up by, “What do you think about that?” This keeps the conversation going.
Again, our kids do not need a lecture, they just need help processing their questions and feelings. We can do this best by asking each other questions and having open and honest discussions.
We should also keep affirming our children’s gender the entire time they are in our care. A single affirmation is never enough, especially in the world we live in.
You will mess up these conversations from time to time. No parent is perfect. Your kid does not expect perfection and will forgive you when you apologize. Let’s simply work together to keep these conversations going.
Sex & Anxiety: Teen Edition A series of very short videos for adolescents and parents to go through together. This series helps families address the kinds of things that commonly cause anxiety around sexuality for adolescents.
by John Fort
Director of Training
Most parents today are aware their children face numerous dangers to their sexuality. Parents know it will take work to protect their kids from outside influences. When I am speaking to parents I don’t spend much time trying to convince parents their kids need help because the parents who come already know. What parents usually do not understand, however, is how important their own story is as a tool for protecting their child.
Instead, parents are usually afraid that their children might find out about their past. Whether we are fathers or mothers, we are afraid that if our children knew the poor choices we made in our own past they would no longer respect us. Or we fear that telling our children about something we did with our sexuality will make them think it is okay for them to do as well. Most of the time telling our child about our past does exactly the opposite.
WHY YOUR KIDS NEED TO HEAR YOUR STORY
In 2019, Be Broken took a survey of Christian teens to find out why so many church-going families did not talk about sex at home. We looked for obstacles to overcome so teens were more willing to talk about sex with their parents. When asked what they feared most about talking to their parents about sex there were only two answers teenagers gave:
This was an anonymous, written survey that was supposed to be private, but one boy, who looked about 14, just blurted out,
“We just want to have a punishment-free conversation!”
When asked what things they would want to be in place at home for them to feel comfortable talking with their parents, these were their answers:
This means that the Christian teenagers we surveyed wanted more openness, including about their parents’ past. They are afraid to say this to their parents, but not afraid to say it on an anonymous survey.
The fact is children and teenagers do struggle with sexual feelings and want to talk about it. The fact is when a child discovers their parent struggled with the same thing they are struggling with it makes them feel understood by their parent, not more distant. The fact is, when a parent shares their story it is the story that connects the parent and child, more than anything else can.
Here is a quote from a 15-year old who struggled with pornography and his comments about hearing his dads story as he started working to resist porn:
What I really want to know is that my parents have gone through the same things as me. Knowing my parents have gone through similar things makes me feel less abnormal. Knowing they went through, and maybe got through, what I’m going through gives me more hope.
Our children do (or will) struggle with sexual feelings they don’t know what to do with. They will not always manage their sexuality in the most mature way, just as we didn’t. We’ve already seen that kids don’t think their parents will understand how they feel when it comes to sexuality. If they never hear our story, including confusion we had about our sexual feelings as well as mistakes we made, they will believe we don’t understand them. They will feel more isolated.
Sharing our story is the leverage to open the door to healing conversations about sex with our children. Children don’t look down on their parents for failures we had as children, they admire us for having the courage to admit it. Sharing something as personal as the feeling we got the first time we saw a naked image throws the door open to a deeper relationship with our child. Sharing our exposure to pornography and mistakes we made with our sexuality makes them feel, as the teenager above put it so well, less abnormal.
WHEN TO SHARE
Kids today are typically exposed to sexual information and situations earlier than previous generations. Here is a guide a therapist gave me for parents to use to know when to start different conversations about sex:
What does that mean? Most kids are exposed to pornography accidentally or because a friend showed them. If this happened to you when you were 10, then you need to start talking with your child about pornography when they are 8. Today, over 50% of children see pornography before they are 11, and a lot of those are by 8, if not sooner.
Just because you don’t think your child has been exposed to pornography does not mean they have not. Only 7% of girls and 9% of boys tell their parents when they are exposed to pornography. They are afraid they will be in trouble, even if it was not their fault. Parents have to tell our story with porn to prove to our kids it is safe for them to share their story.
Whatever you are willing to talk about in a healthy way with your kids signals to your kids that it is okay for them to talk about it, too.
Pornography is just one thing we can use our story to leverage conversation. Hearing sexual jokes, seeing a non-pornographic nude image somewhere, hearing older kids talk about sex, and sexual experimentation or abuse are all things we can share about if we experienced them. Most of these things, like coming across a nude image somewhere, are things all children experience.
We tell our stories when we realize our child is old enough to experience the same thing.
WHAT TO SHARE
There are some important guidelines to sharing our story with our children.
No Secrets. Never tell your child something about you that your spouse does not know or that you do not mind them knowing. It is never okay to put a child in a position where they feel they have to keep a secret about one parent from the other parent.
Age Appropriate. We only share what is appropriate to share with our child at the age they currently are. This means we may tell the same story again later with more detail.
For example, let’s say we realize we need to talk about pornography with our child because they are 8 and could be exposed at any time, if they have not been already. We might say something like, “When I was a kid one of my friends showed me pictures of naked people. It gave me funny feelings inside but I was afraid to tell my parents. I want you to tell me if you see something like that so we can talk about it. You will not be in trouble for telling me.”
When the same child is 11 or 12 we might retell the story but then include how we went back and looked at pornography ourselves later on purpose and needed help to stop. This gives the child permission to tell you if the same thing happens to them.
No Details. We do not want to paint a picture in our child’s head. We share broad categories of our past behavior. We can use words and phrases like, naked images, masturbation, jokes about sex, stories about sex, and so on. This makes sure our child understands what we are talking about but does not go into graphic detail.
Watch Their Reaction. If you see your child’s eyes grow wide, their face turn white, and their mouth drop open, it is probably time to stop talking. You know your kid better than anyone. You can tell when they are feeling shocked and overwhelmed. If they start to feel this way you should stop and comfort them. Ask how they are feeling. Ask if they need to stop talking about this for today. You can always come back to the conversation a different day.
AFTER YOU SHARE
Questions. After you share your story, always ask them if they have any questions or if they want to say anything. Your story may remind them of a question they had about sexuality that they’ve been wanting to ask. Your story may be the lever that gets your child to come to you with questions they need answers to. Or they may share that they too have experienced what you just shared. If so, be ready to comfort them and support them.
I am Safe to Tell. Next tell your child that you want them to tell you if what you shared, or something similar, ever happens to them. Assure them that they will not be in trouble if they tell you, even if it was their fault. This is really important and is explained more in this blog post from CovenantEyes.
Do Something Together. Instead of each of you running off to do your own thing after you share your story, do something together. Make sharing stories something your child associates with bonding with Mom or Dad. Take them to ice cream, watch a fun movie together, build something together with Legos, or whatever your child likes to do.
I understand that most parents are afraid for their children to find out anything about our own sexual past. But if we hide our story from our children we are cheating them out of what we have learned as a result. We are refraining from using the most powerful tool to opening up healthy conversations about sexuality. We are leaving our children to believe we don’t understand how they feel, when we do.
I encourage you to think of something your child could experience at their age that you have gone through. Then plan a time to get alone with them to share that part of your story. Have a plan of what you will do afterward that is fun. If you are nervous, practice telling your story to your spouse or another adult. You child is waiting.
For more resources, visit our Family Care Resources.
by John Fort
Director of Training
It is a familiar story: a person struggles with sexual brokenness, they finally get help, their life changes and they experience real freedom, then months or years later they find themselves struggling once again. It can feel like nothing works. It can feel like we are too broken to be fixed. It can feel like maybe God doesn’t care enough to help in the long term.
None of these thoughts are true; they are misguided. The misunderstanding that occurs is when we come to believe that the successful outcome of seeking help for sexual brokenness is to stop emotional pain or a specific behavior. This is true for any form of sexual brokenness, including a betrayed spouse, sex addict, survivor of sexual abuse, or child struggling to resist temptation.
The goal of healing is not to stop negative feelings or even behaviors.
Journalist Johan Hari said in his Ted Talk, “The opposite of addiction is not sobriety, it is human connection.” Changing behavior is something we want, but not the goal. I believe the same is true when dealing with the emotional pain that comes from sexual brokenness.
There are multiple steps to healing from sexual brokenness. In the beginning, we do have to do some work in several areas before we can see much progress. Those areas include the following:
Any form of sexual brokenness will have accompanying trauma. In fact, some form of trauma is almost always what creates sexual brokenness in the first place. That trauma does not have to be sexual, but it affects our sexuality. We need help addressing our trauma as part of our healing.
It is also true that in the beginning of our healing we need help examining our behaviors to look for ways we react to things that are not in our best interest. This is true of all forms of sexual brokenness. Part of coming out of brokenness is learning to react in more healthy ways to our world around us and the people in it.
A later stage of healing includes examining our beliefs and testing them against the truth. We may come to believe that others are not safe and cannot be trusted. Or we view ourselves as unworthy, unwanted, and of no value. Some of us decide God himself is not really good.
Such beliefs are based in past experiences and are hard to let go of, even if we intellectually understand they are false. Yet, this is part of our healing process.
WE (THINK WE) ARE DONE
This is where some of us stop. This is the point that we typically begin to feel better. We start to feel free from compulsive behaviors, deep emotional wounds, or both. Life is no longer so dark. We feel hope in a way we may have never felt before.
This is when many of us believe we are healed. We assume our healing process is finished and we can let go and relax. Within a few months or maybe a year, however, our sexual behaviors or deep wounds usually come racing back and overwhelm us once again.
THE MISSING CONNECTION
It is true that we need to address trauma, behaviors, and beliefs. But none of those things are what true healing is about. Those are just the precursors to lasting healing. Addressing trauma, modifying behaviors, and reframing our beliefs make it possible for us to do what healing requires: connect at a much deeper level with God and others.
We were created in God’s image for connection. God is communal in nature, illustrated by the unified Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Trinity is not a superficial connection, but a deeply vulnerable and utterly transparent interdependence. God created us in the same way.
We were designed to need vulnerable, honest, and transparent connection to thrive. When we do not have this kind of connection with God and others, we become broken.
The mistake some of us make is to withdraw from regular, honest connections once we reach a satisfactory point in our healing. We fail to recognize that the reason we found any healing at all was because of the honest and transparent connections we had to make use of in our healing process. Our recovery was as much about those regular connections as it was about trauma, behavior, and beliefs.
At the writing of this blog I have been meeting weekly with other men to be honest about my feelings, behaviors, and beliefs for 25 years. These regular meetings, perhaps more than anything else, are what keep my healing in place.
I am not suggesting that healing is something so fragile that we must keep bolstering it up to prevent it from falling apart. I am saying that healing IS connection. To be healed is to be connected with others in regular, open conversation. To be healed is to do life together with others who are safe. To isolate is to move away from healing and back toward brokenness.
HEALTH & FITNESS
We know we should eat well to stay healthy. We know we need a certain amount of exercise not to fall into frailty. We know that having outlets for creativity keeps us in better mental shape. Our connection with others is no different.
Eating is required to survive physically but eating better food will also make us healthier. In the same way, having connection with others is required for basic mental health but the quality of those connections determines the extent of our wholeness. Shallow connections help us survive but do not help us thrive. Only deep, honest connections can keep moving us in the direction of wholeness instead of brokenness.
For those of us who have been sexually abused, we need safe people we talk with regularly so we can bring up past wounds any time they attempt to resurface.
For those who struggle with compulsive sexual behaviors, we need regular connection with others who know our story and will support us as we work through any triggers that come up.
For those who have been betrayed, we need regular connection with others who know our story who can be an ally when we are occasionally reminded of past traumas.
For children and adolescents who are still trying to make sense of their sexuality and temptation, they need adults to regularly talk through what they are feeling and remind them they are not alone.
Allies like this are not just for the time we are in active recovery or healing. Allies are supposed to be forever. Allies are supposed to talk often. Allies should be available at all times to support each other when needed.
We sometimes forget that God commanded all of us to do these things on a regular basis. This is something every follower of Jesus is supposed to be doing, all the time.
Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. A prayer of a righteous person, when it is brought about, can accomplish much.
—James 5;16 (NASB)
Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.
—Galatians 6:2 (NASB)
The opposite of sexual brokenness is not sobriety or the absence of emotional pain. The opposite of sexual brokenness is regular connection with God and a group of allies as we journey through our life on earth.
by Jonathan Daugherty
President and Founder of Be Broken
“Every Christian community must realize that not only do the weak need the strong, but also that the strong cannot exist without the weak. The elimination of the weak is the death of fellowship.”
I'm not a biologist, but I struggle to think of anything in the animal kingdom that thrives (or even survives) alone. I believe humans especially suffer when left alone. More so than maybe any other creature on the planet we need each other. Yet, so often the wounds we carry from the difficulty and cruelty of life are carried alone. This is no way to thrive (or survive).
Having lived a life of addiction myself, I can predict a common question that might come from those drowning in the self-deception of compulsive thoughts and behaviors that seem impossible to shake:
"What are the benefits of togetherness?"
In other words, what's in it for me? (By the way, this is the way an addicted person thinks about everything: me, me, me.)
Well, I have good news. There is a lot in it for those who are willing to step into the realm of community and engage in the process of doing life together with others.
The following are five benefits that I believe make doing life together way better than doing it alone.
Together we find comfort
Ecclesiastes 4:11 - ...if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone?
Living alone is painful, and cold. And I'm not talking about not having a roommate, or a spouse, or living in a cave on the side of a mountain. I mean that living detached from others emotionally is painful. And many live like this, especially addicts.
But in recovery, an addicted person finds that they are wanted, embraced, even loved in spite of their brokenness. This brings great comfort to a lonely, broken heart. There is a warmth felt in relationships that can't be replicated in aloneness. God made us to soothe one another, to "keep one another warm," when the difficulties of life press in on us.
I remember when my recovery began. My wife had left because of my infidelity. I was alone. Lonely. I could no longer ignore or deny my sin and brokenness. So, I went to see a counselor.
Within just a few sessions with the counselor, he suggested that I plug into a support group. I was reluctant at first (to be honest, I was terrified!). But I eventually decided to go to the group. I’m glad I did.
My very first time at the group I experienced the comfort of other men who understood me and my broken life. They listened to my story. They didn’t reject or ridicule me. They embraced me; metaphorically and literally! I felt I had come home.
Together we experience comfort for the pain and struggles of life.
Together we protect each other
Ecclesiastes 4:12 - And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
We are more vulnerable physically, emotionally, and spiritually when we live alone. We need friends, family, and a community to help protect us against the harms that swirl about us in life.
Temptations do not have the same power over us when we have a brother or two to fight alongside us. But if we are alone and isolated, as the verse above states, we likely will not stand.
But we don't just need relationships so we can be protected, we also need them so we can protect others. It's just as important for our brothers that we are in the foxhole as it is for us that they are there. When you have someone specific to fight for, rather than just a concept or principle (i.e. purity), you become quite a bit more invested in the battle. You realize that there are actual lives on the line, and they need your presence to help them be victorious.
After I had been attending the group for awhile, I noticed something about this idea of protection in community. No one belittled another man’s story and no one ever shared another man’s story outside the group. This wasn’t even a verbalized “rule,” this was just how men in the group protected each other.
I believe this desire to protect other group members is rooted in respect for courage. It isn’t easy to confess secret sins. Telling others of the awful selfish behaviors you have engaged in takes a great deal of courage. But when that courage is displayed, respect is granted.
We all need a group of friends, of confidants, who “have our back” in the trenches of life. We need those who protect our dignity, and we need those whose dignity we can protect. The bond of such friendships becomes unbreakable.
Together we stand up and protect each other.
Together we learn
The longer a person is isolated or disconnected from relationships, the more prone they are to delusional thinking. We rarely come up with brilliant ideas alone. How do I know this? Try bouncing one of your "brilliant" ideas off someone else, or better yet several someone else's. You are likely to get some push back on your ideas, maybe even causing you to realize that they weren't even that good, let alone brilliant.
Proverbs 18:17 - The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.
We need each other to help us learn and grow and be accountable. This requires humility, acknowledging that we aren't as smart as we think we are and that there is good that comes from sharing ideas. Surely, the Word of God contains the most important ideas, and we must be willing to wrestle with the truth that sets us free, even when it demands that we change our ways.
The best context for such learning is in community with others who also desire to heal and grow.
Within a few weeks of joining my support group, one of the men shared a truism from the AA community: “It’s your best thinking that got you here.” At first, I was shocked and a little bit offended. What a hard statement! But it was also a true statement.
I was confronted with the reality that my “wisdom” in addiction was actually foolishness. My reasoning, my false beliefs, my choices landed me squarely in the prison of compulsive behaviors that I could not control or resist. My best thinking got me here.
This is when I began to discover the treasure of wisdom that exists in a group of people pursuing freedom, truth, and grace. Group became a place for questions to be asked and wrestled with. It was safe to say “I don’t know” and to let go of “always being right” thinking.
Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm. -Proverbs 13:20
Together we learn and grow in wisdom and humility.
Together we multiply good
Ecclesiastes 4:9 - Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.
One major point of fellowship and togetherness is to multiply good; to pass along the blessings we have received to those struggling. As we stumble through life, we do so together. We pick each other up when we fall, helping one another to move forward and not get stuck -- in addiction, depression, shame, etc.
Which is more encouraging:
When you fall, someone hands you a book to read.
When you fall, someone lifts you up by spending time with you.
(It's rhetorical; the answer is obvious!) Togetherness is how we multiply good. When someone has cared enough to lift you up through their time and presence, you feel compelled to demonstrate the same care and sincerity, not only toward them, but also toward others who fall.
After several months in my group I noticed a change in me when it came to sharing my story outside the group. I was more open and honest with friends or coworkers, even people in my church. As I was receiving help from the group and seeing changes manifest in my thoughts and behaviors, I felt more compelled and confident to share this with others -- even inviting other men to join me in the group!
About one year after beginning my recovery I started a group for men in my church. That was over 20 years ago and hundreds of men have come through that group on their own journey of recovery and growth.
Together we multiply good for generations to come.
Together we love
1 Corinthians 13:13 - So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Our chief aim in all of life is to love -- both God and others. At the core of our being we were made for relationship, to love one another with all our being. Love cannot be fully expressed or enjoyed alone. It makes no sense. Love must be shared.
The deepest need we have is to be known and loved. You cannot be known if isolated and disconnected from others. And if you cannot be known, you certainly can't be loved. To love someone is to know them; the good, the bad, and the ugly. We long to be loved, and we are made to love others.
For decades now my favorite day of the week is Tuesday. Why? Because this is the day that our weekly support group meets. I love this day because I love the men who show up. And when they experience love, they experience all that comes with it: hope, freedom, joy, peace, and so much more.
Together we love one another no matter what.
Don't live any more of your life alone. Reach out to others around you and start the journey of knowing and loving one another. The greatest joys in life only come in relationship.
We are better together!
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