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Up & Down, Up & Down … And So it Goes as I am (Still) Recovering from My (Lifetime of) Disordered Eating
My 2016 event schedule is starting to fill up, and many of the events are related to my new retreat on disordered affections. This teaching content has really been born out of my lifetime problems with food. (Ever since my pacifier was dipped in white sugar to sooth me as a newborn with multiple birth defects, I have always been comforted by sugar. This is not good—physically or emotionally! I was able to keep it relatively in check as a young person, but WOW! Anyone who knows me in real life knows that I struggle with this a LOT, especially when I am recovering from the shock and misery of physical and/or relational trauma.) This content has also been born out of multiple studies I have led at my church for women and out of my Master’s work at Reformed Theological Seminary.
If this is a topic that is of interest to you, I hope that you will check out my other articles on disordered affections, peace with food, and my journey to lose 100 pounds. If you, too, go up-and-down, up-and-down with your weight; if you are also (still) recovering from a lifetime of disordered eating, I do SO hope and pray that they will be an encouragement to you. As I’ve blogged about before, I can totally relate to the ongoing, annoying, exhausting strugle! If you can’t relate to this struggle, but you love someone who can, I hope and pray that they will help you to have compassion and patience and empathy as you minister wisdom and grace in their lives.
With that, I will sign off for the day by sharing my inaugural blog on this topic … from years ago, but the content still holds firm.
Thanks for stopping by!
Yours in the battle,
Recovering from My (Lifetime of) Disordered Eating
There are many very good things going on in my life right now related to my lifetime of disordered eating (and the last ten years of my life that I have spent as a morbidly obese woman). I am so grateful to God for His continued, gracious, winnowing work! And one day, I may be ready to blog about the details. But not today.
Today, what I am ready to talk about is our church’s summer women’s study on Disordered Affections. I came up with the title after reading a bunch of books/articles, etc. on the topic, but when Fred read the title in our church’s bulletin, he teased me a bit about how archaic it was and how vague it was (“What do that even mean?! Is it from The Valley of Vision or something?”). But I stuck with it because I like it quite a lot—it’s a better fit for me than “addiction” or even “idolatry” (although both of those terms are helpful to me in understanding aspects of my heart struggle).
And what I’d like to do now is give you a glimpse into our study last week. I won’t be sharing any personal information about the attendees (of course!), but I will be giving you the same overview that I am providing to the attendees each week because it’s summer and we have a lot of women going in-and-out due to schedule changes, travel, etc.
I hope these notes are a blessing to you!
Grateful to be with you on the journey—
SUMMARY NOTES FROM SESSION 1 of the Rocky Mountain Community Church (PCA)
Summer Women’s Study – “Disordered Affections”
We began our study by discussing the question: What does the term “disordered affection” even mean?
- Any affection that is out of order or out of balance
- Sin / inappropriate
- When good goods become bad gods
- Codependent / disease
- Hopelessly stuck / caught
We then spent an extended time in God’s Word studying James 4:1-10 and discussing “monster wants” and “functional idolatry”:
“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? 6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” (ESV)
Many of us deeply resonated with some of the statements I had typed in our handout from Ed Welch’s “Crossroads Addictions Curriculum”):
- You feel out of control. What began as an escape from the hassles of life has become hazardous. Something—drugs, alcohol, gambling, food, sex—is taking over. You feel like its slave.
- You still love your addiction, but it is no longer friendly. You think it is time for a change.
- You think it is time for change—you want to leave your addiction—but you aren’t sure how to change. You have already tried a few strategies and they didn’t work.
- Someone told you that you’d better change.
- You are sick and tired of the lies, broken relationships, and nagging conscience that accompany all addictions.
- You are already off and running, already leaving your addiction behind.
When then discussed what makes our affections disordered. We talked about a lot of things—being deceived, discontent, etc. But ultimately, everything we talked about came down to our “three enemies” as summarized in the catechism: Satan, the world, our flesh (“The Old Man”).
By the end of that discussion, our time was running short. But we still discussed briefly the question: Have you (or someone you love) ever tried to turn away from a disordered affection? What did you do? Where did you turn for help? How did your effort to change go?
- Some of us looked to Scripture and wise role models (and “reverse role models”–people we did NOT want to emulate)
- We sought counseling (biblical, pastoral, professional psychiatric counseling and medication)
- We went to 12-Step Groups, read books, studied, made lists
- We tried to do healthy things like listen to music, make sure we got enough fresh air and light and water (and coffee)
But then I really wanted us to dig into our use of the term “addiction” … (See Crossroads Addictions Curriculum, Addictions: A Banquet At The Grave, and Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be—A Breviary of Sin). I knew that the term “addiction” might be TOO comfortable for some people (especially if they grew up around or were greatly helped by AA/NA/OA or any 12-Step, disease-based program, like “Celebrate Recovery” for example). And that the term “addiction” might be too AWFUL for some people (who think that all we need to do to combat our sin is “believe the gospel” and POOF! We’re all fixed!).
The content I sent them home with had a number of quotations from Dr. Plantinga’s “Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be”: A Breviary of Sin (my favorite book thus far on the doctrine of sin, although my current reading and study schedule is bringing me to more and more tomes that are so excellent that they might rival it one day). If I could have assigned the entire book, I would have. But 200+ pages of reading a week is a little aggressive, even for a bunch of Presbyterian women, so this is the summary I gave them from the section that was directly applicable to our discussion:
“Addiction is a complex, progressive, injurious, and often, disabling attachment to a substance (alcohol, heroin, barbiturates) or behavior (sex, work, shopping, gambling) in which a person compulsively seeks a change of mood. Addictions eventually center in distress and in the self-defeating choice of an agent to relieve the distress. In fact, trying to cure distress with the same thing that caused it is typically the mechanism that closes the trap on an addict.”
“Addiction is driven by longing—not just of brain, belly, or loins but finally of the heart. Addiction longs long for wholeness, fulfillment, the final good that believers call God. Like all idolatries, addiction taps this vital spiritual force and draws off its energies to objects and processes that drain the addict instead of filling him.”
“An addict longs not for God but for transcendence; not for joy but only for pleasure; mere escape from pain. Addicts go to saloons to buy for a few hours the illusion of comfort, hope, love—whatever one most longs for.”
“Alcohol and other drug abuse: chronic intoxications are marked by increasing depression, anxiety, and belligerence. An addict repeatedly makes and then breaks contracts with himself. An addict finds his longing narrowing and hardening into an obsession with things he knows will devastate his work, self-respect, relationships, and bank account and who yet seeks compulsively to satisfy those longings.”
“An addict finds his will split between wanting to banish an addictive substance from the earth and wanting to protect his private cache of it. Addicts reproach themselves, confess their sins to God, make and break resolutions, set even new dates for one last fling. Addicts struggle to deal with the depressing accompaniments of their secret life—lies, deceptions, scapegoating, alternating rage and self-pity, isolation, fear of discovery, the loss of real intimacy with loved ones.”
“When her attempts at self-management fail, as they usually do, and when her self-esteem plummets, as it always does, the addict feels compelled to seek solace in her obsessive behavior and thus cycles down one more level. Addictions flourish by feeding on human attempts to master them.”
“Addiction is misplaced longing. Healthy people keep a rein on their longings; enjoy the freedom that is born of contentment (a “freedom from want”) which is in turn owed to a sturdy and persistent discipline of desire; eat and drink only enough to relieve hunger and thirst, not to sate themselves.”
“Addictions include patterns of self-seeking, childish impatience with delayed gratification, and refusal to accept reasonable limits on behavior. Addiction is disordered appetite.”
“People often commit sins in order to relieve distress caused by other sins.”
We ran out of time before we could discuss the notes I had provided about Dr. Welch’s Crossroads Addictions Curriculum (I have even more information on this curriculum available on my liveblogs from his teaching the material when it was first released):
“The inner world of addiction is: foreign, hidden, complicated, insane, shame-filled, hopeless, immature, and God-suppressing. The fog of addiction is so messy and unclear that it is hard to find words to express it.”
“The words, “STOP IT” are not enough.”
“The experience of addiction is complicated. Coexisting in one heart: hatred for the addictive object; love for the addictive object. You find death and you find life. Warring themes; kingdoms in conflict. Chaos and insanity. Hopelessness. Immaturity.”
“So how do you start? ‘Lord, have mercy!’ The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of change.”
“We sin because we love it. That’s why saying, “No” is not effective. We say “no” when the thing is far away. But when it gets close? We love it. That’s why when talking to the addict, we quickly begin saying, “we” instead of “you.” Remember the Pharisee and the tax collector? This is a wonderful beginning every day treatment for the addictive heart. We come to the temple and don’t feel worthy to lift our heads. “Lord have mercy toward me a sinner.”
“We have a God Who delights in showering an abundance of mercy on those who ask for mercy. Those who ask for mercy receive an abundance of mercy.”
“Your struggle is a common one. Don’t begin with the idea that your experience is out of the ordinary. It is, of course, unique—no one completely understands your struggle (not even you). Still, we are all cut from the same cloth. All of us, if we are truly honest would have to acknowledge a familiarity with that tug of addictions. A lot of wanting is in the human heart. The desire for drugs, alcohol, sex, and food are the more dramatic ones, but they aren’t fundamentally different from our cravings for comfort, significance, relationship, money, love, and so on. Try to find one person who has successfully and consistently said no to any of those wants. You won’t succeed.”
“The path you will be traveling has much to do with God. That should come as no surprise. Books about addictions always say something about God. But much more is happening between you and God than you may think. You will be surprised: To learn how you avoid him; To learn how he pursues you; That you know him more than you think; That you know him less than you think.”
“If at all possible, do this work with someone else. Addictions are private, so doing this in public is a way to take a stand against your addiction. God has always planned for people to live and grow in a community, where we give and receive, pray for others and get prayed for, and learn wisdom and offer it.”
And then we closed with an extended time of prayer. I shared my favorite quote from Paul Miller’s excellent book, A Praying Life:
“Jesus does not say, “Come to me all you who have learned how to concentrate in prayer, whose minds no longer wander, and I will give you rest.” No. Jesus opens his arms to his needy children and says, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). The criteria for coming to Jesus is weariness. Come overwhelmed with life. Come with your wandering mind. Come messy … Don’t try to get the prayer right; just tell God where you are and what’s on your mind … Private, personal prayer is one of the last great bastions of legalism. In order to pray like a child, you might need to unlearn the non-personal, non-real praying that you’ve been taught. The real you has to meet the real God.”
ASSIGNMENT FOR THIS WEEK
- Read the handout: “Sin, Sickness, or Both?” (from pgs 17-43 of Addictions: A Banquet at the Grave) and come prepared next week to discuss its contents. Also complete the questions on pages 41-42 (“As You Face Your Own Addiction”) and consider sharing some of your responses if you feel comfortable doing so. (No pressure!)
- Read the (brief!) handout: “Streams in the Desert” (from pgs 212-214 of How People Change) and come prepared next week to discuss its contents.
(If you would like to read the summaries from all of our church’s summer women’s study sessions on “Disordered Affections,” you can read week 1 here, week 2 here, week 3 here, week 4 here, and week 5 here.)
I Bet I Was A Prayer Request Just Like That When I Was 13 Years Old (The Rich Tapestry of God’s Providence)
If you haven’t read this Tim Challies’ post, you really should. It is wonderful!
It reminds me of five minutes I spent with a woman at my church after our service. She had given a prayer request during the service for a thirteen year-old girl she knows whose life situation is utterly chaotic: addict mother, no stable home, might have to move out of state to live with a father who has had no contact with her in years. This dear woman was not only concerned, she was trying to discern the role (if any) she and her her husband should play in this child’s life.
I told her that I would bet anything that two decades ago, Christians stood up in churches and gave prayer requests just like that—for me. That looking back now at my life and when God saved me (my freshman year of high school—yes, that’s really me all the way to the right in the photo above, circa 1980′s), I have absolutely no doubt that Christians had been praying for me and having various levels of influence in my chaotic life:
- A friend in Kindergarten who let me go to church with them once or twice
- A particularly kind Girl Scout leader
- A band teacher who took the time to encourage me when I was at an all-time low
- Parents of teen friends who gave me rides, listened to me, and told me they were praying for me
- A health teacher who allowed kids to gather in her room after school to pray (and friends who asked us “How can we pray for you?”)
- Friends who invited me to “church stuff”
- A man and a woman (much like the Challies’ story) who I only saw on one night who listened to me, answered my questions, and then opened the Scriptures to me and prayed with me—and I was saved
- Multiple English teachers, all with quiet, beautiful, radiant lives for Christ that I longed to understand and emulate
- Paul and Donna Livingston who let me live with them for 18 very painful (for them!) months (painful because I was so wounded, so scared, so incapable of loving or being loved, that they just had to persevere in letting me live in their home event though they wouldn’t get to love and be loved by me for YEARS afterward)
I told this woman yesterday that sometimes we can be afraid to have ANY input into a troubled person’s life (especially a troubled child’s life) because we feel like, “If I can’t feed, clothe, adopt, basically provide EVERYTHING to this child, then maybe I shouldn’t try to do ANYTHING for this child.” But the truth, is, her prayers and asking the saints to pray are worth far more than we can ever imagine. Plus, I encouraged her to be bold and tell this child that there IS a God and that He is sovereign and good. And that even though this child’s suffering is great, that doesn’t mean God doesn’t care.
I told her that the child’s life situation might be such that she isn’t even allowed to reach out again until she is 18 years old. But that a letter (or email or FaceBook contact) might come in five years saying, “Tell me more about this God Who is good and in control.” Because that’s exactly what happened in my life. I heard inklings of Truth as a child and I longed to know more. And (thankfully!) people told me more. And here I am today, a very different woman than I would have been were it not for these dear saints along the way.
The rich tapestry of God’s providence. Indeed.
Rejoicing in the Truth,
A few years ago, I had the joy of serving a group of pre-teens and teens in a Geography class. Not being a geography expert (understatement of the year and a fact that I made quite clear to the parents and students when they asked me to serve), I was happy to walk with the students through their Geography textbook as they memorized vocabulary words and definitions and took their tests and quizzes. But, as I told them, I was never going to remember the name of every ocean / river / lake or the capital of every country / province / state, etc. because:
A) I don’t have the time to memorize all of those details; and
B) I don’t really care.
I know that I can look up facts and figures when I need to know them and I’m very happy to be a 40-something stay at home mother rather than a junior high student.
That being said, I did have big ol’ goals for our class—goals that went far beyond memorizing the capitals of countries only long enough to pass a test:
1. I opened each class by having one student read from Operation World and then lead us in prayer so that we can always remember that history is His-story and geography is NOT just about memorizing facts and figures. We learned about religions in other countries and how temperature, land masses, population growth, etc. etc. affect real people because we want to live our lives for the glory of God and the love of our neighbors; even if our neighbors are thousands of miles away.
2. I wanted to help my young friends to learn how to THINK. I prayed that by the end of the year, they will have even an introductory understanding of logic and thus be able to both identify and avoid some common logical fallacies.
3. By the end of our time together, I hoped that my students would agree with my conviction that citations to Wikipedia are not acceptable for any report or presentation they would ever do that they wanted to be trusted and well-received.
4. I prayed that I might be even a tiny encouragement in their young lives to know that truth exists and is knowable and (to quote Kevin DeYoung), there are “reasons for reason” and “one of the first tasks of evangelism today is to reintroduce the law of non-contradiction.”
Yes. Yes. A thousand times, yes.
Oh, how I pray that the young people I serve will have sweet compassion, jaw-dropping patience, and not a scintilla of fear when they encounter people making faulty arguments (or no arguments at all) about the most important things in life! When our arguments bounce off of people “like Tigger on Red Bull” (to use Kevin DeYoung’s turn of phrase), we can be gracious and calm, unmoved and unruffled.
My favorite Bible memory verse on this topic?
“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” 2 Timothy 2:24-26
Last summer, someone I respect very much encouraged me to write up the story of how God provided the means for our family to send me all the way from Montana to Florida to LiveBlog The Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference. I prayed and reflected on her comments for a few days and then decided that she was right.
The entire situation was so strange—but also, I did see many evidences of God’s grace at work in the story. It was good to pause, remember, and make a little e-stone-of-remembrance so that one day, like Samuel in 1 Samuel 7:12, my family and I can raise our Ebenezer to God’s gracious provision in helping us.
(Plus, there are elements of the story that are just plain funny. So I thought they might give you a chuckle or two as well.)
This story begins on an airplane way back in January. I cannot tell you the name of the airline or any identifying details because that would be breaking a confidentiality agreement that I signed related to this “in-flight incident.” But just know that it’s a big airline, not a little rinky-dinky-prop-jop-casual airline.
Back to January …
It was a completely normal air travel day. No weather problems. No delays. You can picture me just sitting there in my nice, elite-area, aisle seat, watching a video on my iPod. (I have flown around 75,000+ air miles a year every year since 1997, so I have been a million-miler for quite awhile now. Thus, air travel is one of the few things I am confident at and competent in; unlike, say, cooking, which I still can’t do very well.)
Suddenly, without any warning, I felt a huge jolt and clonk to my head because a large, heavy, carry-on suitcase had dropped directly onto me when an overhead bin malfunctioned during our ascent. Honestly? It hurt, but I didn’t think I was seriously injured. Sure. I had an immediate, large egg-sized bump on my forehead and some pretty drastic scratches down my face. But I did not lose consciousness; I had no sharp pains down my neck or back. I was injured and it wasn’t pleasant, but I didn’t think it was necessary to take the lead flight attendant up on her urgent offer as she rushed to my side:
“We are SO sorry! The pilot said he will immediately turn the plane around and go back to [giant city] so that you can receive medical attention if you would like.”
I quickly thought about how many people were on that plane. (I know the Boeing 757 well.) Elderly people. Business people. Families with young children and babies. As I mentally calculated how inconvenienced they would all be (especially re: connections) and as I tried hard to “consider their interests” (Philippians 2), I replied:
“Thanks. But I don’t think that’s necessary. May I please just have a bag of ice?”
She quickly filled a little barf bag with ice from first class and brought it to me. I then just collapsed my (bumped, scratched) face into the bag of ice in my hands, rested on the tray table in front of me, and tried not to cry from the adrenaline of the experience. (I’m not much of a crier and I’m certainly not a crier-in-public person.)
But then. (Cue scary music.) Again, without any warning, the same overhead bin popped open and the same (giant! heavy!) suitcase crashed onto me again. This time, it grazed the back of my head and mostly landed on my right wrist and arm which (like my face) immediately started to bleed from the scratches and soon afterwards turned some nasty shades of bruising. Not fun! But again, not a broken bone. Just a minor injury. Unpleasant, but not all that serious. (Although it did leave a small, permanent scar on my right wrist, which I think of as my own little “Ebenezer” every time I see it.)
Again, the lead flight attendant rushed to my side and offered to have a “medical team” meet us at the [connecting big city]. Again, I didn’t think that was necessary, but I did ask for some towels/bandaids. And that time? I did cry. No sobbing or sounds, just hot, frightened tears rolling down my cheeks as the flight crew (finally!) emptied the obviously defective overhead storage bin so that this would not be a triple-play kind of injure-the-passenger-situation.
But now my legal brain started to kick into gear. Yes. You can take the lawyer out of Illinois and plop her into Montana, but you can’t ever really remove from her brain three years of law school and all of the studying it took to pass the Bar Exam. And as I sat there, reviewing the facts of what had just happened, I was quite sure this was a strong (if not slam-dunk) case of prima facie neglience on behalf of the airline. (Equivalent to being rear-ended in an automobile accident.) There’s just no defense to that bin popping open twice (and the flight crew not adjusting bags or emptying the bin until after the second injury). Plus, I did not have anything in the overhead bin, so there was absolutely no way I was contributorily negligent in the situation.
I knew what I would have to do to prevail in the courts:
- Get the names and contact information for the people sitting near me to make it easier to depose them (they were all clearly “on my side,” as it were, because they could not believe this had happened to me; even seasoned frequent-flyers and [name of airline] crew members were telling me “You HAVE TO sue!”);
- Accept the offer of having a medical team meet me at the connecting city so that my injuries could be formally documented;
- At the stroke of 8:00AM the next morning, hire a personal injury lawyer; and
- Spend countless hours of the next year with my lawyer preparing for the fight, in depositions and settlement negotiations, or (if the airline was stubborn for some unimaginable reason), hours and hours for multiple years preparing for and finally executing the trial.
I would probably win. The lawyer would make a good profit. And our family (which could really use the money for basic needs and future expenses) would enjoy a substantial in-flow of cash.
But I also knew:
- Litigation would take a tremendous amount of time away from my service to my husband, young children, church, and community;
- If I sued, I would have a strained relationship with one of my favorite airlines. (I bake cookies for my local Billings crew!);
- I would not be following wise, biblical counsel to “settle matters quickly” re: going to court (Matthew 5:25);
- I would be following the litigious nature of our society which I despise (remember when kids used to get bruises and cuts on the playground and find them all to be badges of super-fun-honor? not reasons to SUE and then PAD with protective gear every schoolyard playground?);
- I would be violating the core biblical peacemaking principles to which I have dedicated my professional life as a professional Christian conciliator (and which were the reason my husband and I left our careers in Chicago to move to Billings, Montana back in 1999). John 17:20-23 & 1 John & Ephesians 4 & 1 Corinthians 6?! Man. Persuasive stuff.
As my tears subsided and my barf-bag-of-ice melted against my scraped and sore body, I pretty much re-read in my mind Appendix D in Ken Sande’s book, The Peacemaker (“When Is It Right To Go To Court?“) and the “Biblical Conflict Resolution” Appendix of the PCA’s Book of Church Order. I am not proud of the fact that I wavered a bit in this moment. There was such a draw to imagining a world in which we had a little financial margin! But ultimately, it was clear what I had to do:
“Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. As a peacemaker the lawyer has superior opportunity of being a good man. There will still be business enough.” Abraham Lincoln
The next morning, when the Vice-President of the airline’s insurance carrier called me, I violated every mantra of legal negotiation and just told him the truth: I was a Christian and a peacemaker and I had no intention of suing the airline, as long as I was treated fairly and justly. I told him honestly what happened (on the phone and in writing) and, after a few short weeks, I was offered a fair settlement. The dollar amount was just enough to send me to Orlando so that I could have the joy of serving The Gospel Coalition on the LiveBlog. And that’s exactly what I did.
No. We still don’t have a balanced budget and that is a stressful situation to be in. My children do not have a nice, secure college fund waiting for them. My husband still drives a vehicle with nearly 200,000 miles on it. We did not deceive, manipulate, or warp these minor injuries into major financial benefits. But I do not regret this at all because I know that if I had exaggerated my injuries; if I had been litigious for selfish reasons; if I had sinned and violated my conscience and convictions and destroyed my name and integrity for MONEY? Oh. Any “benefit” would have been rightly burdened by deserved guilt and shame.
Instead, I had a (guilt-free), wonderful conference as I joyfully reflected on the sovereignty and goodness of God re: both Nehemiah and broken overhead bins and crashing-down suitcases.
Please don’t take this post to mean that I don’t ever think it is appropriate to sue another person or entity, because I absolutely do. It’s just that in this situation, no one was intentionally doing me harm. I was injured. Absolutely. But it was a genuine accident, not an intentional, malicious action. Hope that makes sense.
“When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me?” Psalm 56:3-4
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you or forsake you.” … “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged!” From Deuteronomy 31
The only way to overcome evil and fear is with goodness and love.
“There are two kinds of righteousness, active and passive, to the end that manners and faith, works and grace, policy and religion, should not be confounded, or take the one for the other. Both are necessary; but must be kept within their bounds; Christian righteousness appertaineth to the new man, and the righteousness of the law appertaineth to the old man, which is born of flesh and blood. … So both these continue while we live here. The flesh is accused, exercised with temptations, oppressed with heaviness and sorrow, bruised by its active righteousness of the law; but the spirit reigneth, rejoiceth, and is saved by the passive and Christian righteousness, because it knoweth that it hath a Lord in Heaven, at the right hand of His Father, who hath abolished the law, sin, death, and hath trodden under His feet all evils, led them captive, and triumphed over them in Himself (Col. 2:15).” From Martin Luther’s Introduction to His Commentary on Galatians
What do we look like when we fail to accept who we are (good and bad)?
- Rejection of God, the Gospel, Christ
- Excessive anger, rage, frustration, disappointment
- Rejection of self, others, broken relationships
- Insecure image/esteem
“The test of our observance of Christ’s teaching is our consciousness of our failure to attain an ideal perfection. The degree to which we draw near to this perfection cannot be seen; all we can see is the extent of our deviation.” Tolstoy
“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the defense of my life; whom shall I dread?” Psalm 27:1
“For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons.” Romans 8:15
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.” 1 John 4:18
“Remember, merciful Jesu, that I am the cause of Your journey.” From Mozart’s Requiem
Last year I read a post by Tim Challies on why his family doesn’t do sleepovers, reminded me of an awkward conversation we had to have with some of our dearest friends in the world. It had to do with an invitation that one of our daughters had for a birthday party sleepover.
As a general rule, we are a “NO SLEEPOVER” type of family. But we have some exceptions to this rule—basically, when we have known a family for years and years and we trust them and their children to be not only appropriate, but vigilant, re: access to and use of technology, nature of entertainment, length of unsupervised child-time, etc. etc. … we may allow the occasional sleepover. But since our children are still in the incredibly vulnerable season of life of little child/pre-teen years, we try to be very careful. And when we KNOW that there are going to be other children / teens in the house whom we do not know? Yeah. That’s a deal-killer for us. We must do the difficult thing and decline the sleepover invitation. (This includes any type of sleepover camp too.)
There are many reasons for our vigilant commitment re: this topic, but let me name just a few:
- Even though the vast majority of people with whom our children interact would never sexually assault a child, we just don’t know. And thus, we must be careful. (That is why we LOVE—and share often!—the “Safe Side Super Chick” materials for explaining some healthy and wise ways to talk about “Don’t Knows” and “Kinda Knows” and “Safe Side Grownups”—because the vast majority of children who are harmed in this way are not harmed by a “stranger” but by a “KINDA-KNOW” Sad, but true.)
- Whether we admit it or not; whether we are taking intentional steps to address it or not, we are raising children in a pornified culture. The VHS videos and “Pl**boy” and “Hu**ler” magazines that saturated my childhood? Yeah. Sure. I really do not have even ONE early childhood memory that is not affected by p*rnogrpahy, but as vile as that all was (and it was vile!), those images are TAME compared to what is insidiously, intentionally “out there” (meaning, on every single internet-linked device in your house and in your children’s pockets!), purposefully and shrewdly designed to ensnare and addict our children.
- Let’s say we trust the parents; really trust them. And even the children in the family. Great. But what about the child we do not know who also is invited to the sleepover? That’s what happened in this situation. We were happy to drop our child off and come back at ANY time of the night (post games / presents / movie / popcorn) and pick her up. But our daughter could not stay for the sleepover. Because something bad would happen? Not necessarily. But because we just didn’t know. Oh, and we had these data points too: a (terrible!) s*xting situation had just happened to a very good friend of ours at a (sweet, innocent) sleepover involving nine year-olds (explained further below); every statistic I find from every citation indicates that the age of inadvertent exposure to p*rn for young children (even the “good kids” from “involved parenting” homes) is dropping lower and lower each year because the p*rn industry TARGETS children (with innocent search terms and progressively addictive images and experiences); and lastly, we operate at an extremely high level of vigilance because I can still remember the smell and touch of the (drunk) father of my eighth-grade friend who came into our “innocent/fun” pre-teen sleepover and pressed his (filthy) body against mine as he ran his hand up and down the entire length of my body before I jumped up and ran out of the room and threatened to call the police or my dad. (Why, oh why, didn’t I do both?! 30+ years later and I still regret that. But children are incredibly vulnerable; it was the middle of the night in the world before cell phones; somehow I felt responsible and bad about it all and I just wanted to pretend it hadn’t happened. Just like so many young child abuse victims.)
So. What do we do with all of that information? All of those warnings? We read just a few things more (SO worth your time!) and we keep talking and praying with our children AND taking steps to help them as they navigate this difficult area of life:
- Teens and Unrestricted Access to the Internet: I would change this title to “Children and Unrestricted Access to the Internet because the first “sexting” text my friend’s child received was at a sleepover at age 9!! (“C’mon! Take off your shirt and send us a photo!”) Age 9! At a sleepover. And these were “good kids” having a sleepover in a godly home! The mom heard the friend’s phone buzz at midnight and took it away of course. And rethought sleepovers for their family.
- Three Things You Don’t Know About Your Children and Sex *(Short and to the point, but worth the read.)
- Teach your children about the limits on authority (!!). This is particularly important for families that emphasize the blessings of headship and submission / “first time obedience.”
- Affirm over and over again that you WILL believe your children, even if someone whom we ALL thought would be a trustworthy, safe-side-adult-level person. (I had to ask my oldest daughter to forgive me when I did not emphasize this enough re: a sleepover situation.) Strangers may assault our children. But statistically, if they are ever hurt in this way, it’s going to be by someone they “kinda know.”
- Start young. “The Right Touch” has been a good introductory book for our family, but I’m sure there are many others.
- Speak positively and happily about the blessings of s*x within marriage. Our oldest child is very fond of talking about an analogy we read together about fire in the fireplace bringing warmth and light and safety and pleasure—but even a spark outside of its rightful place can bring pain, destruction, and utter devastation.
- Remember: When it comes to child abuse, especially in the church, justice may be grace. (Lots more links in this article too.)
Oh. And yes, please do re-think your standards for sleepovers. There’s something about undressing and being completely vulnerable while asleep; the adult-free-access to online things and technology things; nephews and uncles and friends of brothers who are also in the house. It’s just a higher-risk-situation than more normal situations for most children who have involved parents in their lives. So please be careful and wise. (And please don’t think this issue is only about girls being assaulted. I know the statistics and I have heard personally the unimaginable suffering young boys experience when they are sexually assaulted.)
God gives grace for survivors of child sexual abuse! Praise His name! But we want to be able to say with a clear conscience that we did everything we could to keep our children from this horror.
For God’s glory and the protection of our littles,
(Photo courtesy of PotteryBarnKids.)
(This is a re-post from 2013. To read more about this topic, I encourage you to read all of the posts in my “Eulogy for a Bad Mother” category. There aren’t many, but they may be helpful to you.)
Tomorrow it will be four months to the day since my mother died. I cry less, but I still cry. My dreams are not as disturbed as they were at first—but I do still have those particularly troubling ones wherein I am leading my mother out of her nursing home and tucking her into the car to get her the heck away from there. And as I am doing so, I’m thinking to myself, “This is so great! They said she would never leave this place, but here we are. Leaving! But uh-oh. How are we going to care for her? She can’t even move three steps anymore to get to the bathroom. Why are we doing this?!” !!POOF!! I’m awake. And then I have that SUCH GOOD feeling/thought: “Oh! It was all a mistake. SHE’S ALIVE!” And then reality clicks in and I have to admit that no, she is gone.
Death is confusing. Death is painful. We grieve on conscious and subconscious levels that I’m sure I will never understand this side of Heaven.
But death comes for us all. Sooner or later. Younger or older. Without warning or only after a prolonged fight to survive. Lonely in a nursing home for weeks or in a moment. A breath. A hairsbreadth.
Death is the reality that focuses our senses—or tempts us to run away and hide away in denial. But we’re still going to die one day. So is every person we have ever loved and will ever love. You know this true. You may not want to think about it. But you know it’s true. So what are you doing about it?
Well. A large number of you are googling “eulogy for mother” and ending up on my blog entry from four months ago:
So that seems to be a hot topic these days … and I thought I would just jot down a few ideas for when we are called to write a eulogy for a “bad mother” (doesn’t that describe us all!?) or a mother who we feel didn’t love us. (Maybe that’s true—maybe she really didn’t love us; or maybe she loved us, but imperfectly and painfully; or maybe that’s just our perspective on the situation and actually she loved us well. More than likely, it’s some sort of combination of all three.)
If I had been called upon to write a eulogy for my mother during our “dark years”—the time period when she was caught in a number of destructive addictions and behaviors and was thus interacting with me in particularly ugly, unloving, mean ways … I think I would have tried to craft a eulogy that kept the following things in mind:
- A memorial service is not a counseling session (the time to work through your own “stuff”—pain, hurts, anger, fear, etc.); nor is it a time to bash the deceased. Maybe there are some really awful things that you need to talk through with someone; memories you need to express so that you can turn away from the lasting poison of resentment and bitterness. But your mother’s funeral service is not the best place for that.
- Take a deep breath. Figure out your goal. Maybe it’s something like: “I want to share a few stories about my mother and reflect briefly/appropriately on the aspects of our relationship that are edifying for the situation so that I can leave this place with a clear conscience, knowing that I have finished well and honored my mother, even at the time of her passing.” Maybe it’s something very different. Whatever your goal is, keep it in mind and work towards the goal.
- Recognize that the death of a parent is stressful. This is true even for a parent with whom we have had no relationship or very little relationships or an extremely troubled, conflicted, terrible relationship. You’re probably not getting much sleep. Are you turning to calming substances that feel relatively better at first (because they keep you from feeling at all?), but then leave you feeling even worse (guilt after foolish sexual choices or illegal drug use; physical sickness after drunkenness; shame after hidden gluttony)? Try to not add to your stress by layering on these physical and spiritual burdens as well. What can you do that is redemptive and freeing to handle your stress–rather than compulsive and enslaving? (Take a walk in the fresh air; make one wise eating decision at the beginning of your day; give your prescription drugs to a trusted friend who can help you to use them only as prescribed and only in moderation; get help monitoring your alcohol intake; limit your escapism time online/on your iPhone/watching television.)
- Even if your mother really was a terrible mother, she was still your mother. Maybe your life will be better with her gone—she’ll stop asking you for money (or just stealing from you); you won’t have to put up with her embarrassing you at every major life event any more (late and drunk to your graduation—or just not showing up at all; drunk at your wedding; creepy and scary (and scared!) in her agoraphobic bondage at the birth of your first child) … OK. Great. That’s reality. She had some (fill in the blanks with whatever terms best fit): weaknesses, addictions, personality flaws, foolishness, sins, fallenness, darkness, bondages, enslavements, physical weaknesses, emotional weaknesses … she had some humanness that caused you pain and shame. Admit it. It’s true. But she was still your mother. So maybe she was graceless and critical of you—don’t be graceless and critical of her now. Maybe she treated you like crap—don’t treat her memory like crap now. Maybe she doesn’t deserve one teeny tiny iota of kindness or mercy from you. Well. Welcome to the club! You do not deserve any kindness or mercy from God or any person—mercy isn’t deserved! That would be justice! Yet you and I both know that we receive mercy every single day of our lives. So be merciful just as your Heavenly Father is merciful (Luke 6:36). You won’t regret it—but you may very well regret a hate-filled (even if it’s factually-based) diatribe at your mother’s funeral. Don’t go there. Don’t do it. You don’t have to be that person.
- So … with all of that in mind: What one or two things can you say about your mother that are true, but charitable? Can you dredge up even just ONE exchange, ONE memory that wasn’t pure hell for you? If not, that’s OK. (But in that situation, I really encourage you to think about whether you should even be speaking at her memorial service at all). For most of us, we can remember a few instances when things weren’t all bad … I remember my mother telling me in a genuinely kind voice how much she enjoyed listening to me play the piano. It had a huge impact on me and it is now something I try to remember to tell my daughter often. I want my daughter to hear my kind voice saying, “I love hearing you play the piano.” And every time I say those words, I remember one kind memory about my mother. I also remember my mother trying SO hard. She really did try hard! For example, one time she was working so hard to get me to my National Honor Society awards ceremony on time. I was wearing this light-weight dress with white nylons and white leather pumps and as we got into her (smoke-filled) little Ford Escort, she splashed her dark coffee all over me, ruining the nylons and staining the dress. She felt so bad! But I wasn’t even angry. I knew she didn’t mean to. I knew what she needed right then was my compassion, not my judgment. So I comforted her and told her it would be OK (and it was). But when I think about that memory, I think about her TRYING—sure, she “failed” in so many ways; just like so much of my childhood. What charitable memories might you be able to share?
Oh. So much more is flooding my heart on this topic—but I must scoot into my real job now. Small children are calling!
Will try to write more in the coming days and weeks—
And so very, very sorry for those of you who are reading this because you are facing the loss of your parent. It’s awful. It really is. You’re not imagining it. I pray for you—truly pray for you—hope and peace, even as you process memories and as you grieve.
In Christ our Hope,
(This is current. July 29, 2015. I miss my mom every day.)
Yesterday, I did a quick check-in with my preteen daughter about how her heart and mind were doing re: inadvertent exposure to sexual or violent images. I use different words, of course. Otherwise, the very act of asking about things could create trouble—and I surely don’t want to do that! But as we were there, nose-to-nose, snuggling and talking about important things, I asked if she had seen anything troubling or tempting on any technology or on a bookshelf at a friend’s home or in a store, etc.
She mentioned how the title “The Lady with the Dragon Tattoo” had created in her a desire for a second glance when she saw it on a bookshelf at a friend’s home, but that was pretty much it. She didn’t explore it and she wasn’t having any troubling thoughts about it.
I thanked her for sharing about this important part of her life (as I always do). I reiterated what an honor it was to pray for her about such things, especially as she continues to mature and have more and more opportunities to glance longer and longer and things that might seems so … interesting. Enticing. (As adults, the term “titillating” would be an appropriate descriptor.)
And then I told her a variation of what I tell her pretty much every single time we venture into this area of life. My spiel goes something like this:
“My darling daughter. I hope you know that when daddy and I talk about these things with you, and urge you to be careful, wise, and intentional about avoiding these things, we’re not trying to keep something good from you. We’re not standing here, body-blocking you from something super fun and interesting and beautiful because we just want you to have a drag of a life and we don’t want you to be blessed.
When I ask you about these things; when I pray and beg God for His protection for you; when I counsel you to STAY AWAY FROM THESE IMAGES AND SOUNDS, I am doing it because I SO long for you to NEVER have to deal with the ramifications of them being inside of you. Not even for ONE MINUTE.
Like a drop of black ink spreading throughout a clear glass of crystal clean water, these sounds and images get into our brains in a darkening, clouding way.
Of course, God gives us grace. You know my story. You know that by the time I was your age, my mind was bombarded by hundreds, thousands, of images and sounds that I wish I never knew existed. And God was so gracious and is so gracious to help me—to save me and sanctify me and my memories so that, by His grace alone, daddy and I enjoy a happy, sweet, fun, intimate life together.
But. It has still been hard. Very hard. It was hard for me as a child. Harder still as a teenager and young adult. Hard when I met and fell in love with your daddy and we were married and we began the good, pure, God-honoring, strong, cement-together-one-man-and-one-woman-for-LIFE, aspect of our intimate life together. At the worst possible times, specific images would come into my mind from 1974. 1975. Preschool! Kindergarten! Images that my five year-old self didn’t understand; that provoked strong physical and emotional responses in me; things that brought me shame; things that warped my view of women and of men and of sexuality. Forty years later, I remember exactly what I saw and what I felt and how I didn’t understand either. And this, my dear, is what I want to protect you from to the utmost of my ability.
Yes, we live in a hyper-erotic society. Yes, billboards are everywhere. Sounds are everywhere. Even our careful use of Netflix and iTunes with no “real” tv cannot protect you as you continue to grow up and are in increasingly unsupervised situations with increasing amounts of opportunities to look. And look again. And again.
That’s why I ask you direct questions now. I tell you the stories of the GOOD (because this aspect of life IS SO GOOD in its proper context). I try to give age-appropriate warnings and, like so many aspects of life, I pray that you will NOT be like me.
God gives us grace! I am a living testimony to that. But it would be far, far better to just avoid the disastrous poison of sexually explicit and exploitave images and sounds.”
(‘Course, that’s not even going down the whole rabbit trail of why we live the way we do as a family so that every single month we can donate to International Justice Mission so that we can be one tiny part of trying to rescue victims of violence, sexual exploitation, and slavery—a whole ‘nother aspect of this conversation that, it seems to me, we MUST be having with our children.)
Is this a hard topic for you? It is for me too. Maybe you’ll want to read some of my other posts for encouragement and practical helps.
Oh. And Mary? I don’t think I would have shared this story if I hadn’t been encouraged by your blog post that recently showed up in my stats/feed. Thank you, my friend. I love you. And maybe our combined efforts will keep even just one child from the statistically “guaranteed” early childhood inadvertent exposure to porn. I pray that it is so.
For the glory of the Lord and His Bride—and the protection of the children in our care,
Things You Should Know About Child Sexual Offenders (And a story of how my friends protected Sophia at a farmer’s market when she was only six years old …)
I do not want to raise my children to live lives of fear. I do not want them to think that most “don’t knows” are out to harm them. (We use the Safe Side Super Chick term “don’t know” rather than “stranger” because most people who do hurt children are not strangers—they are “kinda knows.” Children kinda know their coaches, their distant uncles, the nice new man at their church.)
At the same time, I do not want to raise them to be naive. Even in just my brief time leading The Institute for Christian Conciliation, I learned of many cases of children being molested in churches. Most churches and most Christians are just way too trusting of people! And sexual predators prey on churches. They do. If you don’t think they do, then you are either misinformed or ignorant and I urge you to get informed rightly. (And please don’t think you can tell a child sexual offender by how they look! They will not be creepy. They will be the most clean-cut, Bible-carrying, know all the right things to say and do, people you meet.)
Do you have policies in place to protect children from these wolves in sheep’s clothing? Do you regularly talk with children about safe-side rules? How they can (and should) look out for one another / stick together / let safe-side-grownups know where they are at all times / trust their instincts if someone is too close to their personal space / not obey every adult command of a kinda-know / NEVER think it is safe or appropriate for an adult to ask a child for help (finding their lost puppy / getting directions) / NEVER be frightened into keeping secrets from their parents (“If you tell anyone, I will hurt you/them/your baby sister.”) / learn to yell, “This is not my mom! This is not my dad!” rather than just screaming if someone ever did try to force you to go with them in a public setting. (Most of us would quickly tune out a small child seemingly having a tantrum or being defiant if we just thought they were with their parents. But if a child were to be grabbed by an adult and that child would yell, “This is not my dad! This is not my dad!”, every adult within earshot would come to that child’s defense. It’s true.)
But even with policies and training, nothing beats vigilance. Let me give you one example from our family’s life …
Sophia has been blessed to serve in the Ceilidh Fiddlers since she was very young (age 6). Because she fiddles at the level of adults, she has been in many situations that would never be appropriate for a child to be left in on her own: corporate events at large hotels, weddings at fancy restaurants/bars, and every summer at our local farmer’s market …
(As an aside … don’t you love how her sash goes all the way down to the ground because she is just such a little muchkin in this photo?)
Well. The summer she was six years old, we had a situation at the farmer’s market that reminded me that children are children and even with consistent training and reminders and prayer and conversations, they are still easily manipulated by adults and they need our vigilant protection. This is what happened …
Ella and I needed to get home, so I asked two women I trust to be Sophie’s safe-side-grownups while she was fiddling and (especially) during the break. I made sure Sophie knew that these adults were in charge and she was to stick by them, keep them informed of what she was doing, listen to their counsel, etc. (The two women are close friends whom I trust greatly.)
When the gig was done and Sophie was brought home, one of the moms told me that an adult had been taking LOTS of photos of Sophia, including very up-close photos, as she was fiddling. Now. This person may have just been amazed that a little girl could fiddle at those tempos. Lots of people just like to take beautiful pictures of sunny Montana days—so maybe that was all there was to it. But we just don’t know. And the safety antennae on my friends’ heads went UP even as my daughter’s naiveté kicked into gear.
She told me later that, yes, she thought it was a little strange, but also that she found it flattering that a grownup was taking only pictures of HER and not the other fiddlers (!!!!). Oh oh oh. What a human response! What a childish response. What a response that needs protection from adults. And that is just what she had … my friends went right up to the photographer and said, “Why are you taking pictures of that little girl? That is not appropriate. You need to delete those photos of her RIGHT NOW in front of us.” And so it was. And that was that.
But seriously, friends. We have got to work together on this. We need to find a shared language with our friends and church family so that we are all on the same team, working towards the same goals. (And, by the way, I do not mean to imply that predators and their families are not in need of ministry help too. They are! And for the predators, criminal prosecution help too! But that is not my focus in this post.)
Please. If you haven’t yet educated yourself on this topic; if you’re not talking with your children (age appropriately!); start today. Here are two brief, but excellent places to begin educating yourself:
I have also posted on this topic before and I have a number of links in this recent post that would be worth your time:
I hope I don’t sound shrill. But I likewise hope you take this very seriously. I know personally how hard it is to overcome the scars of sexual sins that are done to us when we are children. God is sufficient! There is always hope and help in time of need. But as adults, I truly pray that we are all doing everything we can to help our children to avoid this particular suffering.
Thanks, friends. Off into my day now …
If you’d to see a fun video of Sophia playing her very first song at her very first fiddler rehearsal, this is a great one:
Sophie and I still laugh at the tempo we practiced at home. We thought it was fast enough and she was ready for this rehearsal. But the tempo they play it at is SMOKIN’ FAST. If you watch until 1:37, you’ll see her little six year-old eyes sort of glance around the room as her fingers kept up with a ZILLION notes. Sophie and I have laughed many times in viewing this video as we both think: “I can’t believe six year-old Sophie’s fingers are doing that!” It truly is the fruit of a LOT of very slow practice. But even so, this is a very fast fiddle piece for a first song.
I greatly appreciated this link from Challies and I urge you to read it and listen to its counsel:
The only thing I would add is that it’s never too young to (age-appropriately) begin talking with children about these things. Let me give you an example …
When Sophia was little, my assigned task at our little homeschooling co-op was theology and parties. (Great job I have, eh?!) One Christmas Co-Op Party sticks out in my mind because that week, a dear friend had shared with me more details of how she was sexually abused for years by her own father, pastor, and other church leaders (many of whom are in jail now because they molested hundreds of children). So MAN! Was it heavy on my heart to be sure I was doing everything I could to carefully teach the children about authority.
Just like I do every week, I led the children in reviewing the photos and names of all of our elders (and then praying for them) and then I gave my mini-lesson on authority (which they nail 100% now because we’ve reviewed it every week of school):
- We’re all under God’s authority.
- In addition, there are FOUR spheres of authority that we should always be aware of: family, workplace, civil, and church.
- We obey God’s authority absolutely. But all other authority is derived from God’s authority and thus, it is limited.
What does that mean? Ask one of my 3 year olds or 5 year olds! They know:
- If our swim teacher commanded us to sit on the side of the pool during a lesson, that is an appropriate use of authority. We should obey, without delay, without complaint. But if that same swim teacher showed up at Target and commanded us to get into his car and go with him, we must not obey. That is beyond his sphere of authority.
- If our pastor commanded us to sin, we must not obey. If our daddy’s boss at work commanded him to lie or cheat or steal, he must not obey. If our mother or father commanded us to deny Christ, we must not obey. So what would we do in those situations? We would get help. From whom? From people in authority—daddies are under authority; mommies are under authority; pastors are under authority; bosses are under authority; citizens are under authority.
My precious little lovie muffins dressed all in cheery Christmas red had NO idea that by talking for mere minutes each week about authority (and the limits on authority and the appeal structures that are available), I am (hopefully!) laying the groundwork for them to stand up and stand strong and say, “NO!” if someone in authority were ever to hurt them. They have no idea of the horrors of child sexual abuse, nor should they. But I know. I’m all cheery in my red and green and happy in my Santa hat and together we talk about this important stuff with clapping and affirmations of “spot on!” and “great answer!” But deep inside, my chest is tight with grief because every time I teach on authority, I think of this beloved friend who was molested for years by her church leaders and her father. Years of the most heinous abuse you can imagine. (When she first began to share specifics with me, I was physically sick.) I know how quickly the good gifts of authority, leadership, and submission can be warped into wickedness. So even while I LOVE training children on the blessings of obedience, I never, never want to even come CLOSE to training them to think they have to blindly “submit” to authority or to think that they are powerless to get help.
I think that Pastor Jared Wilson’ sixth point in the article I linked to above addresses this perfectly:
“We must understand that the gospel is often a severe mercy to abusers, even genuinely repentant ones, and so it means consequences — disciplinary in the church, legal outside — and accountability. Too often “grace” for the abuser adds more abuse to his or her victim. But justice can be grace.”
Amen to that! “Justice can be grace.”
Having been involved in too many abuse situations as a church member helping my pastors, as a conciliator/back when I was the Director of the Institute for Christian Conciliation at Peacemaker Ministries (abuse cases in the church are sickeningly and heart-breakingly far too common and they cause a LOT of conflict), and even just as a friend who cries tears often over the suffering that my godly, beautiful, precious friends have experienced through abuse in the church, I would even go so far as to say that sometimes, grace must be justice. Sometimes, in order to be real grace, it has to come with a badge and a gun and a bigger and stronger man with the authority to take a violent man to jail.
And friends? This is not a problem that is “out there” in some other church, in some other community. If you are closing your eyes to the real risk of child sexual abuse in the church or physical abuse in your seemingly OK married couples’ lives, you are naive and foolish and not living up to your membership vows. Please. Get. Educated. And then gently, prayerfully, but intentionally, help your church leaders to implement strategies to protect their sheep.
Here are some things you might want to read to get started. This is not a topic that you want to wait until something tragic happens and then think that you and your church leaders and members can somehow just jump in and be prepared to respond wisely. Like all important things, this will take effort:
- Seven Questions You Should Ask About Your Church Abuse Prevention Policies
- GRACE: Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment
- Helping Churches to Deal with Child Abuse
- Counseling Survivors of Sexual Abuse
Now that I’ve probably totally freaked you out, let me start my close with something even more awful. The words of a predator—and that is a correct term because child sexual abusers prey on churches. They do. And don’t look for a shaggy, disheveled, scary looking guy. Look at the most clean-cut, correct Bible-carrying, knows all the right words, super-duper-nice guy. Listen to how one abuser explained how he targeted his victims in the church:
“First of all, you start the grooming process from day one…the children that you’re interested in…You find a child you might be attracted to…For me, it might be nobody fat. It had to be a you know, a nice-looking child…You maybe look at a kid that doesn’t have a father image at home. You know, you start deducting. Well, this kid may not have a father, or a father that cares about him. Some kids have fathers but they’re not there with them…Say if you’ve got a group of twenty-five kids, you might find nine that are appealing…Then you start looking at their family backgrounds…Then you find out which ones are most accessible. Then eventually you get it down to the one you think is the easiest target, and that’s the one you do.”
We. Must. Be. Wise.
But we also don’t want to unnecessarily frighten our children or raise them to think that every single adult in their lives is out there to hurt them. That would be awful too!
In our family, we really love how the Safe Side Super Chick materials teach us to eschew the term “stranger” with our children (because most abuse does NOT happen at the hands of a stranger) and instead uses three terms:
- Safe Side Grownup
- Kinda Know
- Don’t Know
Our safe-side grownups would lay down their lives for us; they would never, never, never hurt us. We can trust them in any situation at any time. For example, if Auntie Samara came up to Sophia in Target and said, “Sophie! Come with me right now!” Sophie should take her hand and go wherever Auntie Samara says because we would trust her to RAISE our children. She is a Safe Side Grownup.
A kinda-know grownup is someone we kinda-know. Like a soccer coach, orchestra conductor, a youth worker at church. We kinda know them and they have some level of limited authority over us. We listen to them and obey them, but with limits. (Sit on the side of the pool? Yes. Leave Target with me? No. Allow me to touch your private area? NO NO NO!)
A don’t-know is a person we don’t know. And probably? They would never intentionally hurt us. Most adults we pass in life would not stalk or prey on or abuse or harm a child. Just the opposite in fact! Think of how quickly moms keep their distance but start to surround a toddler who is not clearly with another mom when shopping at a store. Everyone’s eyes are darting, everyone is thinking, “Where is the mom? Where is the mom?” Everyone is ready to POUNCE if someone tried to snatch that child or harm that child. And when, a nanosecond later, the mom runs up and scoops up the child and says, “There you are!” And he throws his arms around his momma’s neck and kisses her, we all wordlessly disperse. Why? Because most don’t knows would throw themselves between even an unknown child and danger. But we just don’t know. And so we are careful. Wise. Appropriate.
Running hypotheticals with your kiddos can really help with all of this too. It’s fun. Safe. But it’s also excellent practice.
Whew! I guess I feel passionate about this subject. Hope that some of the ideas contained herein are helpful to you.
May we do all we can to keep our precious children safe!