Here's part 2 of the post I started yesterday (Part 1 here). It continues the argument that our kids are not ready for the relational and sexual situations that we allow them to face during their young teen years.
Don't Give Plutonium to a Preschooler - Part 2
Undeniable is the reality that God does begin to stir in our children an awareness of the opposite sex. There is a shift that begins to take place in girls and then a bit later in boys. In different ways I have witnessed it in each of my children. As parents, our role is not to ignore or suppress this God-given awakening, but to help our children to interpret it and to negotiate the potential minefield that goes along with it.
I can remember a time when my oldest daughter Lindsey was in the 5th grade. She started acting a bit strange sometimes when we were at church. I couldn’t figure it out, but Jenifer began noticing a pattern to her quirky behavior. I was a youth minister so we were always around teenagers. Whenever Lindsey was around a 9th grader named Matt, her weirdness would surface. Sometimes she would giggle. Sometimes she would be shy. Jenifer finally theorized that Lindsey had something of a crush on Matt. When she asked Lindsey about it, she turned red, so we knew we were on to something.
Now Matt was a great guy. He was friendly, handsome, and Christlike: exactly the kind of guy that we would love for our daughters to marry one day. But it was critical for Jenifer and me to coach a 5th grade Lindsey about what was stirring within her and to help her to realize that she was in no way ready to fan the flames of affection towards Matt. We were able to affirm the good things she saw in him and to encourage her to keep looking for the right traits in boys so she would be prepared to give her heart to the right guy down the road sometime.
This goes back to the basic reality that the message the world is giving our kids is radically different than God’s Truth. Everything our kids get from the world says to “follow your heart.” They hear that message in their movies, in their music, and in the very ethos of their generation. They have been fed a steady diet of that type of drivel from the Disney princess movies they watched when they were preschoolers to the top-40 music they listen to today. It is what they know by default.
In contrast, Jeremiah 17:9 tells us about the questionable reliability of the heart: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” According to scripture, following one’s heart can be synonymous with following a lie. It cannot be trusted and it is not always reasonable. But because of their lack of experience and their exposure to the “trust your heart” message, our kids don’t know any other way.
Instead of “follow your hearts,” we must deliberately train our kids to “guard their hearts.” Proverbs 4:23 gives Christ-followers that very command: “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”
All of this brings us to a concept that needs to be introduced to parents, taught to kids, and embraced by the entire family. The concept is “emotional purity.”
In 2001, author Heather Paulson literally wrote the book on it. In her book, “Emotional Purity,” she defines emotional intimacy as “a close, private relationship that would invoke strong feelings, passions, and the senses.” In contrast, emotional purity would be the ongoing discipline of not allowing your heart to go places it is not ready to go. It is following Solomon’s advice to “not awaken love until it so desires.”
“I see emotional purity as the root of physical purity. The more emotionally connected you are with someone, the more you (desire) physical connection. Once a couple begins to attach emotionally, physical affection is naturally going to follow.”
Any commitment to sexual purity (think True Love Waits) is useless if there is not first and foremost a commitment to emotional purity.
My own life is a testimony to the connection between emotional and sexual purity. I can remember being taught by good parents and in a good youth ministry that sexual activity was reserved for marriage. I can remember clearly while still in middle school my youth pastor teaching that the greatest gift you can give your future spouse is your purity. I heard it, believed it, and was fully committed to that end. We didn’t have purity rings back in that day, but I would have proudly wore one.
If 8th grade…I was fully committed to purity. In 9th grade…I was still in. By 10th grade, I was even to the point of looking down with “holier than thou” condemnation on those I knew who were being promiscuous in their relationships. By 11th grade, I had a serious girlfriend. And something changed. Suddenly, my purity commitment was entirely forgotten. The faithful desire to honor God with my body was fully and completely trumped by my emotional affections for the girl I was with. While there were certain physical lines I was committed to not crossing, I know that the relationship was far from God-honoring.
Was there conflict within me? Of course. Those high school years were some of the most tumultuous in my Christian life. But my desire for holy living and Christian obedience didn’t stop me from becoming physical in ways that I know were sinful. Looking back, I am sure that my problem was at it’s root not a physical intimacy problem but an emotional intimacy one. Had I guarded my heart closer, my pre-marriage relationships would have never gotten physical.
This is how I coach my kids today. Far more discussions happen at our house about emotional purity than about sexual purity. Ultimately, it dictates much on our family’s guidelines for dating and boy/girl relationships. (We will cover more on this later.) Obviously, what we have chosen to do looks far different from most families.
Come back for Part 3 tomorrow...