Counseling the Shattered Lives of Sexual Sin – 3 Parts
In a 3 part series, Twelve Stones Ministries would like to address the people involved in sexual sin from three different perspectives.
In part 1, we would like to equip parents to draw out their children to walk in the light, and not live a life of secret sin that leads to destruction.
In part 2, we would like to equip parents to respond biblically if they have indeed found out that their child has been living in secret sexual sin. In part 3, we would like to equip parents to engage their children if they have been sexually abused by someone else.
When Your Child’s Secret Sin Comes to Light – Part 2 of 3
When a parent holds a healthy newborn baby in his or her arms, there is so much joy, excitement, and hope for the future. God declares that “children are a gift from the Lord” (Psalm 127:3). When we are holding this gift from the Lord, we all know that there will be days of challenges and sin ahead. However, few of us think that this newborn baby could eventually break our hearts by having sex before marriage; being enslaved to pornography; having a same sex attraction; molesting another child; or sending nude photos to another person over the internet. Imagine with me for a moment that something like one of the above scenarios involved your child. What do you do? How do you respond? Imagine the flood of emotions: anxiety, grief, sadness, shock, anger, and/or confusion. Perhaps some questions such as the following come to mind: “how did we get here; what are we going to do now; how could I have been so blind?” In this article, I would like to offer four basic principles that are vital if we want to respond to this situation in a way that glorifies God and is redemptive for the child. The four principles are: understand the context, involve community, engage the heart, and see your child as more than his or her sin.
Understand the context
If your child has a secret sin that comes to light, it is important to begin to understand as much about the situation as possible. Proverbs 18:13 warns us of the folly of rushing to hasty judgments and decisions when it says, “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” To guard against this folly, it is important to ask a lot of questions. Seek to understand the full extent of the sin; who, what, when, where, why, and how. In other words, how frequent, for how long, with or against whom, etc. In particular, understanding the child’s thoughts is vital to understanding the context. What was the nature of his thoughts? How long has he been thinking this way? Understanding a child’s thinking is important because actions flow out of the thoughts and the motives of the heart (Luke 6:43-45). In the case of abuse, be sure the victim(s) are protected and not subjected to any further potential abuse and the perpetrator does not have new opportunities to harm others.
Another question that should be answered is if your child broke any laws that should be reported to the governing authorities. God has given the government the responsibility to restrain evil, and some situations warrant legal involvement. All 50 states have laws that require individuals to report child abuse. If you are in doubt, contact a Christian attorney for guidance.
A final aspect of understanding the context, which may be the most difficult for parents, is to evaluate what ways we have contributed or made it easier for our child to sin in the ways that have been uncovered. In looking at these shortcomings or failures, it is important to remember that our children are 100% responsible for their sin, but we must be willing to take responsibility for our own sin and failure that comes to light as our child’s sin is uncovered.
As parents, once we have a general understanding of what we are dealing with in the lives of our child, it is good to consider whom to directly involve in moving forward in our new reality. What people within the body of Christ will be able to help us move forward in a way that is redemptive not only for our child but for the whole family. This will take prayer and a great deal of wisdom. It is neither appropriate nor helpful for many people to know of your child’s secret sin. On the other hand, it is also not appropriate for no one to know. A good rule of thumb for involvement is if the person is a part of the problem or a part of the solution, they should be informed. Let’s consider who should typically be informed.
First, if our child has been involved in sin with another child, this other child’s parents must be informed so they can begin helping their child and be present when our child asks their child for forgiveness. Second, a pastor/biblical counselor should be identified who will support us in our role as parents by helping our child see the root of her sin, not just stop the bad behavior (more on this below in “engage the heart”). Third, who is an individual who will walk alongside our child to interact with her in ways that add to what we as parents bring to the discipleship and growth process. This individual could be a close family friend, a relative, a mature and trusted church member, etc. At Twelve Stones, we call this person an advocate. Whoever the person is, the following things should be true of him or her: the same sex as our child, a great love for the Lord and His Word, love for our child, the respect of our child, and live close enough to spend time together on a somewhat regular basis. Fourth, what individual or couple can walk alongside us as parents to encourage, comfort, and guide through this journey. In many cases, the advocate for our child can function in this role for us as parents as well.
As you gather your support team around you, it is important to consider the goal or purpose of this support. I would encourage you to consider three primary purposes for your support team: insight into the heart of your child and family; help with a plan moving forward; and ongoing support so we do not grow weary in well doing. Galatians 6:9-10 says, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”
Engage the heart
After we have gained a thorough understanding of the situation and involved the appropriate community, it is important that we engage our child at the level of the heart. Behavior change that does not come from heart transformation is not commendable before God (Matthew 15:8-9; 23:27). Through biblical counseling and involved parenting we want to understand what motivated the sinful behaviors and call the child to repentance. For the purposes of this article we will not discuss how to actually uncover the motivations. If parents are looking for help in this regard, contact a biblical counselor in your area or read Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp, Seeing with New Eyes by David Powlison, or Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands by Paul Tripp to understand the process of identifying issues of the heart. To specifically help your child uncover motivations of the heart, Ed Welch’s mini-booklet entitled Motives: Why Do I Do the Things I Do? is an invaluable resource. In regards to the importance of repentance, Psalm 51:17 says, “The sacrifices of God are a broken and contrite spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” To assist in understanding the importance of repentance in the change process, James MacDonald’s DVD Repentance: The Way Back to God is also very helpful. A part of repentance will certainly involve asking God and the appropriate people for forgiveness.
While it is important to purposefully help your child to see his own heart and then repent specifically, it is also vital that we as parents embrace rich communication with our children that consistently engages and draws out the heart. “It is not only the ability to talk, but also the ability to listen . . . The finest art of communication is not learning how to express your thoughts. It is learning how to draw out the thoughts of another. Your objective in communication must be to understand your child, not simply to have your child understand you. Many parents have never learned these skills. They never discover how to help their children articulate their thoughts and feelings” (Tedd Tripp, Shepherding a Child’s Heart pgs. 75-76). I encourage all of us as parents to be consistently praying that God will give us wisdom and understanding to draw out the hearts of our children (Proverbs 20:5).
See your child as more than his or her sin
While engaging the heart motivations with biblical truth, it is also very important that we do not become primarily sin focused with our child. Our counsel ought to certainly help our child see her sin, but it is also vitally important that we are very Christ focused. In other words, we should be speaking often of the glories and greatness of Christ (Colossians 2:6-15), the grace of Christ (Titus 2:11-12), and the joy of fellowship with Christ and other people (1 John 1:3-4). Ed Welch, in Motives, has written, “Don’t be too concerned if you feel like you are just scratching the surface. More important than knowing your motives is knowing God, and God is very generous in revealing himself. He should be our primary focus. We should be spending more time looking at Christ than inspecting our own hearts. Because if you are growing in the knowledge of God, you will be changed – even to the depths of your heart” (pg. 28).
One of the problems with only seeing our child as this particular sin is that we will lose sight of God. In losing sight of God, we will either become very angry at our child for the difficulty he caused us or we will become hopeless because we don’t think there is any hope for change. In regards to anger, we must remember it is God’s kindness that leads people to repentance (Romans 2:4) and not our anger (James 1:20). In dealing with hopelessness, we must remember a question asked by God Himself, “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me” (Jeremiah 32:27)? As we are meditating on the character of our God: His grace, kindness, patience, and power, we will be able to shepherd the heart of our child with grace and truth because we serve a God of hope (Romans 15:13).
A second problem with seeing our child exclusively in terms of her sin is we communicate to our child that her identity is wrapped up in what she does rather than who she is in Christ. If our child will not cover her sin but repent and turn to Christ for forgiveness, God promises to pour out His mercy (Proverbs 28:13). When there has been a secret sin that has come to light, although we will not be excited, we should be very thankful that God has exposed the heart of our child so we can help her approach God’s throne of grace with confidence (Hebrews 4:15-16). If we are in Christ, we all know it is not because of our performance but because of Christ’s performance that we have been welcomed into the family of God (2 Corinthians 5:21, John 1:12). In our sadness and disappointment in our child’s behavior, we must not communicate her place in the family is now somehow earned by good behavior.
A final reason it is important for parents to view their child as more than his sin is that it will rob the relationship of joy. It is almost certain that a child who never enjoys time with his parents will ever trust them enough to open up and share the secret thoughts of the heart. May we diligently pursue knowing our child in all his fullness, so that when we continue to love him we will be modeling for him the love of God that does not waver based on our performance (Romans 5:8).
If you find yourself in the situation I have described above, I urge you not to lose heart or lash out at your child in anger. Instead, if you will understand the context, involve community, engage the heart, and see your child as more than his or her sin, you will be living out the gospel of Christ. This gospel is your child’s only hope for true and lasting change. If you need additional help, we would love to serve you at Twelve Stones Ministries. Please visit our web site for more information at www.twelvestones.org.
Posted on September 20, 2011