Ask Me: How Can I Protect My Kids From Sexual Abuse?

How can I protect my kids from sexual abuse?

Dear Bronwyn,

How and when do you start talking with your kids about their bodies and being safe around other people? My son is 2 and talking more, and we are wondering when to start talking to him about his body being only for him, about not keeping secrets from us and to tell us if anybody tries to touch him inappropriately. What’s age-appropriate in content? Any ideas on how to say it? Is this conversation different for sons and daughters?

Related to this is the question of what we can do to prevent sexual abuse happening. I have a great deal of fear about this. I had no idea child molestation was so common until I volunteered with an inner healing prayer team at my church and have heard so many stories from women who endured abuse. I am horrified for my children, and this translates into a deep fear about how to handle child care with our kids. Is there any way to know whether my caution is healthy or over-the-top? My husband and I have had some disagreements abut what we’re comfortable with when it comes to babysitting, but I really am having a hard time trusting anyone, really, primarily men. 

Please help,

Cautious Mama

Dear CM,

I totally identify with these questions and fears, and if I had a guaranteed formula for things to do and say which could prevent them from happening, I’d be a millionaire. This is one of the deep and terrible burdens of parenting: knowing there is evil in the world and wanting desperately to protect our children from them, and yet knowing that, in truth, we probably can’t. I don’t know that there’s anything which so reveals how little control we have in life as parenting.

Still, that doesn’t mean we are totally helpless, and so the question is really what can we do. I think your instincts in this are better than you realize, so I’ll add my few thoughts to things  you’ve already mentioned.

Talking to our kids about their bodies and touch

We taught our kids the words for eyes, ears, fingers and toes very early; and so it seemed logical to teach our kids the names for the private parts, too (I’m refraining from typing them here not because I’m prudish but because I don’t want the internet’s auto-search features to identify those words and send you ads to match that content!!) From a young age, we talked with our kids about privacy though: certain body parts (and conversations about them) were nothing to be ashamed about, but they were private – which meant for ourselves and family only.

We have always let our kids bath together and get dressed around us, but they are not allowed to touch anybody else’s private parts. I would say most of our conversation about body-touch and privacy has happened in the context of bathing and getting dressed, and these have often been our most hilarious but also our most honest conversations: for example, my not-yet-two year old cornered me as I was getting out the shower and asked with a mixture of curiosity and horror: “Why don’t you have a pen1s? What happened to it? Does it hurt?” I assured him that I’d never had one because I was a girl, and that no, it didn’t hurt. He expressed some sympathy, and then wanted a closer look at these curious girl parts. I shooed him away and told him those were private and so he couldn’t touch or look closer, just like no-one else should be touching or looking at his private parts unless they were a doctor or a parent helping with self-care.

These quick, at-home conversations have provided the bed-rock of our conversations about our bodies and privacy. Stop It Now has a very helpful website with a guide to what conversations are age-appropriate, and there are also a bunch of books out there to help families talk about these things: one of those is The Story of Me (God’s Design for Sex, Book 1), which might be the kind of thing you’re looking for in talking with your preschooler.

Teaching Our Kids What NO Means

I’ve written about this one before. From the youngest age, we have wanted to teach our kids that their “no” matters. If they didn’t like tickling, and said no, we stopped. If a kid yells “no” when they’re building blocks, we swoop in and insist that they respect other people’s no. We have made it a point to never turn those kinds of play into a game: it is never okay in our family to keep teasing/tickling/chasing if someone has said “no”, even if that person is laughing and doesn’t appear to be distressed (because I know that fear and discomfort sometimes manifests as nervous laughter… so we teach our kids that laughter doesn’t always mean a person’s having fun). If they’re saying no, and someone keeps doing it – they are always encouraged to enlist an adult’s help. We want our kids to SAY their own “no”, and to respect the “no” of others, too.

Not Keeping Secrets 

I wish I’d realized this one earlier, but just last year a friend told me their family policy has always been that there are no secrets in the family. They have allowed “surprises” (for birthday presents or trips to Disneyland, for example), but surprises always have a “tell-by” date. Secrets don’t.

Building Trust To Hear The Hard Things Without Freaking Out

As my kids are getting older, I’m realizing more and more that I need to be a safe person for my kids to tell things to, even when they’re afraid I might not like what they are saying. This has meant a lot of me learning to just listen and delay my reaction to things instead of swooping in with my Mom-fixit-hat. (More about this here). I try to say this to them with words as well as model it with actions: you can tell me anything and I will still love you. In practice, this means I am having to learn to not freak out when they confess mistakes (of their own or of their friends). My “play it cool” face is getting exercised.

I’ll add this: now that my kids are further into elementary school, I have explicitly started to say to them that sometimes there are people that will warn them not to tell parents things (or else they’ll get hurt, or things will get worse etc). I’ve told my kids this is almost ALWAYS a flag that they should tell me. I’m assuring them that I know more about people, sex, danger, and consequences than any of their friends.

Being Wise About Childcare Arrangements

It is our family rule that we don’t do sleep-overs, unless they are whole family affairs (e.g. all your kids can come camp out with all our kids over night so parents can come out etc) My eldest is at an age where kids are starting to have sleep overs and I’m the kill-joy Mom who will come and get you at 10pm. Sorry, honey. That’s how it is in our family.

As far as baby-sitting goes, we generally have people we know care for our kids in our home, rather than sending our kids elsewhere. We do allow our kids to have play dates at other people’s houses, but visit first and the first play dates are always pretty short in time. We talk to our kids a lot about who was there, what they liked and didn’t like, whether they felt comfortable there etc, to try and keep a pulse on things. For what it’s worth, the people I am most suspicious of are the ones who are very extroverted and touchy-feely with our kids IN OUR PRESENCE. After reading more and more stories of predators, I’m learning that many of those who would “groom” our kids are not the quiet ones but the ones who work hard to establish themselves as safe, fun people in front of the parents…. so, one of the things I look out for with adults who are affectionate with our kids is that they demonstrate a respect for the kids (and our) boundaries in our presence (for example, they ask “is that okay with your mom?” when offering lemonade).

I have a hard time with the “should I trust men less?” issue, given that most sexual predators are men. But I don’t believe that most men are sexual predators, and I most certainly balk at the idea that my husband, or other dear Christian brothers, should be viewed as untrustworthy by nature simply because they are men. In fact, we really want our children to have a community of healthy, safe relationships with adult men and women around them. But it’s tricky: because how will we know??

We do have friends who have made it a policy to not allow any men to care for their children if they are unaccompanied by women/their wives. This was awkward for us at some point because they wouldn’t let their kids play with ours at a park in my husband’s care… but at the end of the day we respect that rule and try not to take it personally. It’s not our rule though, although we are always mindful of how many adults/which adults will be present when we say yes to an invitation for child care.

The unnerving thing is that, like all people, we hope to rely on our intuition to discern whether a person is trustworthy or not, and the terrifying thing about stories of child abuse is how parents tell the same story that they trusted this adult, and had no idea what was going on. That our gut feelings can’t be trusted to protect us in this is probably the most unnerving thing of all. For sure, if your instinct tells you not to trust a person – by all means pay attention to that. But instinct alone can’t tell us whether a person is trustworthy – that’s why predators are so successful, and why their evil is so insidious.

I don’t think there’s anything we can do to stop deceitful people being deceitful, but I don’t think the solution is to “trust no-one”. Rather, the line we are taking is to try and keep conversation open, to pay attention to when our children or others indicate discomfort or reluctance and not to “shoo” those away, and to maintain a connection to a community of people who will help us be eyes and ears for the welfare of the children around us.

These are not guarantees, but it’s the best I know how to do.

And for the rest? As with all things: we learn to entrust our children to God. Worry ends where faith begins.

Love,

Bronwyn

Got a Question? Send it to me here. You can ask me anything. 

 

Ask Me: How can I know if he’s the one? And are we too young to get married?

Am I too young to get married? How can I know if he's the one?

Dear Bronwyn,

My boyfriend and I are both 20, and have been dating for 4 years. We have been talking about getting married for a few months and I’m getting scared. I’m scared that he’s not the one for me because I don’t have that gut feeling and part of me is saying run away and that were both pretty young. I really want to be with him and wake up next to him. I’m worried I’m just in love with the idea of getting married and he’s convenient so I should just marry him. But we have a fuzzy electrical feeling when we kiss or touch and I don’t want to let that go. He says he knows I’m the one for him, but I just wish I had that feeling too. He’s everything I didn’t know I wanted in a husband. I’ve prayed and asked God for a sign to let me know if hes the one for me. The first time He sent a shooting star. The second time I felt like He was telling me through particular songs that kept coming up on the radio. After that second time you would think “Okay, God, I get the message,” but I still can’t shake the gut feeling of wanting to run. Is that the devil at work? Does the Bible say anything about this? Please help.

From,

Dating but Doubting

Dear DbD,

I hear three questions in your letter: Are we too young to get married? How can I know if he’s the one? And, will God give me a sign that I’m making the right decision? I’ll try to touch on each of these:

Firstly, on the question of “how old is old enough to marry?”: A hundred years ago (and probably for centuries before that), a couple who were twenty and had been together for four years may well already have been married! It is a strange feature of our modern world that it has become normal to delay marriage for ten, even fifteen, years later than our ancestors did.

But there is still much to be said for marrying young. In her excellent article The Case for Getting Married Young, Karen Swallow Prior talks about the difference between seeing marriage as the cornerstone, rather than the capstone, of your adult life. I was one who married a little later, but am now in a position where I have a group of friends who are my age but many of them have been married ten years longer than we have (and have kids going to college already!!), because they married in their late teens and early twenties. When these friends of mine talk about their marriages, they talk about how they and their husbands had to grow up together: they figured out how to “adult” (as it now seems to be a verb) as a team… and they are the better for it.

But this is not the norm with most people in their early twenties. I hear more people talk about first wanting to reach certain career and financial milestones before thinking about marriage, and while this is the conventional wisdom of our age, I don’t think the Bible has anything to say about seeking first career and financial stability, and then marriage being added unto you. Certainly, those who delay marriage and land up making poor sexual choices as a result have not chosen well. (In fact, did you know that in the Westminster Catechism, in the discussion of ways in which the seventh commandment is infringed, they list “undue delay of marriage” as one? Qu 139 over here.)

The health and maturity of your relationship matters so much more than your age. I would encourage you to try to rely less on your feelings and more on the wisdom of your community in taking stock of whether you and your boyfriend’s relationship is healthy and mature enough to move towards marriage. Ask your parents, leaders around you at church, trusted friends, and people who have been married a while: ask them about their experiences, ask them what advice they’d have, and then ask them if they would help you to identify any red flags they might see: do you have patterns of co-dependency that you might not be aware of? how do you handle anger, disappointment, and conflicts of interest etc? Also, if you are seriously thinking about marriage, I would strongly encourage you to do pre-marital counseling. Take your time and take it seriously: pre-marital counseling doesn’t “solve” any issues up front, but it really does a lot to help you walk into marriage with your eyes wide open and your expectations adjusted towards reality. If you can—and this is gold—stay in relationship with those counselor’s and ask if you can check in with them every couple of months after you are married. That kind of mentoring makes the world of difference.

As to the question: “how can I know if he’s the one?” I’ve written about the idea of finding the “one” and how much we can trust the tingly feelings of dating chemistry here, so I won’t go into too much about that more. I do want to add this, though: that you are dating in a millennial climate where we all like to keep our options open, but the downside of that is that sometimes keeping all our options open means also watching them all go by without having taken any. The desire to optimize all our experiences—to find the best deal, or the perfect vacation destination,  or the dream school, or the perfect mate—leads us to the deluded belief that if we just do enough internet research, we will make the perfect decision and then life will be easy. But it is a delusion. And sometimes, wisdom says that we would be happiest if we picked the GOOD option and worked with that, rather than indefinitely delaying deciding because we’re waiting for the best.

I mention this just to express some sympathy for the cultural climate we live in: the fear we have of “making the wrong decision” and “settling for second best” is horribly amplified by the world around us; and it is undergirded by the false premise that the “best” decision (or “the one”) really is out there, and that if we would just find that one then we will all live happily ever after. But life is not like that, and no matter how wonderful you and your partner may be (or how long you wait), marriage is still one between sinners and you will have seasons of deep challenge and mutual refining… and in the process, grow together.

Now that’s not to say we should go to a dance and “take a partner by the hand and doh-se-doh into happily ever after” with the first available single guy. Obviously, we need more wisdom than that: finding someone who loves God, who loves you, with whom you can grow and serve together, and (I think this is a deal breaker), with whom you can laugh at both triumphs and disappointments, goes a long way towards making marriage smoother. You say in your letter “he’s everything I didn’t know I wanted in a husband.” I think that’s a really encouraging start 🙂

Finally: will God give me a sign so I can be sure? Probably not. Will he give you wisdom if you ask? Yes. Will he give you guidance as you prayerfully try to figure this out? Yes. Will he make the decision for you? Usually no. Not unless you’re Gideon. But take heart, dear friend: just because God hasn’t put an appendix at the back of the Bible with the list of who you will marry (wouldn’t that be a trip?) doesn’t mean he isn’t leading, guiding, and providing, or that he won’t work in good and amazing ways through this process of questioning you’re going through. If I think back on the discernment process through my own dating and deciding-to-marry relationships: I felt so unsure at the time, and really wished God would just TELL ME WHAT TO DO ALREADY, but as I look back I can see his faithfulness in answering every one of my prayers, for being with me through the breakups, and in landing up where I have. I have ever confidence He has no less than abundant plans for flourishing for you, too.

All the best,

Bronwyn

Got a question you want to send my way? You can ask me anything here…

“Help, I’m jealous of my husband’s job”

I'm Jealous of my husband's job. Now what?

Dear Bronwyn,

I’m struggling with resentment about my husband’s frequent work trips. They’re often a week or more long, with mixed genders, and I struggle to keep my imagination under control. He is a loving husband and doesn’t seek out female colleagues as friends. He has told me this – and I trust him. Yet, when he is away, and I am left to normal life with young children, I can’t help but think he is off having a jolly time, making memories with everyone but me, and confiding in other people – I struggle with the idea of him having a “separate life” – a life where I, unless otherwise told, have no part of.

My husband does work hard to include me in his work life: I know more than many wives about what he does, who he works with, and he includes me where he can. It’s just when he goes away I become jaded and go into some kind of survival mode: I push away, resent, and think the worst. My husband is doing everything he can think of to help. My question is this: what can I do to combat these feelings?

Sincerely,

FOMO-Mama

Dear FOMama,
It sounds like there are a number of issues potentially at play here: wanting assurance about your husband’s affections, as well as some struggle with contentment and jealousy.
First: it sounds like you and your husband have a healthy marriage – you’re able to talk and are working hard to stay supportive and engaged in the other ones’ flourishing. That’s fantastic.
Having said that – travel for any extended period does put strains on a marriage. There are horrifying statistics about “the things that people get up to” on business trips, and so fears about sexual temptation and other excesses are not unwarranted. We have friends where the husband travels frequently and he requests that there be no TV in his hotel room wherever he travels (I’m sure the hotel staff *really* love this)… but it’s something he does for the sake of making sure there is no temptation there for him. If travel is a regular part of your husband’s job, I’m sure he has to think about ways to proactively protect your marriage while he’s away. That you can talk openly about this is important.
But I think this is really a deeper issue than a “can I trust my husband?” thing, since it seems you are more struggling with feeling left out/jealous of his opportunities, than really struggling with worry about his fidelity. I think that speaks more to a frustration about your current phase in life than specific jealousy about your husband. It’s his “freedom to go”, to stay out late if he wants to, to be ANYWHERE OTHER THAN HOME, to make friends etc, that shines a very bright light on some of the hardest things about motherhood… that being that life is just so. darn. continuous.
Remember when Fridays meant the end of the week? Ha, not so with moms.
Remember when weekends meant sleeping in? Not so with little ones.
Remember when eating out meant a meal free of issues? Not so with moms: either you’re wrangling people to just-sit-still at the table, or you’re bleeding from the nose with how much it costs to pay a babysitter. Tick tock. How long do we have?
Remember when someone asked you if you wanted to catch a movie, and you could say YES? Not anymore.
Remember when you had hobbies you liked to do after work? Not anymore: now there’s the carnage of cheerios and drool that comes after the kids are finally, finally asleep.
Remember when you used to do something and feel a sense of accomplishment that it was actually DONE? And sometimes people PAID you for it? Ha.
The life of a mom of small people is exhausting in physical and profoundly personal ways: for you work ALL DAY and it just gets undone by small people. What you tidy gets dumped out. What you clean gets smeared. What you fold gets worn. What you cook gets consumed, or worse yet – complained about and dumped on the floor.
Before I went on maternity leave, I supervised two interns. They came to visit me a few weeks after my eldest was born, and I was stunned to find I was insanely jealous of them describing the hum drum of making thousands of copies. I used to hate making copies, but all of a sudden I was crazy jealous of the fact that they had something to do which, at the end of their effort, would yield a VISIBLE PILE OF SOMETHING THAT HADN’T BEEN THERE BEFORE. Like real, genuine evidence of productivity. I was beside myself with jealousy. About stacks of colored paper.
And I felt SO pathetic realizing it. Because while my head told me *of course* it was worthwhile to be a Mom, I was still really grieving the loss of choices and efficiencies of my kid-free life, and when my husband worked late or went to a conference or my former intern made copies… I felt really crappy about my choice-less-ness and income-less-ness by comparison.
So how to get over that? Well, knowing what you’re dealing with helps… because maybe it means that what you need is not for your husband to travel less or have less fun when he does… but for you two to talk about what you might need to make space for you to have friends, or to take up a project that is not related to your kids. Would joining a book club help? Or an exercise class? When he’s home, would it help to have some “me time” scheduled in when you can take a couple of hours and go and enjoy brunch with a friend? I know these seem like small things, but I realized that adding few little things like that made the world of difference to me over time. I had become resentful that I could never take a nap. That I never got to eat hot food. That I wanted to talk to a friend somewhere other than in my house and holding a baby.
I hope I am not projecting my own experiences too much into your question here, but it does sound like you have two things going on:
1) wanting to be assured that you are your husband’s priority (and he’s working hard to show you that you are more important than his career), and
2) needing to be affirmed that you are still a PERSON, not just a domestic placeholder, and you need a work/rest/recreation balance, too. With the healthy sounding conversation that it sounds like you and your husband are able to have – maybe you could talk with him not so much about “how can I quash the feelings of jealousy?”, but “what is my jealousy telling me here?” Listen to what your jealousy is telling you about what you are needing to change in your own life, and maybe that will help you both to figure out some next steps.

All the best,

Bronwyn

 

Image Credit: Mish Sukharev – Revtank (Flickr Creative Commons), edited using Canva by moi.

Help: Am I Married Or Not?

are we married

Dear Bronwyn,

I have been reading about marriage, sex, vows and covenants in the Bible, and my question is: am I married or not? I can’t find what defines a “biblical marriage”: Genesis says a man should leave his mother and father and cleave to his wife. I am living with my girlfriend (but my registered address is with my parents), and “cleave” seems to mean glued. Does that mean if we live together and have sex we are married?

I also read a lot about vows and covenants: I am committed to her and don’t want to fully have sex unless we are married. She wants to have sex and says “we are married”, but then when I ask her about getting a marriage license she says no. If I have promised to stay with her, is that a vow? And what does it take to make a covenant? Is that what the blood is about when women lose their virginity?

Please help: I am worried about losing my salvation over this,

Confused About the State of the Union 

 

Dear CASOTU,

There are different schools of thought on when God would consider you to be married:

  1. God views you as married if the government you live under views you as married.
  2. God views you as married if you have been through some kind of formal, societally-recognized marriage ceremony.
  3. God views you as married if you have had sex with a person.

I believe that #2 is what counts: you have been through some formal, public exchange of views, declaring your new commitment to one another as one another’s primary family. However, ideally, all three would met: you’d get legally married (in your case, get a license), your community would publicly know about it and BOTH you and your girlfriend would be intentional about the promises you are making each other and what they mean, and that marriage would then be consummated by sex.

(However, there are circumstances where perhaps #1 is not possible: for example, in South Africa under Apartheid laws the government regulated who could and could not marry. There were, however, such things as “african customary marriages” where the local chief could marry a couple. The government didn’t recognize those, but I believe God did. Also, I know of people who, for various reasons, are unable to consummate their marriage and so don’t meet requirement #3: I don’t believe—and nor do they!—this makes them any less married.)

From God’s perspective, I believe marriage (however your culture acknowledges it) makes you a family (I’ve written about this before as this being the crucial difference between “living together” or co-habiting, and being married) . You and your girl friend have not made any private or public commitment to be one another’s family. And sex doesn’t make it so. I think the Genesis statement about “leaving one’s family and being joined to their wife” is not a one time thing like going out on a date and having sex. I think it represents a far more symbolic act of leaving your parents’ household and establishing a new one, so that in answer to the question, “who is your next of kin? and who should we call in case of emergency?” the answer is no longer, “my parents”, but “my wife”.

A covenant is a formal kind of contract, binding two parties together. All contracts involve people agreeing about something or making promises/vows to one another, but covenants seem to be a special type of contract: indicating a high personal commitment to one another, usually regarded as being unbreakable (whereas a rental contract might expire naturally after a year). To establish a valid covenant, you would need a few things: two parties, both willingly in agreement as to the terms of this new relationship, there would be vows made as each party commits themselves to the covenant, and sometimes the swearing of oaths. In ancient lands, the oaths involved calling down curses on yourself if you were to break the covenant. I think that’s what the blood represents in ancient covenants: as in a “I’d rather die than break this covenant” promise, or a “if I break this promise I’m deserving of death” idea: in both cases, death is represented by spilled blood.

In God’s covenants with people, the spilled blood also represents forgiveness of sins (death, represented by blood, is paid for by a substitute. And unless there a way to deal with sin, we couldn’t be in a relationship with a holy God… so the blood of sacrifices in Israel, and now Jesus’ blood, symbolize the covenant of grace with God: our forgiveness and relationship made possible through sacrificial death (for example: see Ephesians 1:7, Colossians 1:20, Hebrews 9:11-15 )

I have always thought that the ancient marriage practices saw virginal blood as being a “sign” of the marriage covenant, but I don’t know that our modern understanding of covenants acknowledge or require blood in the same way. Certainly, even in my personal faith, I participate in the “blood of the new covenant” symbolically by taking communion. More than once I’ve read through Exodus and Leviticus and just been so ridiculously grateful that we no longer live in an era where a high priest splashes bulls’ blood over our foreheads.

So what are our covenant symbols these days? In faith, we take communion and participate in baptism. When it comes to marriage, it seems to me that public vows and the exchange of rings at a ceremony are often outward symbols of that internal commitment. Since you and your girlfriend haven’t (and by the sounds of it, don’t want to) do that, you are not married.

One final thought: your question got me thinking about how it is we can say that “God joins people together” in marriage (as Jesus said), and yet still believe that marriage is primarily a social institution rather than a religious and sacramental one. Because it is true: the job of marrying people in ancient Israel wasn’t a priestly task, nor was it something we see Jesus, his disciples, or any of the ministers in the early church doing. Jesus attended weddings, but they weren’t “religious business”. I think this gives us a solid ground for saying that we take our cues for what constitutes a marriage from the social norms around us. Maybe that involved the men in the family exchanging sandals at the city gate (as it did in the book of Ruth), or in customary Zulu culture, marriage requires families to agree on a bride price, followed by a ceremony and celebratory feast. For us, we needed someone with a marriage license to officiate over our vows (they could be ordained in a church or a public official… but the law said it had to happen “under a roof”… so there was a local custom we had to observe to make it legal.)

However, saying that marriage is a societal institution doesn’t mean that God doesn’t work in and through our cultural norms to join people together. Maybe a helpful parallel is considering that God doesn’t tell us what kind of government we should have: He doesn’t prescribe communism or monarchy or democracy, but he DOES say that all authority is given by God, that all rulers are ultimately accountable to him, and that we all should submit to the authorities we live under (unless they are requiring us to disobey God). I find that a helpful parallel: God doesn’t say “you must have a marriage license”, but he does say sex belongs in marriage… and so depending on when and where you live, the definition of “marriage” is probably fairly clear. In your case, you’d need a marriage license. And your parents would probably need to know. And—this one is critical—both you and your girlfriend would need to be intentionally, willingly, life-long committing to each other.

May God give you grace as you work this out. You are not married, and my heart goes out to you because it sounds like you are trying so hard to figure out how to handle the sexual aspect of your relationship as best you can. We all struggle with our sexuality at one point or another, and I do believe God knows our hearts and he is our Father who has GREAT compassion and wants the best for us. I don’t believe you will lose our salvation over this: God’s invitation to you is to COME to him, no matter who you are or what you’ve done.  If you keep asking him for wisdom on what to do in this situation, James 1:1-5 promises that he will give it to you.

All the best,

Bronwyn

Ask Me: “What if God is Silent When I’m Making Decisions?”

What if God is Silent when I'm making decisions?

Dear Bronwyn,

How do you make big decisions when you feel like God is being quiet? I’m currently trying to make a decision and I feel no clarity or peace about any of it. Friends have advised me that God may just be giving me room to choose.

A year ago I was really wrestling with whether to change jobs to be nearer to my family. I decided to stay a while longer, but now a year has passed and I’m looking at moving back and every time I go to apply for a job, I can’t do it. I find I’m not really excited about it other than being closer to family and I can’t figure out why. Am I apprehensive about change? Is this God’s way of showing me it’s not time to leave? Do I need to just do something and see what happens? Is this ambivalence, and God’s apparent silence, a sign that I’m not supposed to move?

Signed,

Should-I-Stay-Or-Should-I-Go-Now

Dear SISOSIGN,

I don’t know of anywhere in Scripture that promises God will tell us what decisions to make, either by giving us a “feeling” (of peace/certainty/whatever), or necessarily by giving us a sign or a sole “open door” (just one of the many variations of the shoot Christians say.) While God certainly can and does sometimes work very surprisingly to illuminate options we might not have otherwise considered, seeing His hand in something is often only observed retrospectively.
So my advice to you is this: pray James 1 over it: ask for wisdom + believe that he gives it +decide and don’t doubt. I think we are always wise to take some time in praying and to say “speak, Lord, I’m listening”, but sometimes he doesn’t, and he HAS promised us that no matter whether we “feel” or “hear” anything, that if we ask for wisdom he will give it.
I agree with your friends: maybe He’s giving you freedom to choose in this. And honestly, in my experience, adulthood has been FILLED with decisions where I thought “Gee, I HOPE this is not a terrible idea.. .it seems like the best option right now, but I just can’t see the outcomes here and I’m not sure…” and then, months later, it becomes clearer where the whole thing was leading.
Coming to the US was just such a story for us: there were “open doors”, and then we suddenly found ourselves stuck in England and it seemed like “closed doors” all the way: what was God doing? did this mean we’d made a mistake? And we were Feeling All The Feelings: doubt, regret, and uncertainty. We finally did get here and experienced so many obstacles in the settling-in process that we really wrestled (Christian cliche alert again! Shoot!) with regret and whether this was a ‘sign’ that we had made the wrong decision… but then a few weeks later I found myself connecting up with a wonderful College ministry and all of a sudden there was a glimmer of an “aha! perhaps THAT is what God has been doing?!” … and it gave us courage. But I do remember CLINGING to James 1 in that time: whenever my husband and I got into a conversation second-guessing and doubting our decisions, I found myself saying “well, we asked God to guide us and we just HAVE to believe he helped us. We made the best decision we knew how.”
Perhaps this is not super helpful, but I hope it is at least hopeful… because Scripture DOES tell us that whether we are sentiently aware of an answer, your prayers for wisdom are neither unheeded nor denied.
Clarity may only come down the line, and I’d love to hear the story when things make a bit more sense.
Best,
Bronwyn
Do YOU have a question you’d like to send my way? Contact me here
Photo credit: Justin Lynham/Listen Carefully (Flickr Creative Commons)

Help: I Think I Made The Wrong Choice

You're worried you've made a

Dear Bronwyn,

What do you do when you think you’ve followed God’s leading, but then it just sort of falls apart and no longer feels right or makes any sense? I know God’s plan does not involve everything being easy all the time and things don’t always make sense right away. I just feel so insecure about the choices I’ve made. I am constantly asking myself did I hear God correctly? Was that even God speaking? What if I had chosen differently?

The situation is this: after I graduated, I took a job nearby. I had prayed for a dream job elsewhere and wanted it so badly, but when it was offered I didn’t feel I could take it because I had already committed to another job. I also just didn’t feel “right” about it. I can’t say it’s been a disaster, but this job has proved extremely challenging, and recent management changes have been eye-opening. I feel like a fool for choosing to stay here and being loyal to an employer that I realize doesn’t care much about me as an employee. A big part of all of this was keeping my word and commitment, but now I’m questioning if I was subconsciously trying to be a martyr and choose that hard road because I thought it would make God happier with me. I’m on the other side of the country from my family and friends, and I am constantly asking myself -why am I here? What does God want from me?

Please help,

Second-Guessing.

Dear SG,

Those are such good questions. What I can’t do is say: Yes, you made the right decision to stay, or no, you didn’t. What I can say is this: I can really sympathize with where you’re at. We have had seasons of SERIOUSLY second-guessing some decisions in our lives – most notably the decision to come to the USA because so many things went CATASTROPHICALLY wrong that first year and we kept on saying “God, really? Is this your way of saying we shouldn’t have come?”
Here’s what I had to keep saying to myself in the midst of that uncertainty: James 1 promises that if we ask for wisdom, He gives it, and we must believe and not doubt that that is the case. So, in the face of much doubt, we HAD to believe that God had, in fact, given us wisdom in that decision making, even if the consequences of the decision did not appear to be panning out well. I believe you prayed over accepting your current job, as well as praying over turning down the “dream” job, and that God gave wisdom to you. Second guessing is not going to help you here.
My advice to you is that, rather than figuring out whether the past was a mistake, consider what you should do now. Again, James 1 applies – trusting that as you think and pray this through, God WILL give you wisdom for the next step. Maybe he is calling you to faithfulness for another few months. Maybe you should reach out and reapply to that dream job (which will no doubt have its own challenges mind you – our expectations for what work ‘should’ be like often need tempering),  and just work to keep lines of communication there. Maybe there are other alternatives God has in the wings and you need to “jiggle some handles” around you just to see what doors might open. Maybe all three of those options need to be pursued. (staying faihtfully now, but being open to a change of plan).
Thinking about what may have motivated your previous decision and analyzing what happened in the past is important for understanding the factors at play and being self-aware, but I don’t know that over-analyzing it is going to help. Regret certainly isn’t. We do need to think through our past, and learn from it and confess where appropriate, but we are also called not to dwell on the past: “forgetting what is behind, we press on…” I don’t think this means ‘forget’ in the sense that we treat it as if it didn’t happen, but that we don’t put our main focus on the past. Instead, we focus on present day faithfulness with a view to God’s promises and purposes in the future.
Know this though: These months of you being faithful and loyal are not wasted. God rewards his servants who serve Him and His world with upright hearts. He will redeem this time, and who knows what wisdom and truth He will yet pull from this experience in the years to come. Lord knows, I’ve been surprised so often by the ways in which the “questionable decisions” and sticky circumstances land up being used in wonderful and unexpected ways in the future.
I”m sorry you are in a hard space right now – it must be SO HARD to be there all the time second guessing yourself – but I don’t believe it is wasted, and I KNOW that regret/worrying about whether it was a mistake is not a helpful way for you to approach this climate. Call some praying friends around you to help you figure out what your options are, and see what step God shines the light on next.
With love and prayers for God’s wisdom and comfort to you,
Bronwyn.
Photo Credit: Will Montague – petal shadows (Flickr Creative Commons) – edited by Bronwyn Lea

Can Christians be nudists?

Can  Christians  Be  Nudists?

Dear Bronwyn,

My husband and I enjoy being nude in a controlled non-sexual environment, (swimming nude, visiting nude, sharing a meal nude, walking on wooded trails nude.) This is not something we share with our Christian friends and church members, since it seems that when people think of adults being in a social group nude, they assume that it is sexually oriented.  That assumption is not always true, as my husband and I can attest.

My question is this: Must we give up our occasional nude lifestyle if we are  members of a church and participate in church activities?  Is it biblically based sinning?  We have studied and searched the bible for an answer.  Culturally this would not be acceptable however, my question is, are we sinning in the eyes of God?

– Bare Necessities

Dear BN,

I don’t believe you are sinning.

God created us naked, and the shame that fell on Adam and Eve in the garden had more to do with their sin than their skin being exposed. God clothed them then, just as he would later clothe us in Christ’s righteousness.

Having said that: I do believe that in a sin-soaked world, dressing is the norm. However, we are still naked at times. The question is: when and with whom is it okay to be naked? As you have guessed, I think it depends on context.

I think nakedness with our spouses is biblically celebrated. The things we cover for the rest of the world, we reveal to our spouses: exposing ourselves (in body and soul) to our spouses is a deep expression of intimacy. Being modest (with our bodies and souls) before that protects intimacy. So by all means: be nude with your spouse.

But what then of being nude elsewhere? And how will that change when you have children?

I personally think it is risky to be naked in public spaces. In many places, public nudity is against the law: in which case, for you to be naked there would be sinning. The problem there would be the violation of the law, not the nudity per se.

If it were a nude beach – that’s a question of your and your husband’s discretion. I personally would feel very uncomfortable with that (so for me – maybe it would be a sin because it would go against my conscience? (Romans 14:23) – but I don’t believe that’s something we can call sin for other believers, because the bible doesn’t call nudity sin.

I wonder how you will feel about nudity if/when you have children. My husband and I are comfortable with our children seeing us bathe and dress, and we hope to have healthy and shame-free conversations about our bodies (and theirs)… we are comfortable with dressing-room-nudity, and our kids are welcome there.

However, kids are little sponges and they act out on their home expectations in social situations. Teaching children about what is public and what is private is a tricky thing, and I reckon if you chose to pursue more lifestyle nudity with kids around – you would have your work cut out for you. Also, I might add as a mom who has been naked around her kids – I also want to add that I really have come to appreciate the protection afforded by clothing – because children can scratch, pull, bite and put sticky fingers on all sorts of places… just sayin’. It physically hurts to have children around you sometimes, and more than once I’ve been painfully punished by a child’s rogue snagged fingernail on my freshly-showered skin. Yikes. But those are practical, not ethical, concerns.

In short: I don’t believe it’s a sin – but even coming to that position – I can still see why you haven’t told your friends and, perhaps, why it may not be a good idea to tell them in the future. As you rightly say: nudity is often correlated with sexual activity, and while that isn’t always the case – sometimes it is, and the highly sexualized world we live in does us no favors to put sex and sexuality in its proper place. Telling others about your marital nude lifestyle might be misunderstood, and worse yet – might cause others to stumble (and by that I don’t mean “it might cause others to disapprove”, I mean “others, seeing your behavior but not understanding the sacredness of the context in which you practice it, might decide that if you’ve said nudity is okay, it must be okay – and then they practice it in in a way which does violate marital intimacy or sexual holiness”)

So: maybe they don’t need to know. Because telling them wouldn’t necessarily build them up, help them, strengthen community etc… it might just be confusing.

But when you and your hubby kick back to unwind after a long day: why not do it nude? There’s something very precious about being able to recapture the “naked and not ashamed” status of the first couple from the very beginning.

Best wishes,

Bronwyn