I’ve been preparing for the fall youth retreat at our church…. our theme is “Does my faith fit me?” a series of talks about “emotions” and how they impact our lives. Of the four sessions planned, mine is the talk on sexuality and love. :)
Considering the massive impact sexuality has on society, it’s a major topic to cover in a few minutes. Add to that the awkward stage every tween lives in… and I’ve got my work cut out for me. So… “Talking “Turkey with your tween” is a moment of reflection that every parent will face eventually. What do you tell your tween about sex? How do you handle the struggle with hormones, faith, and sexual identity?
Below are thoughts from my talk notes… hope they help.
Three potentially awkward – embarrassing topics.
Each distinct but related, and representing 3 huge issues that all of us have to consider, respond to, and decide what they will mean to us as an individual and as families of faith.
1) SEX – the physical act. The joining of a man and woman in an intimate and sacred act of both pleasure and procreation. Designed and encouraged by God, SEX is the ultimate sharing of 2 separate lives as they become one. It’s where babies come from :) Reserved for the covenant of marriage, SEX is a pure act intended to symbolize the union of heart and soul… with the body. A beautiful and divinely inspired celebration of love.
2) SEXUAL – part of our hormonal status quo – it reflects the human nature of each of us. We have surges in our bodies during the stage of adolescence. From 12-20 young men have incredible spikes in testosterone as they grow. Young women begin to feel the effects of hormones in other ways, experiencing the changes to their uterus and physical bodies that prepares them to have children.
Each of you (boy / girl ) are undergoing distinct changes in your bodies as a normal response to the flood of hormones inside you. These undeniable changes are responsible for raising your awareness to see each other as more than friends, but possibly as a future husband or wife. The sexual drive for men is physical (Eros)- the drive for women (Phileo – Storge) to be wanted – desired – protected, to belong and to be safe – comfortable. Surprisingly power feelings and emotions, new desires never before present, a confusing and exciting time of life for sure. But it’s all normal – healthy and designed by God! So much so that we create music, movies, videos and social media to try to capture all we feel… books are written, poems composed and careers decided all by these powerful ‘feeling’s.
The Greeks had four words to describe what we call love, Eros, (romantic love, physical lust), Phileo,(comfortable, fondness, friendship), Storge (family loyalty)and Agape (unconditional love).
Eros– love felt particularly within the body (trembling excitement, elation, joy), colored and underpinned by deep and beautiful procreative urges. C.S. Lewis distinguishes Eros from natural sexual urges and lusts, because Eros is a state of the heart and while it is intimately related to sex, sex can exist, and often does exist, without Eros enlivening it. It leads to children, family, joy and laughter. It is good and right, but it is usually not enough to sustain a relationship long-term. Eros is an exulted and beautifully idealistic love, usually between a man and woman, but can also be “platonic” and extend to deeply intimate friendship. While Eros can simply be an earthy thing, when Spirit infused and elevated to it’s true position, it speaks deeply of universal mysteries, keenly expressed within the most sacred of all relationships, that between husband and wife. The elevated buzz of Erotic love is said to naturally fade within a year of its beginning.
Phileo– If Eros is the love of the body, Phileo is the love of the soul. It is easy love and affection, it is bent towards our natural tastes and preferences (familiar and comfortable). It embodies culture and beliefs. It’s about the friendship you feel towards people like you, with the same interests, social graces, and style. God is said to have this kind of love for us and Jesus. Jesus felt this kind of love for his disciples, parents felt it about their children and children to their parents. It is not a shallow love, but rich in emotion and feeling. However it is also described as natural and exclusive and conditional. Also known as “brotherly” love as in “Philadelphia” – City of Brotherly Love. (Phileo derivative)
Agape-Is more of a parental, mature, sacrificial kind of love. Greek references describe it like this… “to take pleasure in the thing, prize it above all other things, be unwilling to abandon it or do without it.” In a way it is as idealistic as Eros, in that it is a crazy love that will not let go. Agape loves, usually at cost to the bearer. Agape puts the beloved first and sacrifices pride, self-interest and possessions for the sake of that beloved. This is the love that God has for us which inspired him to sacrifice His son and for His son to obey and sacrifice himself. It is a love of supreme greatness. It is supernatural and divine – the glue that holds all other loves together!
Storge– This is the love of community and family. Often dutiful, sometimes unfeeling, but very strong none the less. It is a natural, carnal love, but powerful and committed. It is a love that may pull you towards family commitments, or keep you from wandering far from home as you get older!
All of these ‘feeling’s are distinct and powerful, capable of driving us to do goofy and silly things. From planning our ultimate fantasy wedding down to the smallest detail to thinking about how much we can’t live without another. The pull of sex and love is one of the strongest challenges to being a Tween.
The bible give us so much to consider about love and suggests that what we feel is not as important as how we choose to behave. God sets healthy boundaries to our sexual feelings that include abstaining from sex and restricting ourselves from exploring our sexual urges outside the commitment of marriage. A difficult task given the all pervasive images and opportunity for porn and seductive media that floods the digital age.
Only with the power of the Holy Spirit and healthy boundaries can we navigate the roller coaster of emotions that lift and lower us in adolescence.
My advice to the Christian tween-teen… seek out good friendships, avoid the bad ones. Hang with peers who respect their faith and God’s ways. Live in the open… don’t hide your struggles and have the courage to go and seek help from a pastor or parent if you find yourself in temptation.
3) SEXUALITY: the natural distinction between male / female. It is not as simple as masculine and feminine – however it can be for the vast majority. Over 90% of us when asked would identify with either man / woman in our identities, sexual orientation and attraction towards the opposite. Sexuality is fiercely debated today. The 5-8% who claim to be attracted to same-sex relationships or have gender identity confusion are often struggling with instability in their families, homes and or parental role models.
There is a very small percentage who don’t know who they are (male /female) and are desperately seeking to discover which role would fit-them ‘best’. These lost and lonely are searching for a societal niche to belong to. The need to escape what they perceive to be traditional family exile, they often choose alternative relationships where acceptance is offered without any judgement or condemnation.
It’s no wonder that more and more Tweens – teens are seeking answers outside of the traditional Christian view of sexuality.
It is easy to see the appeal alternative sexual orientation offers to the awkward and uncertain among us. For the Christian family, we should respond with compassion and gentleness – recognizing the need we all have to be a part of something / someone who will “love” us for who we are. It’s one of the reasons I believe Christ provides our culture with an answer to every dilemma we could face, including sexuality. Christ is ultimately the ONLY one who can meet the longing of every human soul.
Encouraging our kids to find their identities and orientation from an intimate relationship with the one who created them is a far better approach than forcing our kids to accept our beliefs without question…we’re teaching them to bury their feelings….and that creates ‘secrecy’ and shame. It allows for other secular voices to speak to our kids hearts when we’re not around. Not a good thing.
From the biblical perspective… in the end, Sexuality is the divine distinction.
It’s a sacred gift and a powerful illustration of what God intends for creation. Our culture has drifted far from the original intent of a loving father for his children. Our standing firm on the biblical mandate is only part of the parenting equation. The other part is to create a healthy and open environment for our kids to discuss and process their personal feelings and beliefs. If we think it through, it’s clear… we can only lead our kids to the savior, we can’t offset the combined impact of mass media, pop culture and trending styles with our dogmatic logical debates. It’s about the heart… and the longing of our souls.
Authors closing note: To be clear… I’m not pushing these sexuality issues aside as irrelevant to Christians or acceptable to God. Choices matter. Actions define us. As a pastor and a parent, I am very firm on the need for us to respect scripture as authority in these matters. However, it’s not enough to declare the facts.. we’ve got to let complicated lives get untangled in the purity and power of God’s presence. We’re responsible to share the truth in love… to be patient as God does His mysterious work in the souls of those who genuinely seek to know Him. Let’s be sure to cultivate the respect and space our tweens will need to mature, process, and become all that God intended. We’re in a post-Christian world now… and we’re going to have trust God’s truth will outshine the lies.