birds and bees…for tweens

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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.

Pastor Brad.

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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. Another_World_Desktop (1)

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.

 

 

Reclaiming Romantic Love… CS Lewis on “Eros”

For those of you who have been dreading talking to your kids about romantic love, or “EROS” as described by the Greeks… don’t be. In our western culture, Eros /Love  has been hijacked by the concept of something sexual, or EROTIC, and for parents it’s not a comfortable word to be using around the house… but believe me…nothing could be further from the words intended meaning.

It is critical for us as parents to communicate to our kids what was intended in love, Eros love is one that cherishes an individual as unique and matchless, as BELOVED in their value. Much more than just the attainment of a moment of pleasure with an available and willing member of the opposite sex. This love is one of the four foundational loves and the most critical of any romance leading to marriage.

Working through the four loves, it’s impossible to miss the order in which CS Lewis introduces us to their foundational truth. AFFECTION, natural and common is the love we have between common circumstance and need, FRIENDSHIP is more than just a companion or acquaintance and requires a common mission or shared belief to exist as described by the Greeks, who used the word Phileo.

It’s clear that for a true friendship to form, a deep affection will be naturally already present. The same with Eros or Romantic Love, for such love to develop, affection and friendship are necessary prior ingredients. Without those present, you have only ‘lust” or Venus like emotions of sexually focused and selfish satisfaction.

Eros Love calls to us from the words of CS Lewis in this great quote… “Now EROS makes a man really want, not a woman, but one particular woman. In some mysterious but quite indisputable fashion the lover desires the Beloved herself, not the pleasure she can give.” (p 136 – Four Loves) To further clarify the difference between EROS and lust, he (CS Lewis) offers this comment “Without Eros, sexual desire like every other desire is a fact about ourselves. Within Eros it is rather about the Beloved.” What an important reminder for us all.

It’s amazing how far our understanding of love can be redirected by society. Not surprising though when you stop to consider how much consumer marketing has used the sexuality and beauty of love to sell stuff and promise fulfilment at the same time, IF we buy their product. Branding and marketing have moved beyond the intended meaning of Eros love as being set on one irreplaceable love, and makes it a goal to gain as much interest and sexual attention as possible so that we can “pick” our best option for our own pleasure. It’s painful to understand that the pure nature of Eros love is tainted by this modern definition, it undermines the very sense of the set – apartness of love, until we start to think that EROS is a dirty word, or some kind of sexual innuendo to hide ourselves and our kids from.

The truth is this… Eros represents the love of God towards man. He is fixated on us individually, specifically, He considers us to be His BELOVED. No ONE else will do, He is captivated by our beauty, by our unique and irreplaceable worth… it’s only the third of the four love words the Greeks had to describe love, and the bible reflects those words in a myriad of ways to begin to paint a beautiful portrait of God’s “Feelings” towards us. His commitment to honor and love and pursue us forever. No wonder it’s been co-opted by our enemy to become something tarnished and dirty and shameful. It’s time we take it back!

So the next time love comes up in the discussion with your blushing pre-teen or teen… take some time to review Eros Love with them and reset their understanding of Gods version of true love. Or… just for fun…watch one of my favorite 90’s films, the classic”Princess Bride” in which an idiot priest character will educate everyone at the wedding on the proper way to express and enunciate “Twwrooo Wuvv” 🙂

We can help to set the record straight for our kids and their friends to re-evaluate the dating concept from top to bottom. Affection, Friendship and Romantic Love. In that order. AGAPE’ is the fourth and final love and it is the glue that holds all love and our lives  supernaturally together, and it can’t be found within us or anywhere on this earth, its only source is in Jesus Christ.

To share that supernatural form of love (Agape), we will have to share a common Savior and Lord. Approximately 50% of our marriages are ending in Divorce in and out of the Church. That’s implies that we have not grasped the underlying truth about love and it’s intended progressive nature. Some of us have learned painfully that our own ability to love is sometimes simply not enough… without a common faith center to our lives, we are vulnerable to a similiar outcome. For others who may feel they have failed at love…, Redeemption is on its way! Hang in there, God loves to restore what we have lost. Love can be re-born, but be careful to follow the same path progression for love to grow deeply and in union with you faith, not as an exception to it.

I believe it falls on us as parents to first guard our own marriages and then clearly express the plan of Romantic Love to our kids before they allow their hearts to make promises their lives will never be able to endure.

Peace out fellow parents… and I was serious, pop some corn this saturday night and take the time with your spouse & kids to check out the movie “Princess Bride“, its a great movie to share with your teens as you look for strategies to bring up ways to discuss this most critical life issue.

brad.

PS – As a biblical exercise… Consider taking a new look at the Song of Solomon in the scriptures with the added insight of mankind being in the text as God’s “Beloved” and it will come alive with a whole new meaning for you. The poetry moves beyond a simple metaphor between Solomon and his lover and becomes instead a metaphor for God to mankind. Something beautiful and precious and sacred, yet so tangible for us to recognize in our own lives.