"The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control." If you grew up in the church like I did, you've heard Galatians 5:22-23 many times. My son even has a song to help him get in all the words in!
It's such a familiar truth that it can become trite. But there's a very important lesson here: your actions reflect what's inside you. So, what's inside your kids that's bearing out the fruit you see in daily life? This was the subject of Session 1 at Raising Sexually Healthy Kids.
I took appx. 12 pages of notes at this conference, and I don't want to steal The Student Outreach's brilliant presentation or take credit for it as my own. However, I do want to present this groundwork as the basis for my own commentary and the lessons I picked up. The entire session, which they called "Discovering: Looking Deeper Than the Fruit", was built around a tree metaphor:
- The seed is the heart
- The soil is the context
- The roots are our desires
- The trunk is your worldview
- The fruit is the behavior
So often, as parents, we get lost in the behavior. Some examples we heard:
I caught my daughter sending a sext, so I took her cell phone. Glad I fixed that!
My son was searching for pornography, so I put a tighter filter on our computer. I'm so relieved to not have to worry anymore!
But imagine... the tomatoes in my garden have blossom end rot, so I pulled off all the tomatoes. Problem solved! Crazy, right? Because you know the new tomatoes will grow in sick, too. The problem wasn't in the fruit; you have to address the cause. But that gets dicey in parenting... what is the cause of this behavior? And how do I address a sin "sickness" in my kid that comes from the heart and is affected by so many internal and external variables?
Consider the heart. Genesis 8:21 paints a pretty clear picture: "The intention of man's heart is evil from his youth." But if our child's fallen heart is redeemed, he/she is a new creation. As parents, we must start here. There is no hope to help a child out of any sinful behavior, sexual or otherwise, until the heart is changed. What a challenge for me as a mother to pray daily for my boys' salvation!
Consider the soil. So many things play into a child's life context. The presenter gave examples that specifically spoke to me as a foster parent. Trauma, family influences, appearance... children don't choose these, but the impact they have on their life cannot be overestimated. He also added a few things I found particularly profound. A child's physical characteristics and their talents or gifts might dramatically change their life. Imagine a boy's "life context" -- the way people react to him, the things he overhears people say, the coaches and teaches who become influential -- if he's an excellent dancer, gifted from the Lord to perform ballet, versus a boy who has been blessed with an excellent ability in math? Everything these kids hear, see, and feel form their context. Sometimes these are things that parents can't necessarily prevent (nor should we, in many cases), but they all affect how your child will view and experience the world.
A final note on context: a reminder that the local church can and should be part of my child's life context. This is a safe environment where they can grow and see many people modeling what a God-honoring life looks like.
Consider the roots. Man, when it comes to corralling desires, I always feel like Gollum: arguing with myself like a crazy person. Trying to convince myself something is ok when I know it's not, and then trying to be sneaky like I don't know what I'm planning! James 1:14-15 couldn't be more clear what happens when we give into sinful desires: "But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death." Death! Sounds hopeless, right? But no! The hope comes back to the seed again. Galatians 5:16: "Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh." What fresh hope this gives me as a mother in this battle, knowing my kids have reinforcements when they are weakest.
Consider the trunk. What worldview are we presenting to our children? Does your daughter hear you say, "I need to lose weight" and watch you give your backend dirty looks in the mirror? Do your sons see you focusing on the cheerleaders when you watch football? You are shaping their worldview, and it matters. The worldview we want our children to frame is one where God's glory is our ultimate life goal. We want them to understand their sin and their need for a Savior. We want them to see others as people to be loved and served. We want them to know they are loved and precious in God's sight.
Consider the fruit. Behavior is the focus of all our time, teaching, and lectures. Take the cell phone, but your daughter's desire to fulfill her need for attention, to feel loved and accepted isn't gone. Filter the internet but your son's desire for control, excitement, and release isn't remedied. Don't start with the fruit. The behavior will change when the heart changes, and when we understand the context, worldviews, and desires that are warring within our children.
Next time, my notes on addressing the fear... "I am pretty screwed up myself and the world is insane around them, so how can I really help my kids?"