Day 29 of 31 Things to Teach Your Kids: Teach them to see both men and women as souls made in God’s image.
Find the article we mention here: How Male Bashing is Killing Our Sons
Today I sat in a clean, cheery room while an orthodontist expertly fitted shiny little brackets to my daughter’s teeth. This is a place where beautiful smiles are made. Where we get as close as we can to perfection, at least in the arena of our kids’ teeth. Just yesterday, my little girl, a tender thirteen years old, furrowed her smooth brow with concern over how these braces would change her appearance. I knew she wondered if she would look weird or look awkward or look like someone who deserves ridicule. I knew it because I have felt it, too. The constant pressure to look a certain way. The never-ending squeeze on your heart that says you must be acceptable. That you must be worthy of approval.
As I sat nearby, I checked the internet to see what people are discussing today. It’s no surprise that Meghan Markle and her royal wedding are all the rage on social media, as we Americans seem fairly obsessed with royalty and giant weddings and love stories. Put the three together and it’s a recipe for an internet deluge. And in the mix of all of the superlatives surrounding the newest duchess’s big day, I saw it there, too: pressure from the heavy weight of public opinion. These days it isn’t even public opinion that is the real heart crusher. It’s the many, many public opinions. It’s a world where opinions are constantly spewing out of us like red hot blood from a deep wound. And, Meghan Markle hears the world speak. So does my wide-eyed first born daughter. And so do I.
Certain men have sewn devastating colors into the fabric of womanhood. They have ripped through the threads of what God created us to be, and they have decided that we have less purpose and less value and less soul, maybe. They have decided that there is no real beauty, only empty bodies that exist to be crushed by the will of a man.
Yet, in the middle of all of the outcry in the past couple of years, in the midst of all of the words that needed to be said and all of the realities that are coming out that are still showing us how very deep and abiding this men and women problem really is, we have missed one of the most devastating realities of our time. One of the main reasons that women are viewed as objects, as heartless, soulless, and mindless bodies to use and abuse is this: women speak of other women as if it is true.
Just ask the new Duchess of Sussex. Ask her about the thousands and thousands of women who, while witnessing her marriage ceremony, could only speak of her makeup, her clothing, and her hair. Ask her how many people took to the internet to vomit their opinions about her face and her body. Ask her how many cruel words were spoken about the way her eyebrows were shaped. Ask her what it’s like to be a stunningly beautiful woman in our world, and I’d wager that you’d hear it in her voice. You would feel a heart-sick sinking inside of her as she thinks of all of the hateful women who care nothing for her soul or her mind, who only want to talk about her “bad” makeup. Who want to see her humiliated because, like certain men, they only see her as something to see and not someone to know or to love or to cherish. They don’t look at her and see a person. They look at her and see a body.
These same women, who are utterly blind to their true opinion of what we are worth, will decry those certain men, and all men (for good measure), simply choosing not to admit that we are just as quick to reduce a woman to her dress size or bra size as any man. This sickness goes well beyond the males of our species.
From my perch in the orthodontist’s office, I watched as all of the tiny silver brackets were attached decidedly to the teeth that I have seen grow in through years of losses and gains. Kids’ mouths go through plenty of phases. For just a moment I pictured the Easter when her grin was punctuated by a huge gap where her two front teeth had once been. Now, here she was, years later, her long and lean frame stretched across a dental chair as the too-bright light illuminated her new silver-accented smile. I watched as the final rubber band was snapped into place and the chair slowly sat her up, her face flushed as she adjusted to the feeling of the metal in her mouth.
She grinned at me gingerly, unsure. Vulnerable.
In that moment all I could think about is how this girl is so much more than a smile. She is so much more than a number on the scale or a piece of flesh to be ogled. I know this is so because I know her. I can easily live in a state of awe at her heart and soul and her purpose as a child of God. I can be continually amazed by what is in her mind and how her imagination fires up a million stories at a time. I can be captivated by her creativity and her tenderness.
Inside all women’s bodies are who they really are. We are right to call men to account for their sins in this area. But, how can we ignore the fact that women, too, are among the worst offenders? We, who are so keenly aware of all that exists inside the shell of a woman. We are so easily tempted to talk and think as if the sum of a woman is what she looks like. Let us remember that all women are as real and deep and beautiful as a tender thirteen year old in her brand new braces, smiling at us with a hint of hope, vulnerable. What will we do with this woman’s soul? I pray we won’t cast it aside in favor of discussing all of the details of her body. What a waste. What a crime. What a devastating reduction of what God has so fearfully and wonderfully made.
We walked out of the orthodontist’s office, my very first baby and me, and we laughed into the sunshine of the second day of summer. Her eyes still held a question as she ducked into the car. I told her the truth: she is absolutely beautiful. All of her.
Day 18 of 31 Things to Teach Your Kids: Teach them the dangers of technology.
Here are links to some of the resources we mention in this episode:
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“My daughter is thirteen years old, and she doesn’t have a cell phone.”
I said those words from the platform at a women’s event and was surprised at the sharp intake of breath all over the room. I am not naive enough to think that my daughter isn’t a bit of an anomaly. I know that most kids her age are already well versed in the ways of social media, texting, and the big world that a cell phone provides. I know that when she leaves school for the day, dozens of conversations are happening via Instagram, Snapchat, and text that she isn’t privvy to and that she doesn’t ever learn about, except when they are hinted at at the lunch table, where she simply smiles and nods even though she is probably somewhat lost as to what ideas transpired between her friends at ten o’clock the night before.
But, it does surprise me to learn that many parents feel that they don’t have the option to hold off on providing a cell phone for their kids. The day that I made my shocking confession, the attitude of the fellow moms in the room seemed to be: You can DO that?
Why yes, you can.
And I would argue that in most cases you should.
Now, before you start thinking that our children are living in the dark ages, we do have electricity and running water. And our two older kids have iPods. They don’t have internet access or texting privileges with their friends, but they are allowed to FaceTime and text their grandparents and cousins. They play games on their iPods and make movies and learn to take and edit photos and generally get a lot of fun benefits of technology through their devices. I’m not anti-technology. But, I am a believer in the benefits of sheltering my kids from social media and unfettered internet access. Yes, I said sheltering. Contrary to popular opinion, kids do need sheltering from some things.
A few days ago a couple of moms with younger kids asked me about our oldest’s cell phone, and when I told them that she doesn’t have one they said, “We were hoping you could tell us how you navigate the whole technology and social media world with your kids.” So, this post isn’t really for the parents whose kids already have a phone, although I hope that it will help you think through some of the issues associated with phone use. It’s for those of you who are wondering how you are going to approach this subject with your kids when they get older. Essentially, I’m going to explain some reasons that Chad and I have decided to delay our kids’ access to phones.
1. The Internet is a huge world full of strangers who can step into your home without your invitation.
Many times we have a false sense of security about the internet. We think of it as a tool when the reality is that it is an enormous collection of people that we do not know. I would never encourage my kids to go find a stranger at the grocery store and hang out in a private room with him, but in many cases this is what the internet leads our kids to do. It can be a very dangerous place where predators and people with bad intentions can learn all kinds of information about our kids. It can be a place where people we don’t know can have tremendous influence over our kids’ thinking and feelings.
When we present phones to our kids, we expect them to try to navigate this complicated online world before they have the cognitive abilities to make sound decisions. Studies show that their brains are literally underdeveloped in terms of decision-making until they are around age 25. So, imagine how inept a fifth or sixth grader’s brain is at understanding how to react to the various situations that could arise in the huge internet world filled with strangers.
2. The internet is a big world of people your child knows who can step into your home without your invitation.
When you are a middle schooler, no world seems bigger than the one you’re living through in the seventh or eighth grade. Phones allow that world to have access to kids 24 hours a day. I like the fact that my home is a sanctuary for my kids. The only kids allowed within these walls are those kids that I invite, and that is important for the mental and emotional health of my children.
If they were to have a terrible problem with someone at school, if they had an issue with a bully or a group of “friends” who has suddenly turned on them, if something embarrassing were to happen at school that day, my kids know that when they walk to my car as the bell rings, they are free from all of that, at least until the next morning when they set foot back on campus. They don’t have to worry about the bullying following them home. They don’t have to worry about receiving mean texts or having someone post something horrible on their social media accounts.
Even if there are no issues at school, if there is absolutely no drama happening, I enjoy knowing that school and daytime hours are for friends and after school and nighttime hours are for our family. Your child’s time at home needs more protecting than you probably realize. Constant socializing on the internet is leading to all kinds of problems in kids, including lack of sleep, depression, and even suicidal thoughts. They don’t need constant connection with everyone. They need a real connection with their family at the end of each day. Phones make that harder to accomplish.
3. The internet encourages kids to brand themselves.
I’m always running across funny collections of terribly photo-shopped pictures that teenagers have put on the internet. It makes us laugh, but the truth is that kids feel pressure to create a certain image of themselves on social media. It’s the same reason that so many take and post ten selfies a day. They are looking for approval and are trying to build a brand. They want their name to be associated with beauty or fitness or sexiness or casual coolness or whatever it is that they think will gain them likes and followers and the attention that they crave.
For kids, the work of figuring out who they are and who they are striving to be is only complicated by social media. They can become obsessed with themselves, their image, their approval ratings. And the last thing a middle schooler needs help with is being obsessed with herself. Delaying the dive into social media gives kids a chance to grow an understanding that the internet is not real life. It can be a fun place to play, but not a place to live. And if we give our kids more time to develop a real sense of themselves, of who they are and what their own standards are, then they are less likely to become obsessed with how they are seen on social media. They won’t see themselves as a brand but as an authentic person who is much more than a one dimensional image on a screen.
4. The internet is where porn lives.
It practically goes without saying that pornography is a huge issue with phones, and one that isn’t taken seriously enough. Some studies now suggest that the average age of first exposure to porn is nine years old. Third grade. I’m in no rush to put that industry into the hands of my children, even with filters and accountability software, especially since pornographers are actively targeting kids to ensure that their industry continues to thrive. Pornography addiction deeply affects the brain, body, heart and spirit, and phones are the easiest way for the industry to reach kids, either through their own phones or through someone else’s.
There are so many other issues that I haven’t touched on here, but these are a few of the reasons that Chad and I are waiting to provide a phone to our oldest daughter. I don’t know when we will feel that the time has come, but I pray that she will have time to grow in Christ, learning her own heart and mind, before she delves into the social media realm. I pray that she will develop decision-making skills that will help her not to be enticed by requests for photos. That will give her wisdom that keeps her from texting things about people that she will later regret. I pray that she will learn to be led by the Spirit instead of being led by an obsession with self or an obsession with the approval of others.
I know many of you reading this have given your kids phones and have done so with great foresight and discernment. I know that many of you have safeguards in place and monitor your child’s phone usage and are beautifully navigating the internet world with your kids. Those of us who aren’t there yet will need lots of guidance from you.
To those who have younger kids, I ask you to consider some of my reasons for holding off on giving our kids phones. You don’t have to hand your child a phone just because others do. I’m convinced there are great benefits in waiting until kids have matured a little, have grown in their relationship with Christ a little more, have a firmer grasp of who they are and what they believe, before they really need to be grappling with the complicated world of the internet. Life is simpler without that constant din of the world in your kid’s pocket. I’m in no rush to invite the noise in.
Today was a long day. By the time I finally cruised into the dollar store to buy cat food at nine o’clock tonight, I’m sure I looked as tired as I felt. I practically zombie walked to the aisle I needed and then went straight to the counter to pay.
At the cash register stood a young girl with a nose ring. Her hair was pulled back, but long blonde ringlets framed her face. There is no telling how many hours she had been on her feet in that store, but still she smiled and asked how my night was going. And then, while I fished in my gigantic black hole of a purse for my wallet, she told me that I look pretty tonight.
Just like that. She handed me that grace. That generous gift to a tired mama who almost certainly doesn’t look pretty tonight.
And I was surprised by how shocked I was.
I was blindsided by my utter disbelief that my version of forty years old is pretty, especially at the end of a very long day in the middle of a small town dollar store. But the word hung there between us, and all I could do was tell her thank you, genuinely grateful for the tender mercy of that phrase falling from a stranger’s mouth: you look pretty.
It’s getting harder and harder to feel pretty in our world. Pornography has changed our standards. Photoshop has created unattainable idols. And, the ordinary women of the world are left stranded in the wreckage, searching for some way to feel like we measure up. Waiting for some sign that we are worthy to be called pretty, that we are good enough in face and in body to be wanted by anyone.
So many lies are shoved into our faces every day–dishonest images from industries who care nothing for our hearts or souls. Imaginary bodies that have been altered to perfection. And we believe in them. We look at our own stretch-marked, acne-scarred, wrinkled selves and we despair. Every lie informs the way we feel about these bodies that God designed, and when someone finally speaks the truth to us–when they see a beauty in us and say so, we simply don’t believe it. A magazine cover of impossible proportions, yes, but a sincere comment from a sweet stranger in a dollar store someplace, no. Can’t you see these bags under my eyes? we wonder. Don’t you realize that my belly is too soft and my hair that was once a shock of vibrant red is growing dull? I mean, look at me. No falsehoods in this face or body. I am an ordinary, aging woman.
This is real. The lines around my eyes that reveal how often I’ve laughed. The round belly that cradled three babies while God knit them together. The freckles that are like a scrapbook of all the days I’ve played under the big Texas sun. The extra pounds that I picked up over a million meals with the love of my life. The non-manicured hands that have washed dishes and babies and dogs, that have held tiny hands in the backseat, that have picked up lost blankies and matched up lost socks and wiped away thousands of little kid tears.
There is no perfection here.
But there is most certainly beauty.
I wish now that I had told that young cashier at the dollar store how striking she looked standing there, with her nose ring and her blonde ringlets. I wish I would have told her what that moment really meant to me, an exhausted, ordinary mother with a bag of Meow Mix cradled like a baby in her arms. I wish I would have shown her how most of the messages of this world are soul-crushing lies, but that we can’t believe them, we ordinary women who were intricately designed in the image of the one true God.
I left the dollar store and absentmindedly fed the hungry cat. She purred wildly as I stood there, bag of cat food still in my arms. She ate until her belly was round, and then she dropped at my feet in that carefree way that cats lounge. I thought of my own sandy-haired daughters and how hard they will try one day to meet impossible standards of beauty. I thought about how they will soon learn the heart-wrenching truth that there is no way to airbrush real life. And I prayed that they will grow into ordinary women who look in the mirror and see God’s hand.
God designed sex within marriage to be a sacred, pleasurable, and spiritual act. We don’t often stop and think about how amazing it really is that God invented sex and gave it such potential to build a physical and spiritual union between two people in the safety and devotion of a Christian marriage. Sex is an amazing gift, a chance to be bonded in body, mind and spirit. One flesh. Yet everywhere I turn Christian people seem to be struggling with sex.
It seems that we have taken what should be a true blessing in our marriages and have turned it into a chore. Women are constantly joking about trying to get out of having sex with their husbands. Husbands are constantly joking about how they don’t get enough sex. And, somewhere in the middle of all of the casual talk about it, are two people, naked and vulnerable in the quiet of their own bedroom, struggling to figure out how to connect spiritually while they make love.
We live in a world that is unbelievably sexual. Every commercial, television show, book, and magazine is putting sexual images and ideas into our minds every day. Porn culture has warped our idea of what sex is. It isn’t a union of two bodies and souls, but a chance to get what we want. Slowly the notion has crept into our minds that we need satisfaction by whatever means necessary, even in Christian marriage. So, we come to the sacred place where we should be experiencing a spiritual union with our spouse, and we bring along years’ worth of images and fantasies that have nothing to do with them. And, instead of being completely present in this beautiful moment, instead of wholly giving ourselves to our spouse, we retreat and call up these images, and the spiritual union is weakened at best, and completely severed at worst.
No wonder Christian marriages are having sex problems.
Pornography is a huge part of the problem. But, maybe you don’t watch porn. You have seen plenty of movies, read plenty of books, created plenty of fantasies in your mind that don’t involve your spouse. The truth is that unless we are diligent about it, we will all allow our minds to wander to scenes that we have viewed or imagined, even when we are in the middle of trying to make love to our spouse. We may not even realize what we’re doing, inviting other people into this holy moment. Letting outside ideas and images crowd in on the beautiful act of giving ourselves to one another. How can we expect to achieve a soul-to-soul union with our husband or wife when we are escaping to some love scene or pornographic image? Before long we forget how to really be present in this divine moment, this spiritual experience of loving the person right in front of us, in the ways that only we can. We have to keep ourselves anchored to each other during sex, and the only way to do that is to banish outside images from our minds. Not only that, but we have to be careful to keep from bringing brand new images into our minds, by guarding what we see and hear and read.
I know many of you are thinking that this is not a big deal, or that it is impossible to have sex without calling up images and ideas that have aroused you in the past. But, if it were an impossibility, why would Paul advise us to take every thought captive to obey Christ? (2 Corinthians 10:5) If it is no big deal, then why did he tell us to think about what is noble, right, pure, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy? (Philippians 4:8) Why would Jesus tell us that anyone who looks at a woman (or man) to lust after her (or him) has already committed adultery in their heart? (Matthew 5:28)
The truth is that when we allow images of other people into our minds when we are having sex with our spouse, we are sinning, and our sex life will never achieve the spiritual depth and emotional closeness that God designed it for. There is a better way to have sex in Christian marriage. And, it isn’t just okay sex. It is life-giving, soul-stirring, and it connects you to your spouse in ways you didn’t even realize were possible. Kick everyone else out of your head. This moment is for the two of you alone, body to body, soul to soul. Anything else will lead to a lifetime of sexual emptiness, physical connection with no spiritual bond. And, despite what this world tells you, that will never be truly satisfying.
Where are you?
When a culture of brutality and abuse and sexual torture against women is being built around an empire called pornography? Where are you when teen magazines encourage young girls to let their porn-influenced boyfriends sodomize them? When sexual experts tell girls that when it doesn’t bring excruciating pain or humiliation or injury that it “can feel delightful”? Where are you, my sisters in this flesh that God designed, you strong women, you with the loud voices and the brilliant arguments, you who could quickly whither any defense of the grotesque world that pornography is building, completely wither it and blow it away as if it is nothing but a piece of dust?
Our girls need you.
They need to hear you rise up and rage against music that glorifies violent sex, that music that is pouring out of the radio this very minute, that our boys are learning by heart, that our girls are taking to heart: This is what love looks like.
Our boys need to see you, beautiful and bellowing in the streets, shouting until you have no voice left, declaring, not gently, that pornography is a sin against humanity. They need to see you at every turn, confirming with your constant striving and your passionate pleas all of the things that we, their mothers, tell them about the broken-souled way that the pornography culture will eat into their flesh and steal their hearts right from under their noses. And it will devour them and it will change them and it will hurt them. They need to hear it from you, dear warriors. They need to feel the power in your numbers, the solidarity in your spirits, the cries of your battle-scarred hearts.
Our girls need to see you unfurl your fury on an industry that tells them they exist only to please men. That their pleasure is secondary to their willingness to do anything that is asked of them in the bedroom. That their worth is measured in naked photographs. That their minds and their souls are of little importance because they have vaginas and breasts, and those are the only things that really matter. Where are you, my kindred?
You and I disagree on some issues. We march in opposite directions in our various battles. But, here, on this hallowed earth, this war for the hearts and souls of our children, this is our common ground. We are all mamas, sisters, aunts, grandmas. We are all casualties of this war, whether we know it or not, and we are now watching our own sons and daughters fall into its devastating grip. Where are you, courageous ones? Our boys and girls need you to turn and fight and rail and rage and squall.
A new world is emerging. One where girls are victimized even when they are safe at home in their own bedrooms. One where boys get their sex education from violent videos that pour endlessly from the virtual world in their pocket. One where love is replaced by sex. Tenderness is replaced with brutality. Where marriages limp along in the shadow of sex addictions. Where are you, dear Feminists? History will remember the day that you finally surge into action and crash down on the pornography industry like a tsunami. Our boys and girls need you. Don’t let them look back on all of the ways they were wounded by this culture, knowing that that likes of you and the likes of me refused to come together to kill the source of their suffering.
The time is now. We need you. Where are you?
Today marks the beginning of my annual summer vacation stretch where I take a little time off to enjoy my family. But, I don’t think that my heart or mind will be able to rest this week until I pour this post out on the altar, an offering to Christ from a simple West Texas mama.
The past several months in our country have been harrowing. We almost feel like it’s all a bad dream. The senseless killing. The anger. The hatred. I learned today that several countries have warned their citizens to reconsider travel plans to the U.S. This nation, which has always been a guiding light, a beacon of hope, is now being advertised as too dangerous to visit. Too dark. Too risky.
How did we get here?
Some say it’s the guns. As if guns have suddenly become more deadly than they’ve always been before. Guns have always been in American homes. They’ve always provided the power to protect or to kill. The guns haven’t grown more deadly. People have.
After all, what’s going on here is so much bigger than weapons.
Everything about our culture says that human life is dispensable. A trillion dollar pornography industry teaches children and adults every single day that people are nothing more than objects to be used. The human trafficking related to that disgusting trade means that mothers are afraid to walk into a dollar store with their children, knowing that there could be someone lurking nearby who is waiting for an opportunity to take their babies away, sold to the highest bidder, girls with real souls and bright minds and big hearts, reduced to nothing more than a one-dimensional commodity. In that world they exist only to be abused and harmed in every possible way, while the good men and women of the world watch it from the comfort of their own homes.
I sat here at my kitchen table a few days ago when the surveillance video of a deli in California came across my Facebook newsfeed. A young mama walked in, holding her baby, with her four year old daughter at her side. I could see the mother standing there, reading the menu, trying to decide what she and her daughters would have for lunch. Her four year old looked like she was chattering away, as happy four year olds will do, standing about three feet from her mother, when suddenly I saw someone reach in from the street and grab the preschooler, yanking her out the door in under a second. My heart pounded as I saw the mother turn and run out the door, too, still holding tight to the baby on her hip. Then, a moment later, she came back through the door with both of her girls, collapsing into a chair, hugging and kissing her four year old and crying tears of terror and rage.
The internet was so frightened and outraged by the attempted kidnapping. Such a horrific thing. Yet, if she had been four years younger, that same little girl, the one with the unique DNA, with the specially-designed soul, that little girl with a heart that was set to its beat by the God of the universe, could have been easily and proudly killed. Disposed of. Because this is what a human child looks like to us–chattel. Nothing more than a means to an end. Nothing more than a possession to be stolen, broken, or tossed out when it gets tiresome.
And, that’s really the heart of the out of control racial issues in our country. When a black man and a police officer are both seen as one-dimensional objects, no heart, no value, no humanity. When we see each other as cardboard cutouts, just vague representations of some idea we don’t like. It’s hard to remember that each person on this planet is a unique creation, made in the image of Almighty God, when we are constantly proving to ourselves that people are nothing special by what we say, how we behave, what we watch, what spend our money on, where we go, and what we teach our children.
We have taken hands that were once folded in prayer, and we have pushed God out of our society with all of the human force we can muster. We have told Him again and again that He isn’t needed. That He isn’t wanted. That His word is useless. That His creation is accidental. We have said He doesn’t belong in our schools or our courthouses or our public squares. We have said that even His churches need to be punished. That families who believe in Him should be regulated.
And, with every step that we have taken away from Him, we have invited a little more darkness in.
A little more tendency to turn to depraved thoughts and ideas. A little more apt to treat human beings like they’re worthless. A little more bold in our hateful talk. A little more likely to hurt and abuse and maim and kill. Every day, a little more bad. A little more of our ugly, wretched selves showing through.
Sinfulness that was once more often restrained is suddenly rampant. But, let’s be honest about it. Let’s call this what it is. We are getting what we said we wanted. We wanted God to back off.
And, sometimes God gives you what you ask for.
Pray for us. Pray for this nation. Pray for your very soul. Beg God to draw near. And, watch Him do what no human think tank or political party of lawmaker or preacher could ever do. Watch Him change the course of our history forever.
Come near to God and He will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.
Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. James 4:8-10
When Chad and I were dating, we had literally just gotten our first ever email addresses a year or so earlier. He had moved to Nashville, and I was still in college some 800 miles away. We were too broke to pay per-minute to talk on the phone, so we spent a lot of time in our two years of dating sending emails back and forth. I remember sitting at my parents’ computer late at night waiting on the dial-up, and we would email back and forth for hours. In those early days of the internet, it felt like we were in our own private world.
The internet makes you feel that way sometimes. When there’s no one else around and you have a world of visuals and information and weirdness at your fingertips. When you feel like you can ask Google anything. Connecting with an old girlfriend on Facebook. Looking up your high school sweetheart to see if he’s still married. When you feel like you can nose around in stuff that you have no business nosing around in.
But, ask anyone whose name is showing up on the Ashley Madison list: the internet is never a private place.
It’s like a playground for sin-sick people (i.e., all of us). And, I don’t know if our internet sins really bother us all that much. Christians get on the internet every single day and post the most ungodly things about other people in the name of standing up for ourselves. We engage in sexual encounters with people we aren’t married to, pretending that it’s not that big of a deal. We look at pornography and tell ourselves that it’s harmless. We burn with jealousy as we watch people’s lives play out on Facebook. We argue with each other over petty things. We boast and brag and try to make ourselves appear morally superior while we bury all of our secret sins like there is such a thing as privacy. We do these things, and we aren’t really all that bothered by any of it.
Until we’re caught.
Until we’re standing there, in the spotlight of truth, shamed and humiliated. Then suddenly we get concerned about our sin problems.
It is truly awful to be discovered neck-deep in your sin.
The truth is that, for the most part, we don’t think much about God’s presence in our lives. We don’t think about His omniscience. We don’t think about the fact that He is much more involved in our “private” internet lives than any hacker could ever dream of being. Somehow we are okay with God seeing what we do online, as long as none of our friends or family find out about it. We are content to deny Him through our habitual offenses if the world still thinks that we’re “good Christians.” It must be true. How else could we do half of the things we do when no one’s looking?
I’m grieved for all of us.
We have such a weak view of God that we have more fear that people will find us out than that God will.
And, if we’re being honest with ourselves, while we have been spewing and sputtering over the sheer existence of a site like Ashley Madison, while we have been postulating about how those people deserved to get caught, inside we are trembling, so relieved that it wasn’t our internet history that was exposed to the world’s judging eye.
God is good, and He is kind, and He is patient. He is our judge, but He is also our Savior. We can trust Him with our darkest secret sins. But, we owe Him true repentance. We owe Him a total overhaul of our “private” behavior and thoughts and attitudes. And, we certainly owe Him the acknowledgement that everything we do on the internet is intimately linked to where He ranks in our minds and hearts.
The Bible says that out of the mouth the heart speaks. What does your internet presence say about the condition of your heart? Lay the fear of being found out at His feet. The only One who really matters already knows. And, His grace is enough.
My father is a brilliant pianist. He was one of those kids who just had a miraculous natural ability, and by the time he was sixteen, he could hear a song for the first time and sit down and play it. He needed no sheet music. Yet, in college, he composed huge musical numbers and scored all kinds of classical pieces, just for fun. (He was a government major.)
Basically, he was a prodigy, sprung up right there in his humble hometown, and his piano teacher had planted seeds in his long limber musician’s fingers that had grown into an unusual and beautiful talent.
Enter me, many years later. I began taking lessons from the very same teacher who had seen my dad flourish right there in her living room many years before. His little red-headed daughter was sure to possess a similar ability, the piano teacher must have thought to herself. At my first practice she examined my small freckled fingers and praised their shape and reach across the keys.
We started small, with the classic piano basics books that everyone uses. Gradually I moved up to slightly more complicated pieces. Before long I was playing hymns from the hymnal, almost as if I were being trained to be the ultimate Southern Baptist pastor’s wife. I was…. mediocre. I played the music, somewhat haltingly. I didn’t practice enough. I didn’t understand much of the music theory she tried to teach me.
Honestly, I wasn’t all that interested. And I probably wasn’t all that naturally gifted.
But, the years flew by. My piano teacher found all kinds of ways to praise me. Instead of scolding me for not practicing, she praised my ability to sight read. When she probably should’ve been telling my parents that I was only mildly talented, she seemed convinced that I had all kinds of amazing ability that was just lying dormant, waiting to be uncovered by the right piece of music. To the very end of my piano “career,” my sweet teacher expressed her absolute conviction that I was just as talented and amazing as my dad, despite all the evidence to the contrary.
I took piano lessons for ten years. I remember the day she told my mother that she felt she had taught me all that she could. She recommended that I start taking classes at a nearby university so that I could continue in my music theory and further develop my skills. You can probably guess that that never happened.
I had played the piano for my entire childhood and had performed in a decade’s worth of piano recitals. My teacher saw something in me that just wasn’t there, and I loved her for it. I was amazed by how often and how freely she made excuses for my lack of preparedness, how graciously she overlooked my flaws as a student, how convinced that she truly seemed to be that I was a gifted pianist.
As much as I loved the way my teacher seemed completely smitten by little freckle-faced me and my not-so-great piano playing, the truth is that she likely would have produced a much more accomplish pianist if she had told me the truth, in love, the first time I arrived at her house completely unpracticed. She probably should’ve looked me in the eyes and reminded me that just being my father’s daughter doesn’t automatically make me a piano great. Instead, she made more excuses. She probably felt sorry for me. She squeezed me tight and gave me a peppermint and sent me out with encouraging words about how well I was doing. She disregarded her well-tuned knowledge of how a gifted pianist plays because she loved me and she loved my dad.
Sometimes when I look around at the church these days, I feel like we’re taking some miscues from my sweet piano teacher. We should be looking each other in the eyes, speaking loving truth, truth that we know is real because God says it. We have well-tuned knowledge of God’s real, live truth, but we are disregarding that knowledge so that we can insist that people we want to love well are not doing wrong. We choose to decide that, well, the Bible doesn’t REALLY say what it sounds like it says. We squeeze people tight and give them coffee and send them out with the assurance that homosexuality isn’t a sin. We declare that, because we love her, we simply cannot tell a woman that abortion grieves God. After all, it’s her body, and who am I to say so? We are convinced that freedom in Christ means freedom from guilt over pornography. After all, a loving Christian couple can watch pornography and enhance their sex life! So, go! Do that! We love you, and we know who your Father is, so we know that you aren’t going to take it too far.
Little by little, because we love people so much, we make excuses. We praise them for their tithing and their mission trips and we ignore what is killing them. And, when the church service is over, instead of inspiring holiness, we have simply made it easier for them to choose worldliness. We set out to produce spiritual prodigies, but through our misguided expressions of love, we have just made a world of mediocre, luke-warm, uninspired, lied-to double-minded men and women.
If we really want to love people well, we will love them while they tread through the hardest truths. Instead of trying to show them a nice grassy path that veers around the messy pit where they need to confront sin, we should trudge through the muck with them. We should hold them up when they are exhausted from the sin-killing battle. We should look each other in the eyes, to the depths of our souls, and instead of saying, “You’re fine just how you are,” we should send up a war cry that will shake the very foundation of this weak and weary world. Then, we should fight with them. And, we should stop deciding that a vague association with the Father is enough.
That, church, is love.
If my piano teacher could see all of the dust that has collected on my piano over the years, I have no doubt that she would wish to go back to days when she had the opportunity to tell me the truth. To insist that I practice. To warn me that I was going nowhere fast. And, to squeeze me tight while she delivered her tough dose of reality.
Look ahead twenty years, friends. Where will the church be then? When we are seeing the real results of the ways that we have tried to love through approval and false hopes instead of through the trustworthy reality of God’s word? Speaking the truth isn’t easy. But, if we aren’t basing our discipleship on absolute truth, as God defines it, then we are only half loving people. It’s a mediocre, halting, unsure way to play the tune of God’s holiness and mercy. And, it leads to a dusty, empty faith, as useless as the piano that no one remembers how to play anymore.