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Should we silence the Day of Silence?

Posted by Mark Forstrom on Apr 8, 2015 in Personal Reflections

DOSDOSDOS jpgThis is a similar post to one I did in 2008.  I feel even more passionate about it then I did then.

Yesterday, an email was forwarded to me encouraging the boycotting of the April 17th Day of Silence and I want to offer my perspective for consideration.

For those of you who don’t know, the Day of Silence is a national day of action in which students across the country vow to be silent all day to call attention to the silencing effect of anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in schools.  It is sponsored by GLSEN.

I’ve done a lot of thinking and research about this event. The organizer’s website says the purpose of the event is to bring: “attention to anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment in schools.” In contrast, the Concerned Women for America of Iowa email that I was forwarded claims “The Day of Silence exploits government schools, captive audiences, and anti-bullying sentiment to advance the left’s social, moral, and political beliefs and goals. GLSEN seeks to advance the belief that all public expressions of moral disapproval of homosexual activity are bullying.”

As a response to the Day of Silence, CWA and a host of other fundamentalist Christian organizations are calling for parents to…

1. Write letters to principals asking if students will be allowed to be silent on April 17th.

2. [if affirmative] Keep your kids home from school on that day as a way to hit them in the pocketbook (supposedly, schools get government revenue based on daily student attendance.)

3.  [if affirmative] Demand every parent in the school be sent a letter explaining what is being allowed and that GLSEN is behind it.

They are calling it the “Day of Silence Walk Out.”  You can read about it yourself here.

To me, this is a knee-jerk reaction that does far more damage than it does good.  Here are six reasons why I think this reaction is bad for our cause.

WHY THE “WALK OUT” IS THE WRONG RESPONSE

First, these Christian organizations are ignoring the clearly-articulated purpose of this student-led event and are reacting to assumed motives about GLSEN’s agenda.  I believe we must base our response on the event’s stated purpose, not our assumptions or interpolations. To do otherwise makes us look like fear-mongering, paranoid, over-reacting, extremists, who don’t understand plain English.  To put it in perspective, suppose atheists did the same thing with our event, “See You At The Pole”.  Every participating Christian student knows that the event’s purpose is simply to pray for our schools.  What if atheist organizational leaders sent emails to their constituencies and the principals claiming that despite the stated goals SYATP is really “a day for Evangelical Right-Wingers to proselytize our campuses, cramming the Bible down our impressionable children’s throats and trying to make Southern Baptists out of our kids.”  Would that be fair?  No.  Similarly, we need to react to this event on its own and not engage in an unnecessary battle.

Second, one of the key justifications for the DOS protest is that students who are silent on that day will cause a big disruption to education.  Really?  Does this mean that students with laryngitis or who are mute are also a major disruption to education?  This seems like a cheap-shot.  How much of a hindrance to education could this be anyways?  Quieter classrooms with less chatter and wise-cracks might actually be better learning environments!  What about letting the “free market” system do what it does best.  If education is actually hindered, let each school or classroom make its own guidelines accordingly.  Pressing for universal rules to address theoretical obstacles seems like a poor use of energy.

Third, how is keeping our kids home on that day not a disruption to education ten times worse than students not speaking?  Think about how hypocritical this sounds:  If you don’t prevent the disruption of education, we’re going to disrupt education.  Good plan.  Plus, consider that the parents who keep their kids out of school are causing their own kids to fall behind.  That’s helpful.

Using my SYATP illustration again, what if the response of atheist parents to our event was to keep their kids out of school on this day because it restricts traffic flow near the flagpole (thus hindering education) and so their kids won’t be exposed to Christian propaganda.  What if they got all worked up because schools allow this event to happen and complain that some teachers even stand at the pole in support of this Christian bigotry. If the atheists responded to SYATP like that, we’d think: “How lame. What’s wrong with these people? What an overreaction. Get a life!” etc.

Fourth, think about how foolish this “Walk Out” action item sounds:  [Ask the principals:] “Will you be permitting students to refuse to speak in class on the Day of Silence?”  Seriously, we’re asking the schools if they’ll allow students to refuse to speak.  What, are we now going to start forcing students to speak?  Is that really the solution?

Fifth, the idea that creating a low turnout attendance day will hit the schools in the pocketbook and result in less favor towards homosexuality and more favor toward heterosexuality is unlikely.  It will far more likely create a distaste for Christians right-wingers who use such tactics to try to strong-arm the school systems.

Sixth, the argument that we need to keep our kids from being exposed to homosexual indoctrination on this day would be more believable if the participants weren’t being silent all day! Their only communication will be to be hand out cards saying “Please understand my reasons for not speaking today. I am participating in the Day of Silence (DOS), a national youth movement bringing attention to the silence faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their allies. My deliberate silence echoes that silence, which is caused by anti-LGBT bullying, name-calling and harassment. I believe that ending the silence is the first step toward building awareness and making a commitment to address these injustices.”  I have no problem exposing my kids to that message.  In fact, I agree with it completely.

My opinion is that this DOS Walk Out idea is just plain silly and actually counterproductive.

Though I completely disagree with GLSEN about the morality of homosexual behavior I think a better response is needed.

WHAT IS A BETTER RESPONSE?

Instead of pressuring principals or keeping kids at home, how about trying to figure out what being like Jesus would look like in this situation.  I don’t presume that my suggestions below will change everyone’s minds and hearts — only God can do that.  But we are called to speak the truth in love like Jesus did, so my suggestions below are an attempt to do that.

1. Talk about the event with your family and friends so you’re properly informed and prepared to respond constructively.

2. Use whatever publicity this day generates as an opportunity to build a bridge rather than a wall. We can agree wholeheartedly that harassment, name calling, and bullying are deplorable—whether about race, religious affiliation or sexual preference.

3.  Since those participating in the Day of Silence won’t be talking, it might be a great opportunity to talk to them! Express appreciation for their stand against harassment and use the opportunity to love them and affirm something good about them, perhaps shattering some stereotypes about Christians. Ensure them that though you may disagree with the morality of homosexual behavior, you promise to never harass, bully, or name-call anyone who has different views on this topic. Perhaps offer to have some discussion (after the silence ends!) about each other’s perspective on the whole homosexuality issue.  Create understanding, not animosity.

[Note: one person emailed me with the observation that if we say we disagree with certain behaviors we ourselves may well be declared bullies.  One could respond that if bullying includes believing someone else’s views are wrong then our critics are bullies to us in the same way we are to them.  Regardless, if they do choose to view us as bullies, then let’s be the nicest bullies they’ve ever met!]

4.  If a Christian student is asked to wear an armband or practice silence on that day, perhaps the response could be: “I’ll make you a deal—I’ll be happy to publicly protest the mistreatment of gays if you’ll be willing to publicly protest the mistreatment of Christians around the world considering that 200 million Christians have been murdered for their faith in this past century. Do we have a deal?”

5.  Be thankful they’ve chosen a Day of Silence instead of a Day of Screaming!

______________________________________________________________________________

BELOW IS THE UNEDITED EMAIL THAT WAS FORWARDED TO ME FROM CONCERNED WOMEN FOR AMERICA, IOWA:.

Silence the Day of Silence by participating in the ‘Day of Silence’ Walk Out.The Day of Silence, organized and promoted by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), takes place this year on Friday, April 17. The Day of Silence is the king of all the numerous homosexuality-affirming activities that take place in public schools. It started in one university and then, like a cancer, metastasized to thousands of high schools and then into middle schools. Before long it will take place in elementary schools. Leftists know that it’s easier to indoctrinate 16-year-olds than 36-year-olds and easier still to indoctrinate 6-year-olds.

Ask your pastor to write a letter to the local schools. Click here for a sample letter.

If you have school-age children, contact your administration as soon as possible.

  1. Ask this specific question: Will you be permitting students to refuse to speak in class on the Day of Silence? If the administration either answers “Yes” or dodges the question, please keep your child or children out of school on the Day of Silence. Every absence costs districts money, and money talks.
  2. Also, politely insist that an e-mail be sent to every family informing them that the Day of Silence will be taking place in classes on April 17, that some students will be refusing to speak during instructional time, that it is organized by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, and identifying specifically who is sponsoring it in your school. Parents have a right to know.

GLSEN promotes the Day of Silence as an “anti-bullying” effort. If it were centrally or solely about eradicating bullying, everyone — liberals and conservatives alike — would support it. But it’s not.

The Day of Silence exploits government schools, captive audiences, and anti-bullying sentiment to advance the left’s social, moral, and political beliefs and goals. GLSEN seeks to advance the belief that all public expressions of moral disapproval of homosexual activity are bullying.

GLSEN urges students to refuse to speak all day, including during academic classes, which is disruptive to instructional time. Administrators permit students to refuse to speak in class, and teachers feel compelled to create lesson plans to accommodate student refusal to speak. Teachers feel that if they don’t accommodate student refusal to speak, they will be seen as supporting the bullying of self-identified homosexual students.

The little unspoken secret is that many teachers on both sides of the political aisle hate the Day of Silence because of the distraction and disruption it creates. Unfortunately, they’re afraid to say that to their administrations because GLSEN and its ideological acolytes proclaim that opposition to the Day of Silence necessarily means endorsement of bullying. The truth is one can both oppose bullying and oppose the Day of Silence.

The homosexuality-affirming legal organizations Lambda Legal and the ACLU have both stated that students have no legal right to refuse to speak in class, so school administrations have every right to require students to participate verbally in class. And teachers have every right to require students to answer questions, give oral presentations or speeches, or participate in debates or discussions.

CWA of Iowa has endorsed the ‘Day of Silence’ Walk Out.

A coalition of pro-family organizations is once again urging parents to keep their children home from school on the Day of Silence if their school administrations will be allowing students to politicize instructional time by refusing to speak. This is the only organized national effort to oppose any pro-homosexual activity or event in public schools.

Often times parents of freshmen learn for the first time that the Day of Silence is taking place in their school when they hear about the ‘Day of Silence’ Walk Out. Even parents of sophomores, juniors, and seniors are uninformed. This lack of awareness happens because school administrations do not notify parents about The Day of Silence.

The absence of conservative influence within the culture on issues related to homosexuality is to some extent the fault of conservatives. Ignorance, fear, and an astounding lack of perseverance on the parts of conservatives have turned our cultural institutions — including public education — into the playground of “progressives.” Our passivity has enabled homosexual activists and their ideological allies to become social, political, and pedagogical bullies. Evidence of that is everywhere, including in schools on GLSEN’s annual April school event, the Day of Silence.

We must match — and exceed — the boldness and perseverance of the left if we hope to stop the relentless appropriation of public education for the promotion of homosexuality.

Stop the bullying! Join the ‘Day of Silence’ Walk Out.

Pass this e-mail on to like-minded friends, family, your pastor, and acquaintances.

Please pray and ask the Lord to silence the voice of those that promote unhealthy lifestyles – physically, emotionally and most importantly, spiritually.

For more information, visit the ‘Day of Silence’ Walk Out website.

Stop the bullying!

 
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Why I almost didn’t take a homeless man to dinner tonight.

Posted by Mark Forstrom on Jan 27, 2015 in Personal Reflections

In our city, there are a few well-known corners where you’ll often find homeless people standing holding signs. I’ve driven by them hundreds of times, and my reaction has mostly been annoyance.

 

I did a lot of driving today. As I traveled north past one such corner at 6 o’clock this evening, something a little unusual caught my eye. The words on the man’s sign weren’t your typical “Will work for food” or “God bless you for helping”. This sign had other words, nearly illegible in the dark, but it seemed to say something about “stop” and I thought I saw the word “talk.” The variation made me slightly less annoyed than I normally would be and just a little curious. Yet a few seconds later all was forgotten as I continued on my way to a meeting at church.

 

At 9 pm, after having driven back down south for Lexi’s jazz band concert, I returned along the same route I had taken earlier. It was dark by now, but surprisingly the man was still there, and this time I got a clear view of his sign. It read, “Stop and talk to me”. What a strange message! I shrugged it off.

 

I drove on past and headed for home. But now I was wrestling more than driving.

 

You see, what I didn’t mention was that the whole time I’d been driving around all day I had been listening to the dramatized book of Proverbs over my car stereo. I’d been hearing repeatedly about our obligation to the poor.

 

Proverbs 14:31 Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.
Proverbs 17:5 Whoever mocks the poor shows contempt for their Maker; whoever gloats over disaster will not go unpunished.
Proverbs 19:7 The poor are shunned by all their relatives— how much more do their friends avoid them! Though the poor pursue them with pleading, they are nowhere to be found.
Proverbs 19:17 Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done.
Proverbs 21:13 Whoever shuts their ears to the cry of the poor will also cry out and not be answered.
Proverbs 22:9 The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor.

 

I’m heading for home, making every excuse I can so I won’t have to turn around and go back and talk to the homeless man. But my excuses aren’t convincing. In fact, everything else tells me the opposite: I saw him twice, Proverbs has been telling me all day to be gracious to the poor, the man’s sign says “Stop and Talk to me”. Could it be any more clear?  So I drove back, parked my car at the Mexican restaurant nearby and walked over to the ramp where he was standing.

 

(Side note:  I’ve encountered “homeless” scammers before.  Once I saw a supposedly homeless man leave his post, walk over to a van full of “homeless” people with a Marshalltown license plate.  They were definitely a ring of scammers, travelling here just to pilfer the people of Cedar Rapids.  Disgusting!)

 

So I approached this man with a bit of healthy skepticism.  I introduced myself to him and explained I had seen his sign and had come to talk to him.  I offered to take him to a restaurant to have supper together.  (I figured this would allow me to hear his story and ascertain his real needs.)  I also figured that if he was willing to leave his post (i.e. income) and sit down with me to talk that would be a positive sign (I doubt a scammer would leave their post to risk being exposed as a fraud.)  He probably would have made more money during that hour than I paid for his meal.  If anything my taking him from his post probably cost him money.

 

He seemed glad to accept my offer.  We stashed his bike in the back of my minivan and went in to the Mexican restaurant. Over the course of the next hour we ate fajitas and I had the privilege to hear his story.

 

As I once learned in the book “When Helping Hurts,” the only way to truly help people is by first getting to know them. Tonight I did that. I learned a lot about Leonard. I learned that he’s had a hard life. That he likes spicy food. That he lives in a tent with his buddy Tim (another homeless guy). That he thinks his main need is for money (it isn’t). That he doesn’t utilize all the services that are available to him. That he wants to get a real job, but never will until he presents himself better.  What he needed tonight was someone to give him some spicy food, to listen to his story, to believe in him, to offer some perspective, and to pray for him.

 

And to think I almost missed it due to pride, laziness, indifference, prejudice, selfishness, and ungodliness.

 
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Why you should attend the “Intelligent Faith Conference.”

Posted by Mark Forstrom on Jan 24, 2015 in Personal Reflections, Youth Group Happenings

ifclogoIn today’s culture skepticism abounds and Christianity is increasingly under attack.  So it’s all the more important for we Christians to learn what makes our faith reasonable and to be able to engage in intelligent conversations with our non-believing friends.  To help us with that, the Intelligent Faith Conference will be bringing three of our nation’s foremost defenders of Christianity right to our doorstep!

I heard two of these speakers at the Summit Ministries student conference this past summer and both of them are “Home run hitters”.  Ask any of the Summit grads and they’ll tell you these are some of their favorite speakers of all time and that you won’t want to miss hearing them.

One of them, former atheist J. Warner Wallace, was a “cold-case” detective who set out to disprove the Bible’s trustworthiness.  Using investigative methods he instead proved to himself that the Bible is true and thus became a Christian.

The other Summit speaker, Frank Turek, is passionate and thought-provoking.  He co-authored the classic “I don’t have Enough Faith to be an Atheist”.  And John Stewart, a law school professor, has been a national radio host, dubbed “The Bible Answer Man”.

Who should come to the Intelligent Faith Conference?  All adults and students who would like to explore the compelling reasons for our faith, for the resurrection of Jesus, the reliability of Scripture, and how to engage our culture.  How old should children be?  I would say two good litmus tests would be 1.) if the child is old enough to sit through 3 consecutive hours of lectures and 2.) if the child would not be caught off-guard by discussions of moral issues like abortion, marriage etc.   I’m on the planning committee for this conference, so if you have any other questions, feel free to contact me.

The conference will be held February 6-7th at New Covenant Bible Church in Cedar Rapids.   For more information, or to register, click here!   I hope to see many of you there!

 
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Letting teens solve their own problems

Posted by Mark Forstrom on Jan 23, 2015 in Reflections on Parenting

One thing that I’ve learned recently is that the older our kids get, the more we have to exert influence more than control.  Influence involves heart to heart conversations in the context of a mutually respectful relationship.  Control is focused on managing behaviors.

Controlling behaviors is needed when the kids are young, but there comes a point when we are wise to relinquish control and instead, appeal to them as capable adults.

I learned this firsthand one winter with one of our daughters.  She’d been leaving cosmetics all over the bathroom sink that we all share and I was starting to get very annoyed by it.  So I implemented “cosmetic jail”, which I thought was clever.  I’d simply confiscate the misplaced cosmetics each day and then she’d have to pay a fine out of her allowance to redeem them.  “Toy Jail” had worked great when the kids were small so this made a lot of sense.

What I didn’t consider was that I was using a child’s tactic on an adult.  The result was that I made her feel insulted.  I learned the hard way that I should have just sat down with her in a good moment and expressed my frustration about the mess and asked her what she could do to solve this problem.  That would have gone over much better and the sink would have cleaned itself up without my mandating new policies.

As our kids age, the more we need to give them the opportunity to solve the problems they create.  If they can’t solve it or refuse to do so, then we can sure intervene.  But let’s give our older kids the chance to fix things on their own first.

 
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What I learned from Trivia Crack

Posted by Mark Forstrom on Jan 22, 2015 in Personal Reflections

triviacrack

 

 

 

 

 

Today I deleted Trivia Crack from my iPhone.  Let me tell you why.

One day last month, when I was bored, I downloaded Trivia Crack to my phone just to see what it was about.  I began to play and to my surprise I found that it was a lot of fun and — even more surprisingly — I found I was pretty good at it.  Whenever I answered a question correctly I would feel smart.  I was winning about 80% of the time. I gloated over defeating my opponents.  My best subjects were science, history, and geography.

Before long, it was not uncommon for me to be playing against 10 opponents at a time.  Every time I’d win I’d start another game — or two.  On the rare occasions I’d lose, I’d start another game or two.  I found myself checking my game status first thing in the morning and last thing at night.  And many times during the day.  I turned off the sound so no one would hear me.  It was becoming an addiction.  Trivia Crack is aptly named.

Then it hit me, the questions.

  • What had I accomplished during my month of Trivia Crack?  Nothing of significance.  Absolutely nothing.
  • Why did answering questions better than a stranger bring me such a feeling of satisfaction?  Apparently I don’t feel good enough about myself.
  • Don’t I have more important things to do with my time?  Yes.  There are so many more useful things I can and should be doing with my time:  reading, keeping organized, blogging, journaling, spending time with God, being proactive, planning ahead, etc.

 

Today I deleted Trivia Crack from my iPhone.  I just told you why.

 

 
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How I pray for others consistently

Posted by Mark Forstrom on Jan 21, 2015 in Personal Reflections

Yesterday, I talked about how I structure my prayer time.  Today, I want to explain the system I use to keep track of prayer requests.

For years I searched for a tool that would help me to organize my prayer life.  I felt that I needed to be faithful in praying for others, but how do you manage so many names?  Some people do it “on the fly”, from memory or as God brings people’s names to mind.  Others are more proactive and make lists.  I’ve tried just about every system imaginable: index card file boxes, paper printouts, dog tag lists, Palm Pilots, Google Docs, etc.  I just wanted to find something that was flexible, customizable but easy to use, and backed up online.  I even tried some prayer apps, but none of them did all the things I wanted.  Until someone told me about Toodledo, the perfect app for managing my prayer requests.

Toodledo is designed to be a task organizer, but it works perfectly well as a Prayer organizer.

Once you set up an account at www.Toodledo.com , you simply download the app, log in and you’re ready to go!

You can set up different folders to separate your requests into categories.

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You can see from my screenshot above that I have several categories of requests.  I currently have 209 prayer items altogether in ten categories including Family, Crisis, Missionaries, Friends, Leaders, Physical Needs, Others at Risk, Weddings I’ve Officiated, etc

You can arrange these folders in any order and there is no practical limit on how many items can go in each folder.

Within a folder you can easily create tasks, which in my case are prayer items.  After they’re checked off, you can set them to reoccur at whatever interval you want.  For example, under “Family” I have some requests that repeat every day.   Others, such as my New Jersey family will pop up on my list every three days, alternating days with the Hoobler family and the Forstroms.  Extended relatives will pop up less often (say, every 12 days), but always appearing on the same day as my closer relatives from that family.

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I try to pray for the couples I’ve married once a month, always on the anniversary of their wedding.  Toodledo allows me to set up a monthly, repeating task on a specific date, such as the 21st. of each month  Or as you can see below, a request can pop up faithfully every Wednesday.

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Once you’ve checked off an item, it disappears, but then magically reappears whenever it’s scheduled next.

I love this next feature since I tend to miss days now and then.  Tasks can be set to reappear on a predetermined calendar schedule or they can reappear so many days after the last one was checked off.  That way if you fall behind in prayer, you don’t have to worry about requests piling up endlessly!

The urgency of the request combined with the proximity of the person to me determines how many days I set between repeats.  One repeat could be “every 57 days from checkoff.”  I try to find what’s reasonable for the situation.   It may not be often, but I can honestly say, “I pray for you regularly”.

You can also add notes to any prayer item, which is nice if you want to copy and paste prayer updates from an email.  Or you can make the task a topic, such as “People battling cancer” or “Grievers” and the note can contain the names of people to whom it applies.

Finally , you can set up a “Hotlist” to immediately access the list you want when you open the app.  My “Hotlist” is set to show all tasks that are either due today or are overdue.

There are other cool features, but those are the main ones that I use.  I hope it is useful to some of you who are trying to figure out how to be faithful in praying for others.  For scores of people I can now say with confidence, “I pray for you regularly.”

 
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How I organize my prayer life.

Posted by Mark Forstrom on Jan 20, 2015 in Personal Reflections

[Many of you know that I blog infrequently, but always about things that I think are important, timeless, and hopefully useful to others.  My friend, David, challenged me to participate in Seth Godin’s #yourturnchallenge, which involves blogging everyday for a week.  So here goes…]

Last week, when I was quarantined with the flu, I had a wonderful Skype conversation with former student AnnaClaire.  She attends college in Arkansas, and coincidentally was also quarantined with the flu.  In the course of our commiseration the subject came up about prayer.  For today’s blog post  I’ll share with you some of the things I told her when she asked about how I organize my own prayer life.

HOW I ORGANIZE MY PRAYER LIFE

Regardless of how much time I have for prayer, I have found it beneficial to divide my prayer time into two fairly equal parts: 1. Relational Prayer and 2. Requesting Prayer.

By “RELATIONAL PRAYER” I mean a time of “heart-to-heart” conversation with God.  It involves putting God in His place, putting me in my place, and positioning myself properly under His leadership.  To help me maximize this time, I generally follow this outline: ATCS..

Adoration.  Letting my mind dwell up in heaven, in eternity, and on God’s character, attributes, and worthiness.  Enjoying Him apart from the personal benefits to me.

Thanksgiving.  Here, my my thoughts have descended down to where I live, enjoying Him for all the good things He has freely and generously given me.

Confession.  After contemplating God’s greatness and goodness to me, my own weaknesses and unfaithfulness inevitably become apparent.  This is a time for putting me in my proper place.  I acknowledge my sins and apologize for how they must hurt His heart — and then I experience relational restoration with Him as I sense Him wiping my slate clean.  [One word of caution about confession:  I’ve learned to be careful to not overdue confession.  I can easily slip into self-loathing, which only serves to keep my mind focused on me rather than on God and how mercifully He treats prodigals like me.  He’s promised to forgive my sins just for the asking with no penance required, and so I need to take Him at His word and not obsess over my failures.]

Surrender.   Here, I spend some time mentally dedicating myself to His service.  I surrender my FISTS (Finances, Influence, Skills, Time, and Stuff), I surrender my day’s Calendar, my Appetites, and my To Do List.  I ask to be filled with the Holy Spirit, to put on the Armor of God, and to be prepared to finish and die well.  I also review one of my Life Resolutions each day and ask for God’s enabling to accomplish them.

So that’s “Relational Prayer.”   It’s rarely a chore, and when I devote the proper time and attention to it, I  find it’s very satisfying.  Heartfelt, relational prayer like this seems to be uncommon in our times.  If you’ve never prayed like this before, I recommend you try it!

“REQUESTING PRAYER” is the kind of prayer most people today likely think about when they think of prayer.   But this kind will be less relationally satisfying when the focus is  limited to merely asking God for stuff that we want.  For many this is little different than giving Santa your wish list, or giving God a shopping list.  Others may approach it as if God’s a cosmic vending machine, ready to give us whatever we order.  Prayer like this are self-centered.  When I talk about “requesting prayer” I’m not talking about this.

For me, “requesting prayer” is about telling God how much we need Him, declaring our dependence on Him, and asking for His will to be accomplished both in us and through us.  It’s not wrong to ask for things, indeed, His word commands us to ask Him for things For example, James 5:16: says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”  But it’s the attitude of our hearts that is critical here.  When I pray God-honoring prayers of request, I sense that God is using  me to help accomplish His plans for the world.  And like Relational Prayer this kind of prayer is also satisfying.  Mostly because it’s not about us.

So this brings us to this issue:  there are literally million of people and things I could request prayer for.  So how do I decide what to pray for and how do I organize my prayer lists? Tomorrow, I’ll explain how that works in my prayer life.

 
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How to Impress the Girl’s Dad

Posted by Mark Forstrom on Jan 19, 2015 in Personal Reflections, Reflections on Parenting

It was Monday, September 15th.

The Title in the subject line was “Courtship”.  The sender was unknown to me, but still I knew immediately that this email was going to change our lives.  I was right.

“Dear Mr. Forstrom,” it began.  And it ended just as simply,  “-Tim Pierce”.

The rest of what Tim wrote was so impressive that I’m going to blog about it as a model for how to impress a girl’s dad.  I can’t speak for all dads, but it sure impressed this dad!  Perhaps other guys could learn from his example. He gave me permission to share his letter, so here are 8 things that impressed me…

1. How he described himself.   “Please allow me to briefly introduce myself. My name is Timothy Pierce, saved by the grace of God, raised in a large Christian family, and now a senior at SEMO in Engineering Physics. I grew up in southeast Missouri and now live in Cape and attend Cape Bible Chapel where God has allowed me to be involved in several different ministry opportunities.”  I liked that his identity was first defined by his faith and church and ministry involvement.

2. His purpose for writing. “The reason why I am contacting you is to begin a dialogue with you in pursuit of permission to begin courting your daughter Brenda.”  There was no presumptuousness in his statement.  He wasn’t telling me what he was going to do, rather he was requesting to dialogue with me about the topic of him potentially courting Brenda.  I felt very honored by this.

3. His description of how he knows Brenda. “We met in our very first class of our very first semester. However, it was not really until last semester via Perspectives, music at church, small groups, etc. that we really became friends and got to know each other very well at all.”

4. His description of what attracted him to Brenda.  “I deeply respect her relationship with Jesus and commitment to the Word as being very strong and real.She exhibits a high level of maturity and humility that I find rare among young Christian women. Her testimony among other believers and leaders in this area is very God-honoring. I have very much enjoyed getting to know her and have already found myself personally challenged by her example.”  I’ve said before — and even blogged about it — that I always hoped a boy would be attracted to my daughters’ character above all else.  This is the kind of boy I’d always hoped my daughters would attract.

5. His direction in life.  “We also have a lot of common ground in terms of [overseas service].”   Knowing that Brenda has become convinced that she’s supposed to serve God overseas, it was important for me to hear that he is interested in the same thing.  Had he not said this, he would have seemed to be a diversion to her overseas commitments.  I would later learn that they both independently developed a heart for northwest Africa.

6. His description of how he decided to pursue her.  “Now, through much prayer, scripture, consideration, fasting, and counsel of others I feel that God is leading me to move forward.”  This may have been the most impressive thing in the whole letter.  He was taking this very seriously.  I don’t know of very many young men who would go to so much effort to discern God’s leading.  Fasting particularly stood apart.  That’s serious!

7. His coming to me before even telling Brenda he wanted a relationship with her.  “Brenda does not know that I am contacting you. I have never said anything to her about a relationship, and I have never taken her out on a date (or anyone else for that matter).”   Wait, so you’re telling me before even telling her?  Wow.  Never heard of anything like this, but I can’t think of a better way to impress this dad!   This statement also told me that his writing me was genuine, in other words, Brenda didn’t put him up to this (“If you really want to impress my dad, do this…”) Obviously he’s naturally impressive!   He continued, “God laid it on my heart to obtain your permission and blessing, and to come to a mutual understanding of the meaning and boundaries of the relationship before pursuing her.”  Wow.  I am being invited to help them define their relationship and help them set boundaries.  It’s like I just won the lottery.

8. His waiting upon me to respond.  “I look forward to hearing from you as you feel led to respond, and until then I will be waiting and praying!”

How impressed was I?  Very.  Part of me wanted to reply, “No, you may NOT court her….let’s dispense with those formalities….just go ahead and marry her please.”

 
0

Teaching Your Children About Sexuality

Posted by Mark Forstrom on Nov 5, 2014 in Personal Reflections

The problem with most Christian sex education approaches I’ve seen:

  • It’s delayed as long as possible.
  • It begins with and primarily addresses the question: “where do babies come from?”
  • It’s characterized by shame, nervousness, and uncomfortability.
  • It’s embarrassing for the kids as well as the parents—and dreaded by both.
  • It’s compartmentalized, approaching it as “the talk” rather than as a process.
  • Its focus is on intercourse, not sexuality as a whole.
  • Delaying it naively assumes that: 1. Burying our heads in the sand will make this issue go away.  2.  Sex education isn’t necessary until puberty.  3.  Kids are not already being taught at an early age about sex by the world.  4. Kids either aren’t interested in or aren’t able to handle the truth about sex.
  • It’s clinical, impersonal, and passive:  “The ahem.. penis gets inserted into the ahem… vagina.”
  • It doesn’t allow for ongoing discussion day by day in the course of real life.
  • It’s a subject parents HATE to talk about.

Do you suppose that’s the way God views sex?  I don’t think so.  He didn’t invent sex to be a “dirty little secret”.  He invented it to be one of his greatest blessings to humanity.

My approach.

  • It begins in infancy and continues through the teenage years.
  • Its focus is on marital intimacy and satisfaction, long before it’s about babies.
  • It instills awe and wonder at God’s amazing design.
  • It’s comfortable, natural, and anticipated with eagerness.
  • It lays a foundation of truth early on and builds on that.
  • The principles are modeled, discussed, and reinforced through all of life.
  • Its focus is on sexuality as a whole, not just intercourse.
  • It’s a subject parents LOVE to talk about because they have the opportunity to instill life-changing values that run counter to our culture.

 Three Disclaimers: 1.  This approach presented here  ideally assumes a strong, healthy marriage is being modeled—the proper context for sex.  Single parents or those in dysfunctional marriages will need to teach the same values verbally and theoretically, rather than modeling them.

2. This approach is written for those with very young children to encourage sexual education as a lifestyle.  For those who neglected to properly educate their older kids, I’ve added some suggestions at the end on how to make up for lost time.

3.  In this short format, I’m presenting 11+ years of sex education condensed down into a few short pages.  Therefore it may seem like we’re dumping a lot of information on very young kids.  Keep in mind that this information is doled out little by little over a decade or more.    

My recommended approach…

 

BODY PARTS

  • It begins in infancy with the identification of body parts.  God made our sexual organs and they can be acknowledged and named without shame.
  • Rather than identifying the sex organs (including breasts) as dirty or forbidden, they should be identified as being special and set apart from all the other body parts.  So special, in fact, that displaying or discussing them is properly kept private (within the family for now, spouse later).  It’s inappropriate to show these parts publicly—that’s why we have laws against public nudity.  But the parts themselves aren’t bad—they’re just so special and private that they’re not shared with outsiders.  You can show anyone your arm or your leg or your ear, but there’s something different about these parts.  They’re the most intimate things you have to share and ultimately you will share them with your future spouse.

 

SENSUAL ATTRACTION BETWEEN PARENTS

  • I believe that sensual attraction between parents must be modeled in front of the kids at a very early age.  They need to see that God created physical craving (hormones) as a way to strengthen marital love and bond husband and wife.  This way when the kids reach puberty and begin to experience hormones, they’ll understand their proper context and purpose. Many parents appear to be asexual to their kids—a perception that will not help parents seem authoritative on the subject later when kids are looking for answers about their own emerging sexuality.
  • The husband should show his visual attraction to his wife by whistling at her in the shower and verbalizing his attraction to her beautiful naked body. This teaches them how God has wired the male brain.  God created this attraction as a way to help make sure the husband stays delighted in his wife.  It’s a good thing so long as his eyes stay focused on his wife.  This is a very important truth to teach them and talk about regularly as they grow older.
    • Recently, I came across a web link to a Britney Spears music video and decided to have the girls watch it with me.  They were shocked to think of how Britney’s body was being shared with other boys and men who were not her husband.  We talked about what they already knew:  that boys can become excited visually by a woman’s body.  They found it sad to consider that so many boys look at her as an object.  I told them how glad I am that their mom is only sharing her body with me and how special that makes me feel.
    • One day we were at the mall and my then 5-year old ran over and threw herself in front of the Victoria’s Secret window display and proceeded to shout:  “Don’t look over here, dad!”  I was amused and proud: she knew that a husband’s eyes properly belong only to his wife and that she should be his only source of sensual delight.  I wonder how many other mall shoppers were convicted by this truth coming from a 5 year old.
  • Acknowledging this truth about men being wired visually allows us to teach Scriptures that most parents avoid even through the teen years.  As soon as they began to read, I exposed my girls to the Song of Solomon and passages like Proverbs 5:19 “may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be captivated by her love.”  Rather than shocking them or grossing them out, this simply reinforced to them the truth that I had taught them long before: that sensuality is a healthy part of God’s design for marriage.   Bible stories, such as David gazing at the bathing Bathsheba begin to make sense and serve as a caution about misusing what God intended only within marriage.  This knowledge about guys being visually attracted to a woman’s body also encourages them to be modest, not sharing their beauty with just anyone!
  • For daughters, this understanding of a woman’s body being the delight of her husband alone can help as you discuss their own physical maturity.  Learning and talking about the two Scriptural purposes for breasts (delighting your husband and feeding babies) encourages them to not base their self-esteem on their rate of breast development.  And they need to know that size doesn’t matter—their husband will be delighted in them just the way God made them.  We talked recently about the “ideal” breast size and our conclusion was that it’s whatever size God made you.
  • For sons, talking about the way God designed our eyes to be attracted to women’s bodies is important in helping them understand their temptations and resist them.  They need to know that their eye attraction is normal, but that it should be saved for their spouse.  “Eye candy” is a cheap substitute and will never satisfy.
  • Of course every kind of love should be modeled by the parents (encouragement, compliments, acts of service, time together, tenderness, etc.)  But physical contact between the parents must also be modeled.  Parents who reserve all physical contact for the bedroom rob their kids of learning about this important aspect of marriage.   Hugs, shoulder rubs, snuggling, tussling, and sensual kissing (not just a peck), should be regularly seen by your kids from infancy on.  They need to see these activities as belonging to healthy marriages and that God designed these as a way to provide great delight and bonding.  They learn through this that physical touch strengthens your marriage and thus their family.  They also learn that we are made with physical attractions and desires.  And that some of those desires are to be met by your spouse only.  Knowing this prepares them for the day when their hormones will kick in.  Parents who appear asexual will not be consulted when teens begin to wrestle with their own sexuality.  Knowing that the desires are good but are intended for a future spouse will give them reason to wait for that spouse.   Knowing this about physical desires also gives them an understanding of the world they live in.  Flipping TV channels has given us many good discussions about the physical attraction of those portrayed.  Couples seen “making out” are evaluated based on their marital status and those who aren’t married are viewed with pity since they’re hurting their future marriages by not following God’s design.

 

THE SPECIAL SNUGGLE

  • Besides the physical touching parents model in front of the kids, reference needs to be made to what we called a“special snuggling” that parents do behind closed doors because it’s so private and wonderful.  This concept can be taught at a very early age (2-3).  Give this activity a code name, in case they ever mention it outside the home!  We called ours “doing the special snuggle” and we made it clear that it’s something God made for marriage, bonding, and pleasurable delight and that when they got older we’d tell them more details.  It needs to be seen as a type of “glue” that makes mommy and daddy’s marriage stronger.  It can be very vague at first, but as they age you increasingly give more clues.  The clues you drop may include these:  it starts with regular snuggling and progresses beyond, it’s something normally done in bed, has something to do with being “buck naked”, it’s best to not be interrupted during, has something to do with enjoying each other’s private parts (which we established long ago as belonging to the spouse).
  • There are many advantages of acknowledging the existence of a type of “special snuggling.”  A practical one is that you don’t have to make sexuality a big secret.  There’s a difference between secrecy and privacy.  You can request the kids to give you 30 minutes privacy and they’re perfectly happy to do so, because they know that whatever you’re doing in there is a private but good thing and which is somehow like glue for your marriage. It’s in their best interest for you to have your time together. When our bedroom door is closed and locked our kids know what’s going on, but it’s not a big deal at all.
    • One night we had plans for a morning “snuggle” but to our dismay one of our girls crept into our bed after a “bad dream”.  I mentioned to her that she was welcome to stay for awhile, but later if we decided to do our “special snuggle” I’d send her back to her bed.  What was her response?  Horror?  Disgust?  Not at all.  She just said, “That’ll be just fine!”
  • Another advantage of this knowledge is that they can better understand Bible stories and concepts such as “do not commit adultery” or David’s sin with Bathsheba. You simply define adultery as “doing the special snuggle with someone who’s not your husband or wife”.  They’ve already learned about the reality of physical, sexual attraction and that God made it for marriage exclusively.  So without even knowing the mechanics of sex, they can grasp these principles.  This knowledge of the existence of intimate physical contact also helps them interpret the sex-saturated world around them.  Teenagers making out on the street corner or a racy scene flashing on the TV or a provocative billboard now elicit comments like: “I’ll bet they’re gonna want to do the special snuggle next.”  “They’re probably gonna want to take their clothes off.”  “I wish they’d start thinking about their future husband.”  They’re learning about the ungodly context we live in and how it falls short of God’s ideal.  By addressing these concepts at a young age, they’ve learned the truth first and then the error is exposed for what it is.  This is a different outcome than in those families who try to ignore sexuality, hoping our kids won’t think about it, or paint sexuality as essentially “evil” or “disgusting”.  To keep from our kids the beautiful concept of sexuality in marriage is teaching them an untruth.  Many teens I work with can’t fathom their parents having sex—even for their own conception!  My kids already know that sex is a normal, regularly partaken of, God-ordained blessing in our marriage.  In fact for awhile one of our kids thought it’s something parents are supposed to do every day!  (That gives new meaning to the Scripture that says not to neglect your marital duty!)
  • During this time of knowing the sex concept without details, sometimes kids will ask where babies come from.  At this point it should be sufficient to say simply that God sometimes gives married people babies.  If they know of an unwed mother or a live-in situation, then you can expand it by saying simply that God sometimes gives babies to people who do the “special snuggle.”  That’s as much detail as they probably need.  After all, God put the moon in place and he put Baby Jesus in Mary’s tummy.  They’re not engineers—they aren’t seeking a detailed explanation of the process!

 

FILLING IN THE BLANKS

  • But eventually it will be the eagerly anticipated time to fill in the details about how sex actually works.  This is the moment that most parents dread, but I longed for this day with anticipation.  But at what age should this disclosure be made?  When you’ve laid the foundation of healthy marital sexuality, the concern isn’t going to be the shock of the revelation. But I think the timing depends on two things:  the environment and the child’s social maturity:  1. The Environment.  The world teaches our kids about sex all the time and since I want her to hear it from me first, I have to gauge when it’s time.  Parents must first consider what the child is being influenced by.  The timing for homeschoolers might be somewhat later than those in public school, just from the standpoint of what they might hear on the playground—although anyone with a TV or in view of billboards had better not wait too long!  2.  Social Maturity. Can she keep this a secret from others?  Does she tell her friends Santa is a myth?—then it’s probably too early for her to keep this secret.  The last thing you want is for other parents to complain to you about your child being a source of sex information!  (Although chances are your kid will explain the truth about sex better than the average parent!)
  • It’s a hard balance to find, but if you’re going to err, I’d say err on telling it early so they hear it in the context of wonder and awe, rather than as distorted and disgusting.   Our oldest was seven ½ and that was the perfect age for her.  Our youngest is that age now, but not quite ready to keep a secret.  Hopefully soon!
  • So what exactly do you say?  With our oldest, we made a date, telling her that it was now time to tell her the amazing details about God’s “special snuggling”, which we now recognize by its common names: “having sex” or “making love”.  There was a sense of anticipation as we sat in our living room!  I explained how amazing God made us.  And he made us two ways, male and female—in many ways the same, but in some ways different.  We reviewed what we had shared before how God made women so beautiful and the two purposes of breasts.  We talked about the opening girls have called a vagina and how God made it a place of pleasure when stroked by her husband.  We talked at length about the remarkable male sexual organs (which she was obviously less familiar with).   These organs also are places of pleasure when stroked by the wife and interestingly, when this happens the husband’s penis actually grows about twice as big and it becomes hard and sticks up, and feels even more pleasure.    Now isn’t that just amazing and interesting?  Now why do you suppose God created the man’s penis in such a way that usually it’s small and soft, but during this time it grows big and hard?  What if it was big all the time?  That would be inconvenient!  Why does it grow at all?  Hmmm, that’s a mystery isn’t it?  Do you think God knows what he’s doing?  He sure does.  Let’s stop talking about sex for a minute and let’s go back to something I taught you a while back:  how to identify connectors.  What do we call the two ends of a hose?  Or electrical plugs?  That’s right, male and female.  (I had purposefully taught her about all about how to identify “male” and “female” connectors with this day in mind.)  How do you know which end is the male?  Right it fits inside of the female end.  Good.  At that moment a light bulb came on and she finally had all the pieces fitting together.  “I think I solved the mystery!  The husband’s penis fits inside of the wife’s vagina, right?”  It was exciting to watch her experience the joy of discovering God’s truth.  We went on to explain that God created those parts like puzzle pieces, fitting together perfectly.  We then talked about the burst of pleasure that occurs during this time of closeness.  This is the most intimate human experience there is and that’s why God made it to be enjoyed by husband and wife alone.  They create a special memory together during sex that they share only with each other.  It’s their greatest physical expression of love and it’s a great gift from God.   I think it’s important to teach sex for delight before teaching sex for procreation.  After all, couples will have sex potentially 1000’s of times, and yet only get pregnant a dozen or less.  Humans have successfully accomplished God’s command to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth!  Now sex is more often about intimacy and delighting in your spouse than it is about conceiving offspring.  But the revelation of how babies are made needs to be taught at some point shortly afterwards.  Having gotten through the tricky part, now it’s easy.

 

HOW ARE BABIES MADE?

  • After having established sex in marriage as about intimacy, then we later taught, “Oh, and by the way, you’ll be amazed to learn that once in a while, God uses this amazing act of intimacy and love as His way of creating babies.  Then we taught her about sperm and eggs and the amazing invention of testicles and how these sacks regulate the temperature of the sperm at 3 degrees below body temperature, pulling up tight if it’s cold and loosening up if it’s hot.  Amazing!  We talked about how the same tube that handles urine somehow miraculously switches tracks and allows the sperm to shoot out into the woman during sex.  We talked about how amazing it is that the woman’s body knows how to count to 28 and it sends out an egg every time.  And how the fertilized egg burrows itself in the womb and begins giving the baby nutrients.  We explained it all in the context of wonder and discovery.  There was no shame, no embarrassment, no regrets.  Only amazement!
  • The only thing that we didn’t share at that time was regarding hormone changes and the woman’s menstrual cycle.  A year later, her third grade class was doing a unit on sexuality and I kicked myself for not seeing the note until the same day—after the class was over.  I had wanted to be the first one to talk about those things.  So we talked as soon we could—the day after the class.  I had wanted to get the first word in, but in this case I had to be the second.  One of the values for me was to portray the menstrual cycle not primarily as “unpleasant” or “disgusting” (which was the effect of the school teaching) but rather as another example of God’s wonderful, perfect design for your life.  And how amazing and exciting it will be when God, in His perfect timing, chooses to transform her from a girl to a woman.  His biological timer will cause changes in her body that will enable her to be a wife and mother instead of a little girl.  Oh, how exciting that will be!  I explained how having a period was really a cleansing process which flushes out the important blood supply and nutrients that would have helped a baby grow.  And how even if the menstruation process may be unpleasant and admittedly an inconvenience, yet it’s a small price to pay for the blessings that will likely lie ahead.  God knows what’s best for you and He made you that way for a purpose.  I explained God’s wisdom and goodness in making the menstrual cycle 28 days, giving a wife 12 opportunities a year to get pregnant.  12 gives a lot of opportunities without too many.  Imagine if the cycle happened every 5 days—you’d never get a break!  Imagine if the cycle happened only 4 times a year and a couple was struggling with infertility.  There would not be many chances to conceive.  God’s ways are perfect.  So even though the benefits of the reproductive cycle won’t be needed for awhile (hopefully a long while!) yet we rejoice that God is putting the pieces in place that will make her the woman God created her to be.
  • Parents with boys should have a similar conversation about “wet dreams” and how it’s a natural release of excess sperm and should not be perceived with guilt or shame.  Again, he should realize that God is putting the pieces in place to make him the man God created him to be.

 

A LIFESTYLE OF SEXUALITY EDUCATION

  • Sexuality education continues all the time in our home, practically every time we interact with the world.  Sometimes the opportunities present themselves unexpectedly.  Sometimes we need to take initiative in interpreting the world with them.  My most recent teachable moment was to go through a Seventeen magazine with my oldest, comparing what it says about body image and sexuality to God’s ideal design for sex in marriage.  She had never seen such a magazine before, but she learned a lot about what is taught in the world’s classroom and why it’s a distortion of God’s truth.  When the day inevitably comes where one of her friends shows her Seventeen, she’ll know the context in which it’s written and hopefully will be able to share God’s truth with the friend.   I’d rather expose her to a little of the world with the right perspective at my side, than let her stumble upon things that she hasn’t been trained how to interpret later on when I’m not around.

 

Addendum:  So what if you’ve let your kids grow up without teaching them these truths?

Unless you have very young kids, you’re likely reading this and recognizing that you haven’t taught the whole truth about sexuality in marriage.  Can you go back?  No.  But you can start from where you are and rebuild the foundation to bring you up to speed.

  1. Stop being asexual parents and start being normal humans with hormones and thus someone who can be consulted in such matters!
    1. Show your physical attraction to one another.  Start small and gradually become more open about it.
    2. Slowly, but increasingly, start to communicate the reality of sexual delight in your marriage.  Eventually you need to become the expert on this subject that they’ll consult before listening to the world’s “experts” like Lady Gaga or Miley Cyrus.
  2. Begin to talk about subjects that maybe you haven’t spoken candidly about before like guys’ eye-attraction, lust, modesty, body image, fashion, hormones, body changes, pornography, masturbation, sex, etc.  Practice first on easier topics and eventually progress to the big ones.
  3. Provide commentary on the world.  As you begin approaching sensual subjects you can at first be more analytical and concept-oriented.  “It makes me sad to see how that TV couple is jeopardizing their future marriage.”  As you grow more comfortable with these topics you can become more personal, “It’s a shame that that TV couple will never know the sexual blessing your mother and I enjoy because we saved ourselves for each other.”  I’ll frequently “talk” to the actors on TV and give them my advice!
  4. Ask questions about sexual topics.  Again, start simple and progress as your sphere of topical discussions increases.   “Why do you think Lady Gaga dresses that way?”
  5. Enter their world and discuss it.  Watch MTV for an hour with your son or daughter.  Afterwards, let them ask you questions and you ask them some.  Talk about news headlines like Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, the homosexual agenda, redefining marriage, etc.  All provide many opportunities to pass on your values on sexuality.
  6. Your kids have undoubtedly learned the biological facts about sex already through school programs, friends, the media or a book you may have handed them!   Yet, there is much more you as a parent can teach them about the “theology” of sex and it’s proper context.  Read through the Song of Solomon with them or do a Biblical study of sex and marriage.
  7. Talk to others about their “teachable moments” with their kids.  Make sexual education a topic that we’re all more comfortable addressing.

 
8

An alternative to teenage dating.

Posted by Mark Forstrom on Aug 17, 2014 in Personal Reflections, Reflections on Parenting

Since it’s a topic that affects our youth ministry, I’ve decided to put my thoughts on Teenage Dating in writing.  I don’t expect most people to agree with my views, but I do feel it might be useful for me to present them in case they might be beneficial to anyone.

I have been observing the teenage dating culture for the past 28 years that I’ve been in youth ministry and this has given me a unique vantage point for formulating my views.

I’ll start by saying right up front that I’m not “anti-dating” and I don’t judge anyone who chooses to date. Dating couples have my blessing and I really hope things work out well for them. In fact, I have known several dating couples in youth group over the years whose relationship I greatly respect. And I’ve even had the privilege of officiating at a few of their weddings!

But in my observation, for every one dating success story there are dozens that can only be described as “epic fail”. To me, teenage dating puts a couple on a precarious path right next to a cliff! Almost all of them fall off the cliff at some point and then there’s a huge relational mess to clean up at the bottom. The longer they’ve stayed on that path before falling, the greater the damage. Very few make it to the top of the hill.

I feel like far too much of youth ministry is spent cleaning up the messes left from dating (the drama, the depression, the gossip, the revenge, people choosing sides, “I’m not coming if he’s here,” etc.) So if you ever sense my hesitation at the news of another dating couple, that’s why. I’ve been conditioned by experience to predict that most will end in grief — and that grief will affect us all.

Criticism alone isn’t useful, so I want to present a positive alternative to dating at the end of this post. But before I do that, let me describe more fully what concerns me about these typical dating relationships.

MY OBSERVATIONS ABOUT TRADITIONAL DATING.

■ Getting a bf or gf is often driven by feelings, the need for self-acceptance, or social approval.
■ They experience pressure from friends to have a bf or gf in order to fit in.
■ Many students feel they “need” a bf or gf in order to function and their whole sense of well-being revolves around this.
■ They sometimes even experience pressure from parents to have a good looking bf or gf (I wonder if having “datable” kids makes parents feel more successful?)
■ The relationship usually begins with trying to impress the other person and trying to win him or her over, but the real person remains hidden behind a mask.
■ The relationship is formalized by asking the other to “go out” — which is an undefined, temporary pseudo-commitment or contract of sorts. In reality the promise made is basically “I’ll be somewhat loyal to you for now.”
■ This pseudo-commitment necessitates “Defining the Relationship” continually.
■ They rely on words like “I love you” and Facebook statuses and use pet names, flirting, teasing, good looks, and immodesty. These are shallow ways to try to keep the relationship secure.
■ Life is much more stressful, complicated, and dramatic with so much riding on the status of the relationship.
■ The more confident partner often discovers he or she has power and control over the more insecure one. Sometimes this turns into manipulation, with the more vulnerable one pressured to please the other so as not to lose the relationship.
■ The couple often gets preoccupied with the relationship which makes other things suffer (like grades or church).
■ The pursuit of God often takes a backseat to the pursuit of each other.
■ They tend to become a clique of two, isolating themselves from others.
■ Their isolation presents more opportunties for physical temptation and compromise.
■ They pursue intimacy (emotionally physically, and spiritually) without awareness that one type of intimacy often leads to the others.
■ Jealousy often occurs in others who wish to “lay claim” to the bf or gf.
■ It becomes awkward to speak with or enjoy friendships with those of the opposite sex.
■ Old friends frequently become neglected and hurt, having been replaced by the bf or gf.
■ The couple often withdraws from family to spend excessive time together.
■ They often feel a sense of entitlement over the other person’s time, attention, and body.
■ It easily focuses on “getting” rather than “giving”. This is a consumer mindset so common in our culture.
■ Dating costs a lot of time, money, and emotional investment, making it hard to objectively get out if it’s become unhealthy.
■ When one partner habitually pays for the other’s expenses, it creates a sense of “IOU” which can lead to manipulation.
■ Dating couples often live preoccupied with their future and miss enjoying the present.
■ Many dating partners continuously check up on what the other person is doing — which indicates insecurity and control. This smothers the other person and robs them of freedom.
■ Breaking up is hard to do. Many of them experience great heartbreak and sometimes even depression when they break up. Both suffer, but the one who cared the most ends up the most wounded.
■ They often end up with much regret over having invested so much time, emotion, and money in what turned out to be only a temporary relationship.
■ It gets very awkward after a breakup. They don’t know how to relate to their Ex or their Ex’s friends.
■ Friends often take sides after a breakup, causing divisions and wounds which can last for years and destroy unity.
Can dating happen without these red flags or pitfalls? Certainly.  I’ve seen it firsthand.  But can anyone deny that these concerns I’ve listed are very very common? I’m guesing, “No”. Overall, the world of teenage dating is a mess! Our youth group has been adversely affected at various times over the years by the fallout of dating-gone-bad as described above. People have even quit coming to church over such things. Do you see why traditional dating makes me a little squeemish?

SO WHAT’S MY ALTERNATIVE? FRIENDATIONSHIP!

Instead of blindly conforming to the world’s custom of dating, what if guys and girls could experience something entirely different — with none of the consequences and almost all of the benefits! I’ve seen a few counter-cultural teenagers over the years who have modeled what I’m about to describe and they’ve earned my respect. I don’t know of a name for this kind of relating, so I’m going to use one my friend Erin proposed. Let’s call it “Friendationship.”

Friendationship — to me — is when a guy and a girl enjoy a healthy friendship without any of the negatives listed above. Like any normal friendship, they spend time getting to know each other. The friendship just happens slowly over time with no pretense. As their natural friendship grows, they find that they enjoy being together and so they naturally spend more time together. Their time together is often spent with others and in groups and with families in a variety of setting (missions trips, etc). They may go on occasional dates but these are not the substance of their relational time and they don’t overinflate their importance or obsess over them. They may freely go on dates with others as well — it’s not “cheating” because such dates do not infer commitment. In fact, they likely have several friendationships going on simultaneously as they connect socially people of the opposite sex.  This helps them learn what qualities they like or don’t like in members of the opposite sex.  The friendationship may grow closer or futher apart over time, but this happens naturally and mutually and without a lot of stress or emotional turmoil. Their emotional health never hinges on “where they stand”. It’s impossible for them to “break up” because no “contract” was ever made regarding their status. They don’t need or rely on “I love you’s,” labels (BFF), exchanging of tokens, etc. They don’t need to “define the relationship” much at all except to learn ways to be a better friend to the other. These teens find no shame in their Facebook status of “single” because they fully enjoy living freely rather than enter the world of “it’s complicated”. They purposefully avoid dwelling on thoughts of romantic relationships or marriage, recognizing that those decisions are many years away and can wait. They recognize that they must restrain themselves from getting too close, keeping intimacy at a healthy level. They guard their hearts and work hard to be accountable and to keep their feelings in check, knowing that now is not the time to explore those areas. Their lives revolve around God, not each other. Their pursuit of God exceeds their pursuit of romance. They keep their natural sex drives under control by choosing to avoid pornography, steamy romance novels and sensually-charged entertainment. They patiently trust God to provide for their needs and their future — in His time.

THE OUTCOME OF FRIENDATIONSHIP.

Over time the guy and girl may end up being somewhat distant friends, great friends, or maybe even best friends — all are good options! Friendships just happen and they are to be enjoyed when they do.

After the couple leaves their teen years (for most, not all) and when they know themselves better and have their life direction and financial means figured out, then they can begin focusing on choosing a marriage partner. This is the time to leave the Friendationship Stage and enter what many refer to as the “courtship” stage of life.  But unlike other courtship models, this stage implies a formal pursuit of marriage with the person who has already become your best friend – the one you’ve figured out you can’t live without!  It’s true that love can be blind, so you’ll also have an added safeguard — the confirmation of others.  Your friendationship has been on display to everyone around you to observe, so if you’re obviously well-matched the decision for the two of you to pursue marriage will become a social mandate!  You’ll hear comments like “When are the two of you going to start pursuing marriage?”

CONCLUSION.

I think seven of the most precarious words in the teenage world are, “Will you go out with me…yes!” Those few words magically and instantly set them upon that precarious path. At that point there are only two possible outcomes of such an arrangement: breaking up (painful) or marriage (unlikely). I think teenagers would be wise to avoid placing themselves in such a vulnerable position and focus on developing healthy Friendationships instead.

That’s my conclusion for you to consider. I’d love to hear your feedback and comments!

CLARIFICATION.

Regardless of whether you are doing traditional dating or seeking a Friendationship, I think it’s important to be sure to communicate your relationship intentions so the person you’re relating to doesn’t have different expectations. If you’re simply pursuing a healthy friendationship make that very clear so the other person doesn’t read romantic intentions into your friendly behavior. If you choose a dating relationship, talk about what that does or doesn’t mean.

Girls, who often crave security, are prone to having their hearts wounded by false expectations of commitment, so guys take the lead and be clear about what kind of relationship you are initiating.

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