Recently I led a group of teens and preteens through a 3-week session on sexuality. Yikes, right? We were going through Proverbs and landed on Proverbs 5, which is mostly about adultery and the perils of following temptation. All well and good, but these are kids aged 12-17. Some of them didn’t even know what the word “adultery” meant. So my husband and I gave them a brief history of David, Bathsheba and Solomon. Mostly we talked about purity, peer pressure and ways to respect our God-given sexuality. And how they can be instruments of God’s love — right now — in their friendships and relationships.
“Wait,” they asked, “how can we love anyone right now, when our youth leaders are telling us we shouldn’t even date?”
A very good question. I wasn’t sure how best to answer this one. Maybe start by defining “love?” I had with me a workbook called Theology of the Body for Teens, which talks about how in our culture it’s all too easy to objectify people sexually. There are so many variations on this that have nothing to do with love, from the pop idol who bares all to questionable Facebook postings that boost our image at the expense of others. So how do we teach kids to avoid using others? I ended up giving them five tips I’d read from Theology of the Body for Teens. In a nutshell, here they are:
1.Offer your relationships to God. If you want God, who is Love, to be at the center of your relationships, offer your relationships to Him from the beginning. Invite Him in and ask Him to guide you and teach you how to live, how to relate to others, and ultimately how to love as He loves. Ask Him to help you see them as He does, through His eyes. Remember He is always the third party present with you in your relationships, and try to honor Him with your body, mind and spirit.
2.“Christian, know thyself.” It’s an ancient bit of Christian wisdom, but it applies to knowing your strengths and weaknesses and not putting yourself in situations where you might be tempted. This includes what we watch and listen to, as well as situations we’re in physically. If we practice good discipline, even when no one’s looking, we can have a life with fewer regrets. Take time to center yourself in God’s love. Then you’ll find yourself entering into other relationships from a place of security.
3.Be more social. What does this mean? It means including more people in your circle, not less. When you think you are ready for dating, begin with group outings and hang out with friends as you get to know the opposite sex. Then you’ll have accountability and find there’s strength in numbers. Plus it’s important to maintain long term friendships with same and opposite sex friends versus just being in an exclusive dating relationship.
4.Go “face first.” Remember that the eyes are the window to the soul. Challenge yourself to look others in the eye and respect their dignity as persons made in God’s image. Rather than a collection of “hot” body parts, every person has a soul, which we can strive to be aware of. Focusing on their eyes help us see them as human rather than objectifying them. Also, we can dress in ways that help others see us as whole persons, rather than calling attention to our bodies.
5.Be real. Rather than settling for trivial chatter, next time you’re talking with someone of the opposite sex, ask questions that go a step deeper. Talk about the important things in life, like their belief in God, thoughts about life and death, their hopes and dreams. The goal isn’t just to gather information, but to see the person underneath. And when you talk about yourself, don’t just think about the image you want to project, be real and honest. Be yourself.
Not a bad collection of suggestions, for these kids and for those of us who are already struggling with intimacy in our relationships. Where did we get the idea that love would be easy? From a pop song lyric, maybe. The German poet Rilke wrote, “For one human being to love another; that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation.” Only as we depend on His Spirit are we thereby enabled to love. Love has everything to do with it.