How do we teach our children about purity?
Dear Father Joe: My wife and I have children approaching “that age,” and we wondered if you had any tips on how to teach our children about purity.
Absolutely. Praise God for the gift of life that you and your wife have been given and praise God for your hunger to teach them. I pray I serve you well here …
I’m going to begin by giving a sort of quick summary on what we are talking about when we talk about our sexual desires; where did they come from and what do we do with them?
We’ll start with the truth that you and I were created by a community of persons called the Trinity. This community of persons is a community of love; constantly pouring out the entirety of themselves into each other. The Father emptying all of himself into the Son and the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit constantly emptying himself into the Father and the Son, and the Son constantly emptying himself into the Father and the Holy Spirit. This dynamic of love and community, this reality of total self-giving, is what created us.
Because of this, a hunger for community, a need to give of ourselves completely, the desire to create are all encoded into our spiritual DNA. We long to be a part of something more than ourselves, and we hunger to give ourselves up completely to something that is not us. In the deepest part of us, we crave to consume and be consumed, to be lost totally in unity. We want to create.
This desire is holy.
At the same time, we are immersed in a world of sin. We recognize that we often take what is lovely and corrupt it into something selfish, something less, something easier. I hold to a simple premise that the greater something can be for a good, the more powerful the temptation to corrupt it for self-gain.
I think it is fair to say that nowhere is this principle clearer than in our sexuality.
You and I were born with a craving, a hunger to connect, to create, to give of ourselves. That hunger is most clearly expressed in our human sexuality. When a man and a woman join their bodies together, they are imitating the Triune God and the wonder and culmination of that is in the creation of an immortal soul.
This is the reason that God gave you this fire: because one day you and your spouse will join together in a covenant relationship of body and soul. You will join your bodies and become one and create an immortal soul. That is why that fire lives in you and that is why it is beautiful. This creating fire of the Triune God was given to you for so much more than self-gratification: it was given to you so that you can imitate its source.
To the young people with whom we share this mystery, we express it knowing that they are in a stage of their life where they are to channel that energy, to practice using that fire to serve and to give, to grow and to create. By prayer and discipline, by striving and failing, by receiving God’s mercy and strength, young people can learn self-giving, discipline, tenacity and mercy.
I think it is key that they not feel “dirty” or ashamed of these desires, but instead recognize their power, and respond to God’s call to channel that fire away from self-gratification and into self-giving. I have seen over and over that responding to this fire with shame only intensifies the struggle.
Give your children a safe place to talk to you about what they feel and how to deal with it prayerfully. Make sure they understand that this fire is a gift, but a gift that is given for marriage. Teach them that their goal is not to try to put the fire out and not to act on every impulse, but instead to channel it toward service and a deeper understanding of their dependence on God.
When the fire within us goes sideways, we fall into sinful and often addictive behavior, and I will now offer some tips for that particular struggle:
First, do not give up. Ever. The fight to use the gift of our sexuality in the way we are called to is a struggle. It’s completely normal that purity is difficult and the key is to never give up. If we are dealing with a pornography addiction, for example, then we commit to going to confession as often as we need, finding a person to help us be accountable, and proceed to let God’s mercy and strength wear down our sin.
Second, use the tools God offers to help us in our struggle. Beyond the sacramental gift of reconciliation, there are some practical means out there to assist us. I’ve had a lot of people tell me about different apps on the iPhone that can help someone struggling with addictive behavior.
Third, let each sexual temptation serve as an opportunity to pray. Pray for the person you feel tempted toward, pray for yourself, pray for opportunities to point the fire that lives inside of us toward service, growth and self-giving.
Fourth, be careful of social media; I’m simply shocked that parents allow their kids to have any social media accounts before 16. Every day, I see the devastating effects of the things they are exposed to in this manner.
Parents, be gentle with your kids, but be clear as well. Let them know that if they come to you, they will find a refuge from the storm within. Don’t shame them for their struggles, but don’t justify sin either. Balance out the recognition that this is a normal struggle with the reality that God has high expectations of them and has given them the power to meet those expectations.
I pray for all reading this, that we commit to purity in our bodies and in our souls: may the struggle for purity drive us to be saints
Enjoy another day in God’s presence.