Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Teen Pregnancy and the Christian Family

UPDATED: Dr. Albert Mohler weighs in on this issue and reminds parents and teenagers that without strong support and encouragement, that indeed it is very unrealistic just as I've said here, that teenagers will remain abstinent.

I know I've written about this before, but here I go again. It's important, it matters, and its something that many Christian parents will face, and need to know they're not alone with. Its also something weighing heavy on my heart, so it's time to just lay it out there. This will be longer than my usual blog post. Just a warning.

Today I clicked a link from a link and wound up at a site that had a very brief review of Bristol Palin's recent interview. Since I'm on dial up, loading the interview itself has proven to be next to impossible, so I can only comment on what the review says. So, here we go:

"In her first interview since the birth of her son Tripp, 18-year-old Bristol Palin says she thinks everyone should practice abstinence, but admits the practice is unrealistic."

I agree, 10,000%. This may surprise someone, but we're dealing with what's realistic compared to what's idealistic. The practice of abstinence requires a lot of things. It requires strong conviction, it requires being surrounded by friends and family that support you in this personal conviction, and it requires purposely and intentionally avoiding situations where throwing those convictions out the window and giving in to the temptations of the flesh. So the truth is, the practice IS actually incredibly unrealistic for most people, since most people don't fall into the above category. It's not unrealistic for Christian people, but even Christians can and do fall into this kind of sin.

With that said however, saying that it's unrealistic is not making excuses for this kind of sin. It may be unrealistic and it may be difficult for a lot of people, but it's certainly not impossible and it's certainly still the Biblical way. Just the same as avoiding lustful thoughts, or moments of anger or jealousy, lies or gossip or what have you may also be rather unrealistic (since we all do one or more of those quite frequently), they're still wrong and we still need God's grace which brings personal conviction, to avoid them. Without that, we never will.

The review of the interview goes on to say:

"[Sex] is more and more accepted among kids my age."

We all know she's right. We may not like it, but we know she's right. Even 25 years ago sex was already more accepted in kids of that age, than it was in the day of their parents. It's been a steady decline for several generations, it didn't just happen overnight. Not only has sex become more and more accepted among kids her age, so has homosexuality and abortion, and vulgarity and profanity and divorce and pretty much every other social maladay you can name. We live in a society where good and moral is outdated, old fashioned and only for those boring, old, stuffy, prudish Bible-thumping wackos. We live in a culture where "if it feels good, do it" is the mantra of the day and it's being lived out in full bloom, everywhere you look. Movies, tv, video games, songs, schools, the workplace, and everywhere else people are. The question is simply this: Does being "accepted" make it right? For someone with a Biblical worldview, the answer is quite often NO (depending on what it is that is being accepted in culture). For someone without a Biblical worldview, it's a perfectly OKAY and "normal" thing to simply accept what society accepts. This shouldn't shock anyone, and it certainly shouldn't surprise Christians since we were exactly like that, at one time.

More from the review:

"The young mother, who is engaged to the baby's father, Levi Johnston, admitted that she wished she had waited to have children, but said she has no regrets. "Of course, I wish it would happen in like 10 years so I could have a job and education and my own house... But he brings so much joy. I don't regret it at all."

I remembering hearing someone say once that they had no regrets about decisions they'd made in life, even when those decisions turned out to be disasterous. Why? Well, their reasoning was that it was because of those decisions that they'd learned the lessons they'd learned, grew into who they were now, and what shaped their character. At the time, that made sense to me. However, I'm pretty sure most folks can see the faulty reasoning in this. In a way, all that is, is a way to gloss over the foolishness and make excuses for poor choices. It makes the person feel better about themselves, never having to own their poor decisions or be accountable for them. Taking this approach to life means you never have to say "that was wrong, and I should have never done that". That sounds pretty appealing to most people, since most people do not like to admit they've done anything wrong.

I am someone who has made far more mistakes and rotten decisions than I honestly care to think about. While those mistakes have in fact been a part of what shapes my character today, I do in fact regret the poor choices to begin with. To regret simply means to have a sense of sorrow or remorse for doing or saying something that you know you shouldn't have. It's important to realize that if someone does not have a Biblical worldview, they're not going to feel sorrow or remorse for doing something that the Bible clearly says is wrong. When I was unsaved, I certainly didn't (in most cases) feel remorseful whenever I sinned, and neither does anyone else. The only time I really regretted anything was if someone I knew was hurt as a result of something I said or did. I had what is known as a horizontal remorse (feeling sorry for self, more than anything else) instead of a vertical remorse, feeling sorrow for sinning against God. God didn't figure into my thoughts for the most part, it was all about me - so it's reasonable to understand why there wasn't much regret, or remorse for poor choices or foolish actions.

I do find it interesting however that Bristol Palin says she wishes she would have waited, because that does indicate at least some amount of disappointment in her decision. I'm sure her son does indeed bring her great joy as she is reported as saying.

The last part of the review really stood out to me, as a mother:

"When Sarah entered the interview, she was asked about her unwed daughter having a baby, the former GOP VP hopeful simply said, "Not the most ideal situation, certainly you make the most of it."

I don't know Sarah Palin personally but from all I've read about her, she does appear to have a working understanding and acceptance of the teachings of Scripture. From all I know of her, she does have a Biblical worldview, so her statement makes perfect sense to me.

She is a mother, and like any good mother wants the very best for her children. Best education, best spouse, best job, best of the best of whatever comes their way. We all want the very best for our kids, because we love them with all our hearts. Like any realistic mom however, she also knows that not all of the choices her kids make (or at the very least in Bristol's case) are choices she would hope that they make. No, an unwed teen pregnancy is not the ideal situation at all. Not for the mom, the dad or the baby. The ideal situation is when baby comes after a marriage, where the mother and father have made that honorable commitment to the relationship in front of God, friends and family. A baby born into that kind of relationship is the ideal situation to be sure. A more realistic scenario however, and unfortunately for pretty much everyone concerned, is that is NOT how countless numbers of babies come into the world. In my own family I can count quite a few folks that did not come into the world that way. Even among the married parents I know both in my family and wider circle of friends and aquaintances, not all the babies born were born into an ideal situation, to be sure.

So how does a Christian mother react when her teenage, unwed daughter comes to her and says "mom, I'm pregnant"? That question is hotly debated by a lot of Christians, and I can guarantee you many of them have never actually had their unwed teenage daughter come to them with this statement. It's one thing to know what you think you should say and how you should react, but it's another thing entirely to have been there and gone through it.

Should she react by getting angry and firing off a lecture about keeping herself pure before marriage? Should she rail on the girl and make her feel like complete garbage for giving into a temptation that billions of people struggle with? Should she pick now, this very moment to pile on the shame on her girl for what she did? No, she should do none of that, as far as I'm concerned. If this girl was raised in Christian home, she already knows how her parents feel about this and what the Bible says about it, the time for a lecture is not now, it's too late for that. Likewise, if she was raised in a Christian home, hopefully the parents understand grace enough to give some of that back when their girl needs it. While being honest about how it's not the way the Lord would have it, is good, ripping the girl up, serves no purpose whatsoever.

We (mothers especially) need to remember (and this is critical) that the faith we raised our girls with is OUR faith. It's not their faith by proxy and until or unless the Lord does the same work of grace in their hearts that He did in ours, we cannot expect our girls to make the same choices that we would, or would hope they would. They are living their own lives according to what they've decided is good and right, and while we may not agree with that, there really isn't much we can do about it except for remind them often, that there is a better way, and continually pray for them. We cannot make them live Christian lives or think Christian thoughts. We need to remember that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. By taking that example of unconditional love, this is the time we need to extend that to our girls without reservation. It's also one of the hardest times to do that, when your mother's heart is breaking because you wanted the very best for them, and you know this unplanned pregnancy isn't it.

So while some may criticize Sarah Palin for saying they're "making the most of it" I think she's understood something that many others may not have, and that is that balance of grace and truth. This is a difficult situation for any Christian parent to deal with since we obviously raise our kids with different values than what the society at large says is okay, but there's a lot of choices they'll make that we just have to deal with. We can be thankful she didn't chose to abort the baby. She certainly could have and never even told you she was pregnant. We can be thankful that regardless of the circumstances, God was pleased to bring a new life into our family. We can take this opportunity to support her as a family, and be there for her no matter what. We can remember that we all make choices that carry consequences with them, and how imperfect each one of us, truly is.

Now for something many of my readers here do not know about me. I have been in this situation myself, as a teenager. My mom loved me and stood by me even though she made it perfectly clear how wrong it was for me to have made the choice I did to end up pregnant in the first place. She was absolutely right. While very much like Bristol Palin I'd wished I waited, unlike Bristol, I also did regret it but not because I had a Biblical worldview. I never sorrowed over the life of my precious baby because even as an unbeliever myself I knew that no life comes to be, without God making it so. Like Bristol Palin, my baby also brought me great joy (and she caused me to grow up really fast) and she still does to this very day, 26 years later. But I did regret the choices I made as an unmarried teenager, for a variety of reasons which include the fact that I brought her into a world with only one parent active and present in her life, and not much stability as far as a financial foundation goes. Fact of the matter is, my mom raised me to know better and I made my own choices against what she taught me, and they were the wrong ones.

I have also been in this situation as a Christian mother. Twice, in fact. My (adult) girls have all been raised to know what the Bible says and what I believe, but at some point they strike out on their own and make their own choices based on their own convictions. Ideally, those choices would be the ones they were raised with and what the Scriptures say (and in my own family this IS often the case, and I'm thankful for that), but that's not the realistic picture in all cases, with many Christian families. With my first grand-daughter my heart felt torn over the choices my daughter made, but joy over the fact that this brand new little person was coming to be a part of our family. I love my grand daughter with all my heart, and I am overjoyed she's a part of our family. Moments after she arrived in this world I kissed her, told her how much she is loved, and said a prayer for her, and her parents. Then I cried like a baby.

With my second grand child, the initial reaction when I heard the news was exactly the same. A torn heart. That precious little person is due to arrive in April, and we'll hold him (or her) and love him and kiss his precious little face and thank the Lord for the gift of his life, regardless of the circumstances that brought him into the world. We will also continue to love our daughters unconditionally, despite the choices they make that are not the choices we know they should make. I've heard older parents say for many years "we can't live their lives for them" of their children, and as I've become the parent of three adult children, I understand that sentiment a little better all the time.

I've read one critique of Sarah Palin "parading" her unwed daughter around, and found that rather harsh. It's not as if she's putting her up on a pedestal and setting her up as an example for all teenage girls. I've yet to see or hear her do anything like that at all. What I have seen and heard, is Sarah Palin showing grace and and love to her daughter and grandson, even though she's been quite vocal about how she obviously disagrees with the choice her daughter made. I think it's a lot easier to criticize a mother for this if you've never been in the position Sarah Palin is now in, and it's a lot easier to be compassionate and understanding if you have been through what she's dealing with.

I know there are folks that disagree with my approach to this, and that's fine. Some believe you need to pile on heaps of shame, humiliation and criticism on the young, unmarried girl. I honestly don't see what purpose this would serve, since she already knows what her Christian parents think when it comes to this subject. I can also see how doing that would do more harm than good, and cause a great deal of alienation, at a time when your girl needs her parents the most.

For me it's pretty simple, you love your girl through it, and keep on balancing grace and truth. To do that, and to do it well, you rely on the Lord and trust that He'll give you the right words to say at the right time.

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