Recent discussions here about the problem of abortion and of how we might be able to help curb such trends in our society reminded me of something that happened a few years ago. I thought I would share it here.
My husband once had a discussion with a friend (I ?ll call him Jerry) who was a bishop in a young single adult ward. Trying to make conversation, my hubby asked Jerry about his calling. Imagine my spouse ?s shock when Jerry told him that, at any given time, there are about 50 to 75 young adults in his ward who have committed serious sexual sins. Suppose the ward has about 200 members and ?well, you do the math.
Jerry had delegated everything possible to his counselors so he can dedicate his time to counseling to try help these young people deal with the fallout of their choices and avoid such pitfalls in the future.
In short, Jerry spent most of his time counseling those who have broken the law of chastity. (He was actually warned before he started his role that he would do little else as a bishop of this ward.)
While still trying to catch his breath from these sad statistics, my husband asked a natural follow-up question: What do you think is driving such a high percentage of young adults to break the law of chastity?
(What would you have thought the answer would be?)
Jerry shared the common thread he sees saw in most of the situations: Most have come from broken homes and have turned to sexual relationships to fill a need for love and acceptance.
Now, the purpose of this article is not to heap guilt on already-wounded souls who have experienced divorce, nor to discuss divorce per se. We all know that divorce is a problem in our society and in the Church, but we also know that children of married parents are not in any way immune from challenges and sin. And we all know there are many children of divorced parents who thrive.
Moreover, this one bishop ?s experience is certainly not a scientifically sound study, and I don’t want to be misunderstood as making absolute assertions here. Assuredly, there are several factors that can come into play when it comes to sexual sin. No one thing can be blamed. And let ?s not forget that agency is a key factor, regardless of the curve balls that life may throw.
All of that said, I was still taken aback by this bishop ?s response, particularly because there was no mention of our sex-laden society or the problem of pornography or other directly-related-to-sex factor. While surely the prevalence of sex in our culture contributes to rampant immorality (both in and out of the Church), Jerry ?s observations remind us that often immorality is not about wanting sex, it ?s about wanting love. That ?s really not anything new, but it gave me pause nonetheless. How sad that there is such a hole in these individuals ? lives (whatever the cause) that they seek love, acceptance, security, and reinforcement through illicit sexual relationships. Equating extramarital sex with love is one of the adversary ?s cunning counterfeits.
But rather than just ‘be sad’ (or, heaven forbid, cluck our tongues at such situations), I wanted to think through some of this here. I ?d like to explore two things:
1) What are some situations (in addition to divorce) that can put a young person at risk for looking for love in all the wrong places ?? Some examples might be death of a parent (which was something else Jerry mentioned), abuse, hidden contention and stress at home, peer troubles, illness or handicaps (physical, mental, or emotional), inactivity of family members ?. My hope is to raise awareness of such risk factors so we can all be sensitive to those who might need a little extra TLC.
2) What might we be able to do ?-as parents, relatives, friends, neighbors, teachers, and brothers and sisters in the gospel and in our neighborhoods ?-to help those with holes in their hearts and lives find love in the right places (or to help prevent holes in the first place)? Following are some ideas I have had:
-We can develop- ?and share- ?our own testimonies of God ?s love for us and of our eternal worth.
-We can practice and exemplify looking first to God for love and support, not to external sources for reinforcement and approval.
-We can be aware of those who might be at risk ? because of difficult situations in their lives. We can open our hearts to those around us who have such challenges. (This isn ?t always easy, because sometimes such people can be harder to love.)
-We can do all within our power (while seeking for heaven ?s help) to make our homes places of love, security, and peace, where the Spirit can dwell and fill the hearts of those in our families.
-If we are married, we can do all within our power to nurture and strengthen our marriages.
-We can encourage others in their marriages, and support marriage as an institution in general.
-If we have children, we can nurture, love, and teach them.
-We can nurture, love, and teach children (and youth, and adults!) who cross our paths.
-We can use the Proclamation to the World on the Family as a guide in all of our efforts and roles.
-We can find ways to strengthen others ? marriages. That may sound like a weird concept, but this article has some interesting ideas. (The same author shares some related thoughts here as well.)
-We can teach doctrine about the sacred nature of marital intimacy and the importance of chastity. IMO, we should focus less on behavioral teachings (e.g., dos and don ?ts) and more on the doctrine. True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior ? (Boyd K. Packer, Do Not Fear, ? Ensign, May 2004, 77).
-We can teach and reinforce the principles of agency and accountability. As we do, we can teach and testify of the Atonement as well ?always focusing, however, on the blessings that come from obedience to God ?s commandments. After all, repentance is indeed possible, but it is painful. It ?s a lot easier to be obedient.
What are your thoughts? What life situations and challenges might put someone at risk for insecurities and a hole-y heart that might lead to a desire to look for love in empty ways? What can we do to help people look for ?-and find- ?love in the right places?
In addition, what helps you feel God ?s love in your life?