Episode 68 – Impact of the Family You Grew up in and Your Present-Day Struggles
Join Josh and Kit as they unpack the impact of the families we grew up with and how they can tie into our present-day struggles.
“The first key childhood driver of unwanted sexual behavior is having a family system that was characterized as rigid and/or disengaged.”
I’ve talked to lots of daughters, um, and I’ve also talked to moms, well-intentioned moms who talk about their fear.
the number of people who walk through our doors who’ve wrestled with same-sex attraction since they were little kids, and have been hurt in their Christian homes and in their Christian churches…
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One of the things I love about our team here at regeneration is that we are learners. I like to hire learners. I like to work with people who are learning and a, that means reading a lot of books. One of the books that a lot of our team have been, has been turned onto in the last year is a relatively new book by Jay Stringer called unwanted. It’s a remarkable book. If you are struggling with any type of unwanted sexual behaviors, it’s a book we’d recommend and he’s not getting any kickback for that or we’re not getting kickback from. And so we’re really, we’re really recommending it honestly, but kit and I wanted to kind of riff on a specific passage that he brings up. Um, so Kit, would you read us just that passage and let’s talk about it. For those of our listeners who are either struggling themselves with unwanted sexual behavior or who have friends or family who do.
The first key childhood driver of unwanted sexual behavior is having a family system that was characterized as rigid and/or disengaged. Okay.
Here, read it again. The first key is
The first key childhood driver of unwanted sexual behavior is having a family system that was characterized as rigid and/or disengaged.
Yeah. So what does that mean? What does it, let’s just start with the rigidity piece. I think we could spend a lot of time on that. What does it mean to have a family system or a family that is rigid or what maybe, what are some examples of that?
Well, I think about, um, many clients that come our way who are struggling with unwanted sexual behavior and also often their faith because there has been a lot of rules and black and white and um, and it’s, and they, they find themselves having a difficult time, um, both with accepting this behavior they’re doing that doesn’t jive with what they were taught or told, but also having difficulty with making sense out of, um, their life and not having an experience of being loved by God and feeling judged by him and feeling like some of the rigidity is actually difficult for them to, to make sense out of.
So just to be clear, when we’re talking about unwanted sexual behaviors, it could be any number of things. And let’s just name them as to kind of demystify this a bit. We could talk about pornography, use infidelity, Maryland, fidelity, masturbation, um, uh, sleeping with someone of the same, a one-night hookup. Having sex outside of marriage for crying out loud. And if, and if there’s something that you’re struggling with that I haven’t named there, it’s, you know, no, that you are in the company of so many of the rest of us who have struggled with these things. So let’s just move the shame as, as we’re talking about unwanted sexual behaviors when he’s, it comes to mind for me with that fear leads to rigidity. I mean that’s one of the response. I think maybe, maybe both those things he mentioned. I think, you know, either being disengaged or being rigid and in fear, it can be a motivator for, for parents or for families to, to either be overly rigid, overly controlling or to disengage.
And if we have a view of God that we have to be afraid of him or that he is a fearful God up in the sky waiting to smite us. If we mess up, then I think it leads to a family system that can, that can, is much more prone to rigidity. Um, I think about some of the people who have come here who even though the theology, their head theology is Christian and they know the Gospel, that God loves them, that he became, uh, and fleshed. He became flesh and dwelt among us, taught in the cross for our sins and forgives us. And nonetheless still dealing with a great deal of fear that somehow God is, is angry up in the sky and distant. I think one expression this for some people is if you’re listening and you recognize, Yup, I like Jesus, but the father, I don’t really feel very comfortable with a father. That could be a sign. That you have some, you know, your head theology may be split from your heart theology because of fear.
And you know, I’ve also, I’ve talked to lots of daughters, um, and I’ve also talked to moms, well-intentioned moms who talk about their fear. Hmm. You know, that the reason that they’re there, sometimes they come in because they’re so distraught because they, I thought I did everything right and I thought I taught everything and they’re not walking in the way that I wanted them to. And so they, they doubled down on, you know, but this is what the Bible says and this is, you know, where in reality, a lot of times the, the adult children are looking for, um, some understanding of what they’re going through and some, some way of trying to understand this God that, that they’ve, they’ve learned about and the reality of what they’re experiencing. And instead of reacting out of compassion, maybe, and I get that, you know, I, I’ve reacted a lot of times out of fear with my children. We just try to fix it. We try to say, well, these are the rules and this is what it is. And, and so that complicates it and doesn’t give good, you know, good understanding or insight for them.
I think in the area of sexuality when a little kid, I mean it applies to a lot of areas, but let me put it this way. When a little kid is wrestling with questions about themselves or the nature of God, or desire, sexual desire or otherwise, that doesn’t fit into, you know, that does a strict kind of set of right and wrong. God is okay with this. God is not okay with that. It doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for kids to ask those questions, to get something wrong, to make a mistake, and that’s a recipe for disaster, right. I think about situations where a child is growing up in a rigid religious home and there’s the sense that it’s like these things are not okay and if and if they’re secretly struggling with those things or curious about those things, if all they’re hearing from their parents is no to that, no to that, no to that, then where do they go with those questions?
I think a case in point for this, the number of people who walk through our doors who’ve wrestled with same-sex attraction since they were little kids and hurt in their Christian homes and in their Christian churches that God hates homosexuality. God hates in some cases. Unfortunately, God hates those people as though you know, they are out there. That little kid learns to take those feelings and stuff on. I mean, there’s no place for that here, which is so far from the truth of Jesus Christ. So far from the reality of God. If we can’t bring our confusion or questions or feelings are very real, experiences are very real sexual desires to God for help, for him to walk with us, then where are we going to bring them? We’re going to bring him to the world. We’re going to bring him to listen.
Which is really interesting, isn’t it? Because you, you said, you know, a lot of people come here with questions and I don’t, I don’t know that people understand that this is a great place to come with questions. Yeah. You know, like, like I welcome them and I have many clients that go, I know I shouldn’t probably have asked this, but you know, and I’m like, no, that’s a great question. It’s a great question. Let’s talk about that. Let’s pray about that. Let’s explore that. Questions that, um, well, like some of the things in the Old Testament, you know, about how people live and, you know, David was a man after God’s own heart, but look at the way he lived and, you know, like, how do I make sense out of that? Or, you know, um, why is it that, you know, um, the Bible says that you know, you absolutely have to wait until marriage. Like, why, why, what does that, you know, I’ve never, I’ve, no one’s ever explained it to me. They just say, do it. Don’t do it. Right. I don’t know. What other questions do you remember that people come with?
That’s good. I mean, I think even the question of, you know, you know what, why’s homosexual behavior as sin.
Yeah. And why do I feel this? Yeah, that’s great, that’s a big one. Yeah.
Or, or were, you know, am I allowed to ask the court? I mean, honestly, some honest theological questions like, hey, you just need to have faith. Um, what is, I mean, let me be frank. Like what exactly does it mean to have faith? What does that look like and what do I do if I don’t have it? I mean, I think for me there, I used to think if, if I’m supposed to live a life of faith and I don’t feel faith, I don’t trust God, then I somehow have to have to generate faith in him. And so, you know, I’d kind of internally work myself up to, okay, let me get to a place where I really, really, really, really, really early trust him. Okay, I trusted him. Something should happen here, you know, as opposed to like eventually learning, Lord, when I look inside, I don’t have a lot of trust for you in this area. Actually, I don’t find any, will you help me with that? Would you give me some of your faith?
And people don’t know how to do that. So here comes somebody, you know, they’re, they’re really frustrated with themselves. They’re really overwhelmed with how they’re living in ways that they don’t want to. There’s been a lot of pain and disappointment. They have a lot of questions, but they don’t, don’t feel like it’s okay to ask them and they come kind of stumbling in and, um, and, and they don’t know. They don’t know how to trust them and they don’t know how to get to that place where it’s like, I can bring all this to him. And we’ve talked a lot about that. Bringing all these things are unwanted behaviors are the sin that we are tempted by and bring it in. Actually, bring ascot into those places. But, so I think that because these families of origin, like for me, my family was disengaged. Hmm.
It wasn’t rigid. Um, as much as it was just disengaged because they were so caught up in their own dysfunction, um, and they weren’t on their own journey. So, you know, so, so true, right? Every parent, best thing you can do is just be on your own healing journey for your kids’ sake. But you know, my parents were really overwhelmed with issues in their life. And so I felt forgotten. I felt abandoned. Um, at 12. And that’s an age when you’re starting to feel sexual feelings and you’re starting to wonder what the world’s like. And I went from a really small town to a big, you know, metropolitan area where kids were talking about stuff and doing stuff and it seemed exciting. It seemed like maybe an answer. So you know, these there are, um, there are environments that kind of can set us up in some ways.
Yeah, I think, I mean, this is the quote you read is I think a Stringer hasn’t gotten into is some of the more meaty stuff he talks about as far as how and what our fantasies can teach us. But I think like sex is meant as a form of intimacy. It’s a, it’s a, it is relational by God’s design. It’s meant to be this relational sharing between husband and wife. And so when someone has a family that’s disengaged, where they feel like they’re not seen or they’re not heard, or they’re not understood, or it’s not safe enough to bring what’s happening inside, um, they’re, they’re disengaged emotionally. They’re there physically the needs are provided for. But you know, after dinner I go up to my room and I watch TV, then those, those needs to be touched, seen, heard, understood, um, connected that the need to belong, they’re gonna take those needs somewhere else. And sexual temptation is, is right there knocking, you know, like you want to be seen, you want to be heard, you want to be touched, you want to feel like you belong sex, sex, we’ll give it to you. Yeah. Um, or at least for a moment, you know, at least for a season or at least some semblance, some pseudo semblance of it. Yeah. So it makes sense to me that that would be a characteristic of, of families in that case. Yeah. Yeah.
So what does it look like for you? It was just thinking this, what does it look like for our families and our churches to be the safe places? Because another thing I was recalling was, um, a client asking me all kinds of questions, some very deep theological questions. And I was like, have you ever asked your pastor these questions? She was like, no, no, you don’t, could never do that. And so, you know, I’m sure some pastors would be happy to entertain those. Um, and others might not. But you know, so it just, it just, for me it’s like helps makes me want to envision, you know, this idea of, um, how do we, um, create families and churches where it’s safe for people to come with these questions because everyone has them.
Yeah. I mean, I think so one thing comes to mind for me as a dad is, is how important it is when my kids come with a question that makes me uncomfortable or that leads me to fear that, that where they’re going with that question is not going to end well. Um, to remind myself in those moments that the giving them space to ask those questions is a greater value and for the, for the sake of our relationship and that connection is of greater value than giving them a, a trade answer that might cut the, their deeper questions down. You know, we, we know this here that yeah, if somebody comes with an issue that’s kind of scary for them. Yeah. Often it’s just the first and how we respond to that, how we receive that with that one. How would you, or safest or that one, yeah. How we respond to that is going to, it’s going to answer the question whether or not they can bring the harder stuff, the other stuff. And so I think whether it’s a theological question or a question about sexual desire or, or an admission of guilt of something or an admission of something that I did or something I want to do, I think we do, we do well to just kind of recognize everybody’s on their own journey. God has given each person freedom. How can I best walk with this person?
How did you learn to respond to your children in that way? Oh, I’m still learning a kilo. But how did you even begin to, you know, have that revelation? Like that’s helpful to know, right? Like if we, if we’re, if we’re trying to now work with people in some healing about some of the rigid, dysfunctional experiences, what do we say to parents? Like, how do you learn to do that?
One is you have to look at your own past. You really have to dig in there because oftentimes our fears start because we’ve never had anybody walk us through and we never seen that actually walking with someone that, that the power of that relationship is powerful, that did, that actually can be efficacious for the transformation or the formation of a person’s heart and soul in mind thinking. Yeah. Um, which gives hope. I think the other thing it does is it reveals that every single person, including our kids is free, free to say yes, are free to say no and there’s nothing we can say, nothing we can do that we’ll ever remove that freedom from them. So all our best attempts at controlling and manipulating and making sure that what I do and what I say is going to end in the result of this person, whether it’s a congregant, you know, personally in my church or my kid or the person you’ll mentor to, or Mike, you know, people, my team that I coach, whatever, anything I’m trying to do to, to actually secure a certain kind of outcome of I’m overstepped my bounds.
I can’t do that. God doesn’t even do that. God does not control us. Um, freedom means something to him. So swallowing that pill is, you know, I’m still, you know, it’s kind of like, okay, no daily dose of that vitamin. Right. Um, and then the other thing that’s been helpful for me is watching the Times where I’ve gotten fearful and, and seeing how my kids have responded, especially my, as my kids have gotten older, watching them object and pull back. And, um, you know, I mean, I can think of a specific story that I don’t, I don’t have permission to share this point from that with that kid. But where I shared something rooted in fear and I shared with a lot of passion, I didn’t know as fear until later, but um, and the way they responded made it very clear that I was, in essence, shutting a door on future conversations and where I will, I have a lot of, a lot that I want to bring.
Yeah. And so I came back later and apologized and reframed what I was saying. And our children can be great teachers if we let them camp. Yeah. So let me ask you a question. Let me, let’s turn it around so that, you know, instead of thinking about the past or the parent, what about those who are listening, who themselves are struggling with unwanted behaviors and who may be recognizing on some level where I was, my family rigid, wasn’t my family disengaged? So maybe two questions. One is what does it look like to begin to face that or engage that? And then secondly, what can they do now? I mean, you know, this is not the end of Stringers book. This is the very beginning. But what are a couple things we could, we could encourage people with? Well, that reminds me of another thing that he talks about, which is, um, it’s difficult sometimes to be honest about what’s happened, honest about our own stories, honest about what’s happened.
And so another quote by him is when given the choice between honesty and honor, I find that most of my clients are naturally bent to some degree to be dishonest about what they’ve experienced in their families. They favor a type of pseudo honor and a Rosario rosier picture to themselves and others, they may do so out of virtue, but more often than not, they do so because they fear what would happen to them if they disclose the truth about their families or communities. And so I think one of the first things that would be helpful for people listening if they can relate to what we’re saying is to be honest and to, to not confuse that with dishonoring. You know, we often tell people, you know, when you share these things in confidence in this place with me and with God, it’s not going anywhere and we’re not throwing your parents under the bus. We’re, we are giving you a safe place to be honest about what happened. And even honest, even if it’s not about parents, it could be other things that are just hard for them to be. They’ve learned don’t air the dirty laundry. That’s, my mom always said that. So they’ve learned, don’t talk about things that are difficult that happened in the home or that have happened to us, you know? And so teaching that, you know, honesty and bringing things to a safe place to be able to understand them and process them is a good thing.
Yeah. I think what comes to mind as you’re saying that is I think we can, what the rigidity we experience in our homes for the rigidity we experience in our Christian communities can become internalized. And so we start kind of holding ourselves in a certain way. And I know a lot of people experience, you know, I, I’m one person on Sundays or one person in front of this group of people, but then I just get weary and I give up and I, you know, run to this other group and let my hair down or I run into this, you know, my secret place and let my hair down. Um, and do the things I promised I wouldn’t do. I mean that is so many people’s experiences. Part of what you’re describing is learning to open those doors. Be Honest. Let down your guard practice not being rigid in the company of a safe, godly, other people who can hold your story, hold pieces of your story without rigidity, without, um, fear of, you know, getting a lecture or whatever.
Um, and, and recognizing that it’s your story. This is your journey and I’m just here to, to walk with you and help you walk with Jesus. The beauty of that to me is I’ve experienced it and they know so many other people’s experiences. It is as we find people like that. And I, and I do hope that the staff and team at regeneration or people like that, and, and if you’re a pastor apparent listening, as you become a person like that, part of what that does is it really begins to open our eyes to, is Jesus like that? Does Jesus, is Jesus willing to hear my stuff and see me letting you know, letting all this crap out and he still wants to be with? And the, the absolute truth is Jesus is better at that than any therapist or counselor or coach or pastor could ever be.
And I think he exhibited most of all in the cross. I mean, if one of the depictions I like of the cross the most is it, it’s, it is a, it’s hard, I don’t know when the painting was made, but it’s a painting. It’s a difficult painting to look at because the depiction of Jesus looks almost ghoulish. I mean, he’s frighteningly distorted. Hmm. But I think the, the artist’s rendering was to depict this reality that we are, he became for us all the, the curse, all the sin, all the struggle, all the brokenness, all the, the death that we’re carrying around that we’re so afraid people are gonna see and that we’re holding ourselves rigid so that it never pops out when in truth, he himself wants to, wants to bear that form. Any, any has. He was, yeah. Um,
yeah, and I just love that picture of, you know, he came in such that equate, like he didn’t have to come in the way that he did, but he lived his life for 30 years and then for three years he just, what did he do? He engaged with people. He engaged with them in their pain. You know, the woman caught in adultery and the woman at the well and like he just, he, he was, yeah. And so, you know, like, but we don’t, for whatever reason, you know, we don’t often see him as a safe place. And so sometimes to, to discovery him being safe, we, we need a place that kind of allows us to process what we’ve been through, process what we believe that isn’t true. Um, go to some of those hard places and, and, and realize, okay, we can survive, we can, we can be safe even when we’re doing these hard things. And it does allow us to begin to see Jesus and God differently.
Yeah. And that is key. So if you’re listening like what we’re not doing, w let me put it this way, I think that one of the temptations we have in our shame and our rigidity, our fear, we are afraid to let other people see this. And so we may just go to God with these things and hoping that that’s enough. But I think more times than not, what that does is it actually keeps us still compartmentalize and we don’t even recognize the ways that we are still keeping aspects of ourselves from God or where we are continuing to see him in a certain light until there’s an actual other person there who is, who’s able to ask us questions, make observations. Um, yeah. And, and just be, you know, be Jesus with skin on it. That’s an overused phrase maybe, but, but I, I th I hope they get the point.
So anyway, there’s a lot more we can say about that, but I hope as you’re listening, that gives you something to chew on this week. Um, family of origin issues are, are huge. And if you grew up, if you’re still with unwanted sexual behavior, be worth exploring whether rigidity was something that exists in your home or disengagement was a reality in your home. And then as you discover that perhaps it was too to press into it with the help of a spiritual coach or a program that shameless plug, um, soon we’re, we’re having a conference specifically for women in the northern Virginia area, not women who live in Northern Virginia, but in the Northern Virginia area. We’re having a conference for women and, and uh, and I think you’ll find it immensely helpful if you recognize yourself in any of the conversations we’re having today. So, okay. Would you just close and maybe specifically pray for those who are listening, um, and who may recognize themselves in this. Okay.
Lord, I, you know, you haven’t met me all along my journey and you continue to do so as I continue to process some issues of um, my childhood and I, I do just pray for anyone who’s listening who no matter how old they are, if they’re just beginning a journey or they’ve been at it a long time, Lord, I just pray for their, um, that they would sense your invitation to, to bring these, these places of hurt and these questions to you and to maybe to someone else to begin to process. What was it like to have some of this, um, happened in their childhood, in their, in their family of origin and what does it look like to trust you with it because these things do impact the way we behave, choices we make and you want to be there for us. You want to be in that with us. And so Lord, help us to believe that, in Jesus’ name. Amen