HELPING YOUNG PEOPLE THROUGH RELATIONSHIP
Bill Jacobs, LPCC
A good friend and I were talking about the need to make our
congregations good, safe places for our children. He observed
that it is the tendency for many to think about help in a
programmatic way: have a need; fill it by creating a program.
Several interesting thoughts came from that observation.
First, we noticed that Jesus did not start a single program.
He started a movement, but no programs.
Second, we noted that Jesus interacted with people directly
to help them. If people were sick, He healed them. If they were
confused, He told them a story or asked them illuminating
questions. If children appeared before.. Him, He picked them up
and blessed them.
In His thirty-three years of human life, He helped people
primarily through face-to-face interactions.
As we talked we also wondered why so many of us, when we
want to help others, think about programs instead of a one-to-one
approach. Organization and structure are deeply rooted concepts
in our culture. We tend to value efficiency and want to maximize
our efforts. It's easy to think that programs are the way to go.
We also noticed that in His relationships with His
disciples, Jesus suffered all the attendant relational issues.
Some of His disciples wanted to misuse their relationship with
Jesus to gain an advantage over others. One of them stole from
Him and betrayed Him with a kiss. He seemed to be particularly
sensitive to the needs and feelings of women. He talked from the
heart to Mary and Martha.
Mary Magdalene respected Him. Even the woman at the well
seems to have experienced a sense of connection in their brief
conversation. When He left, it hurt, confused, and discouraged
His friends for a time.
Could it be that we prefer programs because we are not
willing to engage in the problems that come along with all
personal relationships? Relationships are complex and often
tricky. They take time. Miscommunication is always a part and can
be hurtful. Relationships always leave us vulnerable. It takes
courage to love others and to express it to them.
And yet, all the evidence points to one inescapable
conclusion: we were created for relationship - with God and each
other. I read a study some time ago in which I learned that the
single greatest indicator of success among undergraduate college
students was a caring relationship with a faculty member. In my
private psychotherapeutic practice, I see that my clients are
healed in the therapeutic relationship. Over the years I've seen
many young people blossom spiritually in the light of a caring
relationship with someone who is older.
PLAYING WITH FIRE
Last Spring my wife, Elaine, and I hosted a German teenager
in our home for a long weekend - an exchange student from
Germany. I met her on one of our Life Resource church visits.
When I learned that her bedroom at home was decorated with Native
American items, I thought she might like to see New Mexico, so I
invited her to visit us.
During her stay she mentioned that she was hoping a boy who
went to her American high school would invite her to the last
dance of the school year. I asked her if she thought it would
happen. She told me she didn't think so, because the boy knew she
would return to Germany soon after the dance. She thought for a
moment and then exclaimed, "What is it with American teenagers?
In Germany we get to do many adult things that teens here can't
do. We can drink beer legally at sixteen. We can also go to clubs
where alcohol is served. But when we think about dating, we
usually go out in groups because it's more fun. Over here,
everyone is paired off. They take it way too seriously, way too
I've been told by many American teens that if a teen dates
lots of different people, they run the risk of being considered
inappropriate. It's considered socially necessary to form a
committed relationship with someone, if one wants to go to social
events with someone of the opposite sex.
Which way is better, the American way or the European way?
As a psychotherapist, I have to believe that the European
approach is much better. Why? What are the reasons?
First of all, the more social encounters a person can have
with people of the opposite sex before marriage, the better the
chances they will encounter someone with whom they are
compatible. In addition, people who have had a broader social
experience with the opposite sex are more likely to recognize
compatibility when they encounter it. When a couple pairs off, it
limits a person's social experience, and consequently, their
chances of finding a suitable mate.
Second, jumping in and out of "committed" relationships
tends to set people up for divorce. They are used to jumping in
and out of relationships, thinking that's how life has to be.
When difficulties arise in marriage, often the easiest and
familiar action, based on this kind of past experience, is
leaving. When breaking off relationships has become a part of
past experience, it tends to feel more natural than working
Third, deep romantic relationships before marriage often
lead to premarital sex. Sex is a powerful experience designed by
God to keep married people close and in love. When people have
sex before marriage, it can supercharge the relationship and
deepen it before people get to know each other sufficiently to
make a wise choice.
Fourth, in the Song of Solomon, the young woman, on her
wedding night, said, "I am my beloved's, and my beloved is mine"
(6:3a). Her statement is one of the most romantic statements in
all of literature. Her longing for her man has finally come to an
end. She is in his arms. She had given herself to him, and he has
given himself to her.
Their love penetrated deep into their hearts that night. If
deep relationships are broken, the break up often becomes
extremely traumatic. Trauma often causes the human heart to close
down its ability to feel not only the pain of separation, but all
feelings. If a person is wounded enough, it becomes increasingly
difficult to feel anything. The young bride in the Song of
Solomon admonishes those who are not yet married not to awaken
love before it's time (2:7). In Proverbs we are told that we
ought to guard the heart, for out of it flow the issues of life
(4:23). Some of those issues are the ability to deeply love our
children and the ability to passionately love our mate. When we
are so depressed or repressed that we have trouble feeling
natural feelings, it can be difficult to be available emotionally
for those who need us. The ability to love has been eroded.
Fifth, I have heard many people say that no sin is any worse
than any other. While it is true that all sins carry the same
death penalty, all sins do not carry the same consequences. We
once knew a girl in one of the congregations we served. She came
from a good family and had a lot going for her, so when we
learned she was pregnant, we were saddened. I recall going to her
home to let her know that all of us in the congregation loved her
and to see if there was anything I could do to help her mend from
the shame she felt. We had been close in the past, but she could
not look me in the eye. She can't to this day. If she had been
caught shoplifting, for example, the shame she felt would not
have been nearly as traumatic. But the shame that comes with
sexual sin is often much deeper, because sex is such a personal,
powerful thing in our lives. It is no wonder that Solomon, when
writing about the dangers of adultery in Proverbs 6:27, asks,
"Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be
burned?" (NASB). Sexual sins can carry much shame and erode
relationships with all we love.
Sixth, if we feel shame before others when we commit sexual
sin, how do we feel before God? One of the most terrible
consequences of sexual sin is the guilt people experience. Guilt
tends to create a wall in our minds between us and God. What is a
relationship with God worth?
Considering these six factors, it seems that when God tells
us to not let love awaken before it's time, He has only the best
in mind for us. But what if we have already made the mistake?
Common sense tells us that if we hit our finger with a hammer, we
will do damage. But we will also eventually heal. We also know
that if we continue to hit ourselves on the same finger
repeatedly, we will eventually do irreparable damage. The same is
true with illicit sex: the more we violate God's law, the more
likely we are to do irreparable damage to the psyche. The
Biblical admonition is to play it safe. Our heart is too
important to take chances, because without our mental health, we
are emotionally and spiritually impaired.
Entered on this Website November 2007
Taken from the October 2007 "Acts" magazine, a publication of the
General Church of God, 7th Day, Meridian, ID, USA