Focus on the Family

Absolute Truth

Learn about absolute truth and what it means in a culture that embraces relativism, including evidence on the reality of God, Jesus and the Bible, and growing in Christian faith and beliefs.

by Lindy Keffer

Whatever happened to the truth?! In our world, the idea of ultimate truth — something that is true at all times in all places and has relevance for our lives — is about as extinct as the dinosaur. In fact, nearly three out of four Americans say there is no such thing as ultimate, or absolute, truth. And the numbers don't look much better among those who claim to follow Jesus.

In a society where ultimate truth is treated like a fairy tale, an outdated idea or even an insult to human intelligence, the motto of the day becomes, "WHATEVER!" Believe whatever you want. Do whatever seems best to you. Live for whatever brings you pleasure, as long as it doesn't hurt anyone. And of course, be tolerant. Don't try to tell anyone that their whatever is wrong.

But where does that leave us? If we have ultimate truth, it gives us both a way to explain the world around us and a basis for making decisions. Without it, we're alone. We're just 6 billion organisms running around, bumping into each other with nothing unifying to work for or believe in. It's every man for himself. And we're without a purpose; if there's no true story of where we came from and why we're here, then there's nothing that really gives our lives meaning. Sounds a little depressing, huh? And maybe frightening.

Has life always been like this? Do we have to carry on this way? No! In fact, in the scope of history, whatever is a pretty new way of viewing the world. If you're interested in finding out how we lost truth, where we can find it again and what we're expected to do with it, read on!

When Truth Wasn't a Bad Word

If you consider that the human race has been around for thousands of years, the last two or three hundred don't seem that long. And it is in that short time that our beliefs have shifted from a certainty in truth to a denial that it even exists.

From before Jesus was born until the late 1700s, people believed in a spiritual or supernatural world that coexisted with the physical world, affecting all aspects of it.1 People who lived during that time also generally believed that the natural world was orderly, that it could be studied and that truth was touchable, based on supernatural rather than natural realities.2

Those people gave spiritual explanations for what went on in their physical lives. They also made moral decisions on the basis of the supernatural; things were believed to be right or wrong based on what God thought. Of course, not everyone believed in the God of Israel, but history shows that every civilization developed a way of thinking that looked for truth in the supernatural world. Societies that didn't recognize the one true God were sometimes closer to finding Him and finding truth than people are today because they were actively seeking these things.

That's what the apostle Paul found when he visited Greece. He walked into a group of scholarly Athenians and said, "Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: To an unknown god. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you" (Acts 17:22-23). Paul went on to talk about the real God, and many Athenians listened. They had not formerly known God, but they knew that there was something supernatural that they were missing. The altar they had built showed that they were looking for truth, so when Paul showed up, they were eager to hear about Jehovah — He was what they had been missing!

Another thing is clear about how ancient people looked for truth — they watched and listened for signs of the supernatural within the natural world. Bottom line: They expected God to reveal himself through words and circumstances. Revelation was their source of ultimate truth.

So, How'd We Get Into This Mess?

Around the mid-1700s, common ideas about truth and the supernatural changed. At first, the new ideas weren't bad. People started focusing on the uniqueness of humans and the human mind.3 And they were right — we are unique and God has made us special. Unfortunately, the good idea took a wrong turn. Instead of praising God for creating our minds, people started treating the human mind as if it were a god.

Scientists made astounding discoveries, and the scope of knowledge seemed limitless. Charles Darwin had given people an excuse for forgetting God with his ideas about evolution and natural selection. People began to think that maybe the world just happened by chance. And Sir Isaac Newton proved that the natural world is a big machine that runs according to a certain set of laws. If we could just discover these laws, then we'd know how to better manage our lives and thus improve the world.4

But there was one huge problem with these ideas — science can discover truth only in the natural realm. In other words, it works only on things that can be tested. Rather than admitting that our ability to discover truth is limited, we decided to say that reality is limited. People began to believe that the physical world is all there is — no supernatural world and no God (or if there is a God, He doesn't have much to do with us).5

Since people no longer believed in the revelation of a supernatural standard, they had to find another basis for moral decisions. Their sources of truth were reason, facts and science, so it's no surprise that those same sources became the standard for moral decisions. Instead of asking, "What would Jesus do?" people asked, "What does reason tell us is best for humanity?"6

What Happened Then?

Everything worked fine until we started coming up with questions and problems that science couldn't answer. It took nearly 200 years, but eventually people started to realize that science and reason hadn't eliminated the problems of poverty, crime and hunger. After a while, we became discouraged with trying to find a better solution and decided that there just isn't a solution.

Science isn't the answer; it isn't the source of truth. And of course, God had been excluded from the picture long ago. So what did that leave us? Nothing. Oh, of course, there are true statements that can be made about what we see around us: "I have three apples," "The law of gravity applies," etc. But once we've excluded both God and reason, there's nothing left to provide ultimate truth — the kind of truth that is true always and everywhere, the kind of truth on which to base our moral decisions. And that leads us to whatever.

Living in a "Whatever" World

If there is no basis for moral decisions, then whatever you choose to do is fine. Of course, most people like to believe that they have some basis for the decisions they make. So we've constructed our own standards:

It doesn't take a lot of "what if" scenarios to realize that there are major problems with all these approaches to decision-making. What if you're asking a question that science can't answer? What if the group changes its opinion? How do you know which one was right?7 And what if following your feelings leads you to an action with consequences you can't handle?8 We've gotten ourselves into this whatever mess, but it's getting harder and harder to live here. So how do we get out?

Recognizing the Need for Truth

The first rung on the ladder out of this "no-truth" hole is realizing that it's reasonable to desire truth. In fact, those who tell you it's useless or narrow-minded to believe in ultimate truth have more explaining to do than they can pull off. When someone says, "There is no such thing as absolute truth," that person is actually making a statement that he or she believes to be absolutely true. Contradictory, isn't it?

And it's even reasonable to search for ultimate truth in God. Those who say there is no God on whom to base our standards have a very hard time dealing with these questions:

These questions don't automatically take us to the truth, but they do give us a place to start looking.

Where Do We Go From Here?

If you got lost hiking in the woods, what would you do to find your way? If you knew anything about outdoor survival, you wouldn't keep wandering around, trying new paths and hoping you'd eventually stumble upon the right one. Instead, you'd turn around and retrace your steps until you found where you went wrong. Then you'd make a better choice and go on from there.

In our search for truth, we are obviously lost. In fact, many of us have given up hope of ever reaching our destination. Those still looking for truth have chosen to keep wandering rather than turn around and fix past mistakes. But making that 180-degree turn and taking a hard look at where we've gone wrong in the past is exactly what we need to do.

We have already discussed the fact that through most of history, people believed in objective truth and the supernatural. And they believed that the two were closely related. When these ideas got lost, it was because society made two distinctly wrong turns. First, people abused human reason and intellect. Second, they threw God out the window. If we are to get back on the right track, we've got to go back and fix these mistakes.

Fixing the "Science and Reason" Mistake

It's important to remember that the use of reason isn't what destroyed belief in truth. The problem was that people misused reason, mistaking it for something much bigger and more powerful than it really is. Many have already discovered this wrong turn, but in trying to fix it, they've made another, equally dangerous, mistake.

Have you ever heard someone say that Christianity is based on ignorant, blind faith? Unfortunately, in some ways, Christians have earned that insult. Many Christians today don't want to be like the people of the 1700s, who relied on reason instead of God as the source of truth, so we've put thinking on the back burner of our faith. But the human intellect is not a bad thing. God created our minds, and He wants us to glorify Him by using them!

Dr. J.P. Moreland, a professor at Biola University, wants to make sure that we get a good grasp on what faith really is. He tells us that faith does not mean making a blind choice to follow something or someone. Instead, faith is acting in line with what you have good reason to believe is true.10 Wait a minute! Good reason? That sounds as though it requires some thinking! It does. And as you dig into Christianity, you'll find that there are lots of good reasons to believe in God, Jesus, the Bible and the truths that are found there.

There is no way to discuss all those reasons in this article (because there are a TON of them!). But many intelligent men and women have already done their homework on the evidence for finding truth in Christianity.

Many Christians think it's enough to have a checklist of easy answers they can rattle off when someone challenges their faith. That might get us out of some sticky situations, but it usually isn't enough to convey the depth and fullness that Christianity can offer to those who are searching for truth. It's important to remember that one reason God is worthy of our worship is that He's big enough to answer all our questions. So we shouldn't get scared and defensive when someone asks us something we can't answer. Instead, we should dig into the questions with our friends, knowing that we're not going to turn up any answers that disprove God. When we glorify Him by using our minds, our faith will grow and become more attractive to others as well.

Fixing the "No God" Mistake

The second wrong turn we've got to find and correct in our search for truth is the decision to throw out God as the source of truth. How was He forgotten in the first place?

You'll remember that when people believed in God as the source of ultimate truth, they depended on the revelation of His will as the basis for what they would believe and how they would act. But the more people relied on — and glorified — reason, the less they relied on revelation, until they had forgotten about it completely. You see, revelation can't be proven. You can't see God or touch Him. You can't hear His revelation audibly, so scientists began to say that it didn't exist.

But think about this statement: "If it can't be proven by science, it's not true." Many will tell you that you can't just assume that God exists — you've got to prove it. The problem is, you can't just assume that God doesn't exist. That's not provable by science either. What do you do with something that can't be proven? Well, you gather all the evidence you can, then you act on the evidence. You act in line with what you have good reason to believe is true. Hmmm ... haven't we heard that before? Yep! That's faith. And scientists, even though they don't like to admit it, have to take some things (the things that can't be proven) on faith.

For instance, scientists have some pretty good ideas about how dinosaurs lived and moved. They base these ideas on the evidence found in fossil records, bone structure, organic deposits, etc. But there comes a point beyond which scientists can't prove anything, because they can't replicate the creatures and experiment on them directly. So they just have to believe what the strongest evidence suggests. There is no difference between that faith and the faith we place in God and the Bible, as long as that faith is founded on the best facts we can find.

There is a huge mound of evidence for Christianity, God, Jesus and the Bible. And based on this evidence, it's reasonable to believe that God reveals truth through revelation. Wow! So now, you've got a whole new category of information. It's a sound, logical choice, even though many people just reason it away.

Where can we find revelation today? And what do we learn from it? The best source of revelation is God's Word — that's right, the Bible! In the Bible, God gives us history lessons as well as guidelines for how to live our lives. What does the Bible have to say about truth? Check this out:

And those are just a few. In fact, the word truth appears more than 200 times in the Bible! In addition, the Bible makes lots of other statements about things that are absolutely true. The most famous ones are the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17) and Jesus' instructions to "love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind" and "love your neighbor as yourself" (Luke 10:27). The Bible holds the truth for all kinds of circumstances, and we can trust it for answers to all kinds of questions.

Are there any truths outside the Scriptures? Yes, many. Truths about gravity, aerodynamics, photosynthesis, modern history and many other subjects are never specifically addressed in the Bible. Yet we use them for explaining life and making decisions every day. It's important to remember that not everything that's true is in the Bible, but everything that's in the Bible is true. So, a good standard for discerning truth that's not specifically addressed in Scripture is to ask, "Does this contradict the principles of the Bible?" You see, what the Bible doesn't talk about specifically, it usually covers generally in some fashion. For example, we can't read about the Internet in the Bible, but we can discover principles for its use. We are to fill our minds with "whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, [and] whatever is admirable" (Philippians 4:8). Now that's a different kind of whatever!

So What?

We said earlier that when we have a standard for ultimate truth, it gives us a way to explain what goes on around us and provides a basis for making decisions. As our source of truth, the Bible does both of these things.

First, the Bible gives us an explanation for the way things work — in the physical world and in the moral realm. The Bible's story of how the world came to be and how humans were given life is called creation: God made the universe, and He made man in His own image. How He did that is another thing we need to take on faith; we weigh the evidence and form our beliefs based on that evidence, because nobody can test and prove all the details. Creation, as a way of explaining the world, answers many of the questions that evolution leaves blank, including the questions of personality, design and purpose mentioned earlier.

In the moral world, the Bible tells us that actions have consequences. Perhaps that's one reason why many people today don't want to consider God's Word as a source of ultimate truth: They don't want to be held responsible for their actions. But no matter how much you fight the idea of consequences, you can't get around the fact that they're a part of reality. In this case, we have yet another good reason to believe that the Bible is true because what God says matches up with what we see around us.

The second thing the Bible provides is a basis for making decisions. In fact, it not only allows us to make decisions, but in some cases it commands us to do so. That's another reason why people are reluctant to admit the truth of the Bible — once you've searched it out and come to the conclusion that it's the truth, you can't pick and choose which parts of it you'll allow to influence you. God doesn't leave room for that. John 14:6 says that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life and that no one can come to God except through Him. For some, this is hard to accept because for generations humankind has wanted to earn salvation or find its own way to God. But again, if we conclude that the Bible is true, we've got to make our decisions based on all of it — not just the parts that we like.

From just the verses about truth that you've already read, you can learn a great deal. Some of the truths are difficult to swallow. For instance, there are serious consequences for sinning and not following the truth (Romans 1:18). In the first place, sin brings consequences in the physical world: Someone who shoplifts will have to face paying fines or being jailed if he is caught. Even if he "gets away with it," there's often the consequence of a guilty conscience. Second, there are consequences in the spiritual world. That's why Romans 6:23 says, "The wages of sin is death." You probably won't die on the spot, but in the eternal perspective, sin always brings death.

Sometimes, truth requires us to do things we don't want to do. For example, Zechariah 8:16 admonishes us to speak the truth to each other and aim for truth as we seek justice. In a world where tolerance is the highest ideal, standing for the truth in public can get you slammed. But as long as you're following Paul's instruction to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), you're doing the right thing. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean you'll always be rewarded. In fact, you'll probably even be ridiculed. Truth is tough, but that doesn't make it any less true.

It's a good thing the truth also brings a lot of encouraging news. First, truth is a weapon (Ephesians 6:14). Paul tells us that it's part of the armor we're to put on as we live simultaneously in the physical and spiritual worlds. Having "the belt of truth buckled around your waist" helps you to hold everything together — it gives you a system for thinking about things and filtering them through your biblical understanding. When you do this, it'll be harder for the enemy to blindside you.

Also, it's reassuring to know that we're not alone in deciphering the truth that God gives us. It's a great idea to ask the Lord to teach us His truth (Psalm 86:11). Two specific resources He gives us for learning His truth are His Word (John 17:17) and His Holy Spirit (John 16:13). These are always available to us, and God wants to teach us through them.

The final two lessons are closely related: truth protects us (Psalm 40:11), and truth brings freedom (Psalm 119:45; John 8:31-32). These are perhaps the most exciting of all, because they help us understand why God is so serious about laying out His truths for us. He doesn't do it to make our lives miserable or keep us from having fun. He made us, and He knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows what will bring us lasting happiness and what will cause us pain. He instructs us so that we will walk in a path toward joy and away from punishment, and He gives us the choice to obey.

"See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you. ... Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life." (Deuteronomy 30:15-16,19-20)

The funny thing is that we often think we know better than God; in that human weakness, we fail. But God is always there, waiting for us to return to Him and His truth.

OK, I Believe It!

Reaching the conclusion that truth is found in the Bible and Christianity and choosing to find life in that truth is not the end of the story. You still have to live in a world that thinks believing in ultimate truth is intolerant. How can you discuss the issue in a way that allows you to keep your beliefs and your friends?

He cared about them and their beliefs. He started with the little bit of truth they already grasped and went on to explain the whole truth to them. If you take the time to ask your friends what they believe, you'll find common ground for talking about truth and you'll earn their respect in the process.

The Whole Truth

Truth is powerful. It brings life. It has been here since the beginning, and it still exists today. Truth is available to all who seek it in the person of Jesus Christ. Even though our society tells us that it's narrow-minded to believe in ultimate truth, there's lots of evidence that says we should run after it with all our hearts. Christ says the truth will set us free. And that promise is true for all time.

All scripture quotations are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

1Gene E. Veith, Postmodern Times: A Christian Guide to Contemporary Thought and Culture (Crossway, 1994), p. 29.
2Veith, p. 31.
3Stanley J. Grenz, A Primer on Postmodernism (Eerdmans, 1996), p.2.
4Grenz, p. 3.
5Veith, p. 33.
6Veith, p. 34.
7Randy Petersen, My Truth, Your Truth, Whose Truth? (Tyndale, 2000), p. 43.
8Petersen, p. 31.
9Petersen, p. 139.
10J.P. Moreland, Love Your God With All Your Mind (NavPress, 1997), p. 25.
11Petersen, p. 148.

Developing Friendships That Last

Teen girls will learn how to make meaningful friendships, characteristics of a true friend, what to look for in a friendship and how to work through common friendship problems.

by Sheryl DeWitt

What is a friend?

"I feel plain, unlikable and lonely," despairs Lisa, a bright teenager from a loving home. "It seems nobody wants to be my friend — or at least my really good friend. What's wrong with me?"

Like Lisa, many of us experience loneliness, some more than others. The truth is that all people, no matter what their age — even the most outgoing, wealthy and popular — experience loneliness at least occasionally. But sporadic feelings along this line are light years away from facing the rejection of peers on a day in, day out basis. That's how Lisa feels. Nearly every day she wakes up to a world where it seems no one her age cares.

Perhaps you can relate to Lisa. You've been there. Or you are there. Or maybe it's just that you're lonely more often than you'd like to be. You'd like to have more friends. Or at least one or two very special friends you can count on.

Let me begin by saying it's healthy and natural to want to be around people who care. After all, from the very beginning of time, God has said that it is not good for man to be alone (see Genesis 2:18). We've all heard the phrase "No man is an island." It's true. We all need others in our lives.

How do I make friends?

Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, offers counsel in Proverbs 18:24 on the subject of friendship. He explains that if we want friends, we must be friendly and reach out to others. But reaching out involves risk. Perhaps you think, What if they don't like me? What if they embarrass me in some way? Because we are often afraid of rejection, many of us are unwilling to reach out to others. We take a safer approach and wait for others to befriend us. But if we want friends, we've got to get beyond this. We must realize it is our responsibility to make friends. So just how do we go about it?

The Bible Says ...

As a girl, I was very shy. I desperately wanted friends but did not know how to get them. My mother told me to reach out to others who were also timid and alone and start talking to them, just as Proverbs says. Reluctantly, I tried it. To my surprise, it worked. I started connecting with others who felt as I did. Because I was willing to take a risk, I went from feeling lonely to having some terrific friends.

If making great friends is your goal as well, consider these actions:

What makes a true friendship?

"People with deep and lasting friendships may be introverts, extroverts, young, old, dull, intelligent, homely, good-looking, but the one characteristic they all have in common is openness." Alan Loy McGinnis

When Val told her best friend, Marie, that she was interested in a guy named Travis, she made Marie promise not to tell anyone. "My lips are sealed," Marie pledged. But as Val entered her homeroom the next day, a guy in the back row shouted, "Hey, Travis, your future wife just walked in the door." After that, the teasing was nonstop. Of course, Val felt hurt and betrayed by someone she had called her "best friend." And rather than apologize when confronted, Marie tried to turn the situation into Val's problem. "What's the matter, can't take a little teasing?" Marie blurted.

All of us have experienced the pain of being stabbed in the back by someone we thought was a friend. Although Val forgave Marie, she also realized something important that day: what she thought was a close friendship had simply been wishful thinking. When Val faced the facts, she knew Marie only talked to her when none of her other friends were around. It was not real friendship. Val overlooked this treatment in the past. But she decided that from here on out she was going to find a true friend. In addition, she promised herself to be a true friend.

A true friend is someone who is ...

What do I look for in friendships?

Friends since third grade, Jill and Laura do almost everything together. They play guitar and go shopping together, run on the same cross-country team and go to the same youth group. Unlike some so-called friendships, when they're together, there's no game-playing. They don't wear masks or try to do or say things to impress each other. They just like being together, hanging out and enjoying each other's company. It's a safe environment.

In the Bible we see this type of friendship between Jonathan and David as well as Ruth and Naomi. And even in Jesus' life: Although He had 12 disciples, His inner circle — His closest friends — were three in number: Peter, James and John. No doubt, they laughed and had fun together while they learned about God and trained for their mission. If even Jesus considers friendship of great value, how much more do the rest of us need close friends?

When it comes to developing friendships, it is important to look for certain traits. Not just any warm body will do. Look for these qualities:

Working through the most common problems in friendships

Problem #1: My old friends are jealous of my new friends.

Many people feel insecure when a new person comes into a group. To help your old friends feel secure and less threatened by a new friend, reassure them that they are still important to you. Tell them that you still value their friendship. Be careful not to exclude either your new friend or your old friends. Assure them all that there is enough love to go around. As you do this, your "older" friends will feel more secure and be less likely to become jealous and more likely to be accepting of your new friends.

Problem #2: Another person "stole" my friend from me and now prefers this new friend to me. I feel very left out.

A true friend cannot be "stolen." If your friend decides to spend some time with a new friend, excluding you, that can be very painful. It's natural to feel left out. But if your friend is a true friend, she will not desert you for another person. Someone who leaves a friendship because she's found another person she likes better is someone you'd be better off without in the long run. People who experience this kind of betrayal feel sorry for themselves and try to control and manipulate the lost friend to come back, only find that they ultimately lose respect in the eyes of their former friend. This type of groveling separates rather than attracts. For most, once the relationship reaches this stage, it is beyond repair. The wiser, more difficult choice is to let your friend go and begin developing other friendships that are lasting. Sometimes you may have to go through this cycle two or three times before you find that genuine and trustworthy friend you are looking for. But if you continue to pursue close friendships, you will find them.

Problem #3: Someone who's been my friend since elementary school is drifting away.

It is not uncommon to feel that a friend is drifting away when you enter into a new stage of your life (like high school or college). When you go to a new school or get involved in a new activity, you are exposed to many new people as well. Maybe your classes are different from your old friend's. Maybe you'll find that your interests are changing. Do not take this drifting away personally. Rather, allow it to be a time for you to assess your plans, goals and interests, looking out for new people whom you'd like to befriend as well.

This doesn't mean you should just call your friendship off. Instead, reach out to your longtime friend — and reach out to new ones as well. Do not back off just because someone seems to be drifting away. Continue to pursue the friendship. However, if after some time goes by, your friend does not respond by reaching back to you, then it is time to concentrate on those other relationships. Remember, it is up to you to have the friendships you desire.

Problem #4: My friend is jealous because we both like the same guy.

Jealousy and envy are always enemies of genuine friendship. If you're in this situation, no doubt you feel torn. It is difficult when one of you connects with a person you are both interested in. If your friend allows that feeling to ruin the relationship by demanding that you stop liking the guy you are interested in or becomes angry and treats you poorly because of it, she is not a true friend. A real friend would have your best interest at heart. Just make sure, if the guy likes you, that you don't flaunt the relationship in your friend's face. Be careful.

If the shoe's on the other foot and the guy takes an interest in your friend, don't allow yourself to become jealous. Instead, support her, pray for her and seek her best as you always have. Yes, you will likely be disappointed, but if you are a true friend then you will be happy for her anyway. And don't let any dating relationship ruin a friendship. There's no reason to have to drop your old friend for a new guy. Continue to make your friend a priority by expressing your care and concern. Keep calling. Keep seeing. Keep the relationship alive. And keep in mind, in most situations young romances do not last ... but your true friendships will — as long as you don't do something foolish that puts a wedge between you.

Problem #5: My friend is getting into some bad stuff (drugs, immoral behavior, wrong crowd, alcohol) and has been avoiding me.

It is critical that you choose your friends wisely. Proverbs 13:20 says, "He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm." We become like our friends whether we want to or not. Our friendships influence who we are and how we act. That is why it is important to choose committed Christians for our closest friends. We can (and should) have non-Christians as friends as well, but our most intimate friends should be in love with the Lord Jesus Christ. These friends should also have the same beliefs, convictions and lifestyle that we have. This way they can understand us and encourage us in the way we should walk. It is easy for a non-Christian to pull a Christian friend down. Not because she necessarily wants to, but because over time the believer will be tempted to excuse wrong behavior, let down her guard and embrace the unbelieving friend's wrongdoings as well.

If your friend doesn't share the same convictions and doesn't have the Holy Spirit to convict and empower her, your Christian walk is in jeopardy if you remain close to her. If your friends are living in a way that doesn't honor God, you shouldn't treat them coldly or cruelly. But it is always better to let go of a friendship than to let that friendship pull you away from the Lord.

Problem #6: My friends and I do not like someone who "tags" along.

Many times someone who tags along does not have many friends. Because as Christians we are told to love others, we must love everyone — even the tagalongs. Though it's tempting, we do not have the option to reject someone simply because she is not "cool" or fun to hang around. We are told to treat all people in a loving and kind way. As you follow the Lord on this, He will honor you for your obedience, making it easier to love someone who is hard to love.

Loving a person doesn't necessarily mean making her a part of your closest circle of friends. What it does mean is that when you have the opportunity, you are to treat her with kindness. The line between the two can seem a bit fuzzy at times, but as you seek God's best, He will direct your paths on what to say and how to act. If your other friends do not like the kindness you're showing to this person, then they may not be the best friends for you to have anyway … or at the very least, they need a "refresher course" from you on what it means to be a loving and caring Christian.

Problem #7: I have a lot of friends but no "best friend."

Most of us think it is critical to have a "best friend." While there's nothing wrong with this, ideally we should shoot for having three or four intimate friends. Not only does it help if one of our friends moves away, but a small group of close, intimate friends can be loads of fun.

Problem #8: My friend is nice to me when we are alone but mean to me when we are around others.

A true friend loves you consistently. If your friend is mean to you when others are around, you need to communicate to her that her actions are hurtful. If she listens and makes an effort to stop, then you indeed have a genuine friend. But if she refuses to stop and continues to treat you differently when you are with others, then she is not a true friend. Although it's hard to do, you'll need to start looking elsewhere for that special and true friend.

When it's all said and done

Everyone has a need for close relationships. God created us as social, emotional beings: We thrive in healthy friendships and find great fulfillment there. Keep in mind that in all healthy relationships we should be asking, "What can I do to benefit and love my friend?" ... not, "What can this person do for me?" Realizing that Jesus had close friends reminds us of God's intentions for relationships — He designed friendship to be caring, loving and intimate. To have these type of friendships, we need to realize it is our responsibility to find and build healthy relationships. To do so, we must reach out to others and treat them the way we would desire to be treated by a friend — looking out for what is in their best interest.

Rather than trying to befriend the most popular people we know, we should target those individuals who are probably as lonely as we are. Think about it — when we do this and the person responds, then neither of us is lonely anymore. Don't forget the power of prayer in finding the right friends. God will direct us as long as we're faithful and obedient to Him.

We need to be willing to slowly share our hearts and allow our friends to do so as well. Everyone is fearful of rejection, but someone has to reach out first. We must be willing to take risks, realizing we really have nothing to lose . . . and a lot to gain. As we seek genuine friends and live the message of King Solomon — if we want friends we must be friendly — we will discover that this biblical principle really works. Just don't give up!

All scripture quotations are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

Girls Snared by Porn and Cybersex

If your daughter has been repeatedly looking at porn, this article may help. Girls who struggle with pornography will find hope and healing as they learn how to get out of a porn addiction and discover what healthy sexuality is.

by Rachel Zoller

Anne stumbled across it when she was taking care of her neighbors' house. The magazine in the trash can fell open to pictures that she still can't forget. From that day on, Anne became more and more curious about sexual photographs, even searching for pornography on the Internet. At first she told herself that she was just curious as to what the big deal was about porn, but her fascination became more intense as her addiction took hold. Anne rationalized that she could stop any time she wanted, but found she never could. Each time she tried to walk away from porn, she was unable to break free. She heard about the addictiveness of pornography at church, but her pastor always said that it was a problem only guys struggled with. Anne felt too embarrassed and ashamed to spill her secret and ask for help.

Kimberlyn was looking for an Internet chat room to spend her Saturday night when she entered a site she'd never visited. She gradually joined the conversation and even had some private messages from a couple of cute-sounding guys. They gave her the attention she craved, and before she knew it, Kimberlyn was involved in a sexual exchange with the guys. She'd heard a lot of the terms in school that these guys were using and tried to imitate some of the conversation she'd overheard from some girls who were bragging to each other about what they were doing with their boyfriends. That cybersex encounter was the start of an addiction that lasted for most of her high school and college years. As much as she tried, Kimberlyn couldn't stop herself from looking for another encounter, and she searched for a more exciting way to respond to this addictive urge, and even entertained thoughts of becoming sexually involved with random men.

Reneé couldn't remember a time she wasn't thinking about something sexual. She'd been sexually abused before she was in preschool, and she never told anyone about it. She grew up curious about anything sexual and constantly felt guilty for her fascination. Reneé felt dirty because of what happened when she was little and saw herself as "damaged goods." This perception led her to seek out porn online when she was home alone. Her visits to sexually graphic sites became more frequent, each incident lasting longer and longer. Even when she couldn't get online to see pictures or read sexual stories, Reneé spent time in her bedroom reliving those sites and masturbating to the images and fantasies in her head. As time passed, her craving for sexually explicit material consumed her and even caused her grades and relationships with family and friends to suffer because she devoted so much energy thinking about how to set up her next opportunity to get online or spend time in her room. When she realized that she was daily looking for time to masturbate, Reneé knew her addiction was out of control.

Seem farfetched?

These stories are not at all uncommon. Pornography and cybersex addictions are becoming more widespread among females. polled their women readers and found that 34 percent admitted to intentionally accessing Internet pornography.1 The New York Times ran an article in 2004, noting even then the increase in viewership of porn among women;2 and, according to Nielsen/NetRatings, "nearly one in three visitors to adult Websites is a woman."3 Although performing an online search tends to bring more links to porn than help for porn addicts, Christian Web sites such as are beginning to pop up in response to this struggle.

Not Just for Guys Anymore

For years, pornography has been considered a "guy problem," but girls who have fallen into porn and cybersex addictions know that this isn't true at all! Although many people, including some inside the church, still think that girls don't struggle with porn, it's becoming more and more evident that this issue is spreading among females.

So why are we seeing more young ladies, even Christians, becoming addicted to porn? Some think that the culture is rewiring women's brains to be more visually stimulated. Although we can't be sure that this is the entire reason for the increase in female addiction to pornography and cybersex, it does cause us to reconsider the influence of the sexually explicit culture we live in today.

Struggling with addictions to cybersex or pornography can leave teen girls feeling lonely, isolated and distressed. Many say that they feel as though they are the only ones facing these difficult issues. Please know that you are not alone! The fact that this article exists is proof that there are quite a few other teens struggling with this addiction.

Whether porn or cybersex addiction is part of your life or the life of someone you care about, it's important to know that this behavior is a problem. Cybersex is not something to do for flirting and fun, and pornography — even sexually explicit anime — is not a healthy expression of sexuality. The Bible is clear in stating that sexual activity outside of marriage is sinful (1 Corinthians 6:13,18; Hebrews 13:4; Ephesians 5:3; 1 Thessalonians 4:3-7; Galatians 5:19). Those who have been caught up in these behaviors confess that their addictions negatively affected their relationships with others, and many say that they had ongoing feelings of worthlessness as a result of this degrading habit.

The Next Step

So you realize you have a problem. What now? First, confess your sin to God — what you've been doing is not unforgivable! He loves you so much and wants you to come to Him and ask for His help. Don't be afraid that He will be angry with you and think instead of the mercy He loves to show His children when they admit their faults. Remember all the great leaders of the Bible messed up — and some of them made pretty big mistakes. Think about King David, whose adulterous involvement with Bathsheba was followed by his decision to arrange for her husband's death rather than to confess his wrongdoing; you can look at his big slip up in 2 Samuel 11 and 12.

If you want to confess to God but are not sure what to say, look at Psalm 51. That's David's lament to God, when he asked for His forgiveness after his sin with Bathsheba. You might also consider writing in your journal to God, if you feel you put your thoughts together better on paper. Just tell Him. He's waiting for you to come to Him and let Him heal this part of your life. We can go to Him with our struggles and trust that He will give us the strength we need to "take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5).

Second, you need to talk to someone. Although it may be tempting to simply tell a friend and ask for her help, it really is necessary to involve an adult in your situation. James 5:16 says, "Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed." Find a Christian woman you trust — your mom, a relative, the youth pastor's wife, a teacher — and ask to speak with her privately. I realize it can be extremely hard to let someone in on your struggle, but you need to break your secret. If you just don't know how to tell her or don't think you can find the courage to actually voice your struggles, try writing it out on paper beforehand and letting her read it. You might even e-mail her this article and ask her to read it and get back with you. Be honest about your problem and ask her to pray with and for you and to help you get the help you need.

Third, you need to get rid of your access to porn and cybersex. If you have a personal computer, put it in the living room so that the screen can be easily seen by anyone passing by. Choose to get on your computer or on the Internet only when there are other people in the room. Don't chat online with someone you haven't met in person. If someone you were involved with keeps trying to IM you, click "ignore" — that person will eventually get the hint. Ask your parents about Internet filters and accountability software (take a look at the options available on our Family Safety Resources page, or consider getting rid of Internet access entirely for a while. Throw away any sexually explicit music or books or videos you might have and stay away from friends who are involved in those kinds of media. And look for a Christian woman who can hold you accountable and whom you can call when you're facing temptation.

And Remember ... Temptation Is Not Sin

As you get help and begin healing, one of the hardest things to remember is that temptation is not sin. Jesus Himself was tempted, and 1 Corinthians 10:13 says that "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man [or woman!]."

The temptation may come around less often as you go through counseling and as God continues to heal your spirit, your mind and your body. But don't confuse temptation with sin. How you react to the temptation is most important. Remember, the rest of the verse in Corinthians promises that "God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up against it."

Erasing the "Hard Drive"

One question teens often ask as they work through their addiction is, "How do I get rid of the images and stories and conversations that seem seared into my memory?" Those who have overcome these addictions say that many of the sexual experiences they had, particularly from their first encounter, are burned forever in their minds. Dr. Mary Anne Layden with the Center for Cognitive Therapy says that pornographic images are "burned into the brain's pathways," and one study recently showed that "the underlying nature of an addiction to pornography is chemically nearly identical to a heroin addiction."4 This can seem overwhelming as you face recovery, but Christian counselor Joann Condie points out that images can become more faint as you consistently choose not to access or dwell on them. She likens the process to a deer path in the woods. You may have already mentally established a well-worn trail to those kinds of thoughts. When you choose to start a new direction, it will be difficult to work your way through the trees and brush. However, as you consistently choose to break in the new path, you'll find the old way becomes harder to find and overgrown by the surrounding woods.5

What about masturbation? Self-stimulation for those with addictions is often intertwined with cybersex and porn, and masturbation is particularly a problem when it is obsessive or is combined with lustful thoughts or images. Because it's difficult to separate masturbation from the lust that it has been paired to throughout your addiction, we encourage you to seek help in overcoming the issues that are behind this behavior.

It Can't Be "Managed"

Perhaps you may think that you can work through this on your own and that you can do it without letting anyone know. However, to overcome this problem and to gain a "lasting victory," it is crucial that you seek Christian counseling from someone who handles intimacy disorders or sexual addictions. If you're not sure how to locate someone in your area who can work with you in this way, you may call Focus on the Family at 800-A-FAMILY (232-6459) and ask for a counseling referral.

You see, the real problem isn't the addiction. Christian counselor Joann Condie, who specializes in treating people with these kinds of struggles, explained in a Focus on the Family broadcast that just stopping the behavior is a kind of "sin management approach." That's not enough. This isn't a problem you can "manage." She explains that it's necessary "to address the thinking that's behind the behavior. Underneath that thinking, there are damaged emotions. If those are ignored and neglected, if the therapist is not addressing that, then only part of the battle is done. And then beneath all of that is a strong spiritual component that has to be addressed, too."6

Getting to the Heart of the Matter

Whether you've just started experimenting or you've been attracted to pornography for some time, you are probably well aware of the negative influence it's had on you. Sadly, the farther down this road you travel, the less you will be able to recognize the truth about yourself and your sexuality and the more you will be enticed by the lies of this world.

Girls — and guys — who engage in this behavior start to believe the lies of pornography and see other people as objects for self-gratification rather than individuals created in God's image with infinite value in His eyes. They dwell on fantasies that separate the physical aspect of sex from its emotional, mental and spiritual components.

With such a dis-integrated approach, the satisfaction a girl longs for is never truly found. The yearnings of the heart remain because — contrary to the message conveyed by most movies, magazines, and Hollywood celebrities — God intended sex to be experienced only within the protection of marriage. If an individual tries to fulfill her desires outside of God's plan, she will always miss out on the blessings God intends for her and will often be bitterly disappointed.

But, you might say, "Pornography and online sexual activities are fun. It's hard to stop because they are so exciting, and the interactions make me feel desirable."

Those feelings may be present during and shortly after your experience, but those emotions are fleeting, and the intimacy you're craving is not found. Instead, you find yourself filled with guilt and shame as you reflect on what you've done, and your self-esteem, as well as your relationship with God, take a huge hit. To make matters worse, you may seek pornography once again to counter the depression you feel. It can quickly spiral into a sense of hopelessness.

I trust that in the previous paragraphs I've given you some practical guidance that will assist you in making changes in your behavior and empower you to seek healing. But, as I mentioned previously, an important key to success is realizing that the issues you are dealing with are about your heart, not about sex. And they need to be brought to God.

He knows about your desires and cares about you like no one else in the entire world. Even now, as you read this article, our Heavenly Father is calling you to leave the lies behind and take hold of His higher purposes for you. He stands ready to reassure you of your worth and walk with you through the struggles that lie ahead. He wants to rescue you from the counterfeit activities you're engaging in so that you can become everything He created you to be.

You likely didn't get to where you are overnight, and it may take some time to get back on track, but as you strengthen your relationship with God and start to see yourself as the same beautiful young woman He sees, know that you CAN overcome the temptations of the past, step by step.

To learn more about what it means to have a healthy, biblical perspective on your sexuality, we suggest you look at Focus on the Family's statement on "The Value of Male and Female." We think that you'll find some interesting thoughts outlined there that will give you a glimpse of God's wonderful blueprint regarding how men and women need to relate to one another.

The apostle Paul teaches us that "whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things" (Philippians 4:8). As you work to replace the deception of pornography with God's truth, you might try meditating on:

Don't Guilt Trip!

We don't mention this to add to the guilt you may be feeling! Remember that Romans 8:1 tells us that "there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus [emphasis added]." Rather, we want to help you understand why it's so important to rebuild your understanding of sexuality. To restate Joann Condie's point, there is a spiritual aspect to your behavior that needs to be addressed. Although you have faced sexual struggles, you can rest assured that God is willing and able to heal your body, mind and spirit. His Word assures us that when we repent from past actions, "[He] is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him" (Daniel 9:9). Working with a Christian counselor can help you to find healing and restoration. And we urge you to seek help from a licensed professional in your area.

In closing, remember that Christ is near and waiting for you to turn to Him for help. Pray as the psalmist did in Psalm 70: "Hasten, O God, to save me; O LORD, come quickly to help me." The Lord says in Jeremiah 29:12-14, "Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you ... and will bring you back from captivity." May you feel God standing with you during this time and know that He will never leave your side.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations in this publication are from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION® NIV Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. All Rights Reserved.

1"Dirty Little Secret,"
2Susan Dominus, "What Women Want to Watch," Aug. 29, 2004.
3Mark O'Keefe, "Women Account for Hefty Portion of Web Porn Viewing," Newhouse News Service,
4Stuart Shepard, "Porn Like Heroin in the Brain," Nov. 19, 2004,
5Joann Condie, RN, MS, LPC, Interview, Oct. 27, 2004.
6"The Seductive Lure of Internet Porn," originally aired May 19-20, 2004.

Healthy Grief

Learn how to deal with the grief that comes from the death of a loved one or from divorce. It includes the stages of grief and provides teens with ideas on how to walk through the process of grief after a loss.

by Glenn Lutjens

Megan never thought she would have to deal with death, at least not at this age. Her older sister Linda was a picture of health and vitality — until her car collided with a semi on the way back to college, and she was killed instantly. Extremely popular and intelligent, Linda seemed almost invincible to 16-year-old Megan.

On the flip side, Tony wasn't surprised when he received word that his dad had died after struggling for five years with lung cancer. He'd seen his dad endure chemotherapy, radiation treatment, hospitals, tests, tests and more tests. In the end, his dad's death seemed almost inevitable.

Whether we're like Megan or Tony, none of us knows exactly how death will touch our lives until it does. We all know that facing death can't be avoided. In a single year, more than 2.4 million people die in the United States.1 We see deaths everywhere. Some of them are staged. In fact, by the time the average child leaves elementary school, he will have witnessed 8,000 murders and 100,000 other acts of violence on TV.2 On the other hand, some of the scenes are real. The horror on the faces of Columbine High School students caught on camera as they fled their school in April 1999 will be etched in our minds for years to come. Those situations may be rare, but they do happen, and they happen to real teens. Another way teens see death in their world is through suicide. More than 33,000 Americans took their own lives in 2006.3 It's likely that you know of someone who has either attempted or committed suicide.

Grieving: A Painful But Necessary Process

Though people are living longer, society hasn't (and will never) come up with a way to eliminate death. And where death exists, sadness tugs at our hearts. You probably wouldn't be reading this right now if you hadn't experienced some type of loss — the death of a loved one or pet, an injury, a dream that seems unattainable now or your parents' divorce. Losses come in all shapes and sizes. You may not be responsible for the loss at all, but it doesn't change the fact that you hurt.

In Matthew 5:4, Jesus said, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted." Mourning doesn't just happen at funerals. It can happen whenever we face a loss no matter what it is. Some people don't mourn because it's too painful. We were initially created for a world without sadness, so we try our best to dodge it whenever possible. But mourning is a process that helps us deal with our sadness. It's healthy, even though it's difficult. If you're a guy, you may be feeling pressure from others to be strong and not let your emotions show. In reality, the hurt is still there whether you face it or not. When you choose to avoid it or bury it inside, it doesn't help. As painful as they may be, emotional wounds need to be exposed to Jesus Christ so He can heal them. He accepts us with our sadness, wants to comfort us and promises He will.

If we hide the pain, we'll pay a price, and if we bury the pain, it will often bury us. We might be consumed with resentment that surfaces when we least expect it. We might avoid others so we don't have to be reminded of our own losses. We might turn to alcohol, drugs or sex as a way to numb our pain. Or we might get angry because it feels safer than sadness. But we can be sure that if we don't face the loss, we won't experience lasting comfort.

There is a better way.

Grieving is invaluable, and it's a skill that can be used throughout your life in many situations. If you understand how to grieve now, you can avoid a lot of unnecessary heartache down the road.

Tasks of Grief

You may have heard someone say that grief has different stages and that we have to walk through each stage to "get past the pain." Talking about stages of grief can be helpful for understanding our reactions, as long as we don't view those stages too rigidly. They don't always follow a specific progression; grieving people don't say, "I'm in stage one now, and I'm just about ready to step into the next stage." Stages can blend. Sometimes you might skip back and forth between them. For that reason it may be more helpful to view them as four "grief tasks" to work through, rather than four consecutive stages:4

Task 1Accept the reality of the loss.

When you first hear about a loss, you may experience shock or denial. You might think, No! This couldn't have happened; it just doesn't make sense! It may take a few weeks for your mind to catch up with reality. Difficulty sleeping, a change in appetite or a strong desire to be with others may show up at this point in your life. In extreme cases, people may experience delusions as they wait for their loved one to return. This was how Queen Victoria responded after the death of Prince Albert. At times she spoke to him in the palace and had his clothes laid out ready to be worn. That may sound bizarre, but people often do similar things in more subtle ways. For instance, you might deny how much the loss hurts, saying, "I can always find another friend," or, "My parents were fighting a lot with each other; the divorce is probably for the best." Though these denials may temporarily deaden the pain, having a clear picture of what you've lost will help you move to the second task.

Task 2Work through to the pain of grief.

When the truth finally hits you, it's not as though you'll wake up from a dream and find everything back to normal. In fact, as time goes on, you'll become aware of how this loss will change your life forever. Not only are you likely to feel the deep sense of hurt, but there may be strong anger toward another person, yourself or even God. These emotions can be intensified on certain dates such as your brother's first birthday after his death, your parent's wedding anniversary after a divorce, or the anniversary of the loss itself. Recognizing and allowing yourself to feel the pain is an honest reaction that can eventually help you to heal.

Task 3Accept your world with the loss.

Once you've faced the despair, with time and God's help, you will increasingly be able to accept the loss and realize that life goes on. You may have had your identity wrapped up in the person or relationship that has been lost. Understanding that you still have an identity apart from what has been lost is necessary to move ahead. Acceptance isn't about trying to block the loss out of your mind. Instead, it's about realizing that the loss will change your world, and that you're still meant to have a whole and healthy life in this new and different world. You'll have the ability to focus on future living once you're able to say goodbye with your heart to the things or people you've lost.

Task 4Have a place for your memories, but move on with life.

In some ways this is a continuation of Task 3. Here you are able to take specific, concrete steps to go on with your life in this new world. Memories and sadness remain, but there's a new strength to move on. In this stage you may be able to look back at how you've grown from the entire ordeal, and you may even reach out to others who are hurting. In Joshua 1:2, God tells Joshua, "Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River." Joshua already knew Moses was dead — that was obvious! But God was giving Joshua the opportunity to move forward with the plans God had for him. If we choose to stay stuck in grief and loss forever, we'll never know how God could have used us.

How Can I Grieve?

OK, so you understand that dealing with your grief and pain is sometimes a long road, and that you may have to walk the same section of it several times before healing starts to happen. But that doesn't sound very encouraging, does it? Fortunately, there are some specific things you can do while you're walking that road. And while no single action is the key to everyone's walk of grief, some of these suggestions may help you.

1. Identify what you've lost.

It sounds easy enough: "My sister was killed," or "My horse died," or "My parents divorced." But try to go deeper than that. Besides the obvious loss, what are you going to have to live without? Are you losing a friend? Are you losing a source of stability? Are you losing an encourager? Sometimes writing down your losses can allow you to come back later and see how the relationship impacted you.

2. Touch your pain.

You can identify all your losses in your brain, but true grieving requires you to use your heart. A funeral service might help you to focus on your hurt, but when it's over, the sadness will still be there. To continue working through your pain, you might write a letter to the person who died. It's obviously not for that person's benefit, but it may help you to review what you appreciated most about him or her. Or you could visit that person's grave site and speak your heart. Often, the closer you were to the person you lost, the more you'll hurt. Making a scrapbook can also help you sift through tangible reminders of the person. You may experience memories that aren't enjoyable, but for healing to happen, the hurts and fears connected with a critical parent or hostile peer should be felt just as much as the positive memories.

3. Tell your story.

Although other people may experience the same loss, your story is unique. Feeling the emotions helps, but conveying them to others can bring even deeper healing. Right after the Columbine High School tragedy in 1999, students and school personnel were encouraged to talk to people about their feelings. Through tears and words, they shared their experiences — not so much to aid the police investigation but to help in their own recovery. Talking to a parent, counselor, minister, youth worker or friend can validate your emotions. Even sharing your experience with a trusted friend or adult in a letter may open the door for loved ones to talk with you about your grief. And once you've told your story, you'll probably need to retell it. You'll find that each time, your heart will heal a bit more.

4. Deal with your regrets.

If only I hadn't gone to basketball practice that day, I could've kept my sister from the accident! If I hadn't been thinking about myself, I could've stayed up with Dad and been with him when he died! Your mind may race with thoughts like these, trying to figure out how you could have kept death or loss from happening. Most of the time, our regrets come out of unreasonable expectations of ourselves. We review the event in our minds and come to the inaccurate conclusion that we could have made a difference. You need to realize that those feelings will be there. Many times people wish that they had died instead of the other person. This survivor's guilt creates a sorrow over having survived when someone else died or was injured.

Besides the "unrealistic" regrets, there may be times when we really have blown it — we may wish we hadn't said what we did or hadn't acted in a certain manner. Talking with a parent or pastor can help you get a handle on the degree to which your regret is realistic. Tell God if there is something you wish you could've changed. If you need to confess something, God is available and ready to forgive you when you come to Him with a repentant heart.5 Read God's comforting words in 1 John 1:9.

5. Don't bury your resentments.

People may not have always treated you in the best way. No one is perfect. At some time, parents, friends, siblings and teachers have all let you down. When a person who has hurt you dies, the feelings you've built up toward him or her can make the grieving process harder. Dealing with your hurt or anger is important so that the feelings can heal and not fester. The alternative is the resentment that develops when anger freezes inside us. Hebrews 12:15 tells us, "See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many."

You hurt yourself and others when you let bitterness grow. You may be afraid of your anger and not know what to do with it. You may use the anger as a shield to keep you from further hurt. But when you bottle up resentment, it spills into other areas of your life — including other relationships — without realizing it. We often let resentment build up because we think it shows a lack of respect to feel anger toward someone who has died. So we leave the other person on a pedestal and try to bury our emotions. But bitterness doesn't help anyone. Sometimes the only way to let go of your anger is to give yourself permission to feel it and then let it out in a healthy way.

6. Take a break.

It takes time to work through loss. You're not likely to do it in a moment. If grief hit us continually, we probably wouldn't have the strength to deal with it. Think of it as waves in the ocean. There are moments of calm between the swells, and some of them are smaller than others. There will be times when it feels as though a wave has just smacked you down. The grief will be intense. But then there will be calm times when you can regain your strength and footing until the next experience of grief moves in. Setting aside specific times to write out your feelings can help you identify your grief. For instance, when your mind wanders from a math assignment, you can tell yourself that you need to be thinking about algebra at the moment and that there will be time to journal later. That way, you don't have to deal with grief all the time, but you can consistently find blocks of time to face it.

7. Look forward.

In some ways, you may never get over the pain. The intense times of grief will get farther and farther apart, but you'll have reoccurring memories that still bring sadness. Although mourning is healthy, at some point you must choose to move ahead. How long should you grieve? That's a tough question, one that has no definite answer. It really depends on your experience and personality.

In Lamentations, Jeremiah does just what the title of his writings says — he laments:

I have been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what prosperity is. So I say, "My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the Lord." I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me." Lamentations 3:17-20

A paraphrased and condensed version might read like this: "Life stinks, and God, you made it that way!"

Boy, does Jeremiah get into his pain! But later on, there is a shift in his attitude: "Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail" (Lamentations 3:21-22).

Jeremiah opened his heart in gut-wrenching fashion, but in this verse he makes a decision to look for the truth beyond his struggle. And it doesn't just float into his head. He makes a choice to see how the nature of God affects his concern. Sometimes we look at it like a multiple-choice test:

a) I face the pain, or ...

b) I look at truth beyond the pain.

But it's not one or the other; we need to do both. Two more verses in the third chapter of Lamentations point to both parts of grieving: "For men are not cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, He will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love" (Lamentations 3:31-32).

After facing the sadness, it may be helpful to write out truths of encouragement to remind us of God's compassion on a weekly or daily basis. No matter what the loss has been, you have a life ahead of you worth living!

Keep in Mind

Along the road of grief, many people fall into potholes because they can't see clearly what's up ahead. Remembering these few things will help you avoid getting stuck on your journey:

No two people grieve the same way.

Grief isn't a cookie-cutter matter; people deal with loss differently. It's important that you decide to grieve, but you don't have to shed a certain number of tears. Parents, teachers, friends and others may have certain ideas about how you should grieve. Tell them that you appreciate their desire to see you work out the sadness, but without criticizing them, let them know how you need to grieve. Talk to them about the steps you're taking to deal with your loss. In most cases, their greatest desire is to see you work through your emotions.

Life doesn't stop for your pain.

Can you imagine how nice would it be if you could take a specific amount of time and grieve without having to worry about anything else in life? What if you could set your alarm clock for two years from now and know that whatever choices you make in that time won't bear any consequences? It's a nice thought, but it's not reality. You still have to get along with your parents and friends, and yes, you even have homework, volleyball practice and maybe a part-time job. Choices you make during your time of grief will affect you either positively or negatively, just like they do when life is "normal" — so choose wisely!

Watch out for unhealthy affection.

When it comes to grief, words sometimes don't help a whole lot. Job's friends sat with him in silence for seven days because they saw how much he hurt (Job 2:13). Sometimes we just need to be close to someone else in silence with a hug or an arm around a shoulder. Ask family or friends for the closeness you need, but set boundaries. You could end up in a sexually compromising situation when all you really needed was someone to show you that he or she cares.

Old losses may still need to be mourned.

"That was a long time ago. It doesn't affect me anymore. How could it? I barely remember it." When you're tempted to make these excuses, remember that it doesn't matter how much time has passed since the loss. You still need to face it. Some people go to their graves with old hurts that they've never touched. Don't make that mistake.

Understanding Death

When we're young, it's hard to imagine death affecting us. Cartoon characters get flattened on the road, but in the next frame they jump up ready for more. Unless we've had someone close to us die, it's easy to think death happens only to older people. Until Christ comes back, though, death is here to stay. Without getting morbid, what does the Bible say about death?

The Bible Says ...

The best way to know how to grieve someone else's death is to make sure you're ready for your own. Have you accepted God's free gift? It's not about being perfect or getting yourself cleaned up for God. It's about knowing that you've blown it like everyone else, asking God to forgive you and asking Him to be your Savior and Lord. There aren't any magic words; you just need to open your heart. If you've never asked Christ into your life, do it now. None of us is guaranteed another day!

If you have any questions about what it means to become a Christian, talk to someone who has already given his or her heart to Jesus, or call Focus on the Family at (800) A-FAMILY (232-6459). We would love to speak with you about this most important decision you'll ever make.

The Bottom Line

No one can make you grieve; you have to decide if you will. The questions included here can help if you don't want to bury your emotions. Think about them with your heart. God can give you the courage to face the pain. Talk with your parents, youth leader or pastor about your grief. If you feel stuck, it may also be helpful to speak with a counselor.

Questions to Think About

Remember, grieving is never an easy process, but God is available to give you His comfort and peace. And in time, you will be able to move forward in His power.

All scripture quotations are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

1National Vital Statistics Reports, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2006.
2Aletha C. Huston et al, Big World, Small Screen: The Role of Television in American Society (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1992), p. 54.
3Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2006.
4J. William Worden PhD, Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy: A Handbook for the Mental Health Practitioner (New York: Springer Publishing Company, 2009).
5Huston, p. 54.

The Hidden Traps of Wicca

Learn about what Wicca is, what its followers believe and what God thinks about Wicca. There is also discussion about why Wicca has become more mainstream and popular in today's culture.

by Catherine Sanders

Before 16-year-old Rebecca lights candles on the small altar in her bedroom each night, she says her prayers: "Hail, fair Moon, ruler of the night, guard me and mine until the light. Hail fair Sun, ruler of the day, make the morn to light my way." On her altar are four porcelain chalices representing the elements — air, water, fire and earth. Each contains rose petals, semi-precious stones, melted candle wax and dried leaves. They rest on the corners of a five-pointed star. A frog symbolizing "spirit" and "life" sits on point five of the pentagram. Here, in front of her altar, Rebecca performs rituals and casts spells.

Rebecca is one of the growing number of teenage girls who practice Wicca. For the past half-century, this religion has been growing by leaps and bounds in Europe and North America. Drive to the mall and you'll see cars with bumper stickers declaring, "The goddess is alive. Magic is afoot!" Flip on the tube or go to the movies and you'll find witches portrayed as young, powerful and glamorous. From "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" to The Craft, something is definitely "afoot" in American culture.

Wicca Goes Mainstream

For many reasons, including the positive attention they're getting in entertainment, paganism, goddess worship and witchcraft have a new crop of devoted followers. The book Teen Witch: Wicca for a New Generation has sold more copies for occult publisher Llewellyn than any other in its 95-year history. Also, the Christian-based Spiritual Counterfeits Project hotline in Berkeley, California, reports receiving more inquiries about Wicca in recent years than any other religion. The callers are nearly all teenage girls.

It's hard to deny that Wicca and other similar practices are exploding in popularity. Possibly you've experimented with these religions yourself. Or maybe you have friends who call themselves Wiccans. Whatever the reason for your curiosity, this article will help you discover the truth about Wicca, what its followers believe, why it's so appealing and how it's at odds with God's Word.

What Is Wicca?

Wicca is a complex religion that is often associated with witchcraft, occultism and neo-paganism. The way these words overlap can get confusing, so let's dive into the dictionary.

Wicca: From the Anglo-Saxon word wicce. It means to bend or shape nature to your service.

Witchcraft: The practice of magic or sorcery by anyone outside the religious mainstream of a society. This term is used in different ways in different times and places.1

Occultism: Belief in practices such as astrology, alchemy, divination and magic that are based on "hidden knowledge" about the universe and its mysterious forces. Occultists try to tap into this unseen knowledge to bring about whatever effects they desire.2

Neo-Paganism: The recent revival of ancient polytheistic European and Middle-Eastern religions. Neo-paganism is a loosely defined system of worshiping nature and the gods of nature.

These terms may seem as clear as mud. Since different people use them to mean different things, it can be hard to keep them straight. What's important to notice are the common themes of worshiping nature and using spiritual forces to get results. Most anyone who calls himself or herself a Wiccan, goddess worshiper or witch practices these things. Another important thing to remember is that Wicca is not the same as Satanism. In fact, most witches don't believe in Satan at all.

In addition, Wiccans live by one central rule called The Rede, which says, "Harm no one, do what you will." In other words, witches are free to do whatever seems right to them as long as they avoid harming others. A closely related rule is the Threefold Law, which instructs that "anything you do will come back to you three times over."

Other Wiccan Beliefs

Bewitched Teens

We've already mentioned "Buffy" and The Craft, and then there are "Sabrina the Teenage Witch," "Charmed" and Practical Magic. Why are movies, television and magazines so obsessed with Wicca and witchcraft? And why are teens, especially girls, so enthusiastic about picking up the trend? Here are a few factors that might help explain this phenomenon:

Unfortunately, though these things may sound good, they're deceptions that lead followers down a path to destruction.

In Over My Head: A Former Wiccan Tells Her Story

Kathy was raised in the church but rejected its teaching in her teens. She lived in Salem, Mass., a place with a history of witchcraft and many practicing Wiccans. "I was always kind of artsy, different and non-conformist," she says, "Wicca attracted my interest because it appealed to those facets of my personality. It was certainly non-conformist, and I liked the mystery surrounding it." So Kathy found a Wiccan high priestess who took her under her wing and taught her how to be a witch. "She told me it was all white magic, and that's all I was interested in."

But after a few years, things turned sour. "The more I learned, the more things started to spiral downward, deeper and deeper into darkness and black magic. I became very good at what I was being taught. My teacher never acknowledged Satan but did say there was something called 'the abyss' that we should avoid."

For Kathy, however, that proved to be difficult. "One hot summer night I was lying awake in my bedroom when all of a sudden the room became very cold. I started to shiver and broke out into a cold sweat, although it was the height of summer. A cold wind blew in through my windows, startling me. Now I was terrified. I hugged my knees to my chest and gasped as a legion of what can only be described as black demons encircled my head, all laughing at me. I started screaming out my Wiccan spells to rebuke them, hoping they would disappear. That only made things worse. The laughter escalated with each spell I tried.

"Then all of a sudden I remembered my days in Sunday school as a child and the teachings of Jesus. I hadn't thought about that in a long time. In a loud voice I called upon Jesus Christ to rid the room of this dark presence. Instantly they were gone, and my bedroom was once again calm and warm. My life was never the same after that."

The next day on the way to school Kathy told herself, You have some serious personal inventory to do. She walked into a church that afternoon and has never looked back. Kathy is a Christian now and warns women who think Wicca is harmless. "A lot of women think that by practicing Wicca, worshiping this so-called goddess, that they are celebrating their womanhood. I am here to tell them there is a lot more to it than that. Lots of them haven't had the experiences I have. But they can and will if they stick with it. It's like the warning on a pack of cigarettes: 'Wicca is dangerous and could be hazardous to your health.'"

What Does God Think About Witchcraft?

Since you're reading this article, you're probably curious about how Wicca measures up to the Bible. Can you be a Christian and dabble in Wicca? What does God have to say about magic and the supernatural world? Keep reading!

The spiritual world is real, and so is Satan.

One thing Wiccans have right is that there is a supernatural world that interacts constantly with the world we see, touch and smell. Unfortunately, they believe it's okay for humans to interact with spirits and spiritual forces any way we choose. To the contrary, the apostle Paul writes that the spiritual realm is potentially dangerous. Therefore, we need to treat it the way God tells us to and be prepared for spiritual battles of good versus evil.

The Bible says:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. (Ephesians 6:12-13)

Many Wiccans say that Wicca is harmless and nature-loving — that it has nothing to do with evil, Satanism and dark forces. But that is exactly what Satan wants them to believe! Intent on deceit, "Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light," says Paul. "It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness." Paul says that if they don't turn toward God and repent, "their end will be what their actions deserve" (2 Corinthians 11:14-15).

We should worship God, not His creation.

Wiccans are also right to care for and appreciate nature. But they go too far when they start worshiping it. Jesus tells His followers in the Gospel of Luke, "Worship the Lord your God and serve Him only" (Luke 4:8). Creation is merely a reflection of His glory and is not to be worshiped.

The Bible says:

For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.… They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator — who is forever praised. Amen. (Romans 1:21-23, 25)

Don't try to contact or control supernatural forces.

Magic and spells depend on what Wiccans call a psychic link. Psychic development can involve training in divination — the attempt to obtain information about the past, present or future by occult means or one's own psychic abilities.8 The Bible is very clear that divination and any other form of supernatural contact (other than prayer, of course!) is forbidden, since it relies on a supernatural power apart from God. In other words, there is no such thing as "white magic."

The Bible says:

Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord, and because of these detestable practices the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you." (Deuteronomy 18:10-12)

Do not practice divination or sorcery. (Leviticus 19:26)

Jesus is the Source of real girl power.

Many Wiccans are critical of the church's view of women. They claim that Christianity does not empower women, whereas Wicca does. While it's true that some Christians have distorted God's Word and not honored women, the Bible says that men and women are equally important in the eyes of God.

The Bible says:

So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. (Genesis 1:27)

Because God places a high value on women as bearers of His image, Christianity honors women in a way that's unique. That's why women were often with Jesus during His ministry. And in John 4 we see Jesus treating a Samaritan woman with utmost respect, even though men weren't supposed to talk to women, and Samaritans were considered outcasts in Jewish society.

We don't need to make up our own rules.

In Wicca, each follower is told to do as she wills. Their only standard is that no one should do harm. In other words, there is no absolute truth. But this presents several problems. First, how can one be sure that no harm is being done? Is there any way to know all the consequences of an action? No! And aren't personal feelings a wishy-washy method of determining right and wrong? After all, Alex Sanders, a well-known Wiccan who died in the 1980s, wrote, "A thing is good for me until I feel it is not right for me." Another witch named Stewart Farrar elaborated, "The witch's own conscience must be the final arbiter."9 What if a witch one day feels that incest or murder is the right thing to do? Is there anything to stop him? Even though most Wiccans would say that these things are wrong, they have no firm basis for saying so.

Christianity, on the other hand, provides a powerful authority for denouncing racism, crime or any other moral wrong: God's holy character and His Word, the Bible.

The Bible says:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

Wiccans do not believe in sin as Christians do. They see sin as an outdated, constraining concept. Therefore, they see no need for God. Wiccan high priestess Starhawk says, "We can now open new eyes and see there is nothing to be saved from, no struggle of life against the universe, no God outside the world, to be feared and obeyed."10 Through spiritual self-improvement, Wiccans hope to reach their equivalent of heaven, called the Summerland or the Land of Eternal Youth.

On the other hand, the Bible tells us that no amount of good work can earn us eternal life. Through Christ alone we are saved.

The Bible says:

"I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." ( Jesus in John 14:6)

It's Your Choice

God has made it clear that Wicca is dangerous and incompatible with Christianity. He made His creation for us to enjoy as a reflection of His character, but not to be worshiped instead of Him. Wicca may seem attractive, magical and different, but it does not give eternal life and a relationship with the God of the universe. If you choose Wicca, you cannot choose God as well, because He will not tolerate worship of anything but Himself. He is perfect and holy. Study God's Word and you will find that a life centered on the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who gave His life for us on the Cross is better than anything we could ever find here on earth.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations in this publication are from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION® NIV Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. All Rights Reserved.

1Robert Ellwood, "Witchcraft," Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2000.
2Robert Ellwood, "Witchcraft," Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2000.
3Sarah Hinlicky, "Witch Path Would You Choose?", 1999.
4Vivienne Crowley, The Principles of Wicca (Thorsons, 1997), pp. 6-7.
5Starhawk, The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess (Harper, 1999), p. 27.
6Sarah Hinlicky, "Witch Path Would You Choose?", 1999.
7Vivienne Crowley, "The Initiation" in Jones and Matthews, Voices from the Circle, p. 82.
8Craig S. Hawkins, Goddess Worship, Witchcraft and Neo-Paganism (Zondervan, 1998), p. 21.
9Catherine Edwards, "Wicca Casts Spell on Teenage Girls," Insight Magazine, October 25, 1999.
10Starhawk, The Spiral Dance, p. 27.

Living in a Stepfamily

Teens with a stepmom or stepdad will learn how to manage the emotions surrounding a new stepfamily and how to adjust to having a stepparent and stepsiblings.

by Ron Deal

Think about it: Jesus was raised by a stepdad. Certainly the circumstances surrounding His birth were — well — extraordinary. Being conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin certainly places His "stepfamily" situation in a category of its own. Yet, when you stop to think about it, the God of the universe allowed His one and only Son to be raised by someone who wasn't His "biological" father.

My point: You are not alone.

As a matter of fact, most of the major characters of the Old Testament were raised in homes with parent and stepparent combinations. Some of these came about when a parent married following the death of his or her first mate, but most occurred when their father married more than one woman. In today's society a person is divorced or widowed between each marriage; back then, the father married multiple wives and had children by each. Still, while the circumstances of your parents' marriage differs somewhat, my guess is that you and the biblical characters of old share some of the same confusing emotions and dilemmas.

Consider, for example, Ishmael, who was born to Abraham's maidservant Hagar. How must he have felt when he mocked his new younger half-brother Isaac (Genesis 21:8-11)? Why would he do such a thing? I wonder if he felt left out now that Isaac, the "promised child," was getting all the attention. I also wonder how it felt to have his stepmother, Sarah, try to cut him off from his father when she declared to Abraham, "Get rid of that slave woman and her son [Ishmael], for that slave woman's son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac" (Genesis 21:10).

How would you have felt?

Or maybe you can relate to Joseph, who eventually became a great leader and saved the Hebrew people from a terrible famine, but whose childhood was anything but idyllic. He was hated by his stepbrothers, who resented his favored-child status. They disdained the way their father treated their mothers compared to Joseph's mother — his favorite. Before his brothers cast Joseph into a well and sold him into slavery, can you imagine how they looked at him at dinnertime or how he felt when they mumbled things about him behind his back? Can you imagine how he felt when all contact with his family was cut off and all he had were memories of his father and mother?

Maybe you can.

Life in a Blender

You see, life in a blended family — it may sometimes feel like life in a blender — can be tough and confusing. But let's not forget that it can be fantastic, rewarding and a blessing too. Talk about a roller coaster — how do you deal with that?

I worked as a counselor with Rachel and her family three years after her father's sudden death. She will never forget what seemed like an ordinary Saturday — ordinary, that is, until a sudden heart attack killed her father. Everything changed. At the age of 16, Rachel's world came to a halt.

A few years later, Rachel came back to counseling. "I don't know why I'm here," she said. "My mom and brother tell me I'm irritable and a pain to live with right now, and I don't know what's wrong with me. I can't figure it out."

It only took us about 10 minutes to get to the bottom of it. Her mother, after a period of grieving, had begun to date again. Rachel felt, among other things, two distinct things: hope and sadness — at the same time. She felt hope because she and her mother had begun to laugh again. The man her mother was dating, Larry, was a healthy Christian man who was enjoyable to be around. Rachel couldn't deny that Larry had made her mother feel good again. It was nice to see her smile. Even more, Rachel felt happy around Larry and found herself laughing again, too. She had gone for so long without being able to enjoy life, and now there was hope again.

But that was the problem.

You see, being with Larry awakened the pain of missing her father. It felt as though moving on with Larry as a family meant burying Dad all over again — and that brought back a profound sense of sadness she didn't know what to do with.

So there she sat in my office wondering how not to be a pain to others, especially those she loved, and how to make sense of her confusing emotions. Maybe you're confused too. In fact, maybe you feel a little creamed by the blender these days. If so, let's talk about the emotions and common dilemmas that come with life in a blender.

Confusing Blender Emotions

Emotions are neither right nor wrong; they just are. However, what we do with our emotions matters a great deal. For example, James, the half-brother of Jesus, admonishes each of us to be "slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires" (James 1:19-20). It's not anger itself that is sinful; it's what we do with it that can become destructive.

Confusing emotions can lead to sinful and hurtful behavior, in part because we aren't sure what to make of them. Understanding what you feel and why you feel it is important to making healthy and wise choices. There are, of course, many emotions you may feel. Let's talk about what I call "The Big Five" for teens in a blender:

Loss and sadness. If you live in a stepfamily, you've experienced many losses. If a parent died, you must wrestle with moving ahead through life without him or her. If your parents divorced, you've lost a unified, connected family. Your identity has been torn in two, and frequently you may feel stuck in the middle, never quite able to fully enjoy either household. And no matter whether death or divorce has occurred, you may have lost confidence that God is watching out for you. "Otherwise," you might ask, "why did He allow this to happen to me?" (That's a good question, but unfortunately we don't have space to answer it here.)

Loss hurts. It makes you realize how fragile life can be and brings a profound sense of sadness. Expressing that sadness isn't always easy, either. Especially when you're trying not to remind others of their sadness or you don't want to make a parent feel guilty for the hurts of the past. If you're not careful, you end up stuffing your sadness deeper and deeper until, of course, it spews up and out in the form of disrespect, disobedience or a lousy attitude.

But there's more, as you already know. The loss of the past is not all there is. Your parent's new marriage brings loss, too. You may have to share your room with a stepsibling, change the way you celebrate Christmas, endure more fights between your biological parents, change schools, make new friends and share a parent with another adult and his children (whom you didn't ask for, thank you very much). No doubt, the new marriage brings a significant amount of loss. And loss makes you sad. Again.

Fear. Anytime we experience loss, it makes us fearful of more loss. John, age 17, knows what this feels like. Two years into his mom's remarriage he could still say, "I'm afraid of getting close to anyone. I'm not very trusting. With all I've had to live through, I keep waiting for it to happen all over again; the constant blaming and getting stuck in the middle. And I won't let it happen again."

And then there was 14-year-old Randy, their younger brother: "I try to get closer sometimes, but then the fear happens, and I hide out from doing things with Frank [his stepdad] and keep farther apart from him than I should. ... I want to get close, but not too close, for fear of something that might happen in the future."

The bottom line: Fear can prevent you from trusting again or allowing someone new, like a stepparent, into your heart. The only thing that seems to make sense when fear gets hold of you is to shut people out and withhold yourself from them. John did that by developing a tough exterior; his brother Randy pulled back and didn't let himself get close to his stepdad. Perhaps he did so by criticizing his stepdad or spending extra time with his real dad. Either way, he was paralyzed by fear. But perhaps what's worse is the way Susan tried to handle her fear: She denied it. She convinced herself that she wasn't afraid. Therefore, she had no idea that fear led her to be angry and uncooperative with her stepfather and mother. She didn't know how fear and sadness combined to push her toward a group of friends who did not share her Christian values.

Whatever you do, don't deny your fear. Face it. Talk to God about it and a close friend or counselor. Fear doesn't lead to righteousness. Take it to God and strive instead for trust. We'll talk more about this later.

Guilt. "But I didn't cause the divorce (or death). What do I have to feel guilty about?" Good question. Yet many teens I talk with say the very opposite. They do feel guilt — and lots of it.

For some it has to do with the past. The magical thinking of younger children sometimes leads them to make hasty conclusions about why something tragic has happened. Tracy believed she caused her parents' divorce because she has ADHD. As an 8-year-old, she overheard them arguing just days before her father walked out about whether to medicate her, so she assumed that she caused the divorce. Of course, that wasn't the case. Her parents' inability to resolve conflict was part of the problem leading to their divorce. Now, at the age of 14, Tracy still struggles with a lingering sense of guilt about her parents' divorce. Whenever they argue, she feels a tinge of guilt that won't go away. Her father has since remarried, and Tracy has worked hard at not accepting her stepmother. Why? Because she hopes she can make up for causing the divorce by splitting up her dad and stepmom so that her biological parents can remarry. Pretty far-fetched, huh? Not to Tracy.

Juan's guilt stems from the present. He frequently feels as though he has to choose between his mom and dad. Every time his dad invites him over on his mom's visitation weekend, he finds himself in a tug-of-war, not wanting to make any choice because it would mean someone must "lose." His parents have no idea how much he struggles with guilt over hurting one parent in favor of the other. It's even gotten to the point that Juan feels guilty if he enjoys his time at a given household because he fears the other parent will find out and feel excluded. Acting depressed and grumpy seems to be the best alternative. That way, neither parent mistakenly believes he or she isn't his favorite.

The bottom line: What Juan and Tracy both need to remember is that they really don't have the power to fix their parents or their parents' marriage. Tracy didn't cause the divorce, and she doesn't need to take responsibility to reconcile her parents now. And Juan isn't in charge of making his parents feel good about themselves. That's their job — to be responsible for themselves.

Give yourself permission to value, even love, the members of both households and release the burden of taking care of the adults in your life. Just be the person God has asked you to be, and you'll find you can release unnecessary guilt.

Confusion. Have you ever felt happy and sad about your stepfamily, all at the same time? Perhaps you feel hopeful about a new family future and the good things that your stepfamily brings to your life, but you also regret that you couldn't share it with both your parents (and siblings) as a unified family. If so, you're not alone.

Michael was a precocious 5-year-old. Blurting out the following to his stepmother wasn't out of character, but the truthfulness of his confusion did catch her off guard: "Can I love you when I'm here at Dad's house ... and hate you when I'm at my mom's house?" No, he wasn't being manipulative. He was expressing his confusion. At the ripe old age of 5, he had figured out that in order to take care of his mom, he needed to "hate" his stepmother. However, he really enjoyed her and wanted a loving relationship. He just couldn't figure out how to love her and hate her all at the same time.

The bottom line: There are good things about your new family and bad things that, if it were up to you, you would change in a heartbeat. The first trick to working through confusing emotions is to give yourself permission to feel all of them at the same time. Being drawn toward a stepparent is real, but so is the fear that you'll hurt your biological parent if he sees you hugging your stepparent. You can't escape either emotion. Acknowledge these feelings and then make the choice to live with the situation and make the best of it. Accepting the reality of your situation doesn't mean you approve of it or like it. You're just finding a way to cope with it. And with God's help, you can.

Coping With the Big Five

There are, of course, many other emotions that you might experience in your stepfamily, but those are some of the biggies. So what do you do about them? Whatever you do, don't bury them. As I said earlier, these emotions will seep out one way or another; if you bury them they tend to find a way out through negative behavior. Instead, find a trusted friend, youth minister or counselor to process them with. You might talk with a parent about them, but that can be weird, especially when you're talking about feeling stuck between your parents. Everyone just ends up feeling helpless, and you might feel more guilty that you made your parent feel bad for you. See how complicated this gets? Find someone neutral, preferably an adult who can just listen and help you make sense of this stuff.

Finally, ask God for the wisdom to handle your emotions better. If you are a child of God, then no matter how chaotic things are around you, God promises to offer wisdom as you mature through trials (see James 1:2-5). Attempt to respond to your situation with the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). You'll find yourself feeling better about what you contribute to your home.

Common Blender Dilemmas

Now that we've addressed how you feel, let's talk about what you do when you find yourself in a dilemma. Teens in stepfamilies often experience a number of them. Let's briefly address a few so you feel empowered to cope.

Accepting your stepparent. Most of the time when someone asks me, "Why should I accept my stepparent?" what she's really asking is, "How can I love my stepparent when I don't want to? I've already got two parents." Well, here's the secret: You don't have to have loving feelings toward your stepparent, but you do have to love him. Just find a way to get along. You know, common courtesy. You already do that in many aspects of life, right? You find a way to get along with your coaches, band director and that little old lady who chaperones your youth retreats, don't you? Well, at a minimum, take the same approach with your stepparent. No one is asking you to replace your dad with your stepdad; just look at him as another adult who is worthy of the same respect any adult is worthy to receive. That's where you start. Some teens will grow beyond that to have a deep regard for their stepparent. If that's you, great. But don't feel pressured to.

"But, Ron, accepting my stepparent means my parents will never get back together again." That's your sadness talking. Remember, you don't have the power to reconcile their marriage (as if hating your stepparent could make everything okay). Find your way to acceptance and you'll find that you don't feel as much confusion, sadness or anger. Doesn't that sound nice?

Accepting authority from your stepparent. Derrick made life difficult for his stepmother. It was his way of letting her know that his loyalties lay with his mom. The only problem was that Derrick had to be a pain in the neck all the time, and he got tired of being everyone's enemy. Rejecting a stepparent certainly has its downside.

"But my stepparent isn't my parent." You're right. Your stepparent is not your parent. But neither is your track coach, your algebra teacher or your youth leader's wife, yet you respect them enough to grant them some authority in your life. Apply this same standard to your stepparent and you'll find it doesn't have to be a competition of loyalty. Think of your stepparent as just another authority in your life; don't make it any harder than that. When you respect his or her position as an "adult leader," everyone will get along a little easier.

Finding truth when parental values conflict. Every home has different rules for bedtime and chores. But when one home believes strongly in a Christian worldview and the other doesn't, life can get very complicated. So you have to find your own convictions even when they aren't popular with one parent. Susan's mom attended church occasionally and could tell you the right answers to most religious questions. But when she suggested that Susan lie to her teacher in order to escape punishment for a late assignment, Susan politely disagreed. "Mom, I just don't think that's the right thing to do. I appreciate your input, but I'm going to tell the truth, even if it means getting in trouble." Wow! What courage that took. Susan's mother called her a "Goody Two-shoes" and sent her to school. Susan's Christ-centered convictions came at a price; yours might, too. Just remember that the God who sees in private will reward you (Matthew 6:4).

Understanding your parent's commitment to his or her new spouse. "How can my mom love him more than us? Shouldn't we come first?" Natasha's question revealed her sadness on many levels. Her father had died six years before her mom's remarriage. She, her two brothers and her mom survived that great loss together, but now Mom was deeply in love with Randy, and it felt again like Natasha was losing a parent. That familiar feeling of loss often makes children and teens battle for their parent's loyalty. But you don't have to. Marriage does mean having to share your parent, but it doesn't mean losing him or her altogether.

God's wisdom for families is that husbands and wives put a priority on their relationship so they can lead the family from a position of unity. After you were the focus of attention in a single-parent home for a few years, having your parent move his or her new spouse into a place of priority undoubtedly feels like another loss — and, in a sense, it is. But let me invite you to trust in God's design. When your parent and stepparent bond, your family will experience stability. The result is a positive, loving environment for you and your siblings that actually allows you to have more of your parent, not less. In the beginning, their marriage may make you uneasy; trust that with time it will make you feel stability and love.

Finding God in the Blender's Swirl

Although 17-year-old Ashleigh had an extremely critical stepfather, she still found a way to find God in the blender's swirl. "I'm just not going to let my stepfather beat me down," she said. "He is difficult to deal with, for sure. But I know God is still with me, and I've got to be the person God has called me to be no matter what." Ashleigh reminds me a lot of Joseph of the Old Testament.

Can you imagine what he felt sitting in that cage after being sold into slavery by his stepbrothers? Lonely, afraid and lost, I would assume. And yet, Joseph continued to do what was right in the sight of God. He knew God was with him throughout his trials, and eventually God used him in a mighty way.

The multitude of transitions and losses in your life may, at times, make you feel lost and alone. Remember that God is with you each step and will be faithful through circumstances and will provide people to hold you up when you need it. Your family may not be exactly what you want, but with God's help you still have the power to make it great.

Loving Out of Choice

After being sold into slavery, falsely accused of sexual misconduct, thrown into jail and forgotten, Joseph was eventually elevated to the second highest leader in Egypt. And when his brothers — the very ones who had rejected him out of jealousy and sabotaged his life — came to Egypt for help, Joseph showed them mercy and love. He could have made a list of his losses and taken revenge for each one of them, but instead he chose love (see Genesis 45:3-7).

Stepfamilies have taught me many things through the years. One of the most powerful is that we can choose love even when we didn't ask for our circumstances. Joseph found a way, and you can too.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations in this publication are from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION® NIV Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. All Rights Reserved.

Making Wise Entertainment Choices

Today's entertainment is far reaching and has slowly desensitized us to sex and violence. Learn how to make wise decisions about the movies, music and shows you take in!

by Bob Waliszewski, Bob Smithouser

Friday night at the movies. Cable-ready cartoons. Jamming to your car stereo. Hours and hours on social networking sites. Concerts. Multiplayer online video games. Movie-marathon sleepovers.

Have you ever noticed how much time (and money) you and your friends spend on entertainment? If you're like most of us, it's a LOT. And there are plenty of reasons for that. Entertainment helps us to relax. It provides a sense of adventure. It gives us new things to think and talk about. It can even offer us a sense of identity when we enjoy the same kinds of entertainment as our friends. Plus, entertainment is built into our culture. Often, it's there in the background even if we don't choose for it to be.

Have you ever wondered exactly how much time we devote to TV, music, movies, video games and surfing online? Check out these facts:

The amount of brain-space occupied by entertainment shows that it's quite a priority in our lives. Even for Christians. In fact, a larger percentage of Christian teenagers (42%) watch MTV than non-Christian teens (33%).5 On the same note, Alan Weed, president of the Christian music organization Interlinc says, "Christian kids listen to four hours of music a day — most of it mainstream, not Christian. That means a serious kid who goes to two services a week, has a personal quiet time and invests time with a mentor still spends more time getting messages from the secular world than he does with spiritual things."

Hmm ... If we're spending this much time listening to music and watching TV and movies, perhaps we'd better take a look at what we're putting in our heads.

The Downward Spiral

Entertainment has undergone a major revolution in the last century. Until about 100 years ago, entertainment meant the opera, the ballet, the theater and the symphony. In just the 40 years from 1899 to 1939, film, radio and television all arrived in our world with a bang. So rather than taking a live performance on tour, entertainers had three dazzling options for recording and distributing their message to an ever-growing audience. Thankfully, the early years of the new media produced art that was relatively harmless. Families could hang out together around their radio or TV, and going to the movies was a big event.

Fast forward to today. The entertainment media is preoccupied with sex, violence and profanity. All of this would have been unthinkable in the minds of entertainment pioneers. Even if computer-generated graphics, interactive video games and iPod technology had been available back then, the public would not have embraced music that glamorizes rape, murder and drugs, or much of what shows at the local movie theater.

So how did this revolution occur? How did entertainment get so obsessed with sex and violence? Desensitization. Society didn't go to bed one night with one set of values and wake up the next morning with an entirely different set. It's been a gradual process of getting more and more comfortable with lower and lower standards.

For example when The Rolling Stones performed on "The Ed Sullivan Show" in 1967, they were asked to change the lyrics of their hit "Let's Spend the Night Together" to a much tamer "Let's Spend Some Time Together." While they resented the change, they performed it as Mr. Sullivan requested. Why? Because back then, society viewed songs about casual sex as — dare we say it? — wrong. Unfortunately, that's no longer the case. Casual sex is not just accepted; it's expected. And through entertainment, it's even become a "spectator sport."

Take a look at these song titles and see for yourself the moral erosion in pop music's romantic relationships:

Clearly, popular music has been sliding into the sewer for a long time. And it is no different for film or television — all three seem to be preoccupied with eroticism. If only we could return to the innocent days when it was a thrill just to hold someone's hand.

The Power of the Media

Okay, so it's clear that entertainment's messages have changed a lot since TV, radio and movies first appeared. But why does it matter that entertainment is slipping morally? Consider this: Have you ever gotten a tune stuck in your head? All you need to hear are a few bars and it starts involuntarily buzzing around in there. For hours. It could be a commercial jingle or a Top-40 hit. Maybe you heard it in a shopping mall or a restaurant. And it's not just the melody that sticks — the lyrics stay with you, too.

Then there's the visual media. Most of us can recall disturbing images we wish we could erase from our minds. Things we've seen in movies, in magazines, on TV. The point is that music and images tend to travel with us. Good or bad, they rarely go in one ear and out the other.

All in the Mind

It's hard to deny that music and visual images have tremendous sticking power. But do those lingering sensations really make a difference? The advertising industry believes they do. Why else would intelligent people who run large corporations plunk down $3 million for a mere 30-second commercial during the Super Bowl? They bank their business on your likeliness to remember their message and respond to it in a way that benefits them.

Of course, the cause-and-effect process is not as simple as monkey see, monkey do. Rather, the media first affects our moods, attitudes and emotions. After a while, our actions can follow suit. A while back, we spoke with Dr. Richard G. Pellegrino — a doctor of neurology and neuroscience — about the effect that music has on our emotions. He's been working with the brain for 25 years, and Dr. Pellegrino says that nothing he does can affect a person's state of mind the way one simple song can.

Pellegrino has worked with opium overdose victims in a New York City emergency room. As overdosing patients struggled for breath, ER staff would work feverishly to prepare injections of Naloxone, a drug that disrupts the opium high. So what does this have to do with music? Plenty. According to Pellegrino, listening to music generates chemicals called endorphins in our brains — these natural opioids produce a high chemically similar to a drug high. Experiments have shown that if you give Naloxone to a group of people and ask them to listen to their favorite music, it suddenly becomes an intellectual exercise — the intensity of the emotions seems to diminish.

This makes sense. We've all experienced the emotions that accompany music. That's why we listen. The promise of emotional impact explains why you're more likely to hear a pounding guitar anthem than elevator music at a sporting event — the people in the sound booth want to create a mood, and they know that music is a powerful way to do it.

But getting this effect while dumping verbal garbage into your brain is much like getting high on opium — it may feel so great that you don't want to quit, but ultimately, you're doing great damage to yourself. As Dr. Pellegrino told us, "You can pour messages in and if you pour the wrong messages in, they take on a particular power — more than the listener understands."

When Life Imitates Art

With the clear influence of the media on our moods and emotions, it follows that there must be some carry-over to our choices and actions. In fact, most Americans believe a link exists between media and actual behavior. That's why ...

And get this. Major medical associations have linked the violence in television, music, video games and movies to increasing violence among young people. "Its effects are measurable and long-lasting. Moreover, prolonged viewing of media violence can lead to emotional desensitization toward violence in real life," explained the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry in July 2000. "The conclusion of the public health community, based on over 30 years of research, is that viewing entertainment violence can lead to increases in aggressive attitudes, values and behaviors in children."8

Maybe the health community's diagnosis will prompt producers of damaging entertainment to clean up their act. But until then, we need to be very careful about what we allow ourselves to watch and listen to.

Here's an example of one teen whose unwise media choices yielded tragic results: Devin Moore, an 18-year-old fan of the Grand Theft Auto video games, got picked up by police on suspicion of stealing a car. He had no criminal history and cooperated with authorities. But once inside the Alabama police station, he snapped. He grabbed an officer's .40 caliber Glock automatic and — with great precision — killed three men, all with shots in the head. Then he stole a squad car. Experts are convinced that Moore, in a stressful moment, was acting on what he had rehearsed for hours and hours while playing Grand Theft Auto. In fact, when they caught up with him, he said, "Life is a video game. Everybody's got to die sometime." In 2005, Moore was sentenced to death by lethal injection.9

This is just one tragic story pulled from contemporary headlines. We could list dozens more. Are they extreme examples of how lyrics can impact attitudes and behavior? You bet. But such tragedies prove that "harmless entertainment" can be anything but harmless. And while most of us will never take action on the harmful messages we ingest, we can be sure that those messages are affecting our attitudes and emotions.

What Does This Mean for Me?

It all comes down to the battle we fight in every area of our lives — the battle to make Jesus Christ our No. 1 priority. God knew that this would be a struggle for us. Perhaps that's why the first of His Ten Commandments was, "You shall have no other gods before Me" (Exodus 20:3). Any time we place something or someone in front of God on our priority list, we're breaking the first commandment and stepping outside of God's best for us.

Why is it so hard to keep God in first place? Think about this: Before we accept Christ as our Savior, we're controlled by our flesh — our sinful nature and selfish desires. Once we make Jesus our Lord, the Bible tells us that we're new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17), we're under the control of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:24-25), and we don't have to be slaves to sin anymore (Romans 6:6,14). Still, the flesh raises its ugly head and fights to be in control of our lives.

In other words, we have a huge war going on inside us between the flesh and the Spirit. Every decision we make shifts the balance of power to one side or the other. Because entertainment has a major impact on our lives, it's important that our media decisions help the Spirit to win and keep God our first priority.

Maybe you wonder how to get started making wise entertainment choices (that's also called being discerning about the media). We admit it's not always easy. But there are some tried and true tactics for winning this war. Here are four of the best we've found.

Get Into the Word

Entertainment choices would be much simpler if God had put verses in the Bible that said, "You shall not watch slasher films," or "You shall not listen to songs about premarital sex." Unfortunately, it isn't that easy. The good news is, God has given us timeless principles that help answer our questions about entertainment. Digging into the Bible and applying what we find there is a sure way to begin winning the battle between the flesh and the Spirit.

The Bible says, "See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of the world rather than on Christ" (Colossians 2:8). This verse underscores a great discernment principle. That's because every movie, TV show and song contains someone's philosophy. Not all entertainment is "hollow and deceptive," but much of it is, and it can take us captive! Studying the Bible helps us learn to distinguish which messages are based on Christ and which are based on the "basic principles of the world." Once we learn that, we can make choices to avoid being taken captive.

If you're interested in reading more of God's truths that apply to entertainment, check out the passages below. There are enough Scriptures here for at least a week or two of devotional reading. As you study them, ask yourself, "What is the main point of this passage?" "How might it apply to today's entertainment?" and "What can I do to live it out in my media choices?" You might even want to write down your thoughts in a journal so you can be reminded of them later.

The War Within Us

Avoiding Indecent Exposure

Preparing a Defense

The Value of Wisdom

You Can't Lose Your Footing When You're on Your Knees

The second vital battle tactic for discernment is prayer. Honoring God with our entertainment choices is a tough fight, and we can pray for power and help in several different areas of the battle. God promises that whenever we pray in agreement with His will, He will come to our rescue and provide for our needs (John 14:13-14).

Walk With the Wise

The third battle tactic for discernment is to surround yourself with other soldiers. You wouldn't battle an army all by yourself. Neither should you face all the loud, crazy, competing messages of entertainment on your own.

One of the best ways to make wise entertainment choices is to hang out with friends who have the same Christ-honoring standards you do. Then you won't be tempted to compromise because "everyone else" is buying a certain CD or going to a certain movie. And it's so important to have a few trusted adults you can talk with when you have questions. For example, if you're trying to decide whether to watch a particular TV show, you and your parents could watch it together for the first time, discuss it and decide together whether you should watch it again. Or maybe you could ask your youth pastor about the confusing lyrics from the latest Top-40 radio hit and how they compare to God's standards. You might also check out our Web site — — for biblically based reviews of what's hot in entertainment.

Know the Difference Between Reality and Truth

The final tactic is a strategy of the mind: recognizing that truth and reality are not the same thing. And knowing why that difference is important. We get lots of letters from teens who have been misled in this area. Here are just a few of them:

"Music and spiritual beliefs are two different things. Sex, drugs, alcohol — those things are all found in more places than in music. It is reality." — Sarah

"In case you haven't noticed, there's a real world out there. A little profanity and alcohol won't send you to hell in a handbasket." — Matt

"[Dark] music speaks to me. You should realize that the world is not fun and full of life, [but] that the world is full of hate, love, suicide and murder — and we as Christians cannot deny it. You need to look at music with an open mind and understand that not only I, but millions of depressed teens and kids, turn to music that understands them." — Tricia

When our reviews say that the messages of certain songs, TV shows and movies are not helpful to Christians, many readers protest that the artists are just "keepin' it real." There are two problems with this approach.

First, what entertainment presents as "reality" is not always as real as it looks. For example, the fact that some CW drama regularly involves sex, fighting and disrespect doesn't mean your high school is filled with kids who have sex, fight in the hallways and hate their teachers. If the cast of "Gossip Girl" were required to live in the real world for even a day, you can bet they'd be grounded for life. From an overemphasis on physical attractiveness to a lack of consequences for poor choices, TV creates a world with its own rules. Second, when TV does try to "get real" it tends to dwell on the seamy side of life. That's why we should search for truth instead.

What's the difference between "reality" and "truth"? Think about it for a minute. Reality reflects the varying conditions and circumstances that characterize our world. What is portrayed as "good" or "evil" can change based on the whims and desires of men. Truth, on the other hand, is objective, eternal and absolute. For the Christian, it is grounded in the Word of God.

If we want to base our lives on something with lasting meaning, we need to focus on truth more than on reality. Why? Truth can set us free (John 8:31-32), sanctify us (John 17:17-19) and purify us (1 Peter 1:22). Reality cannot. Truth gives us an explanation for the world around us and a reliable set of standards for living. Best of all, the truth about Jesus Christ can bring hope and healing to even the most wounded among us — Jesus, more than anyone, identifies with our suffering (Isaiah 53:4-5), and He is available to anyone who will call on Him. If you want to learn more about truth, a study of Romans 12:2; John 10:10; 3 John 4; 2 Timothy 3:1-9 and 4:3-4 is a great place to begin.

Set a Media Standard

After you've spent some time learning and praying about what God says about entertainment, it's a good idea to write down your own biblically based media standard. This personal constitution will remind you of your decision to make choices that honor God and support your growing faith.

While there is no one standard that will fit every Christian, you should incorporate the principles you've learned from the Bible and set protective boundaries in areas where you're prone to temptation. In other words, take everything you've learned and put it together in a declaration of what you will and will not choose for entertainment.

Having trouble getting started? It may help to remember the WWJD? bracelets from a few years ago. The fad may fade, but the idea behind it will never die. Asking "What would Jesus watch and listen to?" is always a great place to start in setting your media standards. Once you've got your constitution, stick to it. Put it someplace where it will remind you often of your commitment to honor God through your entertainment choices.

This Isn't Going to Be Easy

What if you've prayed about your constitution and you're convinced that God wants you to raise your standards? What will you do with all the CDs, movies and video games you already own that don't measure up to your new standard?

The answer to those questions is not easy. In fact, it may be the first test of the seriousness of your new commitment. Over and over, God asks His people to honor Him by giving up what is valuable and important (Genesis 22:1-18; Deuteronomy 15:19-21; Proverbs 3:9-12). He doesn't demand this because He needs our possessions, but because He wants our hearts. Sacrificing our "stuff" shows that our hearts belong to Him.

If you're serious about honoring God from the inside out, giving up something that's important to you is a good way to put Him first in your life. And when we make these sacrifices from a pure heart, God promises to richly reward us. (Exodus 20:23-24; Deuteronomy 28:1-14; Matthew 19:29)

That said, there are a few things you might try to help you clean up your entertainment stash. To do these, you'll have to enlist the help of your parents, who will probably be pretty excited that you're making responsible and God-honoring decisions:


Even if you've established a standard and you're committed to sticking to it, you can still get blindsided by garbage. An offensive commercial on an otherwise positive TV show. An obscene bumper sticker. A crude T-shirt or raunchy YouTube video. How should we deal with these sneak attacks?

The first defense is to run away! Second Timothy 2:22 tells us to "flee the evil desires of youth." But it's also a good idea to use those situations as learning opportunities. Once you've removed yourself from the harmful messages, ask yourself, Why doesn't that message measure up to God's standard? What biblical truths apply in this situation? If you make this question-and-answer game a habit, it will sharpen your mind and help to make you quick on the draw when substandard entertainment ambushes you.

For the Long Haul

Holding your entertainment standards up to God's standards can be scary. And maybe discouraging. All of us will find we've got a long way to go before we're what He wants us to be. But our obedience is a pleasing gift to God, and He promises to give us the strength to keep fighting. At first it may be difficult to stick to your new declaration, but each time you fall down, God can help you get up and keep going. After a while, you'll find yourself changing from the inside out. And that's more exciting than anything the media can offer!

All scripture quotations are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

1"Kids & Media @ the New Millennium: A Kaiser Family Foundation Report," 11/17/99.
2National Institute on Media and Family, 5/9/02.
3Soundscan, 2002; USA Today, 5/6/03.
4E! Online/Exhibitor Relations/New York Post; Artists Rights Foundation, Inst. for Civil Society/Variety, 11/2/98; Teen Research Unlimited poll of 13- to 19-year- olds/USA Today, 12/22/98.

5Barna Research Group, Ltd. 1992.
6USA Today, 6/8/95.
7The Associated Press, 4/30/94.
8The Associated Press/, 7/26/00.
9Strickland v. Sony; "60 Minutes," 3/5/06.

Media Discernment

Teens can learn about the influence of entertainment and how to make wise choices about music, movies and games.

by Bob Smithouser

A while back, when the Olympics were in full swing, I had the chance to chat with Team USA's nutrition coordinator about what men and women in training chow down on. Here's what she said: "You'd think that, being Olympic athletes, they'd eat what's good for them. But that's not always the case. They can get into bad habits." Whoa! If sprinters, swimmers and weight lifters — as driven as they are to win — can stumble in the area of discipline and diet, what does that say to us as we strive to win the race of faith? We've gotta watch what we eat ... spiritually! And that requires something called "discernment."

What Is Discernment?

Discernment is wisdom that helps us choose between right and wrong. We're faced with decisions constantly. Wouldn't it be cool to know you're making the right ones? King Solomon thought so. In fact, he valued discernment so much that when God said he could have anything he wanted, Solomon asked fordiscernment instead of money or a long life (1 Kings 3). Of course, spiritual insight starts with an understanding of the Bible. It's God's Word that helps us know what to do day-to-day.

When it comes to entertainment, discernment helps us sort through the media messages that bombard us every day and decide how they measure up to God's standards. Are your favorite artist's lyrics consistent with biblical truth? Would Jesus find the latest box-office blockbuster healthy or harmful? Sometimes a video box or CD cover says it all. Other times the message is more subtle. Developing wisdom in this area is vital to spiritual maturity. But why is it so hard to avoid the media junk food everybody else seems to be into? Read on!

The Internal Struggle for Supremacy: A Tale of Two Lizards

A few years ago, I adopted two baby iguanas named Liberty and Justice. They were the same age and size. They ran around the same 55-gallon aquarium and bellied up to the same water dish. They soaked in warmth from the same hot rock and heat lamp. In short, Liberty and Justice shared an identical environment. There was just one difference in their lifestyles: diet.

Liberty scarfed down fruit, veggies and crickets. Justice, on the other hand, was a picky eater without much of an appetite. Consequently, Liberty grew bigger and stronger, and got really buffed. But lacking proper nutrition, Justice became thinner and turned a pale shade of green. When they went head-to-head, who do you think won? You guessed it. Eventually, Justice's poor diet led to her death, leaving one healthy reptile to rule the aquarium. So, what does a dead lizard have to do with discernment? Glad you asked!

The Battle Within

My iguana experience illustrates the inner conflict that Christians face every day. Inside, we've got two natures: the flesh and the spirit. They share the same environment. Same body. Identical eyes, ears and other senses. And like reptilian roommates, these two natures become territorial. They fight for control. Each wants to rule the "aquarium" of our hearts and minds. The one that eats best will be the one that survives.

Of course, flesh and spirit hunger for different things. The flesh has an appetite for "junk food." That could include anything from crude sitcoms and music preoccupied with sex, to gory video games and racy Web sites. But the spirit feeds on Bible study, prayer, Christian music, hanging out with godly people and serving others. (Romans 13:14 encourages "spirit-fed" living, and Galatians 5:22 details the benefits.)

There's a war raging inside us. As one nature prospers and dominates, the other one, deprived of the food that fuels its growth, is weakened. It's the way we're designed. Don't assume you'll beat the odds. Feed the spiritual nature. Starve the fleshly nature. God warns us to be discerning because He knows how we're wired and wants the best for us. By the way, not only is discernment in our own best interest, it also pleases God when we put Him first.

Now Ask Yourself ...

"Which hungry nature am I feeding, the flesh or the spirit? Which do I want to see dominate the 'aquarium' of my life? What changes do I need to make in my media diet to make that happen — regardless of what my friends are into?"

The apostle John said, "If anyone comes to you and does not bring [God's] teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work" (2 John 1:10-11). John had some harsh words for deceivers who would attempt to undermine the truth of God's Word. He warns his readers not even to invite them home. There are many deceivers in the entertainment industry today. And even Christians carelessly invite them into their homes. They welcome reality TV that says sex outside of marriage is perfectly healthy. They rent movies loaded with obscene language. They bring home music that celebrates gangsta violence. They surf online, clicking whatever links pique their curiosity.

It's Time to Draw the Line

In our world these days, it's very stylish to be open-minded and tolerant of different points of view, no matter how immoral or ungodly. But the apostle Paul made a sharp distinction between good and evil and demanded that we do the same. "Test everything. Hold onto the good. Avoid every kind of evil" (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22). Why? Because just like the flesh and the spirit, good and evil can't live in harmony.

When we put something to the test and draw a line between right and wrong, someone who disagrees with our evaluation will quote Matthew 7:1, which says, "Don't judge, or you too will be judged." Ever been there? It's important to remember that, in this verse, Jesus is warning against judging others' thoughts, motives and the hidden things of the heart that only God can see. It doesn't mean we should ignore sin and refuse to practice discernment.

I've read lots of letters from Christian teens who say things like, "I know this band sings about getting high and having sex, but I'm going to keep listening because I don't think God wants me to be judgmental." Wrong! That's exactly what God wants. In cases like this — when evidence is clear — we're commanded to judge between right and wrong, truth and error, good and evil.

"Okay, Now What Do I Do?"

As you seek to grow spiritually, pray with the attitude of Solomon. Ask Godto give you more wisdom and discernment about entertainment. Explore the passages of Scripture listed below. Spiritual insight doesn't ooze into us while we sleep; it's a decision. God is ready to work in you, but you have to take the first step. That may include getting rid of CDs you know Jesus would disapprove of. It may mean watching less TV. It could also mean taking a stand when your friends ask you to join them for a movie that you know will do more to feed your flesh than your spirit. Ask a parent or close Christian friend to pray for you and encourage you to stick with your new commitment. It's always easier to start a healthy new habit when you have the support of a friend. And when you're tempted to give in, remember that Jesus is the greatest friend of all!

Related Scripture Readings

The War Within Us

Avoiding Indecent Exposure

Preparing a Defense

The Value of Wisdom

All scripture quotations are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

The Power of Sexual Thoughts

Teen guys will learn about abstinence, the difference between love and infatuation and the effects of sexual intimacy outside of marriage, as well as the regrets of a guy who got involved in pornography.

Meet Nate

In high school he was everyone's best friend. He played sports, had a girlfriend and got good grades — and he knew how to have a good time. He was the life of the party! But during those high school years, something happened that would change his life forever.

Meet Jeremy

At first glance, he seems a lot like Nate. He was a jock, a musician and a straight-A student. He had tons of friends and was always busy. But in college, his life took a dramatic turn — for the better.


Two guys. Their lives heading down very similar roads. That is, until they reached a significant fork in the path. It demanded a choice — a choice about purity. One chose abstinence. One didn't.

Can You Relate?

Both would tell you it wasn't an easy decision. There's a lot to think about when it comes to sexuality. And while it's a fact that by the time teen guys are 19, the vast majority have received some sort of formal sex education, many of you are still scratching your heads, wondering how all these facts translate into real-life decisions.

If you can relate to this confusion, keep reading as Jeremy and Nate shoot straight about this very personal area of their lives.

Nate — The Perfect Life? Younger Years

When I think back on my childhood, I have some great memories. Mom stayed at home. Dad was a doctor. Every material desire we ever had was met. Fun trips. Great clothes. Cool toys. At the time, I thought I had it all. Looking back, I realize that wasn't true. While we were handed every thing we ever dreamed of, we were never given the opportunity to experience the one thing that would leave a lasting impact — a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Sure, Mom took us to church. She was a "Christian." Dad was not. He worked at least six days a week, so Sunday morning was his only chance to catch his breath. That left Mom to take us kids to church on her own.

My folks really worked hard to love us. In fact, they turned all their attention to that task — even at the expense of their own relationship. Dad wasn't a good communicator, and he wasn't around a whole lot because of his job. So when my parents were together, they didn't deal well with conflict. Once every couple of years, we would find Mom crying about some problem she was having with my dad, but most of the time she just kept it to herself.

Let's Talk About Sex

I clearly remember the first time I heard anything about sex. I was in the fourth grade. I was walking home from school with my friend Jay. Just paces away from my door, he proudly announced that he'd French-kissed a girl! As this bragging statement came pouring out of his mouth, he turned to me and asked, "You don't know what a French kiss is, do you?" I tried to convince him that I did, but my curiosity finally persuaded me to admit my ignorance — in hopes of becoming truly educated. So, Jay enlightened me ... or so I thought. "It means lying in bed with a girl!" That was my first learning experience about sex.

The following year, we had sex education in school. Frankly, Jay's "lesson" was just about as meaningful. There we sat, a bunch of prepubescent guys. And our grandmotherly teacher pulled out a ruler and started talking about erections! Embarrassing? Totally. So much so that we tried to ignore the horror by drawing pictures and throwing paper at each other.

I'm sad to say that I learned the most about sex through experimentation. As my body started to change and my sexual desires increased, I let my hormones do the walking. Not having the opportunity to grow up in a Christian home, I'd never heard that you weren't supposed to have sex until you were married. My parents never talked to me about sex. I think they just hoped I would be smart enough to steer clear. But all my peers were doing it. It seemed like the natural thing to pursue. Now all I had to do was find a willing participant.

Fast Times

By my junior year of high school, I felt fairly confident that I was the only "cool" guy left on campus who hadn't had sex. I'm sure plenty of you have been there. Until then, I'd always been the life of the party and on the cutting edge of everything. Suddenly, my friends had done something I hadn't. I thought I was missing out.

With this "problem" on my hands, I turned my attention to a girl I'd met. Sure, I liked her. But more than anything, I wanted to have sex. So, we dated. It didn't take long for me to convince her that we were in love and that it was time. I basically brainwashed her. I'm not proud of it, but that's the truth. We had sex one time. This was a pretty defining experience for me. To be perfectly honest, I was disgusted by the whole thing. With myself. With her. I felt as though I had conquered that which I'd set out to conquer. Still, I never felt emptier in my life. The next day, we both went on vacations with our families. Some vacation! I spent the whole trip dwelling on what I'd done. Was she pregnant? What would she expect from me now? What was I thinking? I broke up with her the next time I saw her. (To be continued)

Girls Speak Out

"Before I wholeheartedly committed my life to Christ at 15, I went though a pretty wild phase for a couple of years. While my parents and teachers still thought of me as 'the good kid,' I had headed down an entirely different path — drinking, smoking and kissing boys. I know the last part of this equation sounds kind of funny, but looking back I realize that this 'phase' really shaped the way I viewed intimacy. In my mind, it was all just a game, literally! I can remember hanging out with mixed groups, playing round after round of 'kissing tag.' The object? To kiss as many guys as you could! At the time, I thought this was fun! Only later did I realize how callous I'd become to the true meaning of intimacy and purity." — Sarah

Jeremy — Purity Redefined: Growing Up

Both of my parents came from less than ideal backgrounds. Knowing this, you might expect that my childhood had a similar fate. Not the case. When they married 20 years ago, my mom and dad determined to take hold of God's promises of grace and redemption. They vowed to remain committed to the Lord and to each other. As they grew in their faith and in their marriage, they developed Christlike qualities that laid a strong foundation for the family they would someday have.

When it came to healthy conflict, my mom and dad could have written the book. I don't have a single memory of them yelling at each other, or at us for that matter. I would be lying to say they always saw eye to eye. Get real. Who does? Nevertheless, when disagreements arose, they talked about it and worked it out.

Needless to say, my growing-up years were really great. Playing basketball with Dad. Music lessons with Mom. And endless hours exploring the outdoors with my younger brother. When I was 4, I committed my life to Christ. I know this seems pretty young, but I'm confident that on that day He embraced me as His child. Naturally, as I became older I understood this decision better.

Sex Ed

Unlike a lot of guys, I learned the most about sex from my parents. Their basic philosophy was, If he's old enough to ask, then he's old enough to know. Obviously they gauged their answers according to my maturity level at the time. In other words, they never gave me more details than I could handle.

Still, early on I did have a good grasp of the birds and the bees. As you might guess, this knowledge caused some pretty funny moments in my younger years. One Sunday afternoon, at the ripe old age of 5, I ran to the door to answer a neighbor lady's knock. When she asked me where my mom and dad were, I simply explained that they were back in their bedroom making love. Before I knew it, my mom appeared behind me in the doorway — beet red.

In spite of these moments, I'm really thankful that my parents were willing to shoot straight with me on this subject. They set a tone. I knew that I could always get the real scoop on sex from them. I think a lot of parents don't feel comfortable broaching this subject with their kids. It's awkward. Embarrassing. But the truth is, if the parents don't, teens will go find their information from someone else. And that's a scary thought considering the "information" I was offered by my peers.

My point? It's so important to find somebody (if not your parents, then another trusted Christian adult) whom you can talk to about sex. Teens aren't supposed to have all the answers. And innocence is not a bad word. The sad thing is that the world would have you believe it is! TV. Movies. Music. If we follow the messages that these sources send, we will all end up in a huge pile of regret. Don't fall prey to this trap. Your choices in this arena are far too important for that.

The Freshman

High school was good, and it was bad. For whatever reason, a lot of the kids in my class were into drinking, drugs and messing around — stupid stuff. In an effort to keep myself busy and out of trouble, I became involved in everything. I played basketball, ran track and was in the "Youth Against Drug Abuse" club. I was also in a jazz band. I guess I was what you'd call your classic perfectionist. My first B crushed me. I never measured up to my own standards. By the end of my freshman year, I was convinced that the only one in this world who liked me was my dog, and even that was questionable at moments.

To top it off, I was dating a girl who occupied every ounce of the "free time" I had — which wasn't much. She was extremely possessive and very jealous. She got mad when I talked to other girls. She hated most of my friends. Not exactly what I'd call a great friendship. Ironically, the more dysfunctional the relationship became, the more physical we got. We never actually had sex. Still, I'm not proud of what we did do.

If you haven't guessed, I just told you the "bad" parts of high school. Not surprisingly, at the end of my freshman year, I snapped! Looking back, I can see why. I was trying to find significance in everything but God. Good grades. Athletic performance. A girlfriend. You name it, I tried it. You can see where that got me. Thankfully, God picked me up and placed me on a different path. But not before I explored a few more avenues of my own. (To be continued)

Girls Speak Out

"Honestly ... for a long time I didn't even feel the effects of having sex. I didn't have those emotions of regret and guilt right away — I just didn't. But they did eventually creep in. I started to understand that sin has hard consequences. Some of these effects play out in how my ex and I relate to one another now. We're still in the same town, so inevitably we bump into each other. If I'm lucky, he'll greet me with, 'What's up?' It hurts my heart so bad to think that we went from being as intense and intimate as two can possibly be to a 'what's up' and a high-five. It tears me up inside. He has another girlfriend now. I can't help wondering what she knows. Does she know about me? Has she heard about our sexual relationship? Are they doing what we did? And to think there was a point at which I thought I was going to marry this guy!" — Jana

Let's pick up where we left off with Nate ...

True Love?

Months down the road, I met another girl. This one was different. She consumed my heart. She was amazing! Not long into our dating relationship, we were tagged the "Ken and Barbie" couple of our high school. I felt at home with her. I loved her. I tried to honor and serve her. I tried to do all the things my heart said to do. The trouble was, I didn't have any solid standard (a faith in Jesus Christ) to work from. Instead, I relied on the two "guiding principles" I knew — my emotions and my peers.

When it came to sex, my peers were all doing it, and my emotions weren't about to argue! My girlfriend and I had both had sex with one other person before but felt that it would be different between us. A year and a half into our relationship, we decided to go all the way. You know, it's ironic. The Bible talks about the law of the Lord being written on the hearts of man. Although I wasn't a believer at the time, I knew that what we were doing was wrong. For starters, we were consumed by the possibility of her becoming pregnant. This fear haunted us every day of our lives. We knew that we couldn't deal with that consequence, but still, we continued to be sexually active.

Then, for reasons beyond my understanding at the time, the light came on. It happened one summer night. I had planned a romantic escapade for my girlfriend and me. Her parents' house (parents not included). Filet mignon. Lobster tails. Jacuzzi. Flowers. The whole bit. Naturally, the night ended up in her folks' bed. It was perfect … and it was perfectly wrong. I'd felt this way before, but never this strongly. It was horrible! It was the most intimate moment of my life but played out in the wrong context. It was God's gift — perverted. For the next four and a half years, not a day went by without my being haunted by vivid images of having sex with her that night. I'm still haunted by those memories fairly regularly. That was the last night I ever had sex. Not long after, I broke off the relationship.

The Turning Point

That fall, I left for college. I'd grown more and more hungry for truth, but I still didn't know where to turn. So, I headed to the Greek system. I thought I'd find excitement. Brotherhood. Meaning for my life. And surprisingly, I did!

It was there that I met Hannah. She was different from any other girl I'd ever met. I often spotted her in the front row of the dance parties at 4 in the morning. But she was different. She was right there in the midst of it all, but not really. She didn't swear. She didn't talk about other people. She didn't sleep around. There was something unique and beautiful about this girl. The more I got to know her, the more I'd hear her talk about God in a very real and personal way. She'd talk about praying for people. God was part of her everyday conversation. Honestly, that kind of scared me. I'd never heard about God outside of Sunday morning church.

Still, I believed her. I trusted her heart. I could relate to her in so many ways. Our personalities were similar. She had the same passion for friendship and fun. But she also had a peace that I could not comprehend. So I set out to find some answers. I'd stop by her room almost every night for about 10 minutes. I'd tell her about my day and ask her about hers. Finally, at the end of our freshman year, she had a chance to tell me her story and share her faith with me. That night, I invited Christ to be Lord of my life. For so long, I'd been searching. Finally I'd found what I was looking for. A personal relationship with Jesus Christ!

Looking Back

You know, once the experience of sex is made a reality, it becomes a stronghold for Satan. Even now, I continue to fight reappearing images from my sexual relationships in high school. Guys are so visual! These scenes become imprinted in our minds — and they are nearly impossible to shake. Satan has an amazing way of paralyzing us with guilt and shame.

The journey back from committing deep sin is a hard one. I longed for someone to come alongside of me and say, "I've been there, and I know how you are feeling. God loves you — and forgives all sin. That's why He came — for the broken, not the whole." Hannah did that for me through introducing me to Jesus and His amazing grace.

As I grew in my faith, I learned a lot about forgiveness. First, through receiving His forgiveness for the things I'd done, and then through seeking out those people I'd hurt. Three years after I'd slept with that first girl, I called her up and asked if we could meet and talk. I asked her what had been going on in her heart since we last saw each other. And she told me, straight up, that my actions and my irresponsibility had scarred her deeply. Because of me, she knew that there were creeps out there who would take advantage of her. As hard as it was, I needed to hear that. I needed to ask for her forgiveness. It was critical for me to allow God to redeem that. It is so freeing to not carry that burden around anymore.

Proverbs 4:23 says, "Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life." Through all of my challenges, I've learned that God never intended for us to give our hearts to more than one person. I know that might sound radical, but think about it! Sure, the world tells us that our physical relationships are a casual thing. It tells us that kissing is harmless fun. And emotional ties are expendable. But that is a lie. If we choose to buy into this philosophy, we are playing Russian roulette with our hearts! And that is no laughing matter.

Looking Ahead

Since I started putting God first, He has done some amazing things in my life. For starters, He has drawn my entire family (including my dad) into His loving arms! He's also put a wonderful young woman in my life. The most defining thing about our friendship is that we both love the Lord, and we're both running toward the Cross. The only commitment we have is to God. There are four realms within our relationship that we talk a lot about. Emotional. Spiritual. Intellectual. And physical. It's critical to keep these in balance. We have to constantly ask ourselves and each other whether these four areas are in check with this season of our relationship.

The first time I ever went out with my high school girlfriend, we sat on the couch and talked until 3:30 in the morning. We looked eye to eye and never even thought about kissing. It was amazing! When I finally went home, my heart just wouldn't stop pounding. The last couple nights of this relationship, we spent the entire night on the couch — fooling around. We didn't talk at all. Our relationship had obviously changed. We were out of balance. Our physical relationship had taken center stage, leaving little or no room for the other three dimensions. And the results were nothing short of tragic.>

I have learned a ton from my earlier mistakes, and so has the girl I'm in relationship with now. We've chosen to stay away from the pressures and expectations the world puts on couples. We've chosen to abstain completely from physical intimacy. Am I crazy? I don't think so. It's just that simple. So how does this translate into my present friendship? I've resolved that I am in no position to ask her to commit anything to me until I feel God is leading me to say, I commit my life to you. I will be there through sickness and health. I will never leave or forsake you, so help me God. Will you be my bride? I look forward to that day with great expectation.

Girls Speak Out

"While I know that I've experienced God's grace and His forgiveness in my life, the emotional consequences of my decision to have sex are tough — just knowing that when I get married, I won't be a virgin. Probably the hardest thing to swallow is the thought of having sex with my future spouse. I realize this may sound a little bit weird, but I have a lot of fears surrounding that. What if he notices that I know how to do something I wouldn't have known how to do otherwise? How will that make him feel? What if I compare him? Or what if he feels like he is being compared? That kind of stuff just kills me." — Jana

What About Jeremy? — Behind Closed Doors

With my freshman year behind me, things really started looking up. I broke up with my possessive girlfriend. I stopped trying to gain significance through my accomplishments, and I sought out a great group of friends. For the most part, the people I hung out with weren't sleeping around. That's not to say that there was never any pressure, but it does make it a lot easier to remain pure when your friends are committed to abstinence. Frankly, I wasn't afraid to tell people that I was a virgin. Sure, sometimes guys made fun of me. I didn't have all those "conquests" they lied about in the locker room. But that was okay by me.

Still, that's not the whole story. Toward the end of high school I was introduced to pornography. As a Christian, I thought I knew everything there was to know about sexual abstinence and purity. I was so wrong. It began with a curiosity I never should have explored. My brother got into it before I did. I saw some of his stuff — nothing hard-core, but it was there. And so, the struggle began. I felt dirty the entire time. Pornography is like a drug. I can't tell you how many times I told myself I was not going to be tempted by it anymore, only to be drawn back within days. By the grace of God, I've beaten this addiction. It wasn't easy. And it didn't happen overnight. When I look back on my battle, I'm disgusted and repulsed — but also, I'm forgiven.

Let's face it, guys are visually stimulated. Pornography is a trap just waiting to latch on to anyone who's willing to stick one foot in. There are a lot of guys out there who think as long as they stay away from Penthouse, they're okay. That's a lie. They are fooling themselves. TV has added a ton of fuel to this already explosive fire. It has saturated our society with false realities about sex. We need to guard ourselves from accepting these messages as normal. We need to be aware of what we're watching. I'm telling you, pornography will not bring satisfaction. It's a lie. It is presented as the benefits without the annoyance of the relationship. That's far from what God ever intended for His children.


I've learned a lot from my experiences. We live in a society that rates women on how they look. We have a choice as to whether we're going to perpetuate this mindset. As Christian men, we have an obligation to stop this mentality. We need to build women up and tell them they're beautiful — not because of their outside appearances, but because of who God has created them to be on the inside.

For me, hand-holding and kissing is as far as I'll go outside of marriage. And I don't even want to go that far for a long time. If I can't see myself spending the rest of my life with a person, I have no business even doing these things!

In the past, I have definitely crossed this line. And you know what? It's not what society makes it out to be. Yes, I am a virgin. But only in the literal sense of the word. I'm not proud of that. I will have to carry that reality into my marriage. Yes, I'm forgiven, both by God and those girls. Still, it hurts me deeply to know that I have already experienced some things that were meant to be between one man and one woman only. I'll tell you what, my mistakes have only further confirmed the need for me to have very strict physical boundaries.

But honestly, without accountability this commitment would be nearly impossible to carry out. It is critical for guys to have an older Christian man in their lives to whom they can take their questions and their life experiences. Someone they can talk openly with. Sexual purity is a big deal. Think about it. Whose input are you going to trust? A Christian man seeking after Jesus? Or the dude you sit next to in algebra? It seems pretty obvious when you put it like that.

The Future's Bright!

Along the way, I've gained a better grasp on what I desire in a wife. First and foremost, she has to be actively pursuing a relationship with Jesus Christ. She also has to have a sense of humor. When I'm done with school, I plan on teaching music, so it would be nice if she likes music. I want someone who is self-assured. Loving. Caring. Nurturing. I need someone who is going to bring out the best in me, and I in turn can do the same for her. I just want her to be beautiful on the inside. Honestly, the outside package is not the primary focus when it comes right down to it. Ultimately, I want to find somebody who shares my Christian worldview so that each of us continues to draw closer to God and to each other.

I think my mom put it best when she told me that when she and Dad got married, she liked him. Obviously, she loved him too. But she knew that the world misconstrues love. The world says love is physical attractiveness. Love is intelligence. Love is charisma. Love is performance-oriented. No! Love is ... you have Christ in your life. Love is ... you have a caring heart. Love is ... you're wise. Love is ... you're humble. Sure, you have to dig a little deeper to find these qualities. But that's the beauty of it!

Girls Speak Out

"I'm not in a relationship right now, but you can bet that I'll handle things much differently from now on. I will make sure my boyfriend has a very strong conviction about maintaining sexual purity. If someone loves me, truly loves me, he will care enough to keep me pure. That will be top priority. I will look for a guy who takes the initiative in setting this standard from the start. That's so important to me. One of my friends had a great idea. She and her boyfriend sat down together and drew up a list of things they would not do physically. Their ground rules are in place." — Jana

All scripture quotations are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

Preventing and Coping With Date Rape

Teen girls will learn how to prevent date rape and how to heal if they have been raped.

by Dr. Paul and Teri Reisser, Teri K Reisser

Seventeen-year-old Jenna tightly crossed her arms as she told her story:

"It's all my fault. We went to this party, and we both had too much to drink. After a while, he wanted me to go upstairs to one of the bedrooms. I didn't want to go, but I was so loaded I just couldn't seem to say no.

"We'd been going out for a couple of months, and we'd made out several times — but this was different. It just went too far too fast, and I got scared. I told him I wanted to go back downstairs, but he just kept taking my clothes off. I started crying, and he stopped. But then, a little while later, he just did it anyway, and I was so drunk I couldn't push him off.

"Afterward he told me he was sorry, but he just couldn't stop. He said he thought I wanted it because I came upstairs with him. I just feel awful. No one's going to feel sorry for me because I did go upstairs with him. I don't know what to do. What if I'm pregnant? And what if he has some disease? Who knows how many other girls he's been with … or done this to?"

Say the word rape and most people think of a random assault on a victim who was at the wrong place at the wrong time — a student overpowered in a university parking lot, the gang attack on a lone jogger, the woman startled awake by a 3 a.m. intruder who took advantage of an unlocked window. But these horrendous acts account for only one in three cases in which a person forces sex upon another.1

In most cases, women are raped by someone they know: a fellow student, a co-worker, a neighbor, a relative. And all too often it occurs on a date or while simply hanging out with someone.

No matter who the perpetrator is, rape is an act of violence — a violation of body and emotion, an obscene expression of one person's lack of respect for another.

All victims of rape suffer great emotional pain. But date rape victims usually feel guilt as well, doubting their own judgment and believing the assault was their fault. Whatever the circumstances, rape is never "asked for," deserved or justifiable.

Sexual Pressure and Rape: All Too Common

Unless a woman lives a very sheltered life, she's almost certain to face some sort of sexual pressure. And, tragically, the odds are at least one in 10 (some researchers say one in six) that she will be forced into unwanted sex at some point in her life.2

Why in the world would this be so common? Sexual assault is nothing new, but isn't this the 21st century? Isn't our society becoming more sensitive to women's rights and respectful of others? Apparently not. Many films, TV programs and popular magazines reinforce the idea that sex is "no big deal" — the equivalent of the goodnight kiss in bygone times. The popularity of "hooking up" is certainly loaded with mixed messages. If having a spontaneous episode of deep kissing, fondling, oral sex and/or intercourse with a virtual (or complete) stranger is considered to be routine at a party (at least after a few drinks), the line between "wanted" and "unwanted" sex may become very blurry — or nonexistent.

For years, rock bands and rap groups have celebrated sexual violence; some of their music could actually be called "audio porn." All forms of pornography are notorious for pushing the "rape myth," the idea that "no" really means "yes." The depiction of forced sex being secretly enjoyed by a woman is appalling but all too common in hard-core porn. Through cable, home video and especially on the Internet, these kinds of images have been seen by more people in this generation than in any previous one. Those who've viewed them, often repeatedly, have also been exposed to some very sick ideas about sex. Far too many men (and women, too) have had their attitudes about sexuality contaminated by this warped material.

Plan Ahead and Avoid Trouble

How do you beat these statistics? First and foremost, you need to establish clear and unequivocal respect for your body, your life and your future. You are much more susceptible to sexual pressure when you are unclear about your boundaries. If you've been sexually abused in the past, you may be more vulnerable to sexual coercion in the future. If you're afraid of rejection, of being called a "prude" or a "virgin," or if you can't say no to verbal or even physical pressure, you're a target for unwanted sex and its many consequences.

Remember: A rapist will subject you to injury, humiliation, risk of pregnancy or disease and years (or a lifetime) of emotional pain in exchange for his own brief pleasure. That trade-off is completely unacceptable, and anyone who tries to impose it on you — whatever the circumstances — is committing a crime. Burn this thought into your brain: No matter how desirable, popular, wealthy or respectable a guy might appear to be, if he pressures you for sex, get away from him as fast and as safely as possible.

Respecting yourself means setting your own limits for physical contact. Stick to them and be willing to defend them! In setting your limits, keep the following in mind:

Some would-be rapists actually "test the water" by touching a woman inappropriately, making a lewd comment or telling a sexual joke to see what kind of reaction they get. A weak or inconsistent response may encourage them to push even more. Make sure he doesn't have any doubts about your feelings right off the bat.

How Not to Get Caught in a Bad Situation

Obviously, most socializing does not end in rape, and no one wants to be paranoid during every outing with the opposite sex. But a little street wisdom can go a long way toward preventing a disaster. Here are some basic precautions:

  1. You are much better off dating someone you already know fairly well, rather than someone who is a casual or chance acquaintance.

  2. In general, multi-couple or group activities are less risky (and more fun) than single dates, especially for younger teens.

  3. Single dates — especially first dates — should take place in public places. An invitation to a play or a sporting event is far preferable to "Come on over and listen to my new CDs."

  4. Blind dates should be accepted only if the person carries a strong endorsement from someone you trust. Even then, these should not be single-couple dates.

  5. Bring your own money. If you are in the early stages of a relationship, paying your own way helps establish your sense of self-control and independence. Even if your date is picking up the tab, you might need cash for transportation home if things get out of hand.

  6. If you can afford one, a cell phone is a great investment for your personal safety.

  7. Stay sober. Alcohol and drugs cloud judgment and put you off guard and off balance. Career rapists routinely use alcohol to lower a woman's mental and physical resistance, and many date rapes involve the influence of a few drinks. Every year in the United States, 70,000 college students are victims of a sexual assault or date rape involving alcohol. Another 100,000 report being too drunk to remember whether or not they consented to having sex.3

  8. Think twice about accepting a drink that someone else has poured for you, especially if you're in an unfamiliar place. A would-be rapist can slip an odorless, tasteless drug into your beverage that can not only render you helpless against a sexual assault but also prevent you from remembering what happened. (See "Date Rape Drugs: Predator Tools.")

  9. Never leave a restaurant, party or other gathering with someone you just met.

  10. Trust your instincts. If you don't feel right about the way the date is progressing, bail out. It's worth a little awkwardness to avoid a sexual assault.

Date Rape Drugs: Predator Tools

Rohypnol and gamma hydroxybutyrate (GHB) have become notorious as "date rape" drugs used by sexual predators to incapacitate their victims. Any use of these drugs in the U.S. is illegal, and using them in a sexual assault is punishable under both state and federal laws.

What are they? Rohypnol (flunitrazepam) was originally introduced in Europe as a sleeping pill in the 1970s. It was found to cause short-term loss of memory and profound drowsiness, especially when mixed with alcohol. As a result, it has never been approved for use in the U.S. but is available in more than 50 other countries.

Gamma hydroxybutyrate (GHB) was sold in health food stores until 1992, promoted as a dietary aid and bodybuilding enhancer. It is in fact a central nervous system depressant, especially when mixed with alcohol.

What are some of their street names? Rohypnol: roofies, rope, ropies, forget me drug and the more blunt nickname, the date rape drug. GHB: liquid ecstasy, G, soap, goop and variations on the letters G-H-B: Georgia home boy, grievous bodily harm, etc.

How are they used? Both drugs are taken orally: Rohypnol as a pill or ground into powder, and GHB as a powder or liquid. Both are colorless, tasteless and odorless. When taken voluntarily, Rohypnol is used to induce sleep and GHB is used to create a sense of relaxed euphoria (usually mixed with alcohol). But more often, sexual predators slip one of these drugs into an unsuspecting victim's drink. Rohypnol causes a rapid onset of deep sleep and amnesia for a few hours, and thus serves as the rapist's best friend — obliterating the victim's ability to both resist and remember. Similarly, when slipped into a drink, GHB can incapacitate a victim from resisting a sexual assault.

Red Flags and Warning Signs

Many victims of date rape have described a Jekyll-and-Hyde transformation in which a pleasant, civilized companion suddenly becomes abusive and threatening. While there may be no way to anticipate such a horrifying turnabout, there are a number of red flags that might warn you of trouble ahead:

Red Flag #1: Situations in which you do not feel on equal footing with your companion — Sexual pressure and rape are acts in which one person attempts to overpower another with words, threats or raw physical strength. If you feel unequal, intimidated, awestruck or indebted in some way to your date, your willingness to assert yourself may be weakened or delayed. Some unhealthy situations can occur if your companion is several years older than you, or has a position of authority or leverage over some part of your life. This would include:

Another unhealthy situation might involve expensive gifts and lavish dates. Too many guys still carry the Neanderthal notion that picking up the tab for a nice evening entitles them to a sexual thank-you. It doesn't, and if your date sends that message, don't hesitate to straighten him out. Similarly, declining a present that seems to have strings attached is a healthy form of setting boundaries.

Red Flag #2: Control freaks — Look out if someone always insists on his way and ignores your likes and dislikes. If he shows contempt for your taste in music, movies or restaurants, he is likely to have little regard for your boundaries in other areas. Some control freaks will want to know your whereabouts at all times and will call at odd hours to check up on you. Aside from being a greater risk for sexual coercion, these people are a royal pain in a relationship.

Also beware of the person who tries to isolate you from your other friends and family or who constantly bad-mouths them. If he wants you "all to himself," chances are he will want "all of you" sexually as well.

Red Flag #3: Guys who are lewd, crude and sexist — If your date tells off-color jokes, listens to sexually explicit music, likes pornography or makes degrading comments about women in general, it is likely that he has one or more "attitude diseases" regarding sexuality. If he wants you to watch sexually oriented films or videos with him, consider this a major red alert and get him out of your life.

Red Flag #4: Guys who are whiners and nudgers — Don't waste your time with guys who won't accept your limits, who act wimpy or self-deprecating to win your sympathy, who beg and plead or who trot out timeworn clichés in an effort to talk you into sex. Pathetic lines such as "If you loved me, you'd do it" or "If you don't, I'll find someone who will" or (the worst) "Trust me" come out of the mouths of losers and abusers. Some guys go so far as to say, "I can't live without you," or even threaten suicide if you say no to them. They need counseling — but not from you! Someone who "can't be happy without you" can't be happy with you either. Cut him loose.

If You're Threatened, Here's What to Do

If your companion demands sex and begins to use threats of physical force, what should you do? Unfortunately, no single strategy is appropriate for every situation. Depending upon the circumstances, your options include:

  1. Escape

  2. Verbal confrontation

  3. Stalling for time

  4. Yelling for help

  5. Physical resistance

  6. Fighting back

  7. Submitting, if there is imminent and direct risk of serious physical harm

Verbal responses to the attack should be sharp and direct, such as "Stop this NOW!" or "Get away!" If bystanders are within shouting distance, sound off with "Help! I'm being attacked!" or "Call the police!" Don't beg and plead ("Please, oh please, don't!") because this plays into the rapist's desire for power.

Early in a confrontation, vigorous resistance (especially while yelling loudly) can derail the attacker. If you've been trained in self-defense, you may be able to immobilize him long enough to get away.

Some rapists, however, become more violent when resisted. If an attacker appears intent on using a weapon in order to get his way or demonstrates overpowering force and brutality, don't put up a physical fight. You don't have to show battle scars to press charges successfully.

If You Are Raped

What if, despite all precautions and resistance, you are raped? First of all, get to a safe place. Call the police immediately, and then contact a family member or friend to be with you. It is important that all physical evidence of the attack be preserved, so do not shower, bathe, douche or even change clothes.

Most rape victims feel an overwhelming urge to rid themselves of every trace of the attack. They don't want to deal with what happened, and they may wait days or weeks to report it. But doing so destroys important evidence, reduces credibility and makes prosecution of the attacker more difficult. Reporting the assault right away helps the woman to regain a sense of control, ensures proper medical care and guarantees her personal safety.

Unfortunately, 70 percent of rape and sexual assault crimes are never reported because of embarrassment or outright shame, fear of reprisal and apprehension over dealing with police, doctors and attorneys.4 Keep in mind that the attacker has assumed he could have his way without any consequences. Don't give him that satisfaction and freedom. He has committed a serious crime and deserves punishment. Most rapists are repeat offenders, and by taking action you can help prevent someone else — or perhaps dozens of women — from being assaulted.

The officers who take your report will need to ask about specific details of the rape that may be painful to answer but are necessary for proper documentation of the crime. Be completely honest and candid about what happened, even if you feel that you made a mistake, used poor judgment or even violated your own moral standards prior to the rape. Your case will be weakened if you change your story later or are caught lying.

The police will advise you to have a medical evaluation, even if you do not believe you were injured. A thorough examination is necessary to assess your physical condition, to collect important evidence and to provide counseling about the possibility of pregnancy and/or sexually transmitted disease. This should be done in a hospital emergency department in which the physician and staff are trained and equipped to deal with rape victims. If you think you may have been given a date rape drug, be sure to ask that an appropriate sample (usually of urine) be obtained in order to detect the drug. This is important evidence against the rapist. If convicted of using one of these drugs in a sexual assault, under federal law he will be subject to more severe punishment.

As with the police report, you may find parts of a complete examination to be difficult and uncomfortable, especially if you have not had a pelvic exam before. It is normal to want to avoid being touched in the sensitive areas involved in the rape. But don't let this keep you from cooperating with the physician and nurses. The temporary discomfort will be well worth the long-term benefits of proper medical care.

What About the Morning-After Pill?

You may have heard of emergency contraception, better known as the morning-after pill, for a woman who has had unplanned, unprotected or forced sex and is concerned about the possibility of pregnancy. What exactly is this medication, and how does it work?

Morning-after pills contain the same types of hormones found in oral contraceptives but are specially packaged and intended to be used within the first 72 hours after intercourse. The most common brand today, called Plan B®, consists only of levonorgestrel and is taken as a single-dose tablet. There are several possible side effects, including nausea and vomiting. The morning-after pill cannot guarantee that you won't get pregnant, nor does it protect you from HIV/AIDS or other sexually-transmitted infections or diseases.

How does this pill work? That depends on the time in a woman's cycle when it is taken. It may prevent ovulation — the release of the egg from the ovary — or it might delay ovulation until sperm are no longer capable of fertilizing an egg. (Sperm cells survive about five days.) The pill may also interfere with the movement of egg and sperm within the tube (called the fallopian tube) that connects the uterus (or womb) and the ovary, or with the actual union of egg and sperm. All of these mechanisms are truly contraceptive — that is, they prevent fertilization (also called conception), the union of egg and sperm that starts a new human life.

It is also possible that morning-after pills take effect after fertilization, by changing the lining of the uterus so that the fertilized egg — a new human in the first few days of life — cannot implant within it. This mechanism is not truly contraceptive, because conception has already occurred, but rather represents a very early abortion. Promoters of emergency contraception pills state that pill does not cause abortion, but this claim is based on their definition of pregnancy as beginning with the implanting of the fertilized egg within the uterus. For those who hold that human life begins at conception, however, any medication or device that prevents a new life from continuing in its normal development would be considered abortifacient, or abortion-inducing.

Because a new human life deserves to be protected at its earliest stages — even in the most difficult circumstances — the various mechanisms by which morning-after pills might work create a real dilemma, because it is impossible to know which of them might be acting in any particular case. In deciding whether or not to use this type of medication, a woman who has been sexually assaulted should seek and prayerfully consider counsel from her family, her physician and her pastor.

Someone to Talk to

Finally, what about counseling from an individual qualified to help you deal with the impact of the rape? Yes, you do need this. You cannot ignore this experience, just forget about it or cope with it on your own. It takes time and support to recover from the emotional, psychological and spiritual aftereffects of a sexual assault. In particular, many powerful emotions must be sorted out, including any false guilt or mistaken feelings of blame for what has happened. If you don't get professional help, either because you're scared or feel you're already "handling it," you may just be postponing the healing process. Working through it now can help you avoid being hit with traumatic memories and negative fallout when you least expect it.

You also need to rebuild a sense of integrity and self-worth so you won't be vulnerable to sexual pressure or abuse in the future. A date rape experience often leaves a strong feeling of having been used, violated and devalued. Instead of working to restore your values and protect your future, you might be tempted to say, "What does it matter now? I might as well just go ahead and have sex the next time." Without specific counseling to counteract this "damaged-goods" mentality, your resistance to sexual come-ons or coercion in the future may be seriously weakened.

Most importantly, remember that God does not love or cherish you any less if you have suffered a sexual assault, even if you used bad judgment or made a "wrong turn" that led to it. Nothing that has happened to you can cause you to be a "second-class citizen" in God's eyes. He wants to comfort your heart and heal your spirit. He desires for you to draw near to Him during this time of intense pain and confusion, not turn away from Him. His word promises, "Come near to God and he will come near to you" (James 4:8).

If you have been the victim of a sexual assault, you may be asking yourself how God could allow such a thing to happen. This is an important question. You would be wise to talk to someone like your pastor or church youth leader who can offer help and insight. Above all, during times of suffering, we need to trust in God's character. In his book When God Doesn't Make Sense, Dr. James Dobson wrote,

Every description given to us in Scripture depicts God as infinitely loving and kind, watching over His earthly children tenderly and guiding the steps of the faithful. He speaks of us as "his people, the sheep of his pasture" (Psalm 100:3). This great love led Him to send His only begotten Son as a sacrifice for our sin that we might escape the punishment we deserve. He did this because He "so loved the world" (John 3:16). His heart is especially tender toward the suffering and defeated. He knows your name and has seen every tear you have shed. If you could fully comprehend how deeply you are loved, you would never feel alone again.

If you need someone to talk to, and especially if you would like to know more about entering into a relationship with God, you can call Focus on the Family at 800-A-FAMILY (232-6459) and ask to speak with a counselor or a chaplain.

In an ideal world, preparing for the unpleasant probability of sexual pressure, or the possibility of rape, would never be necessary. But disrespect and violence are ugly realities that can intrude on anyone's life — sometimes when least expected.

There may be times when harassment, or even outright assault, cannot be avoided. But maintaining your sense of worth and integrity, staying alert and making wise decisions will go a long way toward keeping your social life safe and rewarding.

Above all things, remember you are precious in God's sight.

All scripture quotations are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

1Greenfield, Lawrence A., Sex Offenses and Offenders: An Analysis of Data on Rape and Sexual Assault, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Dept. of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics (1997).
2"Facts About Sexual Assault," Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network Web site,
3A Call to Action: Changing the Culture of Drinking at U.S. Colleges, Task Force of the National Advisory Council on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, April 2002, p. 4.
45. Rennison, Callie M., National Crime Victimization Survey, Criminal Victimization 2000: Changes 1999-2000 with Trends 1993-2000, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Dept. of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, NCJ 187007 (June 2001).

Resisting the Power of Pornography

Teen guys will learn why pornography is a problem and what lies it teaches young men. Topics covered include breaking free from porn, getting back on the road of purity and renewing their minds.

by Steve Watters

Seductive faces and scantily clad bodies lurk around every corner — in display windows, in the movies, sometimes even in high school hallways. What happens when you take those second and third looks and start to fantasize? When you go another step and sneak a peek at a Playboy (or that Japanese graphic novel)? When you watch adult cable movies or surf porn sites online?

Pornography causes massive damage in guys' lives and relationships. Are you struggling with its lure? Do you know someone who is? There is a way to avoid its snare. And if you're already trapped, there's a way to get free! If you'd like to know more, keep reading. You'll learn how pornography tears down instead of building up. You'll meet real guys who have struggled with the porn monster and broken free. And you'll learn some principles for keeping pornography out of your life.

The Destructive Power of Porn

Pornography is anything you see, read or hear that's designed to cause sexual arousal. It includes many types of media — magazines, books, movies, music, the Internet and more.1 Pornography promises thrills and sexual satisfaction, but it fails to deliver on these promises. It can't give anyone deep and lasting fulfillment.

King Solomon once said, "Can a man scoop fire into his lap without his clothes being burned?" (Proverbs 6:27). Along those lines, can you repeatedly bring sexually arousing images into your head without consequences? You may not be physically burned by sexual images, but psychologists argue that those images can actually be burned into your mind. Emotional arousal causes the release of a hormone called epinephrine in your brain that chemically burns the pictures into your permanent memory. This effect is heightened by the combination of pictures and masturbation.2

Porn affects real relationships, too. You may think that it's okay to experiment now, while you're single, but getting married won't stop a fascination with porn if you've already been feeding it. Many wives complain that pornography crowds their marriage with unwanted extra faces. The New York Times told the story of a 34-year-old woman who discovered that her husband, a minister, had an online porn habit. "How can I compete with hundreds of anonymous others who are now in our bed, in his head? Our bed is crowded with countless faceless strangers, where once we were intimate."3

Sometimes, pornography can even lead you to do things you never imagined. Consider Gene McConnell. He was an ordinary businessman with a wife and daughter, but fascination with pornography became the fuel that caused his normal life to explode. "It began to ruin my marriage, my business, everything," explains Gene. "It started with strip-tease or topless bars, then to massage parlors and prostitutes. Finally, I started fantasizing about what it would be like to actually rape a woman. I tried it one night when I saw a woman who 'fit' the scenario in porn. Fortunately, I didn't go through with it. After being reported and arrested by the police, I spent some time in jail."

Images burned into your mind? A bed filled with strange faces? Going off the deep end? These consequences happen all the time in varying degrees. The fantasy world of pornography is like a big carnival pulling guys in every day with promises of great thrills only to place them on a lonely roller coaster of excitement and emptiness, arousal and anxiety.

When God created us, He gave us a desire for love and intimacy that we could satisfy only in a relationship with Him and, to some degree, through a special relationship with one woman. It breaks God's heart to see men bypass these relationships in pursuit of mere images — lifeless reproductions that can arouse but never give or receive love.

The Dirty Little Habit

Meet Brad.4 Brad came from a loving, two-parent home. He had a younger sister, a cat and a dog. His love was for sports — especially baseball. He was active in his church and school, but pornography caused him to live a double life. Brad's first exposure to pornography came when he was only 8 years old.

"At that age, I hadn't heard of the 'birds and the bees,' so there was no way for me to know what the people in the pictures were doing. However, with viewing those pictures there also came an urge — I knew that what I was seeing was dirty, and that made it all the more exciting. I remember my pulse quickening and the adrenaline rushing through my body. At the age of 8, I hadn't felt those things before. They were very foreign feelings. For many years I held the belief that I was the only one who struggled with this sort of thing."

If you have grown up with a secret habit of viewing pornography, you are not alone. Hundreds of thousands of young men battle this uncontrollable fascination. In fact, teen guys ages 12 to 17 are among the largest consumers of hard-core pornography.5 Like Brad, they often discover it early in life. They stumble onto magazines in the trash or hidden away by a relative. Their hearts race as they thumb through the pages and experience a combination of arousal and guilt. It's a moment of discovery that unfortunately happens in nearly every boy's life. How deeply they get involved with pornography often has a lot to do with how readily porn is available.

Unfortunately, today there's lots of pornography available — at the click of a mouse, the touch of the remote or the purchase of a ticket at the cineplex. Although porn has existed for generations, technology has accelerated the problem through easy access. Now, the determined and curious can easily pull up pictures on the Web that are too obscene for adult bookstores to sell. The dirty little habit is growing ... fast!

A Life in Pieces

Mike is another young man who struggled with pornography. "The weird thing," he says, "is that 99.9 percent of the people who knew me would have been absolutely shocked to know I had this habit. I was a classic 'nice guy.' Still pretty shy and easily embarrassed by discussions of sex, I was terrified that anyone might find out."

This is one of the worst side effects of viewing pornography — it divides people. It breaks viewers up inside and separates them from others. Guys who view pornography develop one compartment where they hang out with friends, go to church and spend time with family, while in another compartment they indulge dark and sometimes dangerous fantasies.

That's not the only division. Porn also causes guys to separate physical images of women from all the other things women possess — their minds, hearts and souls. The physical image dominates other more important characteristics.

Worst of all, pornography separates people from God. Guys who indulge in porn often feel the need to hide from their heavenly Father, and — like Adam and Eve — they stop taking "walks in the garden" with Him because of shame and guilt.

Sex and Lies

Gene learned his lessons about women and sex from glossy magazines and sex shops. Only after years of frustration and trouble with the police did he grasp the extent of his miseducation. "In jail, I was able to begin the process of weeding out the lies in my life that porn had put there," he says. Gene now travels around the country helping young men evade the clutches of pornography. In his talks, he details the lies that pornography plants in guys' heads:6

Lie #1: Women are less than human.

The women in Playboy magazine are called "bunnies," making them cute little animals, or "playmates," making them a toy. Porn often refers to women as animals, playthings or body parts. Some pornography shows only the body and doesn't show the face at all. The idea that women are real human beings with thoughts and emotions is played down.

Lie #2: Women are a "sport."

Some sports magazines have a swimsuit issue. This suggests that women are just some kind of sport. Porn views sex as a game, and in a game you have to win, conquer or score.

Lie #3: Women are property.

It's common to see pictures of the slick car with the sexy girl draped over it. The unspoken message is, "Buy one, and you get them both." Hard-core porn carries this even further. It displays women like merchandise in a catalogue, exposing them as openly as possible for the customer to look at. It's not surprising that many young men think that if they have spent some money taking a girl out, they have a right to have sex with her. Porn tells us that women can be bought.

Lie #4: A woman's value depends on the attractiveness of her body.

Overweight or less attractive women are ridiculed in porn. They are called dogs, whales, pigs or worse, simply because they don't fit into porn's criteria of the perfect woman. In fact, if someone is attracted to a heavyset woman, porn labels that a fetish, which is a sexual obsession or hang-up that isn't "natural." Porn doesn't care about a woman's mind or personality, only her body.

Lie #5: Women like rape.

"When she says no, she means yes" is a typical porn scenario. Women are shown being raped, fighting and kicking at first, and then starting to like it. Porn eroticizes rape and makes it arousing. Women are shown being tied up, beaten and humiliated in hundreds of sick ways and finally begging for more. Even while being tortured, the porn actors and actresses have a smile on their face — a look of intense enjoyment. Porn teaches men to enjoy hurting and abusing women for entertainment.

Brad heard Gene's message, and it affirmed what he had seen in his life: a pattern of trivializing and objectifying women. "When I viewed pornography, it was a totally selfish endeavor. I didn't think about the person I was 'abusing.' I didn't associate my own selfish motives with the fact that this was a real person who has real emotions, real issues and real pain in her life."

I Still Haven't Found What I'm Lookin' For

Even though pornography is not a source of lasting satisfaction, guys who view it usually do so because they're looking to fill a deep need. Pornography is a cheap substitute for what they're really seeking — intimacy.

Intimacy means being known inside and out and being loved for who you are. Because God designed us for relationships, He made us with a hunger for intimacy. But being known that well is scary, because it makes us vulnerable. So we go searching for intimacy in less threatening places. Pornography is one of them.

False Intimacy

Even if pornography provided accurate images of women (and it doesn't), it still only offers an image — not a real person. For many guys, an image is easier to relate to than a young woman with a heart, mind and emotions. An image has no expectations. You don't have to impress an image or deal with any of the awkwardness that comes with relating to a real person.

Face it. We are all imperfect people. Ever since Adam and Eve messed up in the garden, we have had to deal with shortcomings and disappointments in relationships. The temptation of pornography is to bypass the effort involved in building a relationship between two imperfect people. Porn gives guys a chance to fantasize about perfect people and helps them to forget about their own imperfections. This was something that enticed Brad.

Looking back on his struggle, Brad sees how pornography tried to fill his need for intimacy with a lie. "That lie tried to convince me that intimacy can be found in pornography, and it can be just as fulfilling — if not better — than a real relationship. I was drawn to attach my intimacy, emotion and personal desires to a piece of paper or a computer screen." Using pornography as a shortcut to intimacy can cause men to develop a fear of true intimacy — despite deep loneliness, they're not able to give their hearts to real women.7

Out of Control — When Fascination Becomes Addiction

"I have heard that allowing a boy to look at pornography just one time can be as addictive as crack cocaine," Brad says. "I have to agree. It is a rush. A young boy with the most innocent of intentions can be drawn in to the trap of sexual addiction. I strongly believe that is what happened to me. I had my first 'hit' of porn, and I was hooked."

For Brad and hundreds of other guys, pornography is like a drug. "What drew me in deeper," Brad says, "was the simple fact that I was getting bored with the 'soft-core stuff.' And, just like the addict, I needed more and more to satisfy my desires. The picture that I used the day before didn't quite do it for me today. Spending an hour engulfed in porn was long enough last week, but this week I needed three hours. The deeper I became involved in pornography, the harder it was to climb out."

If porn's biggest consequence was addiction, that would be bad enough, but it gets worse. Here's how the addictive process operates:8

Early exposure: Most guys who get addicted to porn start early. They see porn when they are very young and it gets its foot in the door.

Addiction: You keep coming back to porn. It becomes a regular part of your life. You're hooked and can't quit.

Escalation: You start to look for more graphic pornography. You start using porn that disgusted you earlier. Now, it excites you.

Desensitization: You become numb to the images you see. Even the most graphic porn doesn't excite you anymore. You become desperate to feel the same thrill again, but you can't find it.

Acting out sexually: This is the point where men make a crucial jump and start acting out the images they have seen. Some move from the paper and plastic images of porn into the real world: violence, prostitutes and maybe even rape.

The Road to Freedom

Often it's easier to get into a world of fantasy images than it is to get out. Those who are stuck on the porn roller coaster may vow to jump off after they have bottomed out, but then they find themselves thinking about the next high and not wanting to get off quite yet. From the stories of Gene, Brad, and Mike, you can begin to get a picture of how devastating pornography is. Maybe you're struggling with the grip of this monster, too. Or maybe you know someone who is. All these guys have found freedom from the power of porn. And you can, too!

There Is a Better Way

Porn promises intimacy and satisfaction but leaves guys empty and searching for more. The good news is we don't have to search endlessly. Jesus Christ knows our desires and is able to fill them perfectly with His love. If you don't already have a personal relationship with Him, talk to a pastor or wise Christian adult to ask how you can begin this relationship.

What's more, God has a plan for you that's good. He's not anti-sex; it was His idea in the first place. He created sex to be the deepest physical expression of intimacy between a man and woman. God is excited about sex, and He wants us to experience pure sexual fulfillment in the way that He planned. Unfortunately, pornography damages our sexuality, not to mention the mental and emotional parts of us. Pornography isn't wrong because God wants to kill our fun. It's wrong because our loving heavenly Father wants to protect us from porn's damaging effects and keep us pure. When we guard our hearts and minds, we can enter joyfully into marriage — the exclusive place God created for sexual expression and true intimacy.

In order to experience sex as God designed it, we need to be walking the road of purity. No matter what you've been involved in up to this point, God is ready and waiting to help you get back on that road. To get there, you've got to make a serious commitment to restoration and a new life. This kind of commitment has three key components: confession, accountability and mental transformation.


The Bible tells us that "if we confess our sins, he[God] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9, emphasis added). No matter how dirty, broken and worthless we feel, God can and will restore our purity. Confession means admitting that we've done wrong, agreeing with God that it is sin and deciding to turn around and do the right thing from now on.

King David was known as "a man after God's own heart." But even David sinned sexually and got caught in the trap of his actions. (See 2 Samuel 11-12.) He had an affair with Bathsheba and then had her husband killed to try to cover up his wrongdoing. Once David was confronted with his sin, he was heartbroken. Psalm 51 demonstrates his anguish and shows how he opened his heart before God and pleaded for restoration. Grab your Bible and read his words as a prayer of confession for your own life: "Create in me a pure heart, O God ..." (Psalm 51:10).

God didn't ignore David's confession. In fact, Psalm 32 tells the rest of the story:"I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, 'I will confess my transgressions to the Lord' — and you forgave the guilt of my sin" (Psalm 32:5, emphasis added). If God forgave and cleansed David, He will forgive and cleanse you, too!


Consuming pornography is a private sin, and the temptations are greater when you're alone. For that reason, it is important to surround yourself with godly friends who will build you up and support you in your efforts to be pure.

"Accountability is the key to breaking the chains of pornography," Brad explains. "What helped me the most was being able to share my struggles with someone else. It was difficult at first, but gradually it became easier. It finally reached the point that I was comfortable with sharing everything, and Satan's game plan was thwarted. He relied on shame and guilt to keep me feeling that I was in a unique situation with no way out. By exposing his lies to the light — by being accountable — I was able to start down the road to recovery."

Here we meet Johnny, yet another guy who found freedom from pornography. Johnny grew up with an alcoholic father and longed for a real relationship with him. Pornography gave him the appearance of intimacy and adventure but always left him longing for more. Johnny says accountability relationships were key in his recovery as well. "I sought out guys who were strong in this area and asked them to check up on me. I looked for one guy who was my age and then found an older man who had a lot of wisdom and life experience. As I grew to realize that God could meet my needs for intimacy better than porn could, my accountability partner would constantly remind me to keep my 'God cup' filled."

In addition to personal accountability, take advantage of "virtual accountability." Several companies now provide Internet service that is filtered before it comes into your home. Services such as Family Connect ( or Integrity Online ( are able to take away substantial temptation this way. See also or the options available at our Family Safety Resources page.

If you have found that confession and accountability efforts are not adequately addressing your struggle, you should consider professional counseling. A counselor can be like a physical trainer — offering steady encouragement and professional insight for tackling problems. Most important, a counselor can help you address underlying issues such as family trauma that may be woven into your struggle.

Focus on the Family has a staff of licensed counselors available for you. You can reach them by calling (800) A-FAMILY (232-6459). This one-time counseling service is available at no cost to you. Our staff may also be able to help you find a professional counselor in your region who can provide more in-depth and long-term help.

Mental Transformation

The ongoing battleground in a world saturated with sexual images is your thought life. You will be confronted with sexual images. The enemy will place lustful thoughts in your mind. You will have relapses and remember images you have seen in the past. But you don't have to dwell on those thoughts.

One way you can reduce the temptation is to cut back on the number of "gateway images" you expose yourself to, especially from TV, movies, magazines and music. If you know that a particular sitcom causes your mind to wander to sexual fantasies, it's time to cut it off. When Johnny realized that his temptation was to channel surf late-night television for sexual images, he resolved to no longer watch TV after 10 p.m.

2 Timothy 2:22 says, "Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart." While reading this passage, Johnny was reminded that it wasn't enough for him just to avoid temptation; he needed to pursue righteousness. This meant working actively to replace sexual images in his mind with more wholesome thoughts.

It is also essential to replace selfish and lustful thoughts about women with a godly view of love. Brad describes how his thought life had become dominated with lustful thoughts about women he met and talked with: "I would look at a woman, undress her in my mind and then complete my fantasy. These women were completely unaware of what I was doing. After all, this can happen anywhere — the mall, at work, even at church. And all of this takes place with complete disregard for the woman." In contrast, Paul's description of love offers a higher view that transcends lust:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

Brad came to understand that to get rid of wrong ideas about women and love, he needed to restructure his time and thoughts: "You have to replace the deceptive images with positive ones. When I was deeply involved in pornography, it was not uncommon for me to spend three, four, even five hours on the Internet, though it seemed that I had been online only for an hour or so. Once I began to break free from the porn, the next question I had to answer for myself was, How do I fill this time — the time I used to spend engulfed in pornography — with productive alternatives?

"I began to invest in relationships, get into God's Word, seek Him in prayer and step out of the mold that pornography had cast me in. Sometimes I didn't want to put forth the effort, but to come to a complete healing, it was something I had to do. So I began to reach out to others, read more, pray more and talk more. My emphasis shifted from myself to the people around me, and I began to care again. I noticed that I was much less susceptible to lust when I was actively pursuing relationships with others. It was a hard road to travel, but the alternative was literally destroying me, and I was determined that I was going to make it."

Wrappin' It Up

Although it is difficult in today's culture to avoid suggestive images, you can avoid the consequences of giving in to their pull. By committing to a high standard of purity and setting up an accountability structure, you can avoid the emptiness and frustration that comes with a secret porn habit. If you have already been drawn in by pornography's lies, there is hope and healing for you. Now is the time to allow God to erase the images of your past and to recast you in His image.

All scripture quotations are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

1Adapted from Gene McConnell, Toxic Porn (Focus on the Family, 1999), 2.
2J.L. McGaugh. "Preserving the Presence of the Past," American Psychologist, February 1983, 161.
3Jane Brody, "Cybersex Gives Birth to a Psychological Disorder," The New York Times "Health and Fitness," May 16, 2000, 1.
4Not his real name.
5Reported in the 1970 Presidential Commission on Pornography and the 1986 Attorney General's Commission on Pornography.
6Adapted from McConnell, Toxic Porn, 7-10.
7National Coalition for the Protection of Children and Families, Pornography's Subtle Effects.
8McConnell, Toxic Porn, 17.

Self-Injury (Cutting)

A former cutter shares her talks about her years of self-injury and how she broke free from cutting. Includes information on spotting cutters and helping them get out of self-injury.

by Rachel Zoller

"I've got to get away. I have to leave."

Waves of panic began to drown Rachel as she searched for an escape. Social situations were always the worst. She could never get through them without being overwhelmed by her own thoughts. You're worthless. Nothing you say or do is ever right. Why do you even bother coming — no one cares that you're here. You're ugly, fat and lazy. You'll never amount to anything.

Rachel finally slipped away, mumbling some excuse to the hostess. A few minutes later, she pulled into the dirt driveway behind her house, relieved that no one else was home. She rushed upstairs to her room, grabbing the knife she kept at her desk. Leaving the bathroom door ajar, she sat on the lid of the toilet and began to cut through her skin.

These internal tirades always set Rachel off — they had for years. She could never resist responding with frantic self-abuse. As she inflicted pain on her skin, she began to feel relief flood through her. The physical pain shut out the emotional pain. She tried to hang onto that but knew it wouldn't last long enough. Even as she began to clean her wounds, Rachel's rush of complex thoughts made her feel both guilty and comforted, alone in her pain yet in control of unexpressed emotions. A freak with a secret. Next time, it would take even more pain to find that brief release.

Maybe you can relate to Rachel's experience. Or maybe you know someone who is involved in self-harm. Cutting is the most common form, but many cutters (the slang name used for self-injurers) use other different methods of injury. Though the practice can be traced back to ancient times, it began creeping into public awareness only in the 1990s. Researchers, calling it "the new anorexia," differ on the scope of the problem and who's affected by it. Almost everyone agrees that the majority of teen cutters are girls, perhaps because they have a stronger need to express emotion than guys.1

In recent years, several books have been published on this topic. Web sites and treatment programs such as S.A.F.E Alternatives® ( have been developed to help the self-afflicted.

Research suggests that teens turn to self-injury as a way of dealing with emotional stress, most of them stumbling across self-abuse in a moment of desperation rather than out of suggestion. Jamie "stumbled" on cutting and describes her first experience like this: "It happened spontaneously. I picked up a piece of broken glass and cut my arm twice. It made me feel better because I could focus on one thing, injuring myself, instead of things that I couldn't control around me. That was something I could control."2 Rachel also cited control as a payoff. "Cutting provided proof of the perceived control of the emotions I felt incapable of describing."

Some cutters have "learned" to avoid showing emotion and use self-abuse to express their hurt or anger. These are the ones who often can't explain why they cut, and they may simply lack the words to express that kind of feeling. For them, self-injury may be the only way they believe their feelings can be voiced. "They have no language for their own feelings," says psychotherapist Steven Levenkron. "Cutting is the replacement for the absent language."3

Others say they feel "dead" and turn to self-injury in order to be reminded that they're still alive.4 The pain they cause themselves may seem like the only time they can feel anything at all.

Journalist Marilee Strong, who interviewed more than 50 cutters for her book A Bright Red Scream, gives this thumbnail sketch of the group: "Self-injurers are often bright, talented, creative achievers-perfectionists who push themselves beyond all human bounds, people-pleasers who cover their pain with a happy face."5

There are also self-abusers who have come to rely upon no one and use self-injury as an emotional release.6Many of those seeking treatment report childhood abuse or neglect. Or they struggle with eating disorders and substance abuse. These are just a few of the factors that contribute to this complex issue, and they may be seen in any combination — or not at all — in a single cutter. Says Levenkron, "The self-injurer may not even be aware of what she is doing to herself; and as for reasons, these most likely elude her as well."7

The progressive, addictive nature of this disorder can be life-threatening, though. The more desperate a cutter becomes, the higher the risk of accidental suicide. According to Karen Conterio and Dr. Wendy Lader of the S.A.F.E. Alternatives program, "One of the major reasons people come to us is that they're afraid they're going to go too far and accidentally kill themselves. ... They're petrified of that."8

A common thread among self-abusers is that they've lost sight of the truth somewhere along the line. One female cutter explains it this way: "When you construct your worldview on a series of misunderstandings, it's like building a skyscraper with the foundation out of plumb. A fractional misalignment at the bottom becomes a whopping divergence from true by the time you get to the top."9 Jesus used the same picture of a faulty foundation in His parable of the foolish man who built his house upon the sand (Matthew 7:26). Cutters can begin building their houses on the rock of Christ by turning to His Word for truth and leaving their misperceptions at the foot of the cross.

Rachel's Story

At the beginning of this article, we met Rachel. Let's hear the rest of her story.

"I was caught in a web of deception whose strands were created by me and others.

I could recall and grossly distort any criticism I'd ever heard. Thoughts came in gradually at first, then picked up momentum more and more quickly, snowballing into a crushing avalanche of fault-finding remarks. I didn't know the truth or how to use it to fight back. That overwhelming misbelief about who I 'heard' I was became the cracked foundation upon which I based my reality. Frustration and feelings of helplessness could drive me to the edge in a matter of moments.

"I started cutting to silence the clashing voices that buzzed like static, drowning out the truth I longed for ... prayed for ... searched for. The glimpses of truth I did catch filled me with guilt and shame for feeling the way I did. The more I dug into God's Word, the more it seemed truth was just out of my grasp. I didn't realize how the enemy was using Scripture against me, just as he did with Jesus in the wilderness (Luke 4:1-13). As a result, my desert's boundaries seemed to extend into infinity. Because I couldn't and wouldn't talk about my feelings, I was denied the advantage of prayer support, objectivity and understanding.

"As I denied my feelings to stave off guilt, I found they became harder and harder to locate. I tried mastering my emotions — turning them on and off like a light switch — discovering it took a little longer to pinpoint feelings as I went through experiences. I didn't mind — it was easier to cope, and I even cut less frequently as a result. But, over time, I became more separated from my feelings and began to employ a clerk, of sorts, to file my life into neat folders and cabinets. 'Deaths' go here. 'Bullying' goes over there. 'Harsh words' go way in the back. I filed away life as if it were a peppering of news clippings, each event filled with information yet devoid of emotion. I began to notice that I couldn't feel, even when I wanted to.

"It was as if my clerk had filled out all the paperwork wrong and access was consistently denied to new or past emotions. I resumed cutting in desperation, to remind myself I was still alive. The blood seemed the only evidence that I wasn't dead yet, even though my emotional self seemed buried and secretly placed in an unmarked grave. I hoped and prayed that the overgrowth would not forever hide the little-worn path to my emotional cemetery. Yet I was terrified that each feeling may have been well-preserved and would join the others in a riotous protest some day. When you haven't felt in years — and your memories of feeling are so intensely distorted — the thought of being hit with such a tidal wave of emotion is enough to drive out all hope of normalcy."

I am Rachel, a recovered cutter and this article's author. My story is excerpted from journals and snapshots of my own life several years ago before I confessed my secret to my roommate. Truthfully, telling my friend was one of the hardest things I've ever done. But it was such a relief to no longer be trapped in secrecy. At last I was able to leave 10 years of cutting, and I've never regretted my decision to walk away.

A person involved in a pattern of self-abuse does not have to stay there. It may take a great deal of time to recover, and there may be temptations to cut or even relapses on the road toward healing. Keep in mind that "God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when [not if] you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it" (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Life might not seem any easier for the recovering cutter, but be encouraged with the truth that "if God is for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31). Though someone leaving a habit of self-injury may still be hit with thoughts and feelings of worthlessness, simply remembering and believing the truth can help in "taking captive every thought" (2 Corinthians 10:5). When in doubt, you can even ask God to help you believe (Mark 9:24).

Paul reminded the church that "our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world ... " (Ephesians 6:12).

But God loved us so much that He sent Christ to die and set us free from our sin so that we could be with Him for eternity. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul explained that "it is for freedom that Christ has set us free." He goes on to encourage us to "stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery" (Gal. 5:1). Cutting is one of the more lonely forms of "slavery" and can be devastating to the person caught up in it. But there is hope. It may take time for things to seem better, but perseverance does pay.

It has been a few years since I walked away from cutting, and sometimes I still have rough days. As a fellow overcomer put it, "I'm in process, receiving victory along the way."

When I'm tempted, though, I force myself to remember the truth: God loves me desperately and has incredible plans for my life, even when it doesn't feel like it (Jeremiah 29:11-13).

I've learned to talk about my emotions. And I still fingerpaint when words don't seem to be enough, using art as a springboard to express my feelings to God and to friends. Through it all, though, I know I can rely upon Jesus to carry me through whatever difficulties come my way. "Surely God is my help; the Lord is the one who sustains me" (Psalm 54:4).

Spotting a Cutter10

Often friends and family are unaware their loved one is cutting. It would seem the signs would be obvious, but cutters can be extremely creative at hiding their wounds. Here are some of the signs to look for:

If you or a friend needs help to stop cutting, here are some steps to take:

Rachel's Prayer

My prayer for those who are involved in self-injury comes from Scripture:

"I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you ... And I pray that you, being rooted and established in [Christ's] love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge ... "
—Ephesians 1:17-18; 3:17-19

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations in this publication are from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION® NIV Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. All Rights Reserved.

1Pennington, Andrea, M.D., "Self-Injurious Behavior: Profile, Causes and Treatment,", 4/10/03.
2Dateline, October 26, 1998.
3Kalb, Claudia. "An Armful of Agony," Newsweek, November 9, 1998.
4Ng, Gina. Everything You Need to Know about Self-Mutilation (Rosend, 1998), p. 30.
5Strong, Marilee, A Bright Red Scream: Self-Mutilation and the Language of Pain, (Penguin, 1999), p.18.
6Holmes, Ann. Cutting Away the Pain: Understanding Self-Mutilation (Chelsea House, 2000), p. 12.
7Levenkron, Steven. Cutting (W.W. Norton and Co., 1998), p. 42.
8Dateline, October 26, 1998.
9Kettlewell, Caroline. Skin Game (St. Martin's, 1999), p. 23.
10Adapted from Novellino, T., "Coping by Cutting,", 3/14/01 and Focus on the Family's Life on the Edge Live! radio broadcast with "Chava," 2/26/02.

Sex Without Regrets

Teen girls will learn about abstinence, the difference between love and infatuation and the effects of sexual intimacy outside of marriage, as well as the perspective of several guys on the issue of chastity.

Meet Jana

In many ways, she was your all-American teen. She was captain of her cheerleading squad, a good student and a great friend. But during high school something happened that would change her life forever.

Meet Sarah

At first glance, she seems a lot like Jana. She was well-liked, energetic and always on the go. Yet as she headed off to college, her life took a dramatic turn — for the better.


Two teens. Their lives heading down similar roads. That is, until they reached a significant fork in the path. It demanded a choice — a choice about purity. One chose abstinence. One did not.

Can You Relate?

Both would tell you that it wasn't an easy decision. There's a lot to consider when it comes to sexuality. And while the vast majority of teen girls have received some sort of formal sex education by age 19, many of you are still left scratching your heads, wondering how all these facts translate into real-life decisions. If you can relate to this confusion, keep reading as these two girls talk candidly about one of the most personal areas of their lives.

Jana — Heartbreak and Hope: Growing Up

When I think back on my childhood, I have some great memories. Wrestling with my brothers. Chatting with my sister. And road trips that took us across the country and back. My family has always been an important part of my life. But we were far from the ideal family. We weren't what you'd call an affectionate bunch. We never hugged each other or said, "I love you," but we always knew that we cared a great deal about each other.

In retrospect, I can now see that my dad had a major impact on my life. He was a man of extremes. There was no middle ground for him. He was either upset and angry or loving and affectionate — he couldn't seem to strike a happy medium. At the time, I just figured this was the normal way for grown men to act. After all, he was my dad.

Naturally, his moods spilled over into his marriage to my mom. While Mom was always outgoing and bubbly, Dad was just the opposite. Their relationship got pretty tense at moments. In fact, they fought a lot. They didn't show much affection toward one another, either. Frankly, my dad is one of the most unromantic guys I've ever met. They've been married for more than 20 years, but I've never seen him do anything special for their anniversary. They never went out to eat alone. He never bought her flowers or even complimented her on the little things, which is something every woman needs.

Now don't get me wrong — I never doubted that he loved her and that they were deeply committed to each other. I always felt a sense of security in their marriage. They provided us with a good home and great family memories. But as I got older, I wondered if true love was confined to the model I'd witnessed.

The "Talk"

My mom and I were always pretty close, but when it came to talking about sex, forget it. I remember her handing me a book about adolescence when I was in fifth grade. She told me to read it. My response was typical junior high — "Whatever, Mom!" Needless to say, I never picked it up.

Several times along the way, my parents told me I wasn't supposed to have sex until I was married. But I was rarely given an explanation as to why not. However, there was one exception. My youth pastor at church talked about it. He drew this whole analogy between girls and rubies. He explained that we should consider ourselves to be like rubies, treasured by the men we give our hearts to. He and his wife were in their 20s and said that he had foolishly lost his virginity on his prom night. His wife, on the other hand, had remained pure until their wedding night. I could tell how much he regretted his decision. He was tortured by the fact that he couldn't give her that same gift of purity. At the time, that talk seemed to really have an impact on me.

School Days

When I reached high school, I hit the ground running. I guess you could say I was your typical outgoing, overachieving type. I was involved in my youth group. I got good grades. I was captain of my cheerleading squad. And I had tons of friends. Life was good.

But still, there was something missing. I wanted a boyfriend, but not just any guy. I wanted Mike. When I was a sophomore, he was a senior. I'd had my eye on him since the seventh grade, and finally it seemed like I might actually have a chance. He was a football player. I was a cheerleader. Our paths crossed, and before long we were spending more and more time together. Did I mention that I had another boyfriend at the time? I did. Well, before long, I kissed Mike. I eventually broke up with my other boyfriend, and Mike and I became inseparable. And so began a slippery slope that swept me down to my darkest moment ever. (To be continued)

Guys Speak Out

"I met a girl my junior year. Yeah, I liked her. But more than anything, I wanted to have sex. So we dated. It didn't take long for me to convince her that we were in love and that it was time. I basically brainwashed her. I'm not proud of it, but that's the truth. We had sex one time. To be perfectly honest, I was disgusted with myself, with her and by the whole thing. Sure, I had conquered what I set out to conquer. But I never felt emptier in my life. The next day, we both went on vacations with our families. Some vacation! I spent the whole trip dwelling on what I'd done. Was she pregnant? What would she expect from me now? What was I thinking? I broke up with her the next time I saw her." — Nate

Sarah: Purity Redefined - Family Ties

I know that this may sound corny, but I have an amazing family. My parents have been married for 25 years, and they have always been very intentional in the way they've loved each other and raised us kids. I had a full childhood with a lot of fun, love and laughter. I grew up in a strong church and prayed the sinner's prayer at a very young age, but I didn't become a believer until I was 15.

My parents have a great marriage. For as long as I can remember, I've seen the verse that says, "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit" played out in my home. They looked out for each other. Sometimes this meant Dad made dinner after a long day at the office because Mom had a headache. Other times Mom made sure the house was in order, not because she cared, but because she knew that it pleased him. It was really cool.

Let's Talk About Sex

I remember very specifically the first time I heard about sex. I was in the fourth grade when a girl from school told me something I'd never heard before. I was confused and even a little grossed-out. So I went to my mom that afternoon and asked her to tell me the real deal. She did — and to be perfectly honest, I thought she was kidding! It just seemed really weird. She assured me that sex was a beautiful and wonderful gift within marriage. But there was no convincing me at that point, which I guess was pretty normal for a 9-year-old.

After that, my mom and I rarely talked about sex. I did have a sister who was six years older than me, so when questions came up, I always went to her. When I was 14, I started working at a crisis pregnancy center, which taught me a lot. I met with younger clients, gave them pregnancy tests and talked to them about their sexual experiences. It was sad to see the ugly, painful side of sex. So many of these girls had really thought the guys they were with loved them. By the time they made their way to our clinic, many of them weren't so sure. My dad drove me to and from this center each week for three years. Although we never talked specifically about sex, these trips gave us a great chance to talk through the experiences I was having. I began to better understand the "whys" behind abstinence.

Wild Times

Before I wholeheartedly committed my life to Christ at 15, I went though a pretty wild phase for a couple of years. While my parents and teachers still thought of me as "the good kid," I had headed down an entirely different path — drinking, smoking and kissing boys. I know the last part of this equation sounds kind of funny, but looking back I realize that this "phase" really shaped the way I viewed intimacy. In my mind, it was all just a game, literally! I remember hanging out with mixed groups, playing round after round of "kissing tag." The object? To kiss as many guys as you could! At the time, I thought this was fun.

A few years and kisses later, my heart caught up with my actions. One night I was sitting around with a bunch of my girlfriends talking about our pasts. I wasn't at all proud of the fact that I'd kissed more than 20 guys during my junior high and high school years. Most of these encounters were casual (like my prom date kissing me good-night). But still, I began to realize how callous I'd become to the true meaning of intimacy with a guy, and what it really meant to preserve my purity — and keep it sacred and special. It was then that the light bulb began to come on. I knew that there had to be more to relationships than simple attraction. Where's the depth in that? (To be continued)

Guys Speak Out

"It happened one summer night. I planned a romantic escapade for my girlfriend and myself. Her parents' house (with her parents gone). Filet mignon. Lobster tails. Jacuzzi. Flowers. The whole bit. Naturally, the night ended up in her folks' bed. It was perfect ... and it was perfectly wrong. I'd felt this way before, but never this strongly. It was horrible! It was the most intimate moment of my life but played out in the wrong context. It was God's gift — perverted. For the next four and a half years, not a day went by without my being haunted by vivid images of having sex with her that night. I'm still regularly haunted by those memories. That was the last night I ever had sex. Not long after, I broke off the relationship." — Nate

Let's pick up where we left off with Jana ...

Confusing Times

Almost right off the bat, Mike and I had a pretty unhealthy relationship. He didn't treat me well at all. He didn't consider me a top priority, and he never made me feel special. He didn't even acknowledge me as his girlfriend for the first six months we dated! So why did I stay with him? I guess part of it was a security issue. He was a senior and a football player. A cool guy. Just being associated with him made me feel important. But even more than the security issue, I don't think I had a good grasp of what I could expect out of a healthy relationship. From what I'd seen in my parent's marriage, Mike's treatment of me seemed normal.

The more time we spent together, the more we pushed the physical boundaries. We were both Christians and knew that we weren't supposed to have sex until married. Still, we continued to do more, until we finally gave in — completely. It wasn't a wonderful and special time. We didn't even talk about what we'd done. I expected him to be loving and affectionate toward me afterward, but he wasn't. And this became the pattern from there on out. We never even talked about using protection — because that would've required us to talk about sex.

Ironically, Mike broke up with me the same day I decided to tell him I wanted to go on the pill. As I started to talk to him about how I felt, he counterpunched by breaking up with me! He told me that he felt as though I was giving 110 percent to the relationship while he wasn't inclined even to give 100 percent. I was devastated.

Moving On

For a long time I didn't even feel the effects of what I'd done. I didn't have those emotions of regret and guilt that normally follow right away. But eventually they started to creep in. I began to understand that with sin comes hard consequences. Some of these effects play out in how Mike and I relate to one another now. We're still in the same town, so inevitably we bump into each other. If I'm lucky, he'll greet me with, "What's up?" It hurts my heart so bad to think that we went from being as intense and intimate as two people can possibly be, to a casual (and awkward) hello. It tears me up inside. He has another girlfriend now. I can't help but wonder what she knows. Has she heard about our sexual relationship? Are they doing what we did? And to think that there was a point at which I thought I was going to marry this guy!

While I know I've experienced God's grace and His forgiveness in my life, the emotional consequences of my decision are tough — just knowing that when I get married, I won't be a virgin. Probably the hardest thing to swallow is the thought of having sex with my future spouse. I realize this may sound a bit weird, but I have a lot of fears surrounding that. What if he notices that I know how to do something I wouldn't have known how to do otherwise? How will that make him feel? What if I compare him? Or what if he feels as though he's being compared? That kind of stuff just kills me.

Looking Ahead

I'm not in a relationship right now, but you can bet that I'll handle things much differently from now on. While I didn't know it at the time, I think that my dad's lack of affection toward me had a lasting impact. I'm sad that I tried to fill the void and deep desire for affection with Mike.

I've also thought a lot about what I want in a mate. When I started dating Mike, I didn't have a standard of my own. While he didn't seem to measure up to my ideal, I really didn't know what that was at the time. Through reading God's Word, interacting with married people I respect, praying and really seeking good counsel on this subject, I think I have a much better idea of what I can expect in a relationship.

I want to make sure that whoever I'm interested in has a strong conviction about maintaining sexual purity. If someone truly loves me, he'll care enough to keep me pure. That will be top priority. I will look for a guy who takes the initiative in setting this standard from the start. That's really important to me. In fact, one of my friends had a great idea: She and her boyfriend created a list of things that they wouldn't do physically. Their ground rules are in place.

For me, the most important thing to remember is that God wants me to remain pure. He has forgiven me for my past, and He'll help me maintain His standard for the future. The best way to do this is to stay focused on God and His promises. Philippians 4:13 says that "I can do everything through Him who gives me strength." Enough said.

Guys Speak Out

"Proverbs 4:23 says, 'Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.' Through all my challenges, I've learned that God never intended for us to give our hearts to more than one person. I know that might sound radical, but think about it: Sure, the world tells us that our physical relationships are a casual thing. It tells us that kissing is harmless fun. And emotional ties are expendable. But that's a lie. If we choose to buy into this philosophy, we're playing Russian roulette with our hearts! And that's no laughing matter." — Nate

What about Sarah? - On the Go

While I'm not proud of my casual approach toward kissing in high school, I am thankful that I never got seriously involved with a guy early on. Part of the reason I didn't was simply a personality issue. I'm very strong and independent. I was the president of my student body. I did the cheerleading thing. Youth group. I volunteered at the crisis pregnancy center in town. I spent tons of time with my girlfriends. All these things gave me the freedom to develop myself into the person I am today. I never felt the need to be something I wasn't in order to attract a guy. I saw so many of my friends fall into this trap and lose themselves in the process. I'm really thankful that I didn't waste time, effort, energy and emotion on guys whom I wouldn't have ended up with. You can't exactly write "devoted girlfriend (to a guy I'm no longer dating)" on your college portfolio, if you know what I mean!


When I went to college I decided to take this idea one step further. I made a commitment to God and myself to put my dating life completely on hold. I didn't know for how long. I just wanted to deliberately turn my entire focus toward my relationship with Jesus Christ and find satisfaction in that relationship alone. I wanted to be content with being single and use that time to continue developing into the woman He designed me to be.

Was I afraid I might miss my chance to find a husband by making myself "unavailable"? Not really. Honestly, I figured that any guy I'd eventually want to marry would certainly understand and support my conviction. Now, I can't say it was always easy. There were plenty of times that I moped around the dorm on a Friday night, wishing I was out on a date.

But when it came right down to it, I just didn't see a whole lot of merit in dating a bunch of guys. When you leave college, you're certainly not going to gather up all your ex-boyfriends and go out to dinner with them. The fewer of them you have, the fewer awkward situations you're bound to run into in the future. On the other hand, the more time you invest in friendships and positive activities, the more confidence and self-assurance you gain.

True Love

Between my junior and senior years of college, I spent the summer studying in Washington, D.C., with students from all over the nation. About two weeks into the program, one of my classmates, Dave, happened to sit down next to me on the bus on our way to class. Within five minutes we were talking about politics and theology (my two favorite subjects). We totally hit it off! A few weeks later, we decided to lead a Bible study together. And we really made a good team. It was cool to see how our individual personalities came together and complemented each other well.

During my "dateless" period of college, I had concluded that when I was ready to pursue a relationship, I wanted to practice some of the principles of courtship (dating in groups, avoiding exclusive situations, having the guy approach my father with his intentions of being romantically involved, protecting my purity — not just physically but also emotionally and spiritually). I didn't want to be legalistic about it, but I did want to be careful. While Dave and I were just friends, I still practiced these principles.

Our friendship continued to grow. Our "alone" time consisted of him walking me to and from the grocery store once a week. He'd carry my groceries back. I loved that time. At the end of the summer, Dave and I talked. He told me I had the qualities he was looking for in a wife, but he felt that God was telling him to be patient and just remain friends. I agreed. Dave was a strong, confident, intelligent and great-looking guy — he was definitely worth the wait!

It's been two years now. Dave has asked my dad for his blessing on our relationship, and we have been courting for just over a year. I waited six months for my first hug from him, and it was awesome! I was the first girl he ever kissed — and I've never kissed a more amazing man in my life. I just wish I hadn't kissed those 20-some guys before him. Even though it doesn't seem to mean a lot at the time, it does.

Looking Back

As I look back on my experiences, I'm glad for all the activities and friendships I was a part of in high school and college. I'm not proud of my carelessness toward kissing. But the truth is, I've learned a lot.

I've realized that most of us are single for only a small portion of our adult lives. We need to use that freedom wisely and work to understand whom God has created us to be. I'm thankful that God gave me two and a half years to take my attention off the dating scene and place it on Him. Sure, there were times when I just wanted to go have fun. But I'm glad I tempered that temporary impulse, because it's such a great feeling to meet that one man whom you feel you've prayed for and prepared and waited for. I sacrificed little pleasures along the way. But Dave was definitely worth it! I'm excited to be able to enter marriage knowing that I don't hold the scars of sexual impurity.

My experience also taught me that we need to be as prepared as possible for marriage. It's easy to make a list of standards and qualities we want in a mate, but what are we doing to become those things ourselves? If we want a man who's godly, dedicated to the Lord, patient, strong and active, then we need to be all those things as well. We're not going to acquire those characteristics by sitting around and waiting for a boyfriend. When I was finally OK with being loved by Christ without a boyfriend and having abundant life through Him, Dave popped into my life! That doesn't always happen, but remember, God's timing is perfect.

Jesus wants us to have a love relationship with Him, delighting in His Word and all that He has to teach us. He is trustworthy and faithful; He knows our every need. When we figure that out and hold onto that reality, He chooses to bless us with a human picture of what that looks like. And that's amazing!

Guys Speak Out

"The first time I ever went out with my high-school girlfriend, we sat on the couch talking until 3:30 in the morning. We looked eye to eye and never even thought about kissing. It was amazing! When I finally went home, my heart just wouldn't stop pounding. The last couple nights of this same relationship, we spent the entire night on the couch — fooling around. We didn't talk at all. Our relationship had obviously changed. We were out of balance. Our physical relationship had taken center stage, leaving little to no room for the emotional, intellectual and spiritual dimensions. And the results were nothing short of tragic." — Nate

All scripture quotations are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

Spiritual Growth for Teens

Christian teens can learn about the nature of God and how to grow in their faith, including how to pray, getting involved in church, tips for reading the Bible and handling times of doubt.

by Lindy Keffer

The music was loud. The place was jumping. Neither Drew nor Kelli was into the church thing, but they were having a blast at the concert they were attending with their friend Grace. So when the band's lead singer got up to talk about Jesus, they were both more interested in listening than they'd ever been before. He talked about this "God with skin" who came to earth to make the ultimate sacrifice for the people He loves. Even in the crowded auditorium, both Drew and Kelli felt as though the guy was talking straight to them. At the end of the concert, they both stood up and prayed a prayer like this:

Dear God, I understand and believe that I have failed to love You by going my own way in life. I've missed the mark. I have done and thought wrong things. I want to change. My sin has earned death for me. But You sent your Son, Jesus, to die in my place. I receive this gift by believing that Jesus' death is sufficient to cancel out my sin. I want to receive Your gift of eternal life and begin a relationship with You. Amen.

One year later, Drew was still attending church with Grace. He noticed that he no longer had the desire to do some of the things he used to because they seemed unfulfilling. Sure, he still messed up at times, but he loved knowing that he could always turn to Jesus and ask for forgiveness. He was sure he'd found a new lifestyle that would last until the end of his days.

On the other hand, Kelli's faith had pretty much fizzled out. She looked back on the concert experience as an emotional high that really didn't mean anything. Yeah, God might exist, she thought, but He really doesn't have anything to do with my everyday life.

What About You?

Since you're reading this, chances are you have prayed a prayer similar to the one Drew and Kelli prayed. You made a decision to accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. That may have been years or just a few minutes ago. Now you may be wondering what comes next, what you should be doing and what your decision really means. And, most important, you want to know how you can end up like Drew instead of Kelli.

If these questions are on your mind, there are a few things you gotta know. Life as a Christian is a cool paradox. On one hand, it's so complex that it will take the rest of your life to unravel. On the other hand, God gives us simple ways to start living the kind of full life He wants us to live. That's where we're going to start — with the basics:

In Christ

First things first. Let's talk about the new relationship you have — with the Creator of the universe! The Bible has a lot to say about where you stand now in relation to God.

God is the Potter. We are the clay (Isaiah 64:8). Like a skilled artist, God has a perfect plan for what He wants us to be. Right now, we may be lifeless lumps of clay, but He can envision the beautiful, useful vessels we will become. Of course, it will take a lot of pinching and shaping, pressing, pulling and even breaking to get us there.

God is the Master. We are His servants (Luke 12:14-21; James 1:1). No matter who or what was running our lives before we accepted Christ, we have a new master now. God calls the shots. And while the idea of having a master is definitely not a popular one, it's a huge and exciting mystery of the Christian life. Why? Because having Jesus as a master actually sets us free (John 8:32-36; Romans 6:17-23).

God is a friend (Exodus 33:11; John 15:13-16). It used to be pretty rare for God to talk to people as a friend. Because He is perfect, very few men could look stand looking at His holiness. But once Jesus came to earth as both God and man, things changed. Jesus told His followers that He considered them His friends, and the same thing applies to us once we decide to follow Him.

God is the Father. We are His children (Matthew 6:32; Luke 11:13; Romans 8:14-16; Hebrews 12: 5-11). This is a pretty tough concept for a lot of people today, because so many of us have been hurt or neglected by our earthly fathers. But God is a perfect Father. He provides for us, protects us and cares for us. He also disciplines us, but He always does it out of love.

Jesus is the Bridegroom. Together we are His Bride (John 3:29; Ephesians 5:25-32; Revelation 21:9). This is one of the most amazing pictures of intimacy ever. He knows every part of us — even our deepest secrets — and He loves us anyway. One day He will take us to be with Him. The Bible compares that day to a great wedding celebration. Hopefully, you can see what an unbelievable relationship you've embarked on. And there's so much more than that. The Bible often describes our new life as being "in Christ." Here are just a few more things you'll want to know about that life:

The Book That Has It All

Now that you know a little more about your new life, you may be wondering, "Okay, but what am I supposed to do now?" A good place to start is with the Bible: our map, compass and handbook for living life God's way. You probably noticed all those odd names and numbers in the last section. They're called Scripture references — a way to help you find stuff in the Bible. If you're not already familiar with how to use them, ask someone to explain. It's an important skill to learn for navigating a Book you'll want to become very familiar with.

If you didn't grow up being involved in a church and reading the Bible (or even if you did), you might have some questions about how reliable the Bible is, and what it's good for. Some people think it's a book of myths or moral sayings that are no different, say, from the Quran. Here are some Bible basics:

— The Bible is the only written Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17). If this sounds like an exclusive statement, that's because it is. And it's pretty hard to swallow in a world that detests exclusivity. But it's true, and it's important for many reasons. After all, how can you have a relationship with God if you don't know Him? The Bible is the best place to discover the mind and heart of our loving God.

— Everything the Bible says is true. The Bible is not just good for information about spiritual things. Everything it tells us about the history of our world and the life of Jesus is really true. You can count on it!

— Getting to know the Bible is one of the best things we can do to help our faith grow (Psalm 119:9-16; Romans 15:4). The Bible is more than a list of rules. It's the story of how God created us, loves us and communicates with us. It reveals God's plan for our lives, His laws and His promises. So reading the Bible is the best possible way to find out what that plan is and jump on board with it.

What does this all mean? Simply that it's a good idea to read at least a little bit of the Bible every day. Worried that you'll get bored and fizzle out? That's a legitimate concern. Fortunately, there are ways to avoid this. The first help is already inside you. Take a glance back at the list of things you have in Christ. That one about the Holy Spirit living in you puts a whole new spin on Bible reading. See, one of the Holy Spirit's jobs is to help us to understand the Scriptures. He makes them come alive in a whole new way.

Besides that, there are lots of resources — books, DVDs, etc. — to walk you through the Bible. Most will give you a passage to read from the Bible, then offer a short story or a few paragraphs on how the Scripture applies to your life. Ask a youth leader or a Christian friend to suggest a good guide for you. And once you get started, the most important thing is to stick with it. Don't worry about keeping a rigid schedule. Instead, try to let God's words penetrate your heart and mind. Learn all the truth you can, then ask God how you can incorporate it into your life.

Which brings us to the next point. You can't ask God anything if you don't talk to Him. Another essential step in your new life is prayer, or communication with God.

Talking to God

Here are some truths about prayer:

If you're still wondering how to pray, the answer is simple: Just start talking. Prayer is having a conversation with God. You can tell Him anything. Seriously. Your doubts, your worries, your fears, your hopes. Tell Him how good He is. Thank Him for what He's done in your life. Ask him for things you need. Confess when you've done wrong. You don't have to use special words. Just talk to Him!

Like any conversation, prayer is a two-way street. Take time to be silent and listen. At first it might seem strange, but God can (and does) speak to you in the stillness of your mind and heart. He also answers through His Word, through circumstances and through other people. Just remember that God will never tell you — through your heart or your friends — anything that contradicts what's in the Bible.

The Body of Christ

By now, you're probably overwhelmed with all this new information. Wondering how to keep your head above water? Try this: Tell someone about your decision to follow Christ. What difference could that make? Actually, lots. First, there's something about announcing big news to friends and family that can make it seem more solid in your own mind. Second, it's the doorway into a network of relationships called the "church."

Now, wait a minute, you may be thinking. Been there. Done that. No way I'll ever go near a church again. Fair enough. Lots of people have been burned — or bored — by previous church experiences. But talking about a particular building on a particular corner misses the point. Let's start by thinking about "church" in a general sense.

The church is all people everywhere who have been saved from sin by Jesus Christ. You probably happen to live close to a certain group of those people, so they're the ones you're most likely to see and relate to on a regular basis. Through its stories and letters, the Bible gives us an idea of what relationships among those people should look like. Check out these basics:

Now, you're thinking, Yeah right. No church I've been part of has looked like that. It's true — the Bible gives us lots of great examples of what the church is supposed to look like, but because we're human, we rarely follow His directions perfectly. But that's no reason to give up on the church. Look hard enough and you'll find pockets of people who are doing a pretty good job in some of these areas. Once you find them, join them. Get involved in a church where the Bible is taught, God is worshiped and people treat each other right. Besides growing stronger in prayer and in your knowledge of the Bible, here are a few faith-builders that spring from being part of a good church:

That's not to say that being a part of the body is always easy. No local church will be perfect. But as one word picture explains it, if a boat has a hole, you'll do more good if you jump in and help bail water than if you stand on the dock and criticize the sailors. If you don't like what you see in the church, get involved — start following Jesus' instructions yourself and see what a difference it can make.

Doubt: The Faith Muncher

If it hasn't happened already, it will. You'll be walking home from school. Or sitting at the dinner table. Or hangin' at the mall. And it will hit you . . . What if this God thing isn't for real? What if religion is something we humans made up just to make ourselves feel better? What if I blow it and do something to make God stop loving me?

Doubts are nagging thoughts that threaten to ambush your faith. Every Christian has them from time to time, but when doubt happens to you, it can make you feel as though you're the only person on earth who's ever experienced it. For some people, the doubts are too much, and they turn away from Jesus. But it doesn't have to be that way.

One of the most helpful things to remember when you start to doubt is, as one wise man put it, "Nothing is going to jump out from under a rock and eat God." What in the world does that mean? Just this: God always has answers big enough for every question we come up with. No matter how big and dark and scary your question is, and no matter what out-of-the-way rock you have to turn over to find the answer, you're not going to find anything that disproves God's existence. Or His power. Or His goodness. Ever. That fact is what gives Christians their deep peace. God will always be bigger than any of our doubts.

This may come as a surprise, but doubt can actually be a big help in our Christian life. Why? Because it forces us to dig for answers. And every time we can replace a difficult question with a solid answer, it makes our faith stronger. Here are a few things you can do when you feel doubt creeping up on you.

First, don't let it scare you. Remember you're not alone. Everyone has doubts. And more than that, when you accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior, you entered into a relationship with the Source of all love. The Bible says that "perfect love drives out fear" (1 John 4:18). You can hold on to that promise.

Second, engage your brain. A popular misconception is that Christianity is for the brainless and that if Christians were ever to take a hard look at the facts, our faith would crumble. Not so! God gave us our minds and wants us to use them. And here's the cool thing — no real facts will ever contradict our faith. Sometimes, all it takes is a little digging to uncover the answer to a mystery that had threatened to crash your faith.

Of course, at other times our rational minds can't grasp what God says or what life throws at us. In those cases, we have to be satisfied to wait and trust in God. Eventually, everything will come clear, and everything will line up with His Word. You can count on it.

Seeing Life Through New Glasses

Hopefully, you're starting to see that Christianity is more than just trying to do the right things and waiting to go to heaven someday. Sure, those things are a part of our faith, but there's so much more to it than that.

Becoming a Christian is like putting on a new pair of glasses. Suddenly, you're seeing things in a way you didn't before. Things that never made sense start to come clear. Other things — the ones you thought you had figured out — well, maybe you have to rethink them entirely. That's because becoming a Christian means living life under new management — God's. It means giving up some things, and that may be painful. But it also means gaining a new depth of joy and meaning in life. It means having a sense of purpose that stretches beyond time into eternity.

Whether you realize it or not, you've embarked on a journey that is big enough to consume the rest of your life! God is good, and His plan for you is so big that there's no chance you'll ever reach its limits. In fact, you won't even be able to see the end of it until He makes you complete at the resurrection of believers.

Keep Puttin' One Foot in Front of the Other

Looking at a journey that immense can be dumbfounding. Where should you begin? Glad you asked. Just pick up your right foot. Or your left one — it doesn't matter. Now stick it out in front of you. And put it down again. It's that simple. One step at a time, the Christian walk will take you from here to eternity. From brokenness to wholeness. From weakness to perfection. Your job is to keep your eyes on Jesus, obey Him completely and follow His path.

Your journey will take you around corners and down alleys you never expected. You may look back in five years and wonder if you're even the same person. Sometimes the way will be dark and scary, and you may feel like quitting. No matter what, keep taking one step at a time.

One day, you'll reach the finish line, and your journey will end on a height you never imagined. And finally, you'll look into the face of the loving Savior who died for you and hear Him say, "Welcome home."

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations in this publication are from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION® NIV Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. All Rights Reserved.

The Truth About Eating Disorders

Learn what causes eating disorders, what the root of the problem is, factors that could lead to the development of an eating disorder, what the Bible says about beauty and how to avoid the trap of eating disorders.

Lives in Disorder

Sara is an intelligent, talented girl from a Christian family. She's also a perfectionist. When she was young, she took ballet lessons for five years. In high school, she participated in other sports, as well as modeling and life guarding. These activities constantly drew attention to her body and weight, so they kicked her perfectionism into overdrive. In order to maintain what she felt was an acceptable size, Sara started skipping meals.

Growing up, Tiffany never felt the freedom to be herself. A deep need to please people caused her to become, in her words, "a chameleon melting into whatever anyone wanted me to be." And coming from a family that focused on food and diets, she learned that thin is what people wanted. She began experimenting with dieting in the first grade, and by the time she was a high school senior, Tiffany was caught in the trap of anorexia and bulimia, dropping 54 pounds from her 5-foot, 4-inch frame.

Lucas wrestled throughout high school and college. Although his high school coach never pressured him about his weight class, when he got to college, the rule was "make a particular weight class or don't wrestle." Because of this demand, Lucas once lost 21 pounds in five days. He regularly fasted for days before matches and then binged for days afterward due to the intense hunger that set in.

Shorts and swimsuits were a part of Florida-born Kelly's everyday wardrobe. She wanted a thin body to fit in with the attractive, athletic crowd of friends she hung out with on the beach. Besides that, her church was very legalistic, and her parents quite controlling. She learned that the same dieting habits that helped her stay thin were also a way for her to feel in control of at least part of her life.

What's Your Story?

Sara, Tiffany, Lucas and Kelly are real people who lived through an eating disorder. Their stories represent thousands of teens who struggle daily with their weight and appearance. Sometimes the demands of a sport or pressure from peers and family feed the disorder. Other times, teens don't know how to react to the physical changes that come with adolescence and they panic, desperately trying to stop this natural, healthy weight gain. Still other teens use food and weight-control to get attention or bring stability to a world that seems to be in chaos. No matter what their roots, eating disorders are dangerous and hurtful to bodies, emotions and relationships. If you or a friend is struggling with an eating disorder, keep reading. You will find help and hope in solid information and in the stories of those who have fought this battle and won.

Eating Disorders 101: What Are the Facts?

An eating disorder is an unhealthy way of using food to cope with psychological stress. If you're fighting this food battle, you're probably dealing with one of the following problems:

Anorexia nervosa: You intentionally starve yourself. You have a radically distorted view of your body. Even when your weight drops dangerously low, you still see a fat person in the mirror, so you avoid eating in order to lose weight. You may exercise compulsively. If you notice these characteristics, be careful: Anorexia destroys health. It can cause you to have a slow heart rate, reduced body temperature and low blood pressure. Your digestive system is impaired. If you're a girl, your menstrual cycle is interrupted — or it may stop altogether. Hair falls out. Muscle tissue is lost. Brain function and size can even be reduced. Teenagers with anorexia often get osteoporosis — and never recover. Anemia and other cardiovascular abnormalities also result.

Bulimia nervosa: You overeat (binge) and then take laxatives or force yourself to vomit (purge) to get rid of the excess food. You probably feel extreme guilt after eating, but you also feel that you can't stop binging. Bulimia is just as destructive as anorexia. Complications include tooth decay and gum erosion. Body fluids become imbalanced and can lead to heart attacks. Your salivary glands are enlarged, and your digestive system is impaired. Your esophagus may even tear or rupture. Muscles (including your heart!) weaken. Your body becomes vitamin deficient, and your central nervous system can be disturbed.

True Stories

"I struggled with dissatisfaction even as the weight rapidly dropped off. My mind constantly spun with thoughts of food. Vital functions of my body starved and shut down: I rarely used the bathroom, my brushes collected large clumps of hair, the loss of my monthly period struck a blow to my womanhood." — Tiffany

"After years of anorexic eating, I began to develop health problems from lack of nutrition. I was always tired and hungry. I had little energy. My eating disorder shifted to the opposite extreme. I began overeating and then would immediately feel guilt. I would make myself vomit, hoping to reduce the feelings of anxiety. My binge-purge pattern of eating continued into college." — Sara

It's easy to see that these disorders are disastrous for your health. In addition to destroying your body, eating disorders often cause depression and confusion, harm relationships with family and friends, and produce a sense of separation from God.4 Why? While anorexia and bulimia may have distinct physical symptoms, they're really a matter of emotional and psychological wounds that show up in physical ways.

What Are Some Factors That Might Lead to an Eating Disorder?5

Although the presence of these issues in your life doesn't guarantee you'll develop an eating disorder, it does place you at a higher risk. There is no foolproof way to guess who will struggle with anorexia or bulimia; people who develop eating disorders come from every race, religion and economic background. However, there are some common warning signs. If you're concerned about yourself or a friend, ask the following questions:6

The Root of the Problem

If answering these questions feels like looking in a mirror, it's time to turn a 180. Discovering these signs in your own life can be overwhelming. You may have a sense of sliding down a dangerous slope and not being able to stop. On the other hand, seeing these symptoms in the life of someone close to you may be confusing. What makes your friend act the way he or she does?

Sometimes understanding the source of emotional stress is the best way to begin dealing with an eating disorder. If you're the one struggling, this knowledge can help you look at your pain more objectively and fight it in a way that's healthier than disordered eating. If you're watching a friend battle anorexia or bulimia, understanding where he or she is coming from can help you to respond in a caring, constructive way.

From rapid physical development to the need for love and attention, emotional trauma can come from lots of sources. Let's take a look at some of the primary stresses that contribute to eating disorders.

What's Happening to My Body?

Between your parents and your health class, you've probably been sufficiently warned about the physical changes that happen during adolescence. And it may seem like a no-brainer, but along with all this growth and change comes a natural increase in weight. Between ages 11 and 16, most girls grow 7 to 9 inches and gain 35 to 50 pounds. And most boys grow 10 to 12 inches and gain 40 to 80 pounds.7 Even though this is perfectly normal, the sudden increase in weight scares some teens into thinking they're "getting fat."

True Stories

"I had been forewarned that my body would change and mature during adolescence, but I had no idea that weight gain was a normal part of this process. As I began to put on a few pounds, I panicked. I felt overweight and abnormal, like my body was out of control." — Sara

To complicate things even more, weight gain and height growth are not perfectly synchronized, so almost everyone will go through phases of being chubby or awkwardly skinny at some point during adolescence. Instead of panicking over what you see in the mirror day to day, remember that the best indicators of what your adult body will look like are genetic factors within your family. So relax. Take good care of your body. And be patient. Soon the ups and downs will level off into a more stable adult size and shape.

Truth: A female who diets before the age of 14 is eight times more likely than other girls to develop an eating disorder.8

If your family has a history of being overweight, it is important that you maintain a balance of healthy eating and exercise. But the key word here is balance! Exercising compulsively can be just as unhealthy as anorexia or bulimia. And anytime one area of your life causes you to obsess, it's an indication that something is wrong.

Competing for Thinness

Athletes are usually among the most disciplined and fit of all people. Unfortunately, the rigid standards of some sports and the unrealistic expectations of some coaches and parents can drive young athletes to practice unhealthy dieting habits. In fact, a recent study of 562 athletes found that 58 percent of the females and 38 percent of the males were at risk for developing an eating disorder.9 This is especially true in sports where being small or thin is a competitive advantage.

Sports That Present the Highest Risk for Developing Eating Disorders Include:10

Truth: Sixty percent of ballerinas and other athletes whose fields require leanness practice disordered eating and dieting.11

Male athletes may not go through the emotional distress that many females with eating disorders experience. A girl's identity and self-worth often become closely tied to her success at shedding pounds. For guys, a certain weight may be just a goal to meet in order to do well athletically. But even if guys don't get psychologically addicted to losing weight the way girls do, they still need to be careful not to do permanent harm to their bodies thorough unhealthy dieting.

True Stories

"Most wrestlers suffer from self-inflicted starvation. I've had teammates who lost up to 27 pounds in a short period of time. It was never viewed as an eating disorder, and especially never labeled anorexia. Most view it as a necessary evil and see it as much a part of the sport as practice and weightlifting. ... The negative symptoms of 'cutting weight' are numerous — stunted growth, muscle deterioration, dizziness and fainting. Many wrestlers become irritable, bitter and angry from depriving their body of food." — Lucas

Whether you're a girl or a guy, being an athlete won't automatically cause you to have an eating disorder. In fact, some team sports actually protect against them. But you will need to be extra cautious so you don't fall into that trap. If you choose to participate in the "risk sports" (gymnastics, figure skating, dancing, synchronized swimming, wrestling), make yourself accountable to a mature, objective person such as a school counselor, youth leader or school nurse. Ask this trusted adult to give you feedback on your health. Parents, coaches and teammates may be too close to the situation to be your sole source of accountability.

Looking for Love

Some teens who fall into an eating disorder have the desperate feeling that no one loves or even notices them. They may feel neglected and abused, and food becomes a way to bring control back to their lives. Sometimes a traumatic experience or loss is at the root of their struggle. Others start losing weight to look good and then discover that the rapid weight loss gets them lots of attention. So the cycle continues: they keep losing weight, even when they know it's unhealthy, just to elicit more attention from parents, doctors or counselors. Most commonly, teens feel that if they can just reach a certain size and weight, they'll be accepted by those around them.

True Stories

"Frequently I would compare myself to others, longing to know that I was accepted. I daily battled low self-esteem. Because I believed that my personal worth was determined by my accomplishments and appearance, I tried to develop an identity of significance through external means: academics, leadership, sports, service, etc. I thought that if I met my own high standards, I would be valuable to others." — Sara

"Hunger reflected and expressed my needs. Food became much more than a means for survival or a way to maintain control in my life; it became a symbol for love." — Tiffany

"I had been starting toward anorexia, and two years into it, I was date-raped. That experience validated all the fear I had about not having control over my life, not being respected and not being heard. It was the clincher in my becoming anorexic." — Kelly

A High-Pressure Society

"In a society where thinness is equated with success and happiness, nearly every American woman, man and child has suffered at one time or another from issues of weight, body shape and self-image."12

Why do so many teens turn to food-control as a source of stability, attention and acceptance? Why does body image have so much to do with our self-worth? While there's no simple explanation, part of the answer is that we live in a world that places excessive value on looking good, being thin and staying in style.

But wait! Who decides how thin is thin enough? And who sets the standards for what "beautiful" means?

The people who determine society's standards of beauty haven't had some magical revelation of what perfection is. They just happen to control the diet, fitness, fashion and cosmetic industries. The message they're sending is "perfection is possible … if you use our products." And sex appeal sells, so TV and movies also profit from promoting the lies that beauty equals success, that perfection is attainable and that thinness leads to happiness.

Of course, they always make sure that perfection is just out of reach — so that we keep on buying their stuff without ever being satisfied. Want proof? Follow the money trail: The diet industry rakes in $33 billion a year from people who believe that "thin is in!"13 And in the mid-1990s, the number of people forking over the cash for cosmetic surgery rose 70 percent in four years.14 As long as these industries can keep us believing that beauty will be attained with our next purchase, they've got us right where they want us.

Sadly, many people are buying into these lies. That's why 80 percent of adult women and, even more frightening, 50 percent of 9-year-old girls say they've dieted.15 What happens when the diet doesn't work, or worse, when it does work, but the results still aren't satisfying? These girls are setting themselves up for an eating disorder. They've been given an unrealistic idea of what is beautiful or even normal. They've tried to reach that ideal and failed. And increasingly, they're willing to do destructive things to their bodies in order to achieve that image at all costs.

What Is Beauty?

What most of these girls don't realize is that standards of physical beauty have a habit of changing as time passes. Before the 20th century, being "portly" or "plump" (in today's words, "fat") was a sign of wealth and having enough to eat, so it was considered desirable and beautiful. Advertisements of that time period promoted products to help people gain weight.

In the 1920s the boyish flapper look was in. The 1950s idealized Marilyn Monroe. By today's standards she would be fat. Twiggy came on the scene in the 1960s, glamorizing the anorexic look for the first time — she was 5 feet, 8 inches and weighed 97 pounds. Elle McPherson personified the strong, lean look desired in the 1980s. Today, top models are 5 feet, 9 inches to 6 feet and weigh 110 to 118 pounds, even though the average woman is 5 feet, 4 inches and weighs 142 pounds.16

"I've always thought Marilyn Monroe looked fabulous, but I'd kill myself if I was
that fat." — model/actress Elizabeth Hurley17

"Being a film star is a label and seems to me not to be about whether you are a good actor, but about the size of your breasts, the size of your body, whether you've had 
a facelift or a nose job. None of that stuff interests me." — actress Kate Winslet18

Since standards of beauty change so rapidly, is it really worth our time, effort and tears to conform to them? No! And it's certainly not worth doing permanent damage to your body to live up to a standard that will probably change within a decade.

True Stories

"I wouldn't say that society is where my disorder began, but I would say that it affected me as the struggle continued. There were many times that I watched TV and thought, I could never be as skinny as those girls. Looking at magazines, I felt like I was always in competition and never able to win. Even though I was just as skinny or skinnier than those I saw plastered on advertisements, I still felt the pressure. The media play with the mind and increase the competition for any young girl." — Tiffany

Debunking the Lies

Our image-driven society wants us to think that everyone should have the same ideal body size and shape, regardless of genetic predisposition. If we believe this myth long enough, we also start thinking that our value as a person is based on how close we come to this ideal. If we're going to change our attitudes about eating, weight and appearance, we've got to start recognizing these ideas as lies.

To do that, it is vital that we develop the skill of independent, critical thinking. Culture slips falsehoods into our lives in subtle ways — through television, movies, music, magazines and advertisements. Tragically, the false messages are sometimes reinforced by our families and friends. No matter how much you're being bombarded by the lies, don't buy into them.

Instead, learn to pick apart the messages you're receiving from society. For example, talk with your friends about celebrities whose lives are dysfunctional and filled with problems in spite of having the "perfect" body. This may help you realize that looking like a cover girl or poster boy won't solve all your problems.

"No actress, model or singer is perfect. Stars have makeup artists and computers that airbrush us. So if you're anorexic or bulimic, and you're killing yourself to look like one of us, realize we all have flaws. That's what makes us who we are." — TLC's T-Boz19

True Stories

"Eating disorders are lies that form these nice little structures inside your brain. You 
have to tear down those structures gently and rebuild them with stuff that's solid —replacing lies with the truth. And it's got to be God's truth." — Kelly

Nothing But the Truth

If we're going to start believing the truth about appearance and weight, we've got to go to the ultimate Source. What does our loving heavenly Father have to say about our bodies and real beauty? Check out these Scriptures:

Look especially at Psalm 139. The author of that poem knew that the human body is among God's most miraculous creations. He thanked God for carefully forming our bodies even before birth — for creating us each unique and incredibly special. If God created our bodies, then they are good!

True Stories

"Part of my healing process was the discovery that who I am is more important than how I look or what I do. I realized my need to place more emphasis on my character than my image." — Sara

Truth: Your body is important because God created it — not because it looks a certain way.

An Ounce of Prevention

While almost everyone suffers from the influence of our culture's lies, not everyone will respond by developing an eating disorder. If you're not already in that trap, here are some practical ways to avoid it:20

True Stories

"The body is like a machine that needs the right mixture of 'gas and oil.' It needs to be properly maintained in order to operate at its full potential. Wrestlers often try to cheat the system and eat improperly in order to get ahead, but the result is a lockdown of the system. A wrestler can best honor God with his body by studying his specific body needs and finding the best source to fulfill those needs, helping the body to operate at its full potential." — Lucas

What if I'm Already Struggling?

Maybe you're living life brokenhearted — having a hard time seeing yourself as God's treasured creation. Maybe you're tired of deceiving others into believing that everything is all right. Has thinness become your god? Do you feel as though no one can understand your feelings? God wants you to rest in Him. He knows your hurts and your desire for acceptance. Your life is not hidden from the One who loves you and created you. Let Him call you to obedience and renew your strength as you meditate on the following Scripture:

"Why do you say ..., 'My way is hidden from the LORD; my cause is disregarded by my God'? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." Isaiah 40:27-31

Though eating disorders mean serious danger to your life, there is hope. You first have to be willing to admit your struggle and ask for help. Many people who suffer from anorexia or bulimia feel utterly alone and think that telling someone will bring more rejection and disappointment. Thankfully, this is not true, as long as you are wise about whom you confide in. A close friend or adult who is a mature Christian can encourage you, pray for you and hold you accountable for practicing healthy eating habits.

True Stories

"Being aware that I had a problem was the first step toward getting help. I realized that while I was fighting the illness — and it really is an illness — I kept people at arm's length to a greater and greater degree. I had to realize that I had a need; I had to search out people whom I could trust and allow into my world. And the more I trusted, the more I gave people a chance to know where I was and help me. The more I was able to do that, the healthier I was, and the fuller my life was, and the less need there was for control." — Kelly

Depending on the severity of your situation, different types of assistance may be required, from counseling to hospitalization. In fact, according to eating disorder experts, "eating disorders are complex disorders that require psychological, medical and nutritional treatment. They are best treated by a team of professionals well trained and experienced in treating these difficult problems. Likewise, strong relational support from family and intensive support groups are vital in the recovery process."21

Truth: You can completely recover from an eating disorder — the sooner you get help, the better your chances are for recovery!

True Stories

"As I faced therapy, the thought of running away and hiding within the safe walls of anorexia encompassed me. I did not know what was beyond those walls." — Tiffany

Though telling someone your secret may be terrifying, there is no better time to get help than now! If you don't know where to turn, you can reach Focus on the Family's counseling service by phoning 1-800-A-Family (232-6459) weekdays from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mountain Time. When you call, you will speak to a professional Christian counselor who can guide you to further assistance near you.

Another fantastic source of help is Remuda Ranch Programs for Eating Disorders. 
You can contact them at (800) 445-1900, write to them at One East Apache Street, Wickenburg, AZ 85390, or check out their Web site at

Just remember, there is a way out, but you have to take the first step!

True Stories

"I am no longer in bondage to anorexia and bulimia. Still, I need to surrender my thoughts to God daily, asking to see myself through His eyes as a unique and precious creation." — Sara

"I am a walking miracle. Five years ago I never dreamed that a day could go by and I don't think about food and weight. But now I go every day without a thought of it. For the first time in a long time, I can live a life of normalcy and allow myself the freedom to just eat. More than anything today, I am aware of God's love for me. I am also aware of the responsibility I have for my life. I have quit blaming and have chosen to live and strive for what is ahead." — Tiffany

All scripture quotations are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

1"Facts About Eating Disorders: What the Research Shows," Eating Disorders Coalition, See also
2Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
3"Facts About Eating Disorders: What the Research Shows," Eating Disorders Coalition,
4Marian Eberly and Bonnie Harken, Help and Hope for Eating Disorders (Focus on the Family, 2000), 6-7.
5Bulleted information courtesy of Remuda Ranch,
7CDC 2000 "Stature-for-Age and Weight-for-Age" report.
8L.K. George Tsu quoted by Paula Levine, Ph.D., presentation at the 1995 Eating Disorder Awareness and Prevention State Coordinators' Conference.
9A. Laureate quoted by Marsha Alexander-Meler, R.N., and Carol Tappan, B.A., The Eating Disorder Institute (Methodist Hospital and Health System, 1996).
10Bulleted information courtesy of Remuda Ranch.
11Kathryn Zerbe, M.D., The Body Betrayed (American Psychiatric Press, 1993), 138-139.
12American Anorexia Bulimia Association, Inc:
13Karen S. Schneider, "Mission Impossible," People, June 3, 1996.
14American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons, Colorado Springs Gazette, November 29, 1998.
15Karen S. Schneider, "Mission Impossible," People, June 3, 1996.
17Jump, May 2000.
18ABC News Online, February 4, 1999.
19YM, May 2000.
20Bulleted information courtesy of Remuda Ranch.
21Eberly and Harken, 19.

The Vicious Truth About Drugs and Alcohol

Read about the dangers of drugs and alcohol, what the Bible has to say about getting high, how a teen can help a friend involved in substance abuse and resources for drug abuse.

by Bob Waliszewski, Loren Eaton, Adam Holz

"I thought marijuana was no big deal. ... I felt I could stand out if I did crazy things." That was before Kevin West put a bullet through his head — stoned on pot.

Kevin went from house to house with his friends, toking at each stop. Then someone suggested they play a game of Russian roulette.

Kevin agreed. He didn't realize that putting a gun to his head and pulling the trigger might be life-changing.

It was. Two years of surgeries, treatment and medication have not erased the damage Kevin did to himself. His left side is paralyzed. He must take medication daily to prevent seizures. "I only smoked for a few months. Now I'm on drugs for the rest of my life. I thought marijuana was no big deal."1

"No Big Deal..."

You've heard anti-drug messages before. Maybe you said, "Yeah, whatever," and didn't give it a second thought. There are a lot of attitudes about drug use floating around. Some say it's harmless fun. Others try to persuade you not to use. But maybe what you're hearing doesn't seem to add up with what you see. You may know people who use. They do well in school. They start on the football or basketball team. You see them smoked out only at parties. And it's the same in the media, where many celebrities enthusiastically endorse pot smoking but seem to suffer few ill effects from their habit. So you may dismiss the warnings.

Despite popular perceptions, even casual drug use can have devastating consequences. Today's anti-drug messages highlight some of them but tend to focus only on the physical effects of use. The teen who's asked Christ to be Lord of his life should know that drug use can damage his soul as well as his body.

Really? Think About It.

Contrary to popular opinion, you are not a cosmic accident or mass of protoplasm wandering aimlessly on the planet. Rather, you were specially made by a loving Creator who intends for your life to be dynamic and purposeful. He made you in His image. You are an eternal, spiritual being with a miraculous mind and body that bears His reflection. And He wants every part of you to be pure.

This is only possible when your spirit lines up with God's Spirit. When you sin, you disrupt your companionship with God and begin to slide away from Him. This is often a subtle, slow process — at least at first.

Do not be fooled by those who claim they use drugs as a means to enhance their spirituality. It works just the opposite. Many drug users find the only way to relieve their guilt is to turn their backs on God. They go through a reasoning process something like this:

Willful, repeated sinful behavior can cement such fundamentally flawed logic — what the Bible calls a hardening of our hearts or being given over to "a depraved mind" (Romans 1:28). It's not that God wouldn't take us back. Instead, we have no desire to return. Without question, it's an enormous risk to take.

But Is It Wrong?

Doubtless, some will reply, "The Bible doesn't say anything about drugs, so get off my back!" But does Scripture's apparent silence might mean that some drug use is acceptable?

Drugs were virtually nonexistent during biblical times. Thus, substances such as LSD, marijuana, heroin, Ecstasy, cocaine, methamphetamine and any number of others aren't mentioned in Scripture. However, God makes it clear that He prohibits drunkenness (see Proverbs 23:20-21, 29-35; 1 Corinthians 5:11; 1 Peter 4:3).

The application to drugs is obvious: Substances that compromise our minds and bodies are out of bounds. Consider the following:

1. The Bible explicitly instructs us to refrain from getting high. Scripture specifically instructs us to avoid an induced buzz. For example, the apostle Paul writes, "Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit" (Ephesians 5:18). The reason Paul gives for this instruction is that it leads to indulging passions without restraint, a.k.a. debauchery. He contrasts drunkenness with being filled with the Holy Spirit of God. The principle behind the passage is simply this: Stay away from stuff that will confuse your thoughts, weaken your inhibitions and make you more vulnerable to sin. Can you think of a drug that doesn't do all those things? Whether depressant or stimulant, psychedelic or dissociative, legal or illegal, substances that mess with your mind get a poor rap in God's book: "In the end it bites like a snake and poisons like a viper. Your eyes will see strange sights and your mind imagine confusing things" (Proverbs 23:32-33).

2. Our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. God instructs us to honor Him with our body. In 1 Corinthians 6, the apostle Paul condemns sexual immorality. He says, "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body" (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). We do not own ourselves. Ultimately, we belong to God. He lives inside of those who trust in Him and takes a dim view toward those who destroy His habitation — even if they do so in the name of pleasure.

Now, don't forget that God is not against pleasure. He wants us to enjoy life and have it to the full (John 10:10). But He knows that the "pleasures of sin" (Hebrews 11:25) eventually take us further than we want to go and cost us more than we want to pay. Plus, no matter how good the trip, an artificial high never really gratifies. It's that way with drugs and all "enjoyable" sins: Their emptiness takes us away from true enjoyment in God. Jeremiah compared Israel's search for satisfaction in sin to broken cisterns, man-made reservoirs designed to store water. "My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken Me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water" (Jeremiah 2:13).

3. We must avoid all types of wrong behaviors in order to grow. Drug use numbs our will to pursue God and His purposes for our lives. Paul repeatedly instructed his readers to be careful about the decisions they make. The passage immediately before his instruction not to get drunk reads, "Be very careful, then, how you live — not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is" (Ephesians 5:15-17).

4. God wants our thought life under His control. Did you know that God cares what you think about? In fact, Paul goes so far as to describe a war waged all over the world, fought in part for your mind:

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
— 2 Corinthians 10:3-5

The way we think is central to the way we live. How we think about drugs and how drugs make us think are both vital. A drug-fogged mind can keep us from properly seeing what's right and what's wrong in many situations.

5. The virtue of self-control is critical for a disciple of Christ. Self-control is one of the primary virtues of the Christian life. Christians are instructed to be in control of their decision-making processes and not enslaved to anything that erodes their ability to act in ways that are honoring to God. A clear mind — which is impossible under the influence of drugs — is crucial to self-control, which in turn affects our ability to grow as Christians.

6. God — not drugs — can be trusted to see us through the pain of life. Perhaps the only reason you're interested in drugs is that they seem to offer relief from pain. Maybe life isn't going the way you'd hoped. Maybe you've been abused. Maybe you've been rejected. Maybe you've been seriously disappointed by a boyfriend or girlfriend. Maybe your parents divorced, and things are difficult. Wanting a reprieve is completely understandable. But some methods are definitely better than others.

Ponder this question: How do drugs really help? They may alter your perception of reality for a while, but they do nothing to change it. In fact, they only give you more problems in the end. Addiction. Isolation. Financial burden. More hurt piled on top of what was there before.

So, what can you do? Well, the first step is to trust in God. Sure, it's easier said than done, especially in the middle of crushing circumstances. But listen to what He says: "Can a mother forget her nursing child, and not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands" (Is. 49:15-16, NKJV). Though parents might abandon their children, God will never leave His.

A second step is to take constructive action. Find an adult you trust. Talk with him or her about your situation. Confront what you've lost, and try to deal with the pain honestly. Try to find constructive activities you can use to get away from it all for a while. If you're having a hard time finding someone to talk to or just want some more information on what it means to find release from your pain, call Focus on the Family at (719) 531-3400, ext. 2700.

7. There's nothing better in life than knowing God. For the apostle Paul, nothing — absolutely nothing — was a higher priority or greater joy than knowing Christ. Here's how he described it:

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the -surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish. … I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
— Philippians 3:7-8,10-11

Paul understood that nothing but knowing Christ would satisfy. For him, all other things were valueless in comparison to a deeper commitment to Jesus. Remember this: Jesus gave His life that anyone who believes might have eternal, abundant life, both on earth and after death. His desire is for you to embrace Him in faith. But drugs cripple your ability to do that, as well as rob you from the greatest delight you could ever experience. They offer only a counterfeit to abundant life in Christ.

The Slippery Slope

In addition to spiritual consequences, there are physical consequences. What happens when you ski down a steep slope and wipe out? By the time you stop you're a lot farther down the hill from where you fell. Momentum carries you along after the initial crash. Like wiping out, unwise decisions have a momentum of their own.

This is the slippery slope. From the top, it looks like a harmless evening of getting high with your friends. But you can't see how steep it is. You don't know how far or how fast it'll carry you. And what's more, you're skiing in the dark.

As someone slides down the hill of drug use, he tends to follow several stages:

  1. Experimental usage: Alcohol or drugs are tried for the first time, often fueled by curiosity and/or motivated by peer pressure.

  2. Casual users: Casual users have decided they enjoy being high but limit their use. Often they use only on specific occasions.

  3. Regular users: When casual users become regular users, they can usually still function at work and school, but they are dangerously close to becoming chemically addicted. They may believe they can stop using but find themselves unable to do so for any significant period of time. People around them begin to notice signs of usage.

  4. Chemical addiction: In the final stage, addicts are compelled to use, not for pleasure's sake, but simply to feel normal. Those who reach this stage often deny the seriousness of the situation, even though friends, family and co-workers recognize the problem.2

One of the risks of casual usage is easy addiction. Some are going to get hooked from the first time. And no one knows ahead of time his susceptibility. The best way to prevent addiction is never to begin.

Maybe you've heard this one: "I'm not going to get addicted. I'm going to smoke a joint here and there, drop a little Ecstasy, kick back with some friends and have a beer." People may use all of these drugs recreationally and insist they're safe. But they ignore volumes of evidence to the contrary.

Going to Pot

Recreation. The word conjures up images of football and baseball, going to the beach or catching a movie. Harmless stuff, right? Perhaps that's why users like to link it with their habit. But even marijuana, supposedly the "softest" of drugs, is more gamble than game.

Let's imagine a common "recreational" smoker. She lights up only on the weekends, at parties, maybe special occasions. "No big deal," you say. "If she wants to get high on the weekends it's her business. It won't affect her life anyway." Not so. THC, the active ingredient in the cocktail of chemicals that marijuana releases, stores itself in fatty tissues and hangs around for a while. Three or four days after that initial hit, the user is still affected to one degree or another, whether she knows it or not. Most don't. In fact, should our user choose to smoke one joint per week for the rest of her life, she'd be continually stoned until the moment she died.3

It would be bad enough if our "recreational" friend only had to deal with decreased motor skills, inhibited concentration, reduced memory, loss of coordination and uncontrollable attacks of "the munchies." But the hallucinogenic high of cannabis comes with another, less welcome side effect: psychological and physical addiction. The movement from casual, recreational use to hard core is often faster than expected. And hard-core users suffer from far more serious ailments. Chronic bronchitis. Damage to the immune system. Impotence. Personality disorders. Schizophrenia. Not to mention the law of "decreased marginal utility": What once sent you soaring will soon barely affect you.4

Let's face it. Though it's not heroin or crack, pot's still dangerous. There's nothing "recreational" about it. "Marijuana addicts, in particular, tend to believe that they must be 'OK' since there are much worse drugs, and other people whose lives are much worse off as a result of their using. That is denial."5

The Ecstasy and the Agony

Hailed as a wonder drug, Ecstasy is said to offer everything from limitless energy to reduced social inhibitions — a virtual cure-all for the shy — to greater "spiritual" awareness. Like marijuana, its supporters claim few negative side effects and lots of positive ones. And it's increasing in popularity.6 So what's it all about?

Methylenedioxymethamphetamine, if you want to get technical, Ecstasy or XTC in pop usage, combines the dual effects of a relaxant and a stimulant. Especially popular at raves, it has stimulant qualities that allow ravers literally to dance the night away, gyrating for hours on end with a seemingly endless supply of energy. Also, users experience a sense of euphoria, sometimes so strong it sends them into howls. Sense of touch is accentuated as well, and with that comes increased emotional intensity. For good reason, Ecstasy sometimes goes under the title of the "hug drug" or "love drug."

Increased energy. Intense bliss. Affection without bounds. Could there be a downside to Ecstasy? You'd better believe it.

Former Maryland Lt. Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsends says it straight: "Ecstasy does not free your mind. It burns your brain."7 She means that literally. As with any drug, you build up a tolerance to Ecstasy the more you use it. Regular users figure that more X can remedy the problem. What they get in return is trouble. Large amounts of Ecstasy cause temperature spikes into the 104 to 105 degree range, which can lead to death. Brain damage — particularly of the sections that control mood, sleep and sexual response — occurs as well.

Even so-called soft-core users are at risk. Don't start Xing if you want to keep your teeth: Users are prone to grind them uncontrollably.8 And the emotional effect of the drug turns any kind of decision making into a high-stakes gamble. One user recounts his Ecstasy experience when dancing with someone he had just met: "I had met this girl 15 minutes ago, and I was totally in love with her. ... This drug opens you up so much that you can easily form deep emotional attachments to someone you don't even know. ... I can see how it could be addictive." Plus, Xers are prone to post-E depression, the emotional undertow that seizes users in euphoria's wake, striking anywhere from one to four days after they dropped the drug and lasting as long as a week. One user's plea speaks volumes: "God, please help me! I'm so depressed, and I hate it!... The drastic change of utopia to rock-bottom depression is killing me!"

If you think the elation of Ecstasy is worth the risk, think again. With the side effects of scrambled judgment, deep depression, uncontrollable energy and impulses, fierce fevers and brain damage, Ecstasy will bring more agony than you might think.

The Oldest Drug

The most pervasive drug in society has been around longer than any of the others you've read about here so far. Even one of the Old Testament patriarchs stumbled because of it (Gen. 9:20-21). And it's the drug that, statistically speaking, you are most likely to use.9 You've probably guessed it by now.

It's alcohol.

Most people put intoxicating substances in two categories: drugs and alcohol. The first they see as deadly, the other not. Why? Well, alcohol is legal, and "drugs" are not. Second, in some ways, alcohol is not as instantly harmful as the previously mentioned drugs. Because it's not immediately mind-altering like marijuana, Ecstasy, meth, cocaine or heroin, it can be used responsibly when taken in small doses. That's why it's legal. But let's not forget that alcohol remains "a substance other than food intended to affect the structure or function of the body."10

Because of its status as one of the few non-medicinal and legally controlled substances, a lot of teens think they can handle an alcoholic high. But let's not forget the effects of beer, whiskey, coolers and wine: changed and impaired cognition, loss of concentration and coordination, slurred speech, unconsciousness and eventually cirrhosis of the liver, sexual dysfunction and chronic blood pressure problems.11Also, alcohol is illegal for most teens. And there's good reason for it. Let's face it: Alcohol is a drug that scrambles one's mind and judgment, and its raw destructive power is often overlooked.

The Weird and Not-So-Wonderful

While those drugs are among the most popular, they're far from the only ones out there. Tobacco use (smoking or chewing) often goes hand in hand with drinking. Some teens find "creative" uses for chemicals that were never intended to be ingested; others abuse prescription painkillers or drugs for psychological disorders, such as Ritalin. And some people look for "better" highs but instead slide into the vice-like grip of addiction to hard drugs such as cocaine, heroine or crack. Whatever the drug, the principle is clear: Specific effects may vary, but the end of all drug use is an altered state of mind; compromised physical, mental and spiritual health; and damaged relationships.

The Friend Dilemma

Maybe you don't use yourself. What about your friends? Your first response might be, "It's their business, not mine." It's hard to meddle in another person's life, especially if you have to tell him that he's doing something wrong. Plus, the fact that a friend's use doesn't directly affect you can only lessen your incentive. But take a moment to consider once again what drugs do.

What is your primary focus when taking drugs? Yourself. A person may want to get stoned or wired to escape life's problems or to fit in, or simply to enjoy the buzz. But all of these motivations are selfish. They don't move someone to care about others or to help him deal with life's problems. And as we already mentioned, a life of drug use often leads to a life of addiction. Users may spiral down into a waking nightmare of fear, hopelessness and a desperate need for the next high. While in that nightmare, you'd be amazed at the things they do — immoral, unethical and self-destructive things — just to feel normal for a while.

Now, no one is saying that confronting a self-destructive friend is easy. Far from it. But put yourself in your friend's shoes: If you were smoking, shooting and popping away your life, missing out on real joy and genuine relationships with people and God, would you want someone to confront you? Probably yes, no matter how angry you might be at the time. Yeah, it's hard. But saving a life is worth a measure of rejection and hurt.

Notice the use of the word confront. It's not enough simply to "be there" for them. While it seems to offer the option of doing something "constructive" without the possibility of painful repercussions, it fails to address the issue at hand. Both casual users and dope fiends live in denial of how deeply rooted their problems really are. Simple companionship won't convince them any differently. Practically speaking, being there doesn't mean much more than standing by and watching them self-destruct.

The 20 Questions

How can you know if you or somebody you know is addicted? If someone answers "Yes" to at least five of the questions below, that person is more than likely an addict.

  1. Do you spend a great deal of time talking or thinking about getting high?

  2. Do you use alone or when no one else is using?

  3. Have you ever had a blackout or memory loss during or after use?

  4. Do you hoard or protect an extra supply to keep from running out?

  5. Do you need more and more of a substance to get high?

  6. Do you use more than originally planned?

  7. Do you use to escape from your problems?

  8. Do you do anything to get a large amount of substance into your body quickly?

  9. Is your use worrying or upsetting your family?

  10. Do you lose time at school or work due to use?

  11. Do you use first thing in the morning?

  12. Do you avoid people/places that do not condone your usage?

  13. Do you spend more money on substances than you can afford?

  14. Do you use one substance to offset the effects of another?

  15. Do you lie about how much you're using?

  16. Do you do things under the influence that you wouldn't do while sober?

  17. Do you think you need to be high to have a good time?

  18. Have you tried to control your use, but failed?

  19. Are you ashamed of your use?

  20. Have you watched your spiritual life decline or disintegrate because of use?

If you or someone you know is using, take the time to think about the questions above and answer them honestly.12

What can you do to make sure you stay C.L.E.A.N.? Check out this acrostic:

Call Out: Don't hide your decision to be clean. Tell others about your stand, and confront your using friends about their problem.

Live Loud: A life well-lived is a stronger argument for the truth than the loudest shouting match could ever be. Plan drug-free activities. Put your God-given talents to use and have fun with them. Most of all, through your attitude, actions and words, let others know that a drug-free life is more delightful than the greatest induced high.

Educate Yourself Enough: No matter how well you live, times will come when you'll need to give some answers for your actions. Know why you've chosen to live the way you do and why others should, too. Learn truth about substances, then learn how to refute the misleading statistics and false facts users will throw at you. Take time to teach others what you've learned about substances as well.

Anticipate Adversity: Those who take a stand to stay clean will face adversity at some time. Peers may mock you. Friends may ignore your counsel and use anyway. You might even find yourself tempted to give in and start using. These things should be expected. Plan how you'll react to them.

Never Give Up: Perseverance is the final and most important part of staying clean. What if friends keep using? What if others don't listen? And let's be honest: What if you're one of those who — even with the best intentions — ends up using? No matter how bad your situation might get, you can always turn things around with enough effort and divine aid. So get on your knees and don't give up.

To Use or Not to Use?

To put it simply, what you want to do with your life is up to you. This is what the drug dilemma comes down to: Is a temporary high and all its "benefits" worth the physical, mental, spiritual and social risks that follow?

Consider this: As Creator of everything, God's pretty smart. And He's got some principles that apply to the subject. Users admit to experiencing an ever-diminished high. Obviously, drugs offer no permanent pleasure. Meanwhile, God says that at His "right hand are pleasures forevermore" (Psalm 16:11, NKJV).

Think about it.

Resources for Drug Abuse

Alcoholics Victorious offers a 12-step program that integrates Christian principles and encourages acceptance of God's forgiveness.
1045 Swift Street
Kansas City, MO 64116-4127
(816) 471-8020

The National Clearinghouse for Drug and Alcohol Abuse Information is a service of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It provides information and referrals upon request.
11420 Rockville Pike
Rockville, MD 20852
(800) 729-6686 (24 hr. hotline)

New Creations Chapel provides an 18-month, on-location program for teens struggling with drug addiction, sexual abuse, family troubles and a number of other issues.
6400 National Road East
Richmond, IN 47374
(765) 935-2790

Overcomers Outreach Inc. addresses alcohol and drug dependency within churches. It offers a 12-step program, a list of local support groups in all 50 states and coordinates seminars for churches and schools.
PO Box 2208
Oakhurst, CA 93644
(800) 310-3001

Teen Challenge provides a broad scope of help and information in every area of drug and alcohol abuse.
3728 W. Chestnut Expwy.
Springfield, MO 65802
(417) 862-6969

Yellowstone Ranch is a long-term (8- to 10-month) psychiatric center for preteens and teens with both psychological disorders and substance abuse.
1732 72nd Street West
Billings, MT 59106-3599
(406) 655-2100
(800) 726-6755

All scripture quotations are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

1USA Weekend, Feb. 16-18, 1996.
2"Stages of Drug Use," Flipping the World: Drugs Through a Blue Lens, National Film Board of Canada,
3Melissa Fyfe, "Marijuana lingers longer, doctor warns casual users,"
4See and
6"'Ecstasy' use rises sharply among teens in 2000," The University of Michigan News and Information Services, December 14, 2000.
7Julia Campbell, "Killer Club Drug: Florida Authorities Call Ecstasy-Like Drug Deadly,"
8Donna Leinwand, "The Lowdown on the Hippest Highs," USA Today, August 28, 2001, 6D.
9"Drug trends in 1999 among American teens are mixed," Monitoring the Future, University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research, December 17, 1999.
10Main entry for "drug,"
11"Alcohol Effects In Action," and "Short and Long Term Effects of Alcohol,"
12Addiction information:;

Violence in the Media

Teens will learn about how violence in song lyrics, video games and movies can negatively influence behavior.

When Emma Sleight returned home from school, she expected her day to be like any other: homework, chatting with friends on the phone, fixing dinner. Instead, her brother Tony seized her, bound her to a chair and proceeded to beat her. At one point he grabbed a knife and cut Emma's neck. The torture went on for four hours, and all the while Eminem droned in the background: "I strangled you to death then I choked you again ..."


In 2003, 19-year-old Josh Cooke of Oakton, Virginia, shot his mother and father multiple times with a shotgun similar to the weapon that Keanu Reeves' character used in the first Matrix film (he also owned a trench coat like the ones worn in the movie and hung a large Matrix poster in his room). A court-appointed psychiatrist said Cooke "harbored a bona fide belief that he was living in the virtual world of the Matrix." Others accused of murder in Ohio and California have also been linked to the movie, pleading insanity after saying they had been trapped in the movie's virtual world.


In 2009, 17-year-old Daniel Petric was convicted of aggravated murder and other charges after shooting his parents because they refused to let him play the violent video game Halo 3. Petric, who played the M-rated game 18 hours a day whenever he had the chance, plotted the murder for weeks, eventually taking a handgun from his father's lockbox. His mother was fatally wounded, while his father managed to survive the attack.


Entertainment. You look forward to it in the middle of a slow week. You think about it at school. It bookends your days, there when the sun rises and when you fall asleep. You talk about it with friends, family and even strangers. When others ask you about it, they're not just interested in small talk: it's your badge, your uniform, part of your identity. It's in your ears, your eyes and your mind. It's often chock-full of rage, aggression and brutality. And it can lead some to kill.

At the moment you might be thinking, "Whoa, whoa! I don't know anyone who's exploded into violence because of the movies he watches or the music he listens to. The examples you listed are extreme. You can't blame everything on media."

If that thought just crossed your mind, you're not alone:

"There's just no easy answer to this. If someone were to come to me with ironclad proof that video games caused gun violence, then, hey, I'd support a bill to get rid of video games. But as far as I can tell ... it falls into the area of conjecture."
— former Colorado House Majority Leader Doug Dean

"I don't know about all of you, but high school sucked. ... [B]ut when I sat down to my computer and whooped my brother's a-- at a little Half Life, it always made me feel better. I would even say that without these fantastic, violent games I would've probably been more prone to going out and shooting up the school, because I wouldn't have had any release at all ..."
— avid video game fan, Jake

"Let's not forget — the arts are a compelling solution to teen violence; they're certainly not the cause of it."
— former president of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, Michael Green

As you can see, many believe it's ridiculous to think that a completely normal person can be transformed into a homicidal maniac simply by watching a screen or popping on a pair of headphones. And they're right: Many factors contribute to violence. A bad home life, a lack of spiritual values, drug use and a justice system that acquits the guilty are all factors. But people often take the Goliath-sized step from saying that entertainment isn't the only factor in teen violence to saying that it isn't a factor at all. Are they right? Let's look at what the experts have to say!

Denying Gravity

"We'd have to be either extremely stubborn, in deep denial or lying to say that the violence in our games doesn't affect people," said Mike Gummelt, a programmer for Raven software (creators of Heretic, Hexen and Soldier of Fortune), after the Columbine shootings. Why? One of the basic principles of thought is that the more you're around something — like violence, real or simulated — the more you believe it to be real and normal. Sure, you may not go on an armed rampage because you've watched the latest thriller or listened to a gangsta rap album. But you've probably changed in ways you're not even aware of. Your temper. How you argue with others. And how you see the world. The subtle way in which violent entertainment works is a lot like obesity. No one goes to bed one night slim and wakes up the next morning a blimp. It's a candy bar here, an ice cream scoop there, a week without exercise, and the pounds pile on. Without a change, you soon can barely remember what life was like before. But violent media work even more subtly and change us more thoroughly.

One night as Dr. Deborah Prothrow-Stith treated a young gunshot wound victim in the emergency room, she was shocked when he said he was surprised the wound hurt. "I thought, boy, he's really stupid, anybody knows that if you get shot, it's going to hurt. But it dawned on me that what he sees on television is that when the superhero gets shot in the arm, he uses that arm to hold onto a truck going 85 miles an hour around a corner. He overcomes the driver and shoots a couple hundred people while he's at it."

Hopefully, you'll never be faced with the receiving end of a gun or tempted to use one on somebody else. But don't think that you can fill your mind with hack-'n'-slash games or gun-'em-down spy dramas and not be influenced. Psychologist Jeff McIntire puts it well when he says that doubting violent entertainment changes people "is like doubting the effects of gravity." A coalition of organizations ranging from the American Medical Association to the American Psychological Association said, "Its effects are measurable and long-lasting. Moreover, prolonged viewing of media violence can lead to emotional desensitization toward violence in real life. ... The conclusion of the public health community, based on over 30 years of research, is that viewing entertainment violence can lead to increases in aggressive attitudes, values and behaviors.… " And Dr. Christine Woodman hits the nail on the head when she declares, "If a kid sees his idol shooting a gun or getting in fights or driving a car at breakneck speeds, those actions become more acceptable. That doesn't mean the child is going to go out and do it. But certainly that action is seen in a more favorable light."

Sometimes, though, the circumstances line up in just the right way so that a person moves from thinking to acting. The three examples in the beginning might be rare and extreme, but they happened. And similar incidents continue to crop up day after day. The risk of real violence exists and can't be ignored. "It is unlikely that a [single] movie or television show alone would [make someone act violently]. We have to realize that many times, these images are watched hundreds of thousands of times, over and over. That, combined with depression, being rejected, feeling angry, having access to a weapon and seeing images of people killing to deal with their problems, sets the stage."

Changes in attitude. Changes in perceptions. Changes in action. Exposure to violent entertainment causes all of these things, but there's one change we haven't talked about. That's the change between you and God.

Go On, Enjoy Yourself

Remember how we saw before that the more time you spend with a thing, the more real it seems to you? Well, not only that, but you also grow to like it more and more. That's what Jesus means when He says, "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:21). Let's think about that for a second. You don't invest time and energy into something you don't value. And the more you value something, the more you become attached to it. The more you desire it. Do you think God, whose "eyes are too pure to look upon evil" (Habakkuk 1:13), enjoys it when His children regularly take pleasure in watching prerecorded drive-by shootings? Would Jesus, who wants us not even to look at a vile thing (Psalm 101:3), be glad that His followers delight in lyrics that advocate assaulting an ex-girlfriend? Consider what the writer of Psalm 119 focused his energy on.

"I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. ... The law from your mouth is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold. ... If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction" (Psalm 119:11,72,92).

None of this is to try to give you some massive guilt trip or to convince you once and for all that God's a cosmic spoilsport, ready to squelch all your fun. On the contrary, "in [God's] presence is fullness of joy; at [his] right hand are pleasures forevermore" (Psalm 16:11, NKJV). Not only does He want us to enjoy ourselves, but He's completely committed to our delight. Jesus said, "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full" (John 10:10). He wants us to enjoy what's really pleasurable, unlike sin that only offers second-rate, temporary satisfaction.

Pastor John Piper put it like this: "I find in the Bible a divine command to be a pleasure-seeker — that is, to forsake the two-bit, low-yield, short-term, never-satisfying, person-destroying, God-belittling pleasures of the world, and to sell everything 'out of joy' (Matthew 13:44) in order to have the kingdom and thus 'enter into the joy of [our] Master' (Matthew 25:21,23)."

If God really does offer us the best in life (and the Bible says He does), then we're really looking out for our own interests when we do what He commands. If even good things can't possibly compare to the delight He offers, then sin — no matter how fun it might seem — means missing the greatest pleasure we could possibly have. It's not enough to realize there's a problem and want to change, although that's the start. You have to have a plan.

The Discernment Principle

Realizing that reveling in violent entertainment can lead to sin, some have decided to completely isolate themselves from mainstream media. "Out with the secular! In with the Christian!" they cry. But there are problems with this approach. It fails to recognize that what's labeled as "Christian" can sometimes have just as many problems as what's "secular." It hinders you from learning to discern between right and wrong, good and bad.

Jesus himself placed a high priority on discernment. When unfairly questioned about His religious qualifications, He responded, "Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment" (John 7:24). In other words, don't say that a person or an issue or a song is good or bad just because it seems like it. Find out for sure. In another place, God says, "My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge" (Hosea 4:6). The Israelites of Hosea's time didn't know God's law well enough to obey it. Remember when it was cool to wear the "What Would Jesus Do?" bracelets? A pretty good thing in and of itself. Unfortunately, people didn't know enough Scripture to have any idea what He would have them do. The beginning of better media discernment is simple: Read your Bible.

Interestingly enough, some forget to turn on their minds when the cover opens. They skim through and think, "The Bible doesn't say anything about violent video games or television or music." Take actress Salma Hayek, for example. When questioned about the sex scenes in her movies, she responded, "I never found in the Bible where it says you cannot do movies where you kiss the guy and take your clothes off." Of course the Bible doesn't specifically mention movies because they weren't invented when God decided to reveal himself to mankind! But He did give us some timeless principles which apply to our entertainment choices. And while they don't mention anything about movies, they do have a lot to say about lust ("It is God's will that you should be sanctified; that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable …" 1 Thessalonians 4:3-4). And modesty, too ("Dress modestly with decency and propriety …" 1 Timothy 2:9).

Another step that might help is the development of your own biblically based entertainment standard. What entertainment is in-bounds for Christian consumption? What should we avoid altogether? How does one handle the gray areas? Can non-Christian messages be used to glorify God? And just what does it mean to be "free in Christ"? The best way to find answers is to open the Book often, and with an open heart. This list of references should provide a starting point:

Whether you're setting an entertainment standard for yourself or finding out what the spiritual issues behind media choices are, check out:

When It's Tough

Every time you try to change an ingrained habit there comes a point when you hit a brick wall. You feel as though you're making great progress, like you've really begun a change, then smack! It all grinds to a halt. The change gets difficult. You miss your favorite CD, that hour-long slot in front of the tube on Tuesday nights and firing up your PC to blast zombified Nazis. You can't find any wholesome alternatives that even come close. You begin to wonder if you've made the best choice, if it might just be easier to go back to the way things were. ...

It's a predicament that's easy to understand. Here's something you've really enjoyed that you know you should give up. If you had to let go of something entirely unpleasant — like eating asphalt — you probably wouldn't find it all that difficult. The key to success isn't just gritting your teeth and suffering through it, but changing your thought processes, emotions and will. That's what Paul urges the Roman church to do as they "present [their] bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God" (Romans 12:1-2, NKJV). You see, in the end, sin never really gratifies. It kills (James 1:15). Of course, it rarely seems that way at the time. But giving in means that you'll miss out on the best — the real enjoyment that God has for you.

The Bible says, "Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and let your soul delight itself in abundance" (Isaiah 55:2, NKJV).

While it can be frustrating to not find a good replacement for your favorite kinds of entertainment, don't believe that the lack of a substitute means you can go back to old habits. Bob Smithouser comments, "That would be like a heart attack victim refusing to quit eating bacon simply because there's no low-fat alternative that tastes as good. Our spiritual health has to take priority over our artistic appetites."

When the going gets tough, remember you don't have to go it alone. "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble" (Psalm 46:1).

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations in this publication are from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION® NIV Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. All Rights Reserved.

When You Feel Hopeless

Teens facing despair and struggling with thoughts of suicide will find hope in this booklet as well as learn how to handle the intense feelings they're experiencing.

by Bob Waliszewski

Four True Stories of Tragedy

Early one March morning, Heidi, 15, and her boyfriend, Christopher, 16, decided life wasn't worth living. After a short hike down a rugged path on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean near Los Angeles, the teenage couple ducked through a hole in a chain-link fence to get to a narrow concrete spillway known locally as "the diving board." There, before dawn, the couple jumped, falling 150 feet into the crashing surf below. Their bodies were found by a jogger at sunrise.

Two months later and just a few miles down the coast, 14-year-old Amber and her 15-year-old friend, Alicia, also decided they'd had enough. After tying their wrists together, the two teens walked to the edge of a cliff and jumped. Friends and family knew that Amber and Alicia had been using drugs. But they also said the girls were making progress and seemed happy. After their suicidal leap, many of the girls' classmates gathered on the cliff to light candles, play music and mourn their loss. One classmate offered this philosophy about life: "You know, life sucks so much as it is now. A lot of teenagers don't know if it's going to get better or not. I guess [suicide] is their only way out. They feel they can't talk to people. We don't feel like we can talk to our parents or anybody. They say they understand. They don't!"

The true stories of Heidi, Christopher, Amber and Alicia represent a hopelessness that's flooding today's culture in unprecedented ways. To some, life seems so worthless that they're willing not only to kill themselves, but to senselessly murder others as well. Families and communities are left devastated. For others, depression isn't strong enough to make them consider suicide, but it is enough to make them feel lonely, unloved and miserable.

What's It All About?

Does this sound like you or someone you know? Do you hide what you're really feeling from everyone close to you? Do you feel that no one cares and that there's no hope? Do you wonder if anything — especially your own life — really matters? If you do, you're not alone.

Where do you turn when you reach this point? Heidi, Chris, Amber and Alicia felt there was no place to go. Life was pointless, difficult and unfulfilling. Nothing mattered. God seemed not to exist. And this perception of reality influenced their hearts, their minds and ultimately their actions. While these teens were dealing with a variety of issues, one thing was peculiarly similar: Each found a sense of comfort in listening to music that wallows in pain, anger, hopelessness and despair.

Maybe you say, "Well, I don't listen to music like that. I can't relate to this." Even if you're not a fan of dark music, you may still have these feelings. This is not about what's in your headphones. This is about you. It's about looking for alternatives to that constant, suffocating feeling of emptiness, pain, anger or just boredom with life. If you feel trapped in an existence that seems to be going nowhere, read on.

Obviously Heidi, Chris, Amber and Alicia had gotten to that point. When they sought refuge in their favorite music, it turned out to be only an empty sanctuary. It didn't offer an escape from the pain—which certainly was what they were really looking for. In their minds, connecting emotionally with someone who could relate to what they were going through was a step in the right direction. In reality, however, their emptiness was just compounded.

"But wait," you say. "If I have to be miserable, I may as well listen to other people who are miserable, too." Unfortunately, mutual misery can be satisfying only for a short period of time, if at all. After you turn off the stereo, you still come face to face with a black hole in your soul that you can't outrun. You wonder if there's a better way. There is.

Starting the Search ... What Do You Hope for?

Most of us want pretty much the same things, even if it doesn't look like it from the outside. We want somebody to love — someone who loves us back. We want to do the things we enjoy, and we want friends to do those things with. We want to know that we matter in this life and that what we do matters to someone.

We can place our hopes in and live for a lot of different things. Money. Sex. Power. Drugs. Work. Stuff. Relationships. Music. A certain look. These things may be very satisfying for a while. But sooner or later a troubling question rumbles through our souls: Is this all there is?

What do we do with that feeling? Is there any way to fill the hole inside? Often, we try to ignore it and look for anything that can numb us to the emptiness.

Surely, there's more to life than this kind of self-destruction. If we're honest with ourselves, we know that nothing in this world satisfies the void in our hearts completely. Only a relationship with God — through His Son, Jesus Christ — will fill that emptiness.

"Whoa, wait a minute," you say. "I've heard about God and Jesus before, and I don't feel like getting religion shoved down my throat."

No one is talking about shoving religion down your throat. Religion is suffocating. No, we're talking about the real person of Jesus Christ.

"Aren't Jesus and religion basically the same thing?" you ask. Not even close!

Who Will Save Your Soul?

Jesus was a man who walked on earth centuries ago, teaching people about God. He upset a lot of religious leaders and healed a lot of sick and hurting people. He was a man like no one had ever seen before. But He was also much more than a man — He was God. How He could be both God and man is a mystery that's hard to get our human minds around. But it's true. And at the end of His life, Jesus died to solve a problem that no human being is able to solve on his own.

"Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people." —Hebrews 9:27-28

The Bible teaches that the soul of every person is judged by God after death. We will live out eternity either in heaven or hell. Many people want to believe that if they live a pretty good life, in which the good things outweigh the bad things, they will go to heaven. But this is not the way God sees it. To put it in school terms, people think that God grades on a curve. If I do better than 70 percent of the rest of the people, then I should pass and go to heaven. But God doesn't grade on a curve. He grades pass/fail. Even if I live a better life than 99.9 percent of people on earth, there is still nothing I can do to earn my way into heaven. Why is this?

"For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." —Romans 3:23

This passage explains that every person is eternally separated from God because of his or her sin. When it comes down to it, we can all think of times when we have done something wrong. Some are obvious: sexual sins, robbery, murder, hurting others. Some are less obvious, such as gossip, lust, selfish thoughts. And here's the really tough truth: We couldn't stop doing these things even if we tried. It's not just that we choose to do bad things. There's something inside of us that makes doing bad things inevitable. That doesn't mean we act horribly all the time. It just means that it is impossible for anyone — even the best person on earth — to avoid sin completely.

How does wrongdoing affect our relationship with God? Our failure to love God perfectly and love others as we should, as well as the sinful things we do and think have the same result. They earn us death. The apostle Paul wrote about this in his letter to the Roman church.

"The wages of sin is death." —Romans 6:23

This death isn't the physical death we see every day, but rather an eternal death or an eternal separation from God. No matter how we look at it, on our own we're completely hopeless. We can't avoid sinning. Sin earns us death — and there's nothing we can do to save ourselves from this disastrous end.

Thankfully, there's an alternative to this bleak scenario.

The Gift

We're not born with eternal life, hope and peace. We can't buy them, and we can't earn them. So there's only one way left to receive them: as a gift. And Jesus is the only One who can offer it, because He was able to do for us what we were unable to do for ourselves. He experienced the hopes, fears and struggles that we do, yet He never wallowed in pain or hopelessness.

The descriptions of Jesus and how people responded to Him may surprise you. He was described as a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering. He was homeless during the years of His teaching. One close friend denied knowing who He was. Another betrayed Him to the authorities. Eventually, the 12 men who followed Him for three years abandoned Him for a time. He was spit upon, mocked, clubbed and beaten.

Furthermore, Jesus knew He was going to die a horrible death. The Bible records His thoughts the night before: "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death" (Matthew 26:38). Much like Heidi, Christopher, Amber and Alicia must have felt. The difference between Jesus' death and theirs, though, is that Jesus, being sinless and divine, rose from the dead, giving us hope and a reason to live.

"Christ Jesus . . . destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel." —2 Timothy 1:10

God placed all our sins on Jesus, who was willing to sacrifice His life to save us. Jesus' death satisfied God's requirement for judgment upon those who fail to meet His standard (that's all of us). This was God's infinitely valuable gift to us: taking care of our sin problem by the death of Jesus Christ, because we were unable to do so on our own.

God desires to have a relationship with you. He loves you. He wants to fill the emptiness you feel and heal your hurts. He is eagerly seeking after you. By sending Jesus Christ to earth, He provided a way for you to know Him personally just as you know your best friend.

Do you long to be loved? Do you long to be accepted? Do you long to simply have meaning in your life? These are the types of things that every one of us desires. Jesus came to satisfy this longing. This wasn't something that God had to do, but rather something He wanted to do.

When does a gift become yours? When you reach out and take it. If you want God to begin filling the longing you have in your heart, and if you understand that you have failed to meet His standards, then you can pray something like this to Him:

Dear God,
I understand and believe that I have failed to love You by going my own way in life. I've missed the mark. I have done and thought wrong things. I want to change. My sin has earned death for me. But You sent Your Son, Jesus, to die in my place. He has received the punishment that was meant for me. I receive this gift by believing that Jesus' death is sufficient to cancel out my sin. I want to receive Your gift of eternal life and begin a relationship with You.

The Bible says those who put their trust in Jesus Christ will escape the punishment for their sin. Isn't that a cool thought? And consider this: One day we will be in heaven with God and with everyone who has trusted in Christ.

Heaven may sound like a long way off. And it may be. Fortunately, we do not have to wait 'til then to experience a better life. Even right now, we have something to look forward to — life lived to the fullest. Jesus explained this concept as a contrast:

"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." —John 10:10

It doesn't mean life will be perfect or without problems. What it does mean is that Jesus Christ will be with us every step of the way, giving us peace, hope, purpose, guidance and a more abundant life.

Now What Do I Do?

Now that you are a believer in Jesus Christ, how do you carry out that faith? By serving Christ and growing in your relationship with Him. But how do you do that?

If you'd like to know more about how to grow spiritually, or feel as though you need to talk to someone about your decision to follow Christ, call Focus on the Family at (719) 531-3400 and request to speak with a chaplain.

There is no better decision than the one you just made. Make Jesus Christ your best friend. He will always be with you. In Him, you will find an alternative to hopelessness, emptiness and despair. Now and forever.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations in this publication are from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION® NIV Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. All Rights Reserved.