Blogger and author Jessie Minassian offers advice on how parents can help their teen daughters deal with five common "secret sins" that entrap many teenage girls. (Part 2 of 2)
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Jesse Minassian: I felt dirty. I felt damaged and that followed me into then high school romantic relationships and into college relationships that became unhealthy very quickly.
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John Fuller: Well, quite an admission from Jessie Minassian, as she describes her very secret struggle, a shameful sin that dominated most of her growing up years. She's with us again today on "Focus on the Family" and you'll hear more about similar challenges that so many teenage girls face, even within Christian homes and how you, as a parent, can help your daughter face these kinds of issues with grace and hope and God's love. Your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly and I'm John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, we had a very good discussion last time with Jessie, who interacts regularly with teen girls and college-age young ladies at her website, www.lifeloveandgod.com. Last time she described five types of secret sin. These are temptations that today's teens are dealing with, both boys and girls, things like cutting and drug abuse and eating disorders, sexual sin and even same-sex relationships, given the culture today.
And I know there are some parents feeling uncomfortable about this topic. In fact, they're saying, "Listen, it's not happening in our house. Our kids are in a great place." That may be true, but it's also possible that you're not seeing this side of them. And we just simply want to equip you with the ability and the knowledge to be able to have good open communication with your teens and your 20-somethings about where they're at, so that they can thrive in Christ. They can move further and deeper into relationship with the Lord.
And I want to say right from the beginning, yes, you want to make sure younger children are occupied, but you know what? We can't pull back from these good, important discussions, because this is where the culture's at. And I'll tell you what. I'm not allowing the enemy to steal my children and I don't want him to steal your children from you in these key areas of sexuality and other things. God has given that as a gift of marriage and I want my boys to be healthy and I'm preparing them to love young ladies that are probably 13, 14, 15 right now. And I want their lives to be as whole as they can be, so that they can honor and love the Lord as deeply as possible. And Jessie, let me say, welcome back to Focus.
Jessie: Thank you so much for having me.
Jim: Let me say to you, I don't know if I'm old enough to be your dad, but I'm certainly old enough probably to be the younger uncle. (Laughter) You know what? I so appreciate your vulnerability here. One of the great things that we lack in the church today is that vulnerability where we are struggling. We are human beings. We are caught in this work full of sin, outside and inside and we have shortcomings. And your brave approach, your courage to be able to get on national radio and say, "Listen, as a teen girl, I had secret sins." I just want to say thank you for doing it and being bold enough to write about it in order to help other teen girls. So thank you.
Jessie: Oh, thank you so much for that and truly it is for the love of these girls, these girls who come to the website. Of course, they're broken and don't know where to turn, but feel like there may be some glimmer of hope. And I just want to fan that flame and open their eyes to see that freedom is possible.
Jim: You think about it and where you lived for those many years, about 13 years of your life growin' up, and you read John 10:10 and you see that the thief comes to steal, kill and destroy. That had to take on such meaning for you when you fully embraced the Lord and understood what was going on in your own life. Talk about that passage and what it meant for you, for him as a thief to come and steal from you your joy and your peace and your faith in God.
Jessie: I think when I finally found freedom from my sin, it was relief and then to hear that the enemy, we're not ignorant of the schemes, right? As we read through Scripture, we see what his strategy is. And that upsets you as a believer but it wasn't until I became a big sis to these girls, that the mama bear came out. And now, you will get me fired up, talking about the way that he has imprisoned these girls. And it's not right; it's not right. It's heartbreaking to hear these stories.
Jim: So true. You know, Romans 12, verse 2, Paul writes and says, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing, you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." That really is setting up the discussion, isn't it?
Jessie: It absolutely is. It's a changing of the mind. That's exactly what needs to take place, to replace the lies, the labels that we've had plastered to our own heart, superglued by shame, to replace those lies with the truth of who we are in Christ and what He has already done for us in giving us freedom.
Jim: And I would only say, if you missed the program last time, let the download. Do what you need to do. Call us and we'll send you the CD. It was really good and we touched on the issue of shame and let me just bring that for a little recap. You talked about some shame being very healthy for us, 'cause it puts us back on the right course, but the devastating shame that the enemy lays on us because of our repeated failures before the Lord, paint that picture quickly again for us as a 16-year-old, already several years with sexual sin. What did it feel like?
Jessie: Now healthy shame again, it's that godly sorrow that can lead us to repentance if we allow it to. But unhealthy shame says, not only have I done something wrong, but I am something wrong. There's a fundamental wrongness in my identity and I can't change. And that's where we just jump on that spin cycle of sin when shame just gets massaged so deep into our hearts that we can't think straight.
Jim: It becomes in your mind who you are, rather than what you do.
Jim: Talk about the other secret sins. We've mentioned sexual sin. What are the other things that young girls today are being trapped in?
Jessie: Uh-hm. The four other most common sins that girls most often confess to me through Life Love and God are talking about are eating disorders, self-harm or cutting, as it's commonly known, substance abuse and same-sex relationships.
Jim: Yeah, I mean, and again, things that will really take them in a difficult direction in their life. Let me start with a story that you shared in your book, Unashamed. You described buying a car and then having to deal with the check-engine light. Now all of us that have gone through this are going (Laughter), ugh! So you bought this used car, I would assume and all of a sudden the engine light goes on. How did that correlate now to the dark side of—
Jessie: What does that have to—
Jessie: --do with anything--
Jessie: --right? (Laughter) Well, I, as an 19-year-old girl, got my very first car, so excited because that meant freedom and I drove that little MR2 with the pistol-grip shifter all over (Laughter) California.
Jim: Jessie, you liked this car, huh? (Laughter)
Jessie: It was my first car and it went fast and no 19-year-old should have a fast car. I had so much fun driving that thing all over and enjoying my new-found freedom. But very soon into our relationship, that car told me what it thought of my reckless driving in the only way it knew how, big orange letters, "Check Engine." Now I'm a 19-year-old girl and I spent every last penny that I had on buying the car. So I don't have money to take it to a mechanic and I know not all girls are bad with cars, but I'm not great with cars, so I just assumed that maybe it would go away. (Laughter) So, I just kept—
Jim: The light would so away. (Laughter)
Jim: It'll burn out eventually. (Laughter)
Jessie: So, I just kept driving it and you know, I noticed that maybe there was like some amber colored liquid under the car every once in a while and so, eventually you know, I was buying cases of oil—
Jessie: --cases, kept them in the trunk of my car. Poured in a quart of oil to get to the grocery store. I know; this is really humiliating. Dad, I am so sorry. You taught me better. (Laughter) But eventually I was spending more money on oil than gas and—
Jim: That's a check engine light time.
Jessie: --(Laughter) eventually I finally saved up enough money, I decided to take it in to the mechanic and wouldn't you know it, a $40 stinking dollar oil hose had come loose in the car (Laughter), pouring oil out onto the street. It was a simple fix but I had assumed and someone had told me early on, this is probably gonna cost a lot of money. It might total your car. So I had believed those untruths.
Jim: Most devastating things.
Jessie: Yes, I assumed the worst-case scenario and so, I just went on driving it. But had I known that it was such an easy fix, I would've done something a lot sooner. And I think that check-engine light is so symbolic of our secret sins. They're symptoms. Our secret sins are symptoms of something deeper going on in our hearts. We've gotta pop the hood of our heart and take a look inside and see what the true issues are, instead of just treating the symptoms, instead of just pouring oil into the car. We've gotta see what is it exactly that's going on and what is disconnected in my life?
Jim: In fact, Jessie, in your book, Unashamed you shared another story that I thought was a great illustration. I think a truck was coming down and you guys had to adjust. What happened and how did that and how did that play into those learnings that you've had about the risk behavior?
Jessie: We were going to American Basin, down in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, one of God's most beautiful places on earth.
Jim: Love that place.
Jessie: It is gorgeous. It looks like a rainbow exploded on the floor of the valley. It was these colors and the streams and so, we had been up there with a family camp, enjoying the scenery and we were on our way back down the mountain.
And the roads up there, most of 'em aren't paved. They're single-track dirt roads and because of the road of family camp, we were in this giant suburban with no shocks, bouncing (Laughing) down the dirt road. And we're coming down this section where there's a very steep cliff on one side and a truck is coming up the dirt road toward us on the other side. So, we put the car into park and I walked down and talked to the man in this truck who was coming up. He had a huge load in the back of his pickup, so he couldn't see behind him. So, even though he should've backed down the mountain, he didn't feel comfortable doing that.
So he asked us and the four cars behind us to back up this single-track dirt road to make room for him to pass. So I get out of the car. I go to the car behind us and it was a blue SUV and I go to the window, I say, "Ma'am, this man, he's not feelin' real comfortable backing down. We're gonna need to back up this hill. And she was ticked. She was not happy. She slammed her car into reverse and she starts backing up, but she was so mad that she didn't realize that her wheels were turned the wrong way and she was backing toward that cliff with just a steep drop off to a ravine below.
And I start to go into panic mode. I run up to her window and like, "Ma'am, your wheels are the wrong direction!" And she's like, "Oh, I got this. I got this." She started backing up more and her back wheel starts lifting off the ground. She's going off this cliff. And I reach my hand into the car and I'm like, "You have got to get out now. Do you see the danger that you're in?" And she still didn't see. She thought she could get herself out of this.
Jessie: So four big boys from Oklahoma come running down the dirt road right as she finally realizes that her car is about to tip over and go down this ravine. I'm yanking her out of the car, pulling her out. They're jumping on the back of the bumpers. I am praying, "Lord, God, hold this car up with your angels."
I found out later, there were four or five other cars at the bottom of that ravine and hers could've been one of them that day because she didn't realize the precariousness of her situation. She thought she could fix it. And sin does that. It blinds us to see the urgency of our situation. We feel like we can fix this. It's not a big deal. So many other people are going through a similar thing. It's pretty normal in our culture and we don't realize that we are in very real danger of spiritual death.
Jim: Yeah, that's a vibrant way to view that. I mean, the idea that we're careening up or down some mountain road, emotionally, physically in some cases, especially with these secret sins. You encourage girls, Jessie, who are struggling with sin to be proactive and not simply be the victim. In fact, you tell them to learn about the study of sin. Now a lot of parents are going, "What?" I [need] to talk to my teen daughter and say, "Listen, we need to study tonight about sin." That seems almost too confrontational. How would you approach that and what does it mean to study sin?
Jessie: I think all Christians need to have a right understanding of hamartiology. That's study of sin, you know. It's kinda like the difference between in school sitting and reading a textbook about the Holocaust. You know, it's kind of dry. It's removed from your personal experience.
But if you go and visit Auschwitz, if you go and see those brick buildings where people were murdered, it brings a reality to that situation that you didn't understand before. And I think that's what we need to do as Christians. We hear so much about sin and Jesus dying for our sins that it takes the reality out of it, the urgency out of it, the beauty out of what Jesus has done for us. We have to understand just how dangerous our sin is or we can't appreciate just how magnificent being free from sin is.
Jim: Why do you think a person, and of course, you experienced this as a teen girl, why do we get comfortable in sin and we don't see the danger? We don't hear the person grabbing the wheel say, "Get out before the car careens down the cliff." Why do we just sit there saying, "No, we're gonna continue to back up?"
Jessie: I think it's a little bit of the frog in the kettle scenario where you start out with a little bit and it doesn't seem too bad and then a little bit more and it just becomes normative. When it becomes normative in your life, you know, you think about going back to the Holocaust, there were so many people who went to their death not realizing the danger that they were in, because how could something so scary be normal, intersect into my normal life? It just seemed too bizarre.
Jessie: And I think that happens for us when we're caught in secret sins. We're just going through life. We get up. We brush our teeth. We go to school. We don't see the immediate danger, because it's not something we can put our fingers on.
Jim: Yeah. You're listening to "Focus on the Family." Today we're talking to Jessie Minassian, author of the book, Unashamed: Overcoming the Sins No Girl Wants to Talk About. And what we're really describing here is open communication between daughter and parent. And when you think of that, is it more effective for a mom to be talking or a dad or both? How do you see that?
Jessie: I will say that if either the mom or the dad has struggled with a secret sin in the past, please be the first one to talk about it. It always comes better knowing that you are not perfect.
Jim: Then I have to ask this question. How much as a parent do you disclose about those things—
Jessie: Yep. Absolutely, that is a—
Jim: --so you don't—
Jessie: --tricky question.
Jim: --feed a teen girl's appetite? Well, mom did it or dad did it, so why don't I do it?
Jessie: The key to not feeding the appetite is explaining just how miserable you were in that sin. And I know there's always a part of sin that is not miserable, that feels good and you enjoy and that's why we get sucked into it. But if you can explain how it affected your life, whether that be one of these five secret sins or something else entirely, whether it be greed or self-serving or to be open about what that did to your life, how that affected you.
My mom, I will tell you, we didn't talk about her sexual past, the sins that she had in that area, but she was very open about partying. And she talked to me a lot about how she used to go to these parties and how it was miserable. It led her to do things that she wished she hadn't done. She talked about the negative consequence of it in a very matter-of-fact way. And that kept me from going down that road, because I could learn from her example.
Jim: It created a warning sign for you.
Jessie: Exactly, instead of an "Ooh, that sounds intriguing." It's like, "Oh, well, I certainly don't want to do that."
Jim: Right, no, that's good, honesty. Last time we left off, you were talking about parents leaning into their kids and you talked about those three scenarios—the parent where maybe they suspect nothing but open the dialogue and make sure that your teen girl stays on the right track. Maybe you do suspect something and you talked about how to begin to engage with that teen daughter, talking about maybe friends are experiencing this. How are you doing in this area? Or the final of the three scenarios, there's evidence that your daughter is doing some form of a secret sin, self-harm, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, sexual sin, whatever it might be, eating disorders and you have to engage.
Let's concentrate on that last one for hope for that Christian parent who now knows that the side that they've seen from their daughter isn't the whole story. How do you not go to shaming that daughter as the parent? Because for many parents, that's what they think will be an effective tool. "How could you do this?
Jim: Don't you know the harm it will cause? Why would you do this to us?" I mean, all those things can be said. What are the right things to be said in that moment?
Jessie: Yeah, the first thing, even now, begin praying that God will give you the self-control to constrain your emotions because they're highly emotional topics. And what she needs in that moment when you have that first conversation is not your judgment, but your unconditional love. She needs you to listen. Instead of coming down hard on her, ask questions.
Wow, I didn't know you felt that way. Tell me more. How did this happen? How did you feel about his situation? I can imagine this would be really hard for you coming to me and telling me these things. I just want to tell you how much I respect you for coming to me in that. It may be that consequences or boundaries are in order in certain scenarios.
Jim: You can't see that boy any longer. You can't—
Jim: --go out on Friday night. You can't have the keys to the car.
Jessie: Right, there will probably be natural consequences in many situations but that initial conversation is not the time to talk about the consequences. It is the time to extend grace and understanding—
Jim: And listen.
Jessie: --as a fellow sinner, saved by grace and to say, "You know what, I just want you to know that I am for you and I'm gonna help you do whatever needs to be done to help you get in a healthy place."
Jim: Jessie, in John 5, there's that great story where Jesus asks the lame man, "Do you want to get well?" And he immediately responds with all the excuses as to why he couldn't help himself. You know, I can't get down to the pool, you know, I'm lame and people jump in the pool before I can get there. And what is goin' on with all that? Because you think somebody in their right mind would say, "Yes!"
Jim: And just let the Lord do it.
Jim: What was he tryin' to do by makin' excuses?
Jessie: Isn't that intriguing? I found that story so interesting because it's the only instance in Scripture where Jesus asked someone if they would like to get well. Everyone else had come to Jesus, "Son of David, have mercy," "Lord, heal me." But when He went to that man and said, "Do you want to get well?" that gave me pause because Jesus never wasted words, right?
Jessie: He knew the answer before He asked it, so why did He ask him? And as I mulled on that in the context of secret sins, I realized something. Someone who has been sick for a very long time, sometimes they're not sure if they want to get well. And I think that's why he offered the excuse right off the bat. When Jesus said, "Do you want to get well?" he said, "I can't; there's no one to take me into the pool," right? When we've been in sin for that long, sometimes the comfort of our sin, it's the familiar. It's a scary thing to say, "I'm gonna take a step of faith," which is what Jesus asked him to do next. When he gave the excuses, Jesus said, "Get up. Pick up your mat. Let's go." He tested him to see … let's see if he's serious about this. Is he really gonna take that step? And that's what so many of us who are caught for a long time in an addictive perpetual sin, have to do. We have to be willing to take a first step of faith, of action.
Jim: Well, and that's a beautiful place where I need to ask this next question. You have done a great job equipping us as parents to engage our teen daughters, our teen boys, too, to open up the dialogue. Even if you don't suspect something, do it. Open up that dialogue. Begin to talk about these secret sins. Don't let those four or five years slip away and your son or daughter goes off to college and then it becomes a full-blossomed situation that you've gotta now engage in a much more difficult way.
At the end of your book, you conclude with hope, which is what it is all about. Explain how godly hope is different from the kind of hope that a lot of people think about.
Jessie: "Hope" is such a funny word in the English language. I mean, we can hope that our grandma gets well in the same breath that we hope 7-11 isn't out of Slurpee's! Like (Laughter) it's just--
Jim: Right, it covers the gamut.
Jessie: --the whole gamut. When we look at the biblical form of hope though in Greek in the New Testament, it's elpo—a favorable and confident expectation, a forward look with assurance. It's not something that we do, like "I hope that this is gonna happen." It's something that we have. It's the assurance that God gives us that we are His, that our future is safe with Him and that we have access to His very presence. In Hebrews 6:19 it says, "This hope--that hope that we just described--is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls."
Jessie: And for someone who is caught in a cycle of sin, there is nothing like the thought of holding us steady. I mean, we are being tossed by emotion, by shame, by being afraid of what people are gonna think. And the thought of having a soul anchored is revolutionary.
Jim: Yeah. And that is so good and it's good to be specific on how to define God's definition of hope, not what we think it is.
Jessie: Absolutely and there's three areas specifically that apply this idea of hope to someone who is caught up in secret sins, and I want to share these because ultimately as parents, our goal in broaching these subjects with our kids is because we know that there is something better. It's not because we want to be punitive and discipline them for something they've done wrong. It's because we know that there is a richer life and God can make beauty out of the ashes. He can allow us to have more to give to others, to help others in their struggles because of what we've been through and He gives us the hope of heaven, where we're not gonna have to deal with this stinky old sin anymore--
Jessie: --which is so exciting and we want our kids to grasp hold of the reality of that.
Jim: That's the greatest hope of all. I love that. I think of that and that is the hope that we have in Christ--
Jim: --and that's what I want to share with unbelievers all the time. Jessie Minassian, author of the book, Unashamed: Overcoming the Sins No Girl Wants to Talk About, thank you for being with us. If you as a parent are dealing with one of these three scenarios, where you just haven't had the discussion with your teens and you need to, your teen girl in this case particularly or you suspect some behavior might not be healthy or you know for a fact that somethin's wrong, if you need help, call us. Let us put a resource in your hand. Let us help you with tools. Let us point you to articles, websites, things that we have dealt with here at Focus on the Family to equip you to be the parent I know you want to be.
And if you're that young lady who is struggling, we're here for you, too, most of all. And don't feel ashamed to call and to get some guidance from us. We are here for that purpose and Jessie, let me again, as last time, say thank you so much for that vulnerability. Thank you for demonstrating how to walk as a Christian woman with things that weren't so good in your past, but with the hope of future in God. Thank you for being with us.
Jessie: Thank you. It's been my pleasure.
John: Well, when you get in touch with us, ask about our Christian counselors and the many other resources that we have to help your family. Our number is 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY or stop by www.focusonthefamily.com/radio to learn more.
Jim: And can I just add for our friends who've been so faithful in supporting this ministry, let me say thank you first of all. And you know, the truth is, we wouldn't be able to address this important topic or other topics and offer the tools that we talked about today without y our financial help. You allow us to be able to put these resources into the hands of those who really need them. But the need continues.
Every hour of every day of the week, we're working with more than 20 families who are going through a significant crisis with their children. That is significant when you add the numbers up and that's every hour every day of the week, 20 families in crisis. And our counseling team handles about 200 calls per day with many more on our waiting to list to deal with some family issue that they need help with. And I need to turn to you and say, can you help us respond to these hurting families. We need to hear from you today so that we can continue to strengthen marriages, to empower parents to do a better job and to help people experience the love and healing that only God can provide. I hope you will stand with us now.
John: Well, we really appreciate your partnership with us and you can donate at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or when you call 800-A-FAMILY. And when you get in touch, ask about the CD or download of our entire conversation with Jesse and also be sure to ask about her book, Unashamed. In fact, we'll send a copy of the book to you as our way of saying thank you when you contribute generous to the work here of Focus on the Family.
Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening. I'm John Fuller, hope you have a great weekend with your family and with your church community, as well and inviting you back on Monday, when we examine why some moms may struggle to connect with other moms.
Anne McClane: We are reactive instead of proactive with our friendships. Suddenly we find ourselves in a place where we need friendships and we haven't done the proactive work of maintaining those ahead of time.
End of Excerpt
John: That's next time, as we once again, help you and your family thrive.
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Jessie MinassianView Bio
Jessie Minassian is a public speaker and the author of several books for teen girls including Unashamed, Crushed and Respect. She is the "resident big sis" at a Q&A website for teen girls called Life, Love and God. Jessie and her husband reside in California and have two daughters.