It was a regular tea time when my five-year-old asked a question about sex and relationships that I had hoped wouldn’t have to be discussed for a few years.
The discussion, and a further one about gender, led in a direction that made me thank God that they’d had to face ‘tricky’ issues like this while they were still in primary school and that they really respect both the Word of God and me. (I am praying both continue long into and beyond teenage years.)
Getting foundational beliefs and apologetics dealt with in real situations this young, isn’t a bad thing.
Back to teatime.
Child 1: ‘My teaching assistant is getting married during the holiday.’
Child 2: ‘She must be married already as she already has children, and you can’t have children unless you’re married.’
Child 1: ‘Well, she has children, and she’s going to get married to their dad. So, you’re wrong.’
They stopped eating, both looked over to the fount of all wisdom i.e. me (well, they still think one is that when they’re only aged 5 and 6), whilst the three-year-old kept munching, listening intently to the next round of ‘mummy sorts out another argument’. I remember wishing that something else would happen that would distract them. In the absence of this, I put down my knife and fork.
God’s plans for families
I didn’t talk about sex or touch on anything that I wanted to save for when they were older. Firstly, we went to God’s plans for us and that he gives us marriage and puts children into families as this is good for us. We talked about security, about marriage being a picture of other biblical teaching. We talked about how sad it would be if we didn’t see daddy because he wasn’t really committed to mummy and to them. We discussed the sadness of broken families in the Bible and among our family and friends.
Using that biblical framework, I then said that yes, you can have children before you are married, but this is outside of God’s plan for us, is not as secure for anyone involved and is more likely to end in children living away from one of their parents or suffering abuse.1 Without prompting, they said they were glad that they were in this family where, thanks to God’s blessing, they had married parents.
I then talked about different rules in different families. Many people, whether or not they say they are Christians, do things in ways that don’t fit God’s pattern as laid out in his Word. We must love people regardless of their decisions, and although we don’t agree with their choices not only because they are not good choices, but because they disobey God’s commands to us (Genesis 2.24), we must not act as if we are better than them and point it out to them in a rude way.
Pointing to Jesus
Imagining a scenario where my bossy child went and told the teaching assistant that she was ‘wrong, and disobeying God’, I countered this by raising the idea that we could pray about this lady and her children. Loving people, in these circumstances, was about being pleased she was getting married whilst not using her as a model to copy, but taking every chance to point her toward Jesus. Jesus is who she needs most of all, because if she becomes his follower, he will sort out the rest of her life. We shouldn’t try to steal that job from Jesus as only he can do that, not us.2
It may have been easier (and quicker) to just tell them ‘what God says’ and be done with the conversation. But I was glad that I was given the chance to acknowledge a few things in a practical way:
• God’s ways are best for us and for everyone.
• We all fall short of God’s standards.
• We can pray meaningfully for our confused friends.
• Pointing people towards Jesus will be more effective if we have their ear and their trust. This may look like we’re compromising, but we’re really not: we’re just loving people without expecting them to behave according to God’s ways before they’ve even met Jesus.
• Different homes have different rules.
• Earth is not our home and as a result, we don’t fit in at school, or anywhere.
• To be salt and light we can’t opt out, we have to be in the world and that is really hard.
• Let’s value the blessing of a home where Jesus is loved, and the Bible is taught.
In one of my children’s classes there’s a boy who, according to my child, ‘would love to be a girl’. Although gender dysphoria hasn’t been discussed, it’s clear that this issue is only going to keep popping up. So, with that in mind, we had a transgender discussion.
I reaffirmed God’s design of male and female, of complementary roles, of family life and so on. There’s no mistaking me for a man, but I live in my jeans, I wear unisex Converse for half the year and I’m not very ‘girly’. Massively competitive, I don’t understand women’s conversation and as a result have few female friends. When we meet people, generally I talk to the husband about his work, and my husband, who works in a female-dominated environment with very young children, often talks to the wife. He’s not an Alpha male; I’m not in whatever box that I’m ‘meant’ to be in.
Using this, I talked with my child about how liking Star Wars or football doesn’t make you a boy. Equally, sewing or enjoying a quiet book isn’t a prerequisite for being a girl. We talked about stereotypes which aren’t biblical, and about roles which are (including the woman of Proverbs 31).
I told him that some people think you can change gender. That many people at different points in their life might think for a short time they are the opposite gender (or even like a boy/girl of the same gender) and that this doesn’t mean that God got it wrong. I talked about medication to make you ‘look like the opposite gender’. We talked about how sad it is to medicate people whose brains are tricking them into hurting their bodies. Rather than think it weird, or confusing, he felt sad for people. His little spirit was moved to see that a loving response is needed for people who are in pain like this. Not fear. Not ridicule. Not horrified separation. But loving sadness. And prayer.
Then I said something which many may find controversial, but I think it fits with ‘different rules for different homes’. If a child ever wanted to ‘change gender’, to be able to tell them about Jesus, to be able to be friends and show love, it might even be necessary to go along with their misconception in school and call them s/he. They need Jesus, and they’re not going to hear about him from those who just accept all this unthinkingly: you might be the only person who will ever really point them to the Bible, salvation and a changed life.
We are perceived to have lost the rational and biblical arguments over children born out of marriage, and on gay marriage. Transgender issues are about to be legislated on in Parliament. In my experience, biblical discussion at a young age has opened more doors to my children’s hearts than hiding away from it all. They have to live in this world someday soon and the Lord will not let them down. My children aren’t confused, they certainly aren’t doubting the faith into which they are being trained. However, they are now better equipped to face this messy world with good teaching, a loving heart for the lost and Jesus as their constant guide.
1. en April 2011 Statistics on the connection between cohabitation and abuse are hard to come by due to governments not collecting data on this. However, past studies show that marriage has a protective factor even if the children are not biologically related to one of the parents.
2. Out of the Salt Shaker and Into the World, R. Manley Pippert.