Yesterday a dear friend posted on Facebook a Focus on the Family production of her grand daughter in laws interview. It was Lindsey Pepin Ophus’s story of being raised in a wonderful “perfect” Christian family. They entitled her story “How God Redeemed My Teen Pregnancy”.Yes, Lindsey had just turned 18 when she discovered she was pregnant with her on and off boyfriend’s child at the time. She was shocked and full of shame. Her parents were the same. She was active in her youth group and church and everyone thought she was the “perfect” teen. So what happened? it wasn’t that she did not know what the scripture said, nor that she did not love God–it was simply that she was a growing independent young woman who made some wrong choices. Choices at the time that led her to feel she had crossed a line and therefore could not return to the Lord. She felt unworthy of His love and did not comprehend that was exactly why she needed and had a Savior available. Pastors, teachers and parents had told her what not to but, not what to do if she had crossed those lines. So she felt alienated from the very Lord she needed.
As the interviewer moved past the initial details he asked a question most parents want to know is what happened? What could they have done differently? She made an astute observation. As her pregnancy progressed with her she was amazed how many women came up to her and shared their story with her. Her question to herself and church community, why did I have to wait till after my pregnancy occurred to hear these stories? Why did others not tell share their real life struggles with purity and how God’s grace was able to restore them? What is it about our church culture that prevents us from sharing our own life/sin struggles?
One of the difficulties we face as believing parents is to share our own struggles without feeling we are giving permission for experimentation etc. But it is not just about sexual purity that people are quiet about–it is so many other aspects of our life–where we feel we need to present a “perfect” example of a Pastor, Teacher, Life Group Leader, worship member. What about the struggles of parenting and working through different seasons marriage brings. Drug addiction? Alcohol dependency? Porn? As we ground ourselves in God’s Word and His love we can get over our own shame so we can freely share our HOPE with others. I believe every person needs a place where they can be encouraged to be real with their struggles–while being shown the grace and way to move past them. It takes confident love in our Savior’s grace to be honest about our own struggles. Not always easy.
When I was a young pastor leading different women’s Bible Studies, many of these women were older than I was. I admit I was an insecure leader–but did my best to set an atmosphere of trust and open sharing. Looking back I am amazed at the level of transparency God allowed in our group. One day we talked about sexual abuse and I knew at least 1/2 of the ladies present had suffered molestation as a child. Only one was vocal about it. The others kept silent for awhile. Slowly one or two began to open up and shared their story. It was like we were walking on holy ground, with the Holy Spirit bringing new levels of hope and restoration. More women begin to feel safe to share their own stories and some healing took place. I was too ignorant to know how to help encourage further healing–that I would do today.
Galatians 6:2 instructs us to bear each others burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. In order for others to help bear our burdens, we have to let them know we have them–not expecting others to figure it out! Last night at our Life Group I admitted I was struggling with grief. The passing of two friends brought back my own loss in some fresh ways. I could have asked to skip the meeting–but I knew I wanted and needed to spend time with these gals. As I prayed for the meeting, I felt I just needed to be honest with them. I simply said, I want to be with you tonight–I don’t/can’t be your leader tonight. They were so amazing. They just loved me–and let me share. We laughed, shared, prayed and God’s Presence and healing came. One of the gals said, “thank you for sharing your situation, now I know how to pray for you.” They bore my burden last night–coming along side, not taking my pain but simply loving me and letting me know they care.
I felt like a weak leader last night. But as I was meditating on this “word” for today I remembered Jesus time in the garden. He asked his disciples for their prayer and support. Unfortunately they fell asleep and were not able to understand the depth of His asking. They were not aware of all that Jesus would face that night and the next day. He knew they wouldn’t be able to perfectly help him–but still He asked. It’s humbling to ask for help, and it takes faith and love to let those you ask do their best. Only Jesus really knows how to carry our burdens perfectly. After His resurrection those same disciples came together with strength and grace. I remember when I was sorting through my early grief days and realized no one could really fix what I wanted–my husband back! So I turned to Him and asked Him to lead, guide, heal and strengthen me for my new journey as a widow. He has been faithful to take me step by step. Often bringing people, books and thoughts to help me process this difficult journey.
As you lead your family, small group, ministry or church ask the Lord to help you be vulnerable and transparent. Take the time to teach how to grow by employing His grace and mercy. Tell them of your victories, but also of your failures. We learn by both. Lindsey Pepin Ophus gave her daughter up for adoption, and both are thriving. Her story is helping parents and teens learn to communicate more honestly. Her book Joy will Come, Exchange Shame for Redemption is available on Amazon for more information.