Interview with John Piper
Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org
A heartbroken dad writes in who has a rebellious 15-year-old daughter. She will not attend church with the family. We addressed church attendance in episode 1421, live in Nashville. That same heartbroken dad has a second question we have not addressed on the podcast. It’s this: “Hello, Pastor John. My wife and I recently became aware that our 15-year-old daughter is sexually active. She was raised in a Christian home, and we have done our best as Christian parents to instill in our children godly traits and characteristics. How would you approach this if she was your teenage daughter?”
There are very few things that can compare to the sorrow of the gut punch that takes your breath away when you find out that your own son or daughter is involved in beliefs or practices that not only go against what you’ve taught them, but could ruin both their earthly and their eternal lives. You feel helpless as a parent — angry, fearful, uncertain about what to do. And you feel deep, deep sadness at what this could mean for your child. So, I don’t blame these parents for reaching out for help, because I would do the same thing. I have done the same thing.
I’m going to make a few assumptions now, because I can’t give any counsel without assuming some things. And if the assumptions are wrong, then you’ll need to make the adjustments. But I hope what I have to say will point in helpful ways, even if some of my assumptions may not be accurate.
I’m going to assume that your daughter has, at some point, made some kind of profession of faith in Jesus, whether she’s a real believer or not. I’m going to assume that she’s not so rebellious that she refuses to talk, or is threatening to run away permanently. And I’m going to assume that my suggestion is not the only step you would take, but that you would make other steps, and I would make other steps as well. For example, if you know who the boy is, and even know who his parents are, this could create a situation that allows for more united involvement with the parents and the young people, depending on so many factors. But that would come after what I’m suggesting here.
So, here’s what I think I would do. I’ll just list it off to you, and what’s helpful, use; what’s not, ignore.
1. I would weep alone, I’m sure, and then with my wife. She needs you, a husband, and you need each other.
2. I would cry out to God for wisdom and grace in myself and in my wife. And I would cry out for the miracle of repentance in my daughter. That’s a gift of God according to 2 Timothy 2:25.
3. I would take hold of several biblical promises, and use them to establish my wobbly heart and to give hope to my wife. For example, Jeremiah 32:17: “Ah, Lord God! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power. . . . Nothing is too hard for you.” Or Isaiah 41:10: “Fear not, for I am with you. . . . I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Or Psalm 103:13: “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.”
4. I would make sure that I have the facts, rather than hearsay. Those facts would best come from your daughter. What have you done? Tell me, who is the boy? How do you see the relationship? Who are his parents? How do you feel about what you did? What are you doing now? And so on. You need facts.
5. I, as her father, would plan an overnight weekend getaway to another town with my daughter alone, and would rent an Airbnb or hotel with two bedrooms. Tell her that you plan to take her away for a couple of days, just the two of you. There would be no trickery here. You’re not trying to sneak up on her at all. All is out in the open. This is about a father and a daughter dealing together with one of the most important issues they have ever faced. She should know that up front.
6. Without sharing details, I would ask two or three of the closest, spiritually mature friends of mine, or you of yours, to pray for me in these days while I take her away and deal with the most difficult thing I’ve ever faced, perhaps. I wouldn’t share the details about it with them. And they’d be the kind of person who wouldn’t probe. But I’d want their prayer.
7. I would take whatever time is needed before that weekend to compose a letter to my daughter about what I want her to hear from my heart to hers. I would write this down, and I would plan to read it to her, in person, face to face, in some private setting during our getaway. I would write it from my heart, with all the truth and compassion and multilayered concern that I feel. I would probably let my wife read it before I go. There would be another strategy for her involvement, which I won’t talk about here.
8. The letter would go something like this. And I can’t write the whole thing here. I’ll get it started so that you can get the idea of the way I would go about it, because it would be much longer than I can read here, because there’s so many things that need to be touched on. Now, let’s call her Janet. I don’t know her name; I’m just making this up.
So, I’m sitting across the table from her or on a couch.
Someday, Janet, you may be a mother and have teenagers of your own. And I am sure that you will love them with every ounce of your being. But you will never be a dad. And so you’re going to have to take my word for this, that the love of a father for his daughter is very deep. It’s a powerful thing. You are bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh — not in a romantic way like with your mother, but because you carry my very being in your body and your mind. I am one flesh with your mother by God’s decree, but I am one flesh with you by God’s design in the very way you came into being.
Now, let me insert a parenthesis here because I have an adoptive daughter, and I’ve never had to write a letter like this, thank God. But if I were writing to an adoptive daughter, I wouldn’t say what I just said. I would say adoptive things that would be just as amazing, and just as powerful, because of my having chosen her like God chose me, and lots of other glorious things about adoption that you can say. But I’m talking to a daughter here whose very DNA courses through my blood vessels. Okay, back to my letter.
I have been placed by God as the one who is most accountable to provide for you in your youth, and protect you, and build into you patterns of life that will lead you to a joyful and fruitful and (we pray) eternal life. I have been your father now for fifteen years, and I have rejoiced to watch God give you life, and health, and beauty, and intelligence, and grace. With every passing year, and with every passing season of maturity, I have come to love you more and more.
My concern in the matter of your sexual life is not mainly, Janet, for my reputation, or the honor of our family or our name. Those things matter. But my concern, Janet, is you. I ask you to believe me and to hear what I have to say, as the man who loves you more than any other man on this earth. I want your greatest earthly happiness and fruitfulness. And I want your greatest eternal joy in the presence of God because of Jesus.
The most important person in this situation right now, Janet, is not me, it’s not your mother, it’s not your boyfriend, and it’s not you. The main person right now is Jesus Christ. He is alive. He upholds the universe by the word of his power. He is here by his Spirit. He suffered and died, not just to remove the guilt of our sin, but to keep us from sinning. And he has spoken with great love and seriousness about our sexuality. This is not about being old-fashioned or new-fashioned, or churchy or non-churchy; it’s about the most important thing in the world: our relationship to Jesus Christ, and whether we embrace him as our treasure and submit to his wisdom.
What he said is this: “Flee from sexual immorality. . . . Do you not know” — hear this, Janet; it’s spoken directly to you from the Lord who died for you. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:18–20). You and I know, Janet, what that price was that he paid to keep you pure and to make you a beautiful reflection of his glory, his beauty. That price was the horrific suffering and death of the one who loved you and gave himself for you.
When Jesus died, Janet, he bought us — meaning, he paid a ransom to free us from the devil, and from sin, and from destruction. It cost him his life. That’s how much he loves you. That’s how much I love you. I would die for you, Janet. And Jesus did die for you. Therefore, he owns you. You belong to him. You don’t belong primarily to me, or your mother, or your boyfriend, or yourself. You belong, body and soul, to Jesus. And the reason he bought you from sin was to make known the glory of God’s grace in satisfying your soul forever.
Now, I can’t finish this letter. It would go on for several more pages. But let me give you the bullet points of what it would include.
- “Janet, it’s not too late. There’s forgiveness and cleansing.”
- “God is able to give you self-control.”
- “If your boyfriend really loves you and has character that you can trust, he’ll protect you and keep you, and never have sex with you again outside of marriage. That’s how you can know what kind of man he is.”
- “Sex is beautiful in a marriage, knitting two souls together very deeply in a permanent covenant. It’s not a vulgar thing; it’s beautiful in marriage. But outside of marriage, you’re playing with fire, Janet. Both for spiritual reasons, which are most important, but also for reasons of physical disease and pregnancy, and many more.”
- “You’re very young, and desires are very strong, but those desires are not always the best guide for your life. God has given you parents to help you have a longer view, a wiser view than you can have at 15.”
- “Will you trust us?”
And then you’d pray with her. And how she responds to that letter will shape what you do next. But that would be how I would start.John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently Providence.