Friday, June 24, 2011

His Grace is Sufficient, Part 1

Written by Linda Garner

Orange Jello. The girls were excited. My friend had made it for her mutual class. As she peeled back the foil, their delight turned quickly to dismay. Something was wrong.

“What’s that in the corner?” asked one of the girls. “It looks like dog poop.”

“It is dog poop,” said the teacher, “but don’t worry. It’s just in this one corner. We can cut around it. Who wants a piece?”

“Ooh, gross.” “Yuck.” “Disgusting.” “Are you kidding?” “I’m not touching it.”

It was an effective object lesson on the content of movies. You get the idea. “It was a great movie all except that one part.” We’ve all said it. It’s not quite the same with Jello.

What if instead of a movie, the Jello represented a human life and the dog poop represented sexual abuse? Just as the dog poop changes everything about the Jello, sexual abuse changes the texture and landscape of an individual life. Cutting around the dog poop is not an option. The Jello will never be the same. “Child abuse casts a shadow the length of a lifetime.”[i]

Sexual abuse is one of the most damaging experiences imaginable. Whether it happens once or a hundred times, the damage is often deep and lasting. Some children bury the secret and never tell or talk about it. These are the ones I worry most about. A child who doesn’t get help may have a very hard time healing.

In the quiet heart is hidden, sorrow that the eye can’t see. [ii]

What is my Worth?

When speaking about self-worth, I often open my presentation by waving a hundred dollar bill in front of the audience. “Would anyone like to have this?” I ask.

The response is immediate. Everyone would like a crisp $100.00 bill. Why? They understand its value. I crumple the bill and ask “Now, who wants it?”

They all do.

I stomp on the bill, shout at the bill, and I may even tear it, write on it, or smudge dirt on it. “Who wants it now?”

They still want the money. Despite what I have done to it, I haven’t changed its value.
Everyone understands the value of money, but some have a hard time understanding their own value. This is particularly true for those who have been sexually abused. Though we each have scars of some sort, the scars left by sexual abuse are deeply personal, and difficult to overcome.

A person who has been sexually abused is often burdened by feelings of worthlessness. Some feel that they can never be good enough, that they can never be loved or accepted. They feel broken. They are like the hundred dollar bill which has been crumpled, torn, and dirtied, yet their value is real.

It is important for each of us to understand that our worth does not change. It is eternal. We brought it with us. Our worth comes from our Father in heaven, who knows us personally and loves us no matter what. Our worth comes from our Savior Jesus Christ who bought and paid for us through his precious blood. Our worth is related to our potential as divine sons and daughters of heavenly parents, rather than our achievements.

I am a child of God, and He has sent me here.[iii]

Our worth is not dependent on our goodness, our possessions, our intelligence, or our physical appearance. Our worth does not increase with the items we check off on our “to do” list. These things can make us feel good, but they do not increase our value.

There is a subtle but important difference between self-esteem and self-worth. Self-esteem is what we think of ourselves and it can change. Self-worth goes much deeper. It is who we are. It does not change. It is eternal.

Our worth does not diminish when things go wrong. We are not worth less when we make mistakes, when we sin, or when others abuse us. Like the hundred dollar bill our value is tangible and real. When bad things happen to us, we may feel “less than”, but it is an illusion, a counterfeit.
Satan loves us to feel worthless. He loves us to believe that we are scarred beyond repair. He encourages us to feel unlovable, unworthy, not good enough. Guilt and discouragements are his weapons of choice. He works in darkness. He is the author of lies.

In contrast Jesus says, “Come unto me.”[iv]

Jesus is the author of truth. Love and light are His weapons of choice. He loved us enough to die for us. His love is an extension of our Father’s pure and unconditional love for us, His children.
“I testify to you that our Father in Heaven loves His children,” said President Uchtdorf in April conference. “He loves us. He loves you. When necessary the Lord will even carry you over obstacles as you seek his peace with a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Often He speaks to us in ways that we can hear only with our heart.”[v]

I know my Father lives and loves me too.
The Spirit whispers this to me and tells me it is true.[vi]

When someone abuses us, we are not to blame. Sexual abuse is never the victim’s fault. Elder Richard G. Scott clarified this. “Your abuse results from another’s unrighteous attack on your freedom. Since all of Father in Heaven’s children enjoy agency, there can be some who choose willfully to violate the commandments and harm you. Such acts temporarily restrict your freedom.”[vii]

Further clarification is found in For the Strength of Youth. “Victims of rape, incest, or other sexual abuse are not guilty of sin. If you have been a victim of any of these crimes, know that you are innocent and that God loves you.”[viii]

Sexual Abuse Happens Somewhere Else

Diligent parents may have a hard time understanding the risk of sexual abuse. They are inclined to think that sexual abuse only happens in seedy neighborhoods, or in dysfunctional families. The unsavory truth is that it happens everywhere, in every religion, in every race, in every neighborhood, in every culture. Sexual abuse is a plague that crosses all boundaries. We would like to think that we are different and that sexual abuse doesn’t happen in our church. How wrong we are.

The numbers are staggering: nearly one in three girls will be sexually abused before the age of eighteen, and more than one in six boys. Over two thirds of all reported victims of sexual abuse are younger than eighteen years old, and more than half of those are younger than twelve. Nearly one third of all children who are victims of sexual abuse will never tell anyone.

I know of no evidence that those numbers are different for Church members. How I wish that Church members would realize that the danger is real and take opportunity to teach their children about the dangers of sexual abuse. How I wish they would give them tools to protect themselves from abusers.

“I wish that my family had been more open,” said one abuse victim. “I wish that they had given me tools. They had never talked to me about sex, so I never told them what was happening to me.

“Some patterns of sexual abuse were repeated in my own family. The experiences were different. However, I still had no tools. Even though I had experienced sexual abuse as a child, I did not know how to protect my own children from similar experiences. I wanted to be more open with them, but I didn’t know how.

“My parents were active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They were involved in my life, and tried to do what was right, but they didn’t understand the danger and they didn’t know how to empower me.”

Richard G. Scott advised, “Parents, in appropriate, sensitive ways, teach your children of the potential danger of abuse and how to avoid it. Be aware of warning signs, such as an abrupt change in a child’s behavior, that may signal a problem. Be alert to a child’s unsettled feelings and identify their origin.”

Who can I Trust?

When a child is sexually abused their perception is altered. They see the world through different glasses. They may withdraw from friends and family. Their ideas about healthy relationships between men and women, including dating and marriage are often skewed. Their schoolwork and personal development may suffer.

Though abuse is never the victim’s fault they may feel guilty or ashamed. Having been deprived of their agency and betrayed by someone who should have protected them they often have a difficult time trusting others.

One woman who had experienced sexual abuse as a child said, “After my children were grown, I began to notice that I didn’t trust men. I trusted my husband, and most church leaders, but I was often surprised to notice men being kind and compassionate. I didn’t expect men to be nurturing or to care about others. Though I had moved on from the abuse in many ways, I had leftover feelings of mistrust, particularly for men. Part of me believed that most men were motivated primarily by sex and that they married and had families only to fulfill that desire. ”

An abused child is often a lonely child, particularly if they choose not to tell. Telling is difficult because they don’t know who to trust. The secret is so startling and so deeply personal that they are often afraid to tell. This is compounded if the secrecy has been enforced with bribes or threats. If adults seem uncaring or unapproachable, children will go it alone. Many caring adults stand ready to help, but children are often unsure.

One girl was raped at a neighborhood park at the tender age of eleven. She went to the park with friends but stayed behind when they went to the store. Her attacker was known to her. She was afraid of the future. She didn’t know how to tell her parents, but she went to the church and hung around outside the bishop’s office in the hope that he would invite her in and she could unload the terrible secret. She didn’t initiate contact with him, but hoped that he would somehow see her need.

Her parents were concerned about changes in her behavior, but they never suspected the nature of her problems. They were raising a blended family, and attributed her anti-social and disagreeable behavior to stress from the divorce and subsequent marriage, along with normal teenage angst. For a while, she frequented the foyer outside the bishop’s office, but never connected with him. Giving up, she carried her dark secret alone, until she collapsed from the mental and emotional stress in her late teens.
She was finally able to get the help she needed from a kind bishop, supportive parents, and understanding professionals.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter–day Saints Condemns Abusive Behavior

The feeling of mistrust can extend to church leaders and even to Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. Many abuse victims wonder why God did not protect them from abuse. We all want to be rescued from our trials, but that is not the gospel plan. Our Heavenly Father allows agency and seldom intervenes even when his children suffer. What must He feel when He sees the suffering of His children?

One survivor of sexual abuse said, “I have found it extremely difficult to feel self-worth of any kind. The little girl inside me still wonders where God was through six years of abuse. Forty years later, I still pound on the doors of heaven wanting an answer…any answer.”

Those who have been abused may have a difficult time feeling the influence of the Holy Ghost and feeling connected to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Sexual abuse may cause deep spiritual wounds that are difficult to resolve. Not surprisingly, a spiritual disconnect can occur when the abusers are active members of the church. The spiritual pain is often magnified when a perpetrator bears the Priesthood of God, however unworthily.

One young woman was abused repeatedly by three different men, first her father, then an uncle, and later her boss. “All three men were members of the church. My uncle was Elder’s Quorum President and my boss was a counselor in the bishopric. I had enough sense to understand that abuse does happen and it’s not the girl’s fault, but when it happened with three (none knew of the other abuse) and they were my priesthood leaders I decided it had to be me. There they stayed in church week after week as if nothing had happened. I knew there was guilt somewhere, but since none of them seemed to carry any, I carried it all.”

This young woman told her mother about the abuse from her father and was not believed. Eventually she told a stake president about the abuse by her uncle, the Elder’s Quorum president. The stake president was supportive and promised a church court. However the Elder’s Quorum president denied the charges and the case was dropped.

Another young woman told her mother that her father was molesting her. Her mother went to the bishop. The bishop and the girl’s father were close friends and the bishop refused to believe that he was capable of abuse. Fortunately the girl’s mother stood up to her husband and took steps to protect her daughter.

Some victims of sexual abuse, both women and men, who were not supported and believed by their bishop, have a difficult time resolving their feelings toward the church. Some remain active, but find their activity painful. Others distance themselves from church activity. For those who remain active, sometimes the motivation is feeling a responsibility to teach the gospel to their children. Though their pain is deep, their commitment is stronger. I admire their faith.

“Do not be discouraged if initially a bishop hesitates when you identify an abuser,” counseled Elder Richard G. Scott. “Remember that predators are skillful at cultivating a public appearance of piety to mask their despicable acts. Pray to be guided in your efforts to receive help. That support will come. Rest assured that the Perfect Judge, Jesus the Christ, with a perfect knowledge of the details, will hold all abusers accountable for every unrighteous act. In time He will fully apply the required demands of justice unless there is complete repentance. Your preoccupation with a need for justice only slows your healing and allows the perpetrator to continue his abusive control. Therefore you should leave punishment for the diabolic acts of abuse to civil and Church authorities.”[ix]

“No man who abuses his wife or children is worthy to hold the priesthood of God,” said President Gordon B. Hinckley. No man who abuses his wife or children is worthy to be a member in good standing in this Church. The abuse of one’s spouse and children is a most serious offense before God, and any who indulge in it may expect to be disciplined by the Church.”[x]

The LDS Church is serious about helping abused members find healing and peace. The Church’s press release on sexual abuse emphasizes this. “Helping the victim is of first concern. It is the very nature of Christians to reach out with compassion and love to those who are struggling with the agonies of abuse. It is integral to our ministry. Within the Church, victims can find spiritual guidance that eventually leads to healing through faith in Jesus Christ. Abuse victims are also offered professional counseling so they can benefit from the best of secular expertise, regardless of their ability to pay.
“The Church’s official handbook of instructions for leaders states that the first responsibility of the Church is to help those who have been abused and to protect those who may be vulnerable to future abuse.”

Can there be any doubt where the Church stands on this issue?

The Church’s press release further states “A Latter-day Saint congregation is like a big family, a group of people working together with an attitude of mutual support. The Church has long encouraged families to talk about child abuse, to educate themselves on how to recognize and prevent such tragedies. Since 1976, more than 50 news and magazine articles have appeared in Church publications condemning child abuse or educating members about it. Church leaders have spoken out on the subject more than 30 times at Church worldwide conferences. Child abuse is the subject of a regular lesson taught during Sunday meetings.”[xi]

His Grace is Sufficient

I was taught from childhood that the Atonement made resurrection and repentance possible. I was married with children when I began to understand that the Atonement can also relieve my pain and suffering.

For me the Atonement of Jesus Christ was an exquisite one room house, glorious in every way. As I was inspired to study the Atonement I learned that it was not a one room house, but a mansion on the hill, a mansion with many rooms. The Atonement offered not one gift, but many.

As the eyes of my understanding were opened I began to study grace. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not believe in grace, does it? That’s what I had heard. We believe in works. Grace is what other religions believe.

Discovering grace was like seeing a sunrise for the very first time. We do believe in grace. Grace is the front door to the mansion on the hill. My works may take me up the hill, and through the heavy entrance gates. My works will lead me up the walk, but they cannot take me into the mansion, for grace is the door.

Oh to grace how great a debtor
daily I’m constrained to be!
Let thy goodness, like a fetter,
bind my wandering heart to thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
seal it for thy courts above. [xii]

The Atonement of Jesus Christ is a glorious gift. Because of Jesus Christ we can be resurrected, cleansed, redeemed, and exhalted. We rejoice in these truths, but there is more. There is so much more. The Atonement is not just for sinners. The Atonement offers “beauty for ashes.”[xiii]

Because of Jesus we can be supported and strengthened in every trial. We are not alone. Jesus suffered not only for our sins, but also for our sickness, our pain, and our grief. Though the results of child abuse are devastating, healing is possible through the Atonement and grace of Jesus Christ.
As Elder C. Scott Grow explained, “The Savior felt the weight of the anguish of all mankind—the anguish of sin and of sorrow. ‘Surely he has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows.’[xiv]

“Through His Atonement, He heals not only the transgressor, but He also heals the innocent who suffer because of those transgressions. As the innocent exercise faith in the Savior and in His Atonement and forgive the transgressor, they too can be healed.”[xv]

The exquisite truth is that the Atonement of Jesus Christ is real and offers comfort and hope in every situation. His Grace is sufficient. We can call on the power of the Atonement to help us through troubling times. Even in the wake of sexual abuse we can find comfort and help. We can know that healing is possible for all involved and we can rely on the Holy Ghost to guide us through the process.

And since he bids me seek his face,
Believe his word, and trust his grace,
I’ll cast on him my every care,
And wait for thee, sweet hour of prayer.[xvi]

“I am a survivor of sexual abuse,” said one woman. “Many people kept telling me different ways that I could be healed, and I did try many of them. It wasn’t until I decided one summer that I would read and re-read Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in the New Testament, and learn of Christ, his life and his atonement [that I began to heal]. I read the four gospels about four times and felt the healing power of my Savior and began to fill with peace. I am so thankful for the scriptures and my testimony of the Atonement.”

In the True to the Faith gospel reference manual we read, “Through your faith and righteousness and through His atoning sacrifice, all the inequities, injuries, and pains of this life can be fully compensated for and made right. Blessings denied in this life will be given in the eternities. And although He may not relieve all your suffering now, He will bless you with comfort and understanding and with strength to ‘bear up your burdens with ease.’” [xvii] [xviii]

Some of my favorite scriptures bear the promise of peace, from the Savior of the world. Through the Atonement we can find peace, in this life and throughout eternity.

“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.”[xix]
“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled neither let it be afraid.”[xx]

“In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”[xxi]

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”[xxii]

One woman wondered why she was born into an abusive family. She endured many types of abuse including sexual. She prayed for understanding. Her answer came one day as she was weeding flowers. “When you plant flowers in your yard, where do you like to plant them?” were the words that came into her mind. I like to plant them in some ugly spot that I want to make beautiful.“That is why you were born into this family. I had an ugly spot that I needed to make beautiful.”

Some abuse victims have felt impressed that they were born into an abusive family to stop the cycle of abuse. Some have felt that they were foreordained to this task.

Let the Spirit heal our hearts,
Through it’s quiet gentle power.[xxiii]

Linda Garner

[i] Herbert Ward
[ii] Susan Evans McCloud, Lord I Would Follow Thee; Hymns of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; p.220
[iii] Naomi W. Randall, I Am Child of God, Hymns: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, p. 301
[iv] 3 Nephi 9:14
[v] Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Waiting on the Road to Damascus; Ensign, May, 2010
[vi] Reid N. Nibley, I Know My Father Lives, Hymns of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, p. 302
[vii] Richard G. Scott; To Heal the Shattering Consequences of Abuse; May 2008.
[viii] The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, For the Strength of Youth, p. 28
[ix][ix] Richard G. Scott; To Heal the Shattering Consequences of Abuse; May 2008.
[x] Gordon B. Hinckley, What are People Asking about Us, Ensign, November 1998.
[xi] Newsroom,, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
[xii] Robinson, Robert, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing; Hymns, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1950 edition, p. 70
[xiii] Isaiah 61:3
[xiv] Mosiah 14:4, Isaiah, 53:4,
[xv] C. Scott Grow, The Miracle of the Atonement; Ensign May 2011
[xvi] William W. Walford, Sweet Hour of Prayer: Hymns: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, p. 142
[xvii] The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint, True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference Manual, 2004, p.20
[xviii] Mosiah 24:14-15
[xix] Matthew11:28
[xx] John 14:27
[xxi] John 16:33
[xxii] Matthew 11:29-30
[xxiii] Penelope Mood Allen, Let the Holy Spirit Guide; Hymns: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, p. 143

His Grace is Sufficient, Part 2

Written by Linda Garner

Is There Forgiveness for the Perpetrator of Sexual Abuse?

Consider this sister’s story. “I was abused as were my siblings when we were younger by a stepfather from hell. We never told anyone because we thought there was something wrong with us. I pushed everything to a distant place where I did not deal with it well. I was thirteen. I am now sixty two. After this last conference the door that had been locked tight was opened and the pain I felt was immense, the hate I had for him beyond words. I felt like I needed to throw up, my stomach hurt so bad.
“I cried for hours with the loss of something so precious in my childhood, and the feelings of being betrayed. I felt all the hate I could and shared it with one of my sisters. I read about forgiveness and then prayed to be able to forgive and felt the love of the Savior…and the release of all that hate and sadness…My mother never knew until I was 18 and getting married, but the important thing is that we can heal and through the love of our Savior Jesus Christ we can be healed and feel loved.”

Addressing the topic of forgiveness for the perpetrator of sexual abuse, Gordon B. Hinckley said, “Now, the work of the Church is a work of salvation. I want to emphasize that. It is a work of saving souls. We desire to help both the victim and the offender. Our hearts reach out to the victim, and we must act to assist him or her. Our hearts reach out to the offender, but we cannot tolerate the sin of which he may be guilty. Where there has been offense, there is a penalty. The process of the civil law will work its way. And the ecclesiastical process will work its way, often resulting in excommunication. This is both a delicate and a serious matter.

“Nevertheless, we recognize, and must always recognize, that when the penalty has been paid and the demands of justice have been met, there will be a helpful and kindly hand reaching out to assist. There may be continuing restrictions, but there will also be kindness.”[i]

The Church offers help to the perpetrator of sexual abuse in the form of counseling, support groups, and addiction recovery programs. The Church’s Addiction Recovery Manual is a wonderful resource for those recovering from addictions of any kind including pornography addictions and sexual addictions. It is available for a nominal fee at Church Distribution Centers. It is also available for free download from the Provident Living section of the Church’s website. See link here

The Addiction Recover Manual is a powerful help to those seeking change and repentance, but it doesn’t stop there. It is powerful medicine for anyone trying to get closer to Christ and for anyone trying to access the healing power of the atonement. This may include perpetrators, victims, and the families of both.

One member shared these feelings about the Addiction Recover Program. “One of the best kept secrets in the Church is the ARP! Every single member (addict or not) who desires to apply the atonement in their life may attend these meetings and use the guide. I have grown so much as I have participated. My testimony has grown and I no longer harbor resentments, anger and fear. ARP is a safe place where we get to share our healing and hope and receive the grace to continue to come unto Christ no matter what has happened to us or what we have done.”

For those seeking to forgive those who have abused them, the Addiction Recovery Program may open doors that seem locked. Forgiveness of such heinous behavior may seem impossible to some, yet complete healing lies beyond the doors of forgiveness.

Complete healing is only possible through the grace of Jesus Christ. His atonement is the miracle that opens those doors. His grace is sufficient.[ii]

My heart is full of love for Thee
Because I know Thou first loved me.
Now by that love I’ll seek to live
And freely, like Thyself, forgive.[iii]

Forgiveness changes us from the inside out and helps us heal, but forgiveness does not mean that we accept or tolerate evil. The abuse must not be swept under the carpet. Forgiveness does not take away the consequences for the perpetrator of evil acts. The perpetrator must be made accountable. As we forgive, we must do what is necessary to stop the abusive acts of others. They must not be allowed to repeat their evil deeds, against us, or against others.

Forgiveness is not easy. It is essential for complete healing. Christ offers us complete healing. Learning to forgive is sometimes like putting a puzzle together, one piece at a time, much as President Uchtdorf described learning to know Christ. Perhaps learning to know Christ and learning to forgive can happen simultaneously.

“Those who diligently seek to learn of Christ eventually will come to know Him. They will personally receive a divine portrait of the Master, although it most often comes in the form of a puzzle—one piece at a time. Each individual piece may not be easily recognizable by itself; it may not be clear how it relates to the whole. Each piece helps us to see the big picture a little more clearly. Eventually, after enough pieces have been put together, we recognize the grand beauty of it all. Then, looking back on our experience, we see that the Savior had indeed come to be with us—not all at once but quietly, gently, almost unnoticed.”[iv]

“Forgiveness,” said Russell Osguthorpe “is a choice. It’s a choice that leads to a personal characteristic—a way of being. It’s really a choice to follow the Savior. It’s a choice to do his will and not ours. It’s a self-forgetful choice. It’s a way of getting outside ourselves, going beyond our own weaknesses and doing what God wants us to do.”[v]

When your heart was filled with anger,
Did you think to pray?
Did you plead for grace, my brother,
That you might forgive another,
Who had crossed your way?[vi]

What Can We Do to Prevent Sexual Abuse?

President Gordon B. Hinckley said “The Church is doing everything it can to strengthen families. Every person and institution must do their part but, in the end, strong, loving and watchful families are the best defense against child abuse.”[vii]

Repairing the damage caused by sexual abuse is possible but difficult. Prevention is preferable. Education is the key. Education can empower children and teenagers to take control of their own bodies. It is essential that children be taught about the sacredness of their bodies and how to respond to those who would misuse their trust.

1. Teach with clarity.

One woman said, “I grew up in a home where sexuality was not discussed. When I was molested by a family member, I had nothing to go on. It was confusing. Someone I loved and trusted was touching me in ways I had never imagined. He told me that it was our secret and I must never tell anyone. ‘No one else will understand,’ he said. ‘If you tell you will get in trouble.’

“The situation might have been different, if I had been taught the truth about sexuality and the sacredness of my body.”

Who would you choose to be your child’s first teacher about intimacy? Who is the most qualified to teach with tenderness and clarity? Who can teach the facts with a gospel perspective? You can be that person.

Teaching about sexuality is sometimes awkward, but with prayerful preparation you can do the job. Have age appropriate conversations and teach with sensitivity and clarity. Such conversations can be formal or casual, planned or spur of the moment.

One mother told me she enjoys talking with her daughters about intimacy one on one during backyard campouts under the stars. The peaceful curtain of night with a backdrop of stars, for her, is the perfect place for a heart to heart talk about sensitive and beautiful matters.

What should we teach about intimacy? You can start by reflecting on this thought from For the Strength of Youth. “Physical Intimacy between husband and wife is beautiful and sacred. It is ordained of God for the creation of children and for the expression of love between husband and wife. God has commanded that sexual intimacy be reserved for marriage.”[viii]

When we teach about intimacy, chastity, or sexual abuse, let us not give the impression that sex is dirty. In reality, sex in the right time and place is a beautiful and natural thing, ordained of God.
I remember a particular Young Women’s lesson on chastity. A beautiful flower was compared to one which had been crushed and left to wither. We were taught that if we kept ourselves pure and saved our bodies for marriage we would be like the fresh flower, but if we gave into sexual temptations we would be like the crushed flower. Used. Who wants a marriage partner that has been used?

One family uses peaches with a similar analogy. Ripe juicy peaches are compared with bruised or stale fruit. When leaving on a date their teenagers hear the words “Remember the peaches.”

Such analogies are painful and misleading to those who have experienced sexual abuse. Through no fault of their own they already feel used and unworthy. Bruised. Imagine how they feel when they hear this type of object lesson.

If you carefully consider analogies of this type you will see other flaws. Is sex dirty or undesireable? Does intimacy in marriage also make you used? Are those who marry a second time, due to death or divorce, less desireable because they are used?

There must be better ways to teach chastity.

Children should be taught that their bodies are sacred and private. They should know which parts are private. A simple definition is the body parts that are usually covered by swimsuits. Teach and model modesty. Close the door when using the bathroom. Wear a robe when walking around the house unclothed. Modesty is a lot of little things that help children understand the sacredness of their bodies.
In the True to the Faith gospel reference manual we read “…the human body is God’s sacred creation. Respect your body as a gift from God. Through your dress and appearance you can show the Lord that you know how precious your body is.” [ix]

2. Be a Safe Person for your Child to Talk To

Build a trusting relationship with your child. Help your child feel comfortable about talking to you. A parent who is quick to judge or overreact may not feel like a safe person to talk to. Does your child know that you are on his/her side? Are you quick to criticize or to advise? Do you have an open mind? Do you respect your child’s ideas?

No one goes out of their way to talk to someone who makes them feel bad. Be sensitive about your child’s feelings so that he/she enjoys talking to you. Use uplifting language. Be respectful.
Let your child know that he/she can talk to you about anything. Be interested. Be available.
Teach children to tell if anyone tries to touch them inappropriately. Teach children that anyone who asks them to keep secrets from their parents is not a good friend.

3. Build Confidence in your Child

Children with low self-confidence may have a harder time resisting abuse. Confident kids are more resilient and resistant. Abusers sometimes look for kids who lack confidence. Look for ways to build your child’s confidence.

Notice what your child does well and compliment him/her on achievements and successes. Notice good decisions, helpfulness, thoughtfulness. Foster and appreciate success and leadership qualities. Look for opportunities to sincerely praise. Praise from Dad can be especially meaningful.

Success builds confidence. Participation in sports, dance, music lessons, or other such activities can help create confidence. Not all children enjoy the same activities. Find out what your child loves and nurture it. Every child can benefit from learning a skill.

Performing can also be a boost for some children, but not all. Be sensitive to your child’s wishes. Most children enjoy being the star from time to time. If your child resists being in the limelight, help him find other ways to shine. Help your child succeed in school.

Life skills are confidence builders. Give your child opportunity to make decisions, to help make the rules, to help with dinner and other household chores. Children who contribute to family work have higher self-esteem than those who are waited on.

Be a good listener. Let your child know that you value his/her opinion. Children have good ideas. Try them out. Talk things over. Work things out. If your word is law, how will your child learn about compromise and negotiation? How will your child learn about problem solving? Children who have a voice in family decisions can use that voice when confronted with problems in real life. Children who have a voice can use that voice when confronted with abuse.

Spend time together. President Uchtdorf recently reminded us that “In family relationships love is really spelled t-i-m-e.” When you choose time with your child over other activities, you send a strong message about how much you value that child. That’s a big confidence booster.[x]

4. Try Not to Be Paranoid

For most of us the possibility of our children being sexually abused is overwhelming and frightening. We long for a Rapunzel-like tower to lock them in. We could raise them safely by strictly controlling their environment, locking kids in and locking evil out. Tempting, but it’s not the gospel plan. Not only that, it never works.

It is impossible to completely isolate your children from possible sex offenders. Since perpetrators look perfectly normal and don’t wear any badges to identify them, we can’t tell the good guys from the bad. What we can do is teach our children how to deal with the approach.

We have spent decades teaching children to avoid strangers, but in reality a child is nine times more likely to be sexually abused by someone they know and trust. One child began to cry when she was greeted by a substitute primary teacher. “I’m not allowed to be with strangers,” she said with tears in her eyes.

Stranger is a pretty vague word, and in fact most strangers are good kind people. We don’t want our children to be afraid, we want them to be aware. It is better to teach children about the situations or actions they should avoid rather than the type of individual they should avoid.

One family has a rule that no child is allowed to be alone in a room with any man, whether he is a brother, an uncle, a neighbor, or a grandpa.

This may sound like a good idea, but remember abusers can be male or female. An abuser can be another child. An abuser can be a parent. This kind of rule may create a false feeling of security. It can also foster a fear of adult men. How will a young girl learn to trust the man she will someday marry if she has been taught to be afraid of men? Most adult men are not abusers and will likely resent be treated like one.

One woman found that her own father was the abuser of her daughters. Each of the cousins had been abused by a man no one suspected, their grandfather. The woman was devastated. The damage was extensive and healing is still taking place. However, most grandfathers are not abusers. Shall we isolate our children from grandfathers, or shall we learn to be smart and aware.

5. Be Smart

Know where your children are and who they are with. Be familiar with your children’s friends and daily activities. Children should not be left unsupervised for long periods of time. Teenagers and children should not be out alone after dark.

Be sensitive to changes in your child’s behavior. If anything feels different or uncomfortable, check it out.

Know the warning signs of sexual abuse. Notice things like bedwetting, change in eating habits, nightmares, unexplained sadness or fear, anxiety or depression, withdrawal from friends or family.
In teenagers also notice signs of self-loathing, such as negative self-talk, self-destructive behavior, unhealthy attitudes toward the opposite sex. In some cases, drug abuse, drinking, and suicidal thoughts can be an outgrowth of sexual abuse.

Beware of anyone who pays unusual attention to your child, or gives inappropriate or expensive gifts to your child.

Choose babysitters with care.

Trust your feelings. If something doesn’t feel right, pay attention. The Holy Ghost may be trying to get your attention. Follow promptings. Teach your children to recognize promptings from the Holy Ghost. Make the Holy Ghost your best friend.

If you discover abuse, reassure your child or teenager. Abuse is never the child’s fault. Remind your child that he/she is not to blame. Thank your child for trusting you with important information. Talk to your bishop, consult your family physician, and notify the local authorities. Protect your child from further abuse and support your child’s healing in every way.

When a family member is the abuser, some parents are tempted to look the other way. This is devastating to the victim who is already confused about the abusive relationship. Remember that your child’s safety and healing are the first priority. Consider also the danger to other children if the perpetrator is not stopped. Reporting the abuse gives the perpetrator an opportunity to repent and an opportunity for treatment.

Disovering abuse is painful and frightening. Would we rather not know? Of course not. We want to be there for our children. We want to lead them to higher ground. We want to comfort them and teach them about their Savior. We can only do that when we know. The only thing worse than finding out that your child has been sexually abused, is not finding out.

As a young mother, I often wished that I could lock my children away from temptation, adversity, and evil. Wouldn’t we all like to shield our children from harm? We do what we can. We teach, we protect we watch, and in the end we trust.

We trust our children’s judgment because we can’t always be there, and because they need to grow. We trust life to be a thorough teacher. We hope she will be kind. We trust family and friends for strength and support, and we give back. We trust the Holy Ghost to be our compass. The Plan of Salvation will be our map. We trust the atonement to make up for our lack.

We do our best and then we ask our Redeemer to make up the difference. His Grace is Sufficient.

Linda Garner

[i] Gordon B. Hinckley, Personal Worthiness to Exercise the Priesthood, Ensign, May 2002.
[ii] Moroni 10:32, Ether 12:26-27; D&C 18:31; D&C 17:8; 2 Corinthians 12:9
[iii]Alice W. Johnson, O Lord, Who Gave Thy Life For Me (words and music), Ensign, Oct 2002
[iv] Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Waiting on the Road to Damascus, Ensign, May 2012
[v] Russell and Lolly Osguthorpe, A Forgiving Heart, BYU Women’s Conference, April 29, 2011
[vi]Bernard of Clairvaux, Did You Think to Pray, Hymns: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, p. 140
[vii]Newsroom,, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
[viii] The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, For the Strength of Youth, 2001, p. 26
[ix] The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference Manual, 2004, p. 107
[x] Dieter Uchtdorf, Of the Things that Matter Most, Ensign, November 2010