In the biblical culture of the Hebrews, young women were ideally provided with oversight by their parents until her wedding day when that oversight was transferred to her husband. It was a culture that emphasized both the God-given responsibilities of the parents and the child alike: parents to lead by teaching the Word of God to the children (Deut. 6:7-9; Eph. 6:4) and children to obey their parents (Ex. 20:12; Eph. 6:1-3). Today, in our culture, we see numerous examples of the abdication of the responsibilities of both parents and children leading to destruction of relationships impacting society negatively. In the following blog, we will examine some of the important aspects of counseling girls with unresponsive parents in today’s culture.
Vision of Hope is a residential program for young women struggling with addictions of all types, eating disorders, self-harm habits, and unplanned pregnancy. The youngest possible age of a resident is age 14. For the minors in our program, family issues create the most heartache. Common issues to look for when counseling a girl with unresponsive parents are anger, attention-seeking, disobedience/rebellion, and seeking the approval of others, especially boys. Neglect of parents is not an excuse for bad behavior but it is often a contributing factor we see at Vision of Hope.
When a girl enters our program, we recognize that we are not her biological family. There is no way we can replace parents nor do we ever try to do that. Instead, we want the girl to walk in the truth of her familial relationships and learn how to biblically relate to them. As the body of Christ in the family of God, we do relate spiritually to the girl as her brothers and sisters in Christ and that is a special relationship with those girls who profess having a lordship relationship with Christ. As her pastor while in the program, I am privileged to provide spiritual oversight of this young woman and help the counseling team with which she is assigned. At VOH, we appreciate the opportunity God gives us to love her as part of the family of God and it is one of the unique aspects of working in a residential setting that is an extension of the local church. Our program is part of the fabric of the church and integrally connected to that body of believers as her faith family.
When a young woman has little support from family, she struggles with motivation at first. While the ultimate motivating goal is to live in such a way as to glorify God, that goal is not usually where a young lady starts. In the beginning, motivation for a young woman often comes from wanting to please the family in an effort to strengthen those relationships. This motivation can be a positive and/or a negative. Positive motivation is manifested by her working hard to reconcile severed relationships and the damage done in them. Sometimes this is a really good starting point when it is not predominantly all she thinks about. Negative motivation is often demonstrated by her focus being completely upon pleasing family and maybe even faking “good progress” in an effort to get back home without real heart change.
Through time in the program and many hours of counseling, the motivation will change from pleasing family first into living in a way that pleases God first with a pure heart. When the goal becomes pleasing God first and foremost, the young lady may likely (though not always) gain an outcome of reconciliation with family relationships as a byproduct of obedience. In other words, living in a Christ-like way might produce fruit of reconciliation in the family though not always. Regardless, the right motivation to please God is primary and commanded by God despite desired outcomes.
During the counseling process and often while motivation is changing, we work with the girl to help her to honor and obey her parents (except if they tell her to sin in some way). I Peter 2:18 is a powerful verse about obeying leaders who are seemingly unfair: Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. It is easy to obey a boss who is good and gentle but not easy for the flesh to obey a boss who is unjust – that requires the power of the Holy Spirit.
Ultimately, the young lady must recognize that her parents and home life are circumstances that reveal her own heart toward Christ. We counsel the young woman that while parents are imperfect and fail, God is the perfect parent who has the goal of molding her into the likeness and image of Christ. Jesus submitted to imperfect human authorities though He is divine and was their ultimate authority in heaven. Jesus modeled ultimate submission to the heavenly Father by submitting to flawed human authorities knowing He was trusting the Father’s plan. The young woman with unsupportive or even hateful parents can learn to do the same. Counselors will need to build in a godly view of authority and pleasing the Lord in response to authority. Counselors also must honor and respect parents, even when it is difficult due to poor choices, to model Christ-like behavior to the young lady.
Pointing a young woman to God’s character in that He never fails is essential in counseling. She must learn to trust God in His sovereignty in choosing the parents He has for her. Her goal may be different from God’s goal provided in Scripture so she has to recognize the difference recognizing God’s desire is for her to grow in spiritual maturity through this circumstance. In time, God may use her testimony to transform her parents’ hearts.
Occasionally, an unresponsive family member will simply be uninformed as to how to be supportive. In these cases, it is a joy to teach both parents and the young woman in our program how to communicate biblically using principles of conflict resolution and the four rules of communication. We can work on our end with the young woman by instilling biblical thinking and new patterns of communication between her and her family that honor God. Connecting the parents with a biblical counselor in their area or working with them at our facility is key to establishing new patterns going forward in their relationships.
If family persists at being unresponsive, then we find a godly couple to pour truth and grace into the young woman. Again, that is an advantage of being a program that is an extension of the local church and an integral part of the body of Christ. We have several couples who love to fill that role of discipleship in a young woman’s life as a fulfillment of the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20).
It is the young woman’s responsibility to learn how to respond to her family in a way that brings glory to God. Our hope is that as she learns more about her perfect, heavenly Father, she will be motivated to trust Him and live by faith in a non-embittered way that glorifies Christ. She must come to understand the goodness of God and His goal for her transformation while recognizing that her unresponsive family is losing an opportunity to be in a loving relationship with an excellent young lady. It can be very sad in many regards but it does not have to be a situation that robs a young woman of her joy in Christ when she thinks about her new adoptive Father, new brothers and sisters in Christ, and the blessings that God brings through the fruit of the Spirit when she learns to walk in the Spirit and not in the flesh (Gal. 5:16).
For Further Discussion
1. How could you offer hope to a young woman in your church or community with unresponsive parents?
2. How can your local church reach out to young women (i.e. single mothers) in a greater way?
-Pastor Mark Shaw (thankful to be in a church that reaches out to serve hurting young women)