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Ask Jani: “How can we handle frustrations with grown children living at home? What about cohabiting – is it wrong?”

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Episode Synopsis

Jani and Heidi discuss grown children still living at home. How can you work through the tensions and the frustrations without driving your kids too far away from you? And then they wrestle through this question, “What about cohabiting? Is it wrong? How can we live in close relationships with those who are?”

Audio Transcript

This podcast episode was recorded before the pandemic started. We hope you all are well.

Heidi: Welcome, everyone, to our podcast today. It is good to be with you all. Heidi Howerton is here with my wonderful friend Jani Ortlund, and we are taking a break from our series today on the 10 Commandments to throw in a couple of “Ask Jani” questions. As we’ve been talking about honoring our father and our mother, we thought we would discuss some of the questions that you all had concerning family life. So I think we should just dive on into it Jani, are you ready?

Jani: Yes, and I do want to personally thank all of you for writing in these questions. We won’t get to every single one of them in a timely fashion, but we do take note of them all. And we want you to know we’re trying to answer your questions. So thanks for sending them in.

Heidi: Yes and if you feel anything on your heart that you’d really love to just sit down with Jani and have a cup of tea together and spend time looking at what the Lord says about it, feel free to write more questions at herestoresmysoul.org.

Question #1: Tension with Grown Children Living at Home

Here is today’s first question,

“Please give me some wisdom on my tension with my grown up girls still living at home. I’m tired of all the responsibility for the home and frustrated at their lack of respect and gratitude. Ours is a pastoral ministry home.”

Jani: Whoa, that’s a good question Heidi, isn’t it?

Heidi: A really good question!

Jani: You might not know yet because your kids are still at home

Heidi: I don’t think I have any input on this one. I’m all ears, listening in.

Some General Principles

Jani: Being an empty nester myself now four about 15 years, I can empathize with this mother. I would want to know a little bit more information before I answered this specifically. I can give some general principles but I would want to know how old the girls are. Are they 18 and 20? Or are they 32 and 34? It would really make a difference in how I see they’re still living in their home. In other words, dear mom of these girls, do you see an end in sight? Are they working toward moving out? Or are they just working outside of home and enjoy coming home to your cooking and doing their laundry and they’re being able to spend their own wages on what they want rather than setting up their own homes? I wonder if they’re trying to save any money for their future? These are questions that go through my mind as I read yours.

I want to tell you, I believe you need to have a good, safe, non-volatile and non-threatening conversation with them. Model to your girls how to work through something as adults. They will need it for their future with either their spouse or their roommate. So model, how do you handle something like this when you’ve got an issue that’s frustrating you, that’s creating tension, and you need to talk about it? I would encourage you to take some time to think through and pray through some of these issues.

Think through: HOW to say it

First of all, think through how you want to say what you want to say to your girls. How do you want to put it? You might say to them, there’s something on your heart you want to talk about. Think about if you want to do it with both daughters together—I think that might be best because then they’ll have each other and won’t feel as if you ganged up on one of them and you could get it done in one sitting, which I think might be a relief to you.

You see, you want this in how you say it to be a win-win for everyone, a win for you, and a win for them so that no one walks away saying, “Wow, I just lost a lot.” You want to build into the foundation of this relationship more and more and more. You want to enhance your relationship not hinder it through this conversation. So think how you want to talk to your daughters. Admit to your daughters if you’re a little nervous, but tell them you think that it’s right and good for you to talk about this. So think about how you want to say what you need to say to them.

Think through: WHEN & WHERE to say it

And then I want you to think through where and when you should say it. If possible, dear mother, do it when they are not hungry or tired or pressed for time. Or you either, don’t do it when you’re in a cranky mood. You might need to make a date with them. You could say, “Hey, can I meet you at Chili’s on Tuesday at 6:30 and treat you all to dinner? I’ve been thinking about something and I’d like to get your thoughts on it.” In other words, help them to relax as much as possible about this conversation.

Think through: WHAT to say

And then finally, think about what you need to say to them. Think and pray over the very words. You might want to have a few notes written down so they know you’ve taken this seriously. But don’t write it out word for word and make it a speech, that will make it too formal for them. They’ll feel uncomfortable with you reading something and I just think that would be so awkward.

“What about my own emotions? I don’t want to push them away!”

Use “I” and “me” as much as possible, instead of “you.” Ask the Lord to help you not to get teary or over emotional. Sometimes I found that my tears, they really can hinder a conversation. So I want to be really careful because I’m sure you feel emotional in this relationship and with this tension that you’re feeling.

Do tell them how you feel. In your question, Heidi and I sense tension and resentment, a little bit of anger and maybe some sadness and frustration. If you can name some of these emotions, tell them without blaming your daughters for these emotions. You are the one feeling them. So you can say “You know, I’ve just been experiencing tension. I don’t want that in my relationship with you all. I’ve become resentful over some things. I hate that. You’re my daughter’s. I love you. I don’t want that. I’ve even found some anger welling up and that’s just awful. I don’t want that.”

You might tell them why you feel how you feel. Maybe you’re just tired. Maybe it’s hard for you to take care of their needs and the needs of everyone else in your family. I don’t know but perhaps you felt a little jealous that they have someone cooking them a meal or doing their laundry while they get to go out and do their dream job or go be with their friends or sit home and watch TV. And maybe you’re even a little bit fearful that you haven’t done a good job of raising them, that you haven’t taught them how best to enter into adulthood. Maybe you’re fearful that this is your life now. Or maybe you fear how others might look at your family, since you are a pastor’s wife. Maybe you’re fearful for the younger children in your family, that they will see this as the model and expect it.

Focus on a Path Forward

So I suggest that you think about: how you should say what you want to say, when and where you should say it, making sure you’re not cranky, are tired or hungry, and what you need to say. When you’re seated together and talking, think about a path forward. Talk about that, use that language—how can we improve our relationship? How can we walk forward together in this? Assure them of your love for them, let them know that you really are so grateful that they’re your daughter’s, and you really want to work this out.

Some things MUST Change (but not too many at once!)

If they want to continue to live with you in peace and happiness, and under the smile of the Lord, let them know that some things must change. Now that will be hard, but you need to be very clear on this. Do not muddle this up. Some things must change. You choose one or two things. Don’t make a list of 10 things that need to change, that will overwhelm them, that will hurt them and it will be impossible to follow through on. Choose one or two things.

Two practical ideas

Maybe they could help more around the house. Maybe they would be willing to take one chore each. Start with something small like dusting the downstairs once a week or cleaning the guest bathroom once a week. Or maybe Monday is the day you change all the beds in your house and one of them helps you with that. It’s so much easier to change beds with two people and it would give you a chance to talk as well. So maybe suggest a chore that each of them could do or they could suggest a chore. Offer them three or four and say, “Would you be willing to do one of these?”

Another way they could help is with meal prep. Maybe they would be willing to cook one meal a week. That would help them understand how much prep it takes to plan it, shop for it, cook and prepare it. And that would help you. It would be a way for them to learn.

Or maybe part of the difficulty is in the budget area. Here they are, active members of the household using hot water, electricity, heat, food, all of it and they’re out working—I presume they’re not in school, I presume they’re working—and they’re not contributing at all to the family budget. Maybe you could talk about what they could contribute. Ask them, “What would work for you?”

Revisit this over time

And then set a goal to revisit this in two to four weeks to be able to tweak your plan and maybe to add another chore, something like that and to find out what’s working and what isn’t working. Try to end on a positive note. Thank them for being willing to meet with you. Praise them for listening and entering in and not just withdrawing or shutting down as you’ve heard of other young women doing. And I’ll tell you this, if you need a scapegoat, tell them you were listening to an older woman on a podcast, and she got you thinking. Blame it on Jani!

Heidi: Oh Jani, that’s so good. I think that can help a lot of us because there is sin in all of our relationships, and there’s tension arising in marriages or with relationships with children. So I think even those of us that don’t have older children can really benefit from that.

I love how you said to talk about the way you feel. I think that’s really helpful especially for me in marriage to tell Mike, “I feel this way,” instead of, “You’re making me feel…” because he can’t make me feel anything. Those are all mine. I also loved what you had to say about taking them out to a meal. Another older woman that I listen to, she’ll talk about always having goodies and how food will open up children’s hearts. So, make a special area or a special tea.

Just like you said, let them know what a joy it is to spend time with them and how thankful you are for them and how much you love them. The way that you put things makes my heart smile. I want to be in at the table with you having that conversation. There’s so much love that comes forth and that’s what I want to hang on to the most whenever I go into difficult situations. “Lord, put my heart in the place of love. I love these people so much.” So thank you for taking the time to think through that.

Question #2: Tension with couples Cohabiting

We have one more question to go through today on this podcast. Here’s the second question,

“My question is about cohabiting before marriage. It has been tough for me to watch my siblings live together and not be married.”

Jani: Well, here’s another question where I wish our questioner was right here so I could ask her a few questions first. I’d like to know a little bit more before I could truly answer this question wisely.

I wonder if her siblings are believers? If they’re not, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t cohabit. They have no higher power to listen to other than their own culture and their own bodies. I also wonder if the woman who wrote this question is married. It might be hard for you to talk to your siblings about not cohabiting because you have a husband and they would say, “Well, sure, it’s easy for you to tell me not to, you’ve got your husband to live with.” So I don’t really know specifically what you’re asking. Are you asking for a conversation with them or what my feelings and beliefs are about cohabiting? But I do know that I can tell you what I believe the Bible teaches about cohabiting before marriage.

“What does the Bible have to say about cohabiting?”

The reason we save living together—and that means saving the most intimate part of our physical relationship as well—for marriage, is because God has told us two things: it’s best for us, and it pleases him.

Why shouldn’t we sleep together until we totally commit ourselves to each other before God? Well, how does God look at our sexuality? How does the One who created us male and female look at it? We know that God values our sexuality and calls for us to enjoy this beautiful gift within the security of marital commitment, life-long marital commitment. This is where faithful devotion and a lifelong love can best promote the joy of a one flesh relationship.

God, in His great mercy and love for us, has given us the seventh commandment—you might know what it says, “You shall not commit adultery”—He’s given that to us to protect the joy, the love the pleasure, and the security that only marriage can offer. Now, Heidi and I are going to talk about this more in future episodes when we come to the seventh commandment in our series.

But for now, let’s say this: from the beginning of creation, God has placed a very high value on our sexuality. He made us male and female, as part of his “very good” creation. We see that in Genesis chapter one. God led Eve to the man to be his partner in the challenge of life. We see that in Genesis 2, God makes marriage the crowning glory of the creation of the universe. Your romance, my romance, Heidi and Mike’s romance, they all came down from above. Our romances should be treated with the tenderness and respect they deserve.

Jesus honored Marriage

Think of how Jesus honored marriage. He honored it when he said, “What God has joined together, let not man separate.” He honored a wedding with his presence and his first miracle. The Bible teaches that marriage is to be sacred, consecrated, hallowed, inviolable. It is to be a bond between a man and a woman for the whole length of their life on Earth.

We ALL should honor a marriage

The Bible also teaches that everyone outside of a marriage is to honor that marriage. And we all are to honor every marriage we know of. Hebrews 13:4 puts it this way,

“Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.”

Hebrews 13:4

I love how Ray talks about this verse in his book, Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel. Let me read a quote from it from page 112, of Ray’s book (he’s talking about Hebrews 13:4, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled.” Ray teaches,

“The emphasis of this verse lies on the words ‘held in honor.’ That is prized, valued, esteemed. The New Testament never says ‘Let money be prized valued or esteemed,’ but God has called us all to feel just that way about marriage. It is to be honored and lifted up and protected among all believers, not only among married believers. It is the God-defined institution of marriage as such, not only my own personal marriage, that I am to esteem. The Gospel has shown us that every believer has something personally wonderful at stake in the sacred reality of marriage as marriage points beyond itself to the endless love of Jesus for us all. Now God wants all of us to translate that new awareness into the act of hallowing of marriage here in the world. Human marriage has always been intended by God to serve as a prophetic whisper of the eternal marriage.”

Ray Ortlund, Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel (p.112)

“Why is cohabiting wrong?”

Why is cohabiting so bad? (I might put it, “Why is adultery so bad?”) Because that’s what God calls it. It’s bad because it takes the unique and rare treasure, the mystery of two human beings building a one flesh relationship, and smashes this treasure. It blasts this mystical union with the hammer of reckless self-centeredness. God is very clear about this area of our lives.

Heidi read 1 Thessalonians 4:3-4 for us.

“For this is the will of God, for your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor.”

1 Thessalonians 4:3-4

Jani: God takes sexual sins very seriously, we see that there. Shouldn’t we? He prizes a self-control in every one of his children. You see, cultivating a life of sexual freedom and sin means we’re prizing our secret world of pleasure more than Christ. He says in Galatians 5 that those who evidence sexual immorality, impurity and sensuality will not inherit the kingdom of God. Whoa.

Marriage is not a human invention. If it were we could do with it what we want. Marriage is a divine revelation coming down from above. It is a unique symbol of Christ and the church in love together. We see that in Ephesians 5. Cohabiting distorts that symbol.

God doesn’t forbid cohabiting because he’s prudish or he wants to rain on our parade. No, he’s telling us how life works best. Human families thrive with a one man committed to one woman for one life type of relationship.

Let me close by just saying this. When Jesus speaks about sexual sins in Matthew 5, he uses very strong language. He talks about gouging out your eye or cutting off your hand. Now he’s not speaking literally. What he means is be willing to endure pain to leave sinful habits behind.

Adultery is a heart issue

Ultimately, adultery, like all sin, is a heart issue. This is where it all begins. And the only one in the universe who can satisfy the desires of my heart, of your heart, is God through His Son, Jesus Christ. Even the best of men—and I’m married to one of them and so is Heidi—even the best of men will fail us and we will fail our men. The reason people seek after sinful pleasure is that they have not experienced real pleasure in Christ.

But…what about friends who are knowingly sinning?!

Heidi: Jani, I have a question for you. As I read kind of her statements and as you’ve been teaching, what would you say if a young woman came to you and said, “I see my friends cohabiting and they know Jesus, and I don’t even know what to do.” What would you tell her?

Jani: That’s so hard, Heidi, isn’t it? She probably senses that her friends are happy, they’re excited about making their relationship that kind of relationship, but she can’t be. She doesn’t know how to be happy for them because she believes they’re sinning.

So I would suggest the best thing to do is to pray about it. Ask the Lord, “Father, how do I relate to this friend now that she’s living with her boyfriend and they both claim to know you? How do I talk to her about this?”

And then I would encourage her to pray for an opening from the Lord where she could talk to them, possibly just her girlfriend, or if she’s married, maybe they could talk as a couple. Ask them “How do you think God sees your relationship right now? Does he view it is marriage? Does he view it as cohabiting? Does he view it as adultery? What are his words to you today?” And if they’re willing to answer that, then perhaps she could share (or she and her husband could share) what her beliefs are which she feels Scripture teaches, and have a verse or two that is very clear on this. The Bible leaves no doubt. It is very clear about this because marriage is such a symbol of our relationship with Jesus and his relationship to the church. We don’t want to muddy that symbol.

So I think her best way to deal with it is to pray for an opportunity. Take someone with her if possible, but ask God, “Give me an opportunity to ask my friend about this.”

Heidi: It makes me think back to the last question you just answered and even share in a way that, “My heart is so concerned for you. You know, this beautiful treasure that the Lord has given us.” That’s helpful, Jani, to pray for an open door and allow the Lord to walk in that with you. That’s helpful.

What would you say—because we all have people in our lives, too, who are cohabiting and they don’t know the Lord—how do we interact with them? They don’t follow the same wonderful law of the Bible that I do. Sometimes my heart just struggles with it, because I know it’s not right. What would you tell them? Let me ask you all the hard questions in the world today, Jani!

Jani: Heidi, you’re fun. I’m glad you’re here with me.

Well, I just think that’s so hard because, again, why would we expect them to live any differently? So make it a matter of prayer. Ask God to soften their hearts. I think you can still talk about it. I think you can still say, “What do you think about marriage? What do you think about God? Do you have any view of God in this?”

Again, Heidi, I think it was so good for you to remind us to approach these people with a tender heart, because this is their most intimate part of their life. We all want someone to share life with and we will go to great lengths to find that someone to share life with. And sometimes we don’t care if we’re sinning or not. We just want that someone. So it’s a very, very sensitive, tender topic that we’re talking about. And I think you’re so right, we need to approach it with great tenderness. The Lord is tender. So let’s ask him for ways, conversations, words and experiences together where we can meet those people in our lives who are living this way and have opportunities to speak into it.

Heidi, why don’t you pray for us. I know there have been some experiences in your own life about this and your heart is very tender towards some people. Would you pray for us and our listeners?

A prayer for us all…

Heidi: “Heavenly Father, I just lift up all of our relationships as we talked about the relationship between a mother and daughter, about marriage relationships and family and close friends. Lord, we pray that you would send your Holy Spirit down. We pray that you would give us wisdom from above, how to speak to one another with love and kindness and tenderness, but also how to hold fast to your truth when it’s right. Lord, help us to know how to love the people in our lives like you would love them. Jesus, you set such a wonderful example. Change us to be more like you. We need your love and your tenderness and your kindness and your truth to reign in us. So God come reign today and restore our souls. Amen.”

Thank You

Thank you for joining us today. This podcast is generously funded through Renewal Ministries. If you would like to discover more about Jani and Ray’s ministry or make a donation, visit their website at renewalministries.com. If you have a question for Jani or would like to learn more about this podcast, please visit our website at herestoresmysoul.org.

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About The Podcast

He Restores My Soul with Jani Ortlund seeks to encourage women with God’s renewing power for their busy lives. Episodes include relevant biblical teaching, stimulating gospel conversations with other Christians, and “Ask Jani” sessions where we talk about what’s on our listeners’ hearts.

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