Judy’s Terrible Wonderful Afternoon

“The beauty and order of nature are not gratuitous. The tapestry does not exist for its own sake, just to be admired. Its grit and grandeur has a purpose. The
prettiness has a point. Nature is, as Psalm 19 says in
the King James Version, God’s ‘handiwork.’ It has
God’s fingerprints all over it. John Calvin called
creation ‘the theater of God’s glory.’ It is a place
where, and a way that, God performs.”
                                                                              Nathan Bierma
                                             Bringing Heaven Down to Earth

A dear family friend stopped by. I’ll call her Judy. She said, “Want to hear about my day yesterday?” We said yes, and she warned us that she was still tired and weepy, so she might not do very well. Then she plunged ahead.

Judy had driven to meet her son and his girlfriend. Her son was transferring colleges, and his girlfriend, who had recently graduated from college, was also planning to find an apartment in this new college town.

Together the three of them toured the campus. They stopped at the housing office and learned that it was campus policy for students who were not yet seniors to live on campus. The son’s face fell. They stepped outside the office carrying a housing application to complete. The young man told his mother that he was about to cause great disappointment to two other guys who were hoping to live together with him and his girlfriend in a rented house near campus-in fact, they already had a house on hold with a realtor. This arrangement was new to Judy. She bit her tongue, aware that her relationship with her son was at that universally dangerous moment of passage from childhood into adulthood. While her son was considering what to do, she suggested that they stop and say hello to a friend of their family: the college president.

The president was in his office, and he greeted them with warmth, rejoicing that Judy’s son would be attending his college. “Are you here looking for an apartment?” asked the president. Judy explained that they had just discovered the housing policy. The president said, “Well, we have a lot more men than usual attending this fall, maybe there’s room for an exception to the housing policy.” Judy told him no, that they hadn’t come there to secure his intervention. When they left, she gave the president a hug and again told him that she wasn’t expecting him to intervene regarding the housing. Outside the president’s office, the girlfriend said, “What a wonderful man. He’s the kind of person that you wouldn’t ever want to do anything to disappoint.”

Judy took a breath and asked her son and his girlfriend if she could treat them to a late lunch. “Pick a place that you couldn’t otherwise afford,” she said. They chose a lovely Italian bistro in the center of town. After they’d ordered, Judy said, “We need to talk about the elephant in the room.” She paused. Then she said, “Are you two sexually active?” Without looking at one another, the two young people immediately told the truth. Yes.

Judy did not tell us all the details of the next two hours. What she told us was that the young woman cried through most of it. And so did Judy. Judy told them, “Sex is not something that is just yours. It happens in the context of your life in a community and what you do as a sexual couple impacts the community.” Ultimately, Judy’s son made her proud with his own tears and respectfulness. “I don’t want to disappoint you,” he said. “And I don’t want to set a bad example.”

But make no mistake. It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t neat, and it wasn’t done by the end of two hours. Her son argued that sex was natural, a part of a healthy relationship. His girlfriend admitted that her parents didn’t know and would be very disappointed if they ever found out.

I asked if this all happened at the restaurant. Yep, said Judy, waiters were stopping by with their usual questions, “How is everything? Anything I can get you?” Judy said their food was great, and they even ate some of it. Outside the restaurant, Judy looked them each in the eye and told them that she loved them. And she left. Her son was on his own.

Judy was supposed to meet another young couple who lived in that town. She was late, but she called and asked if she could still come over. When she got there, her friends could tell she had been crying. They led her into the dining room where there were places set, and there was fruit cut and laid out in the middle of the table. “Oh, I’m so sorry,” said Judy, “You’re expecting guests.” The wife of the young couple laughed and said, “We’re expecting you.”

For the next hour Judy gently revealed her mother’s heart to this younger couple who did not yet have children. They listened. She was struck that they told her she was very unusual. This is not the sort of thing that parents talk about with their children. “Yes, but I don’t know if I’ve done it right,” sobbed Judy.

“You’re doing it,” said the young husband. He reminded Judy that her son would never forget this day. He said, “Now if your son and his girlfriend have sex again, his mother will be in the room.” And the young couple told Judy that she was helping them prepare to talk to their own children about sex someday.

As Judy told us this story, she said that her beloved son and his girlfriend don’t have a community that they’re talking with about these things. And the few friends they have are simply reflecting the mythic ethos of a culture far from the social, medical, psychological and spiritual truths surrounding real sex. As she said this, I wondered whether her son would find a church that openly and appropriately reveals itself regarding sexuality. Are there many churches like that? When in our places of greatest learning and greatest modeling, that is our worship services, have we celebrated the beauty and order of God’s handiwork as revealed in human sexuality? Is it not the case that most worshiping communities have been silent on one of life’s most important topics, while other cultural voices and images speak loudly and clearly? As one of my favorite high school teachers used to say, “Silence is construed to be consent.”

Judy’s story continued. After she left the young couple’s house, she stopped by a local coffee shop to grab something for the long ride home. There in a corner was her son and his girlfriend. She went over and asked them if they were okay. They nodded. She said, “I don’t know if the president will do anything about that housing situation, so you’d better fill out that form.”

“I’m going to, Mom,” he said. “I’ve decided that I’m going to live in the dorm.”

“We’ve decided that we’re going to do a lot of things differently,” said his girlfriend.

Judy told us she drove home singing…

Blessed be your name
On the road marked with suffering
Though there’s pain in the offering
Blessed be your name

…worshiping the God who cares deeply about the sex life of her son.



Filed under "Quiet Demons & Screaming Peter Pan" a new book

5 responses to “Judy’s Terrible Wonderful Afternoon

  1. Jon Opgenorth

    Brother Jeff,

    What a profound story. I will most likely be referring to it in my sermon on Sunday. How helpful to the hurting families in our church and community.

    George Whitfield said one of the tools of Satan was to beat us up with our failures. Listen:

    “[And] when [Satan] finds he cannot allure you by flattery, he will try you by frowns, and the terrors of this world…. Do you expect to be saved by Christ? Also, He did not die for you; you have been too great a sinner; you have lived in sin so long, and committed such sins against Christ, which he will not forgive. Thus he hurries poor sinners almost into despair.”

    Thanks for sharing this moment.


  2. Jeff Barker


    Here are a couple of other comments I’ve heard this week that affirm “failure”:

    1. A speech student, in commenting about how much she respected her mom, said, “I learned so much from how she handled failure in her life.” I sat there realizing that I’d been wanting my kids to see me creating a perfect enviornment for them, when actually one of the things they need is for me to face trouble and watch my response.

    2. Another speech student today quoted from Benjamin Franklin: “There is no pain without gain.” Do you see the subtle difference between this and “no pain, no gain.” Franklin’s statement affirms James when he says, “Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds.”


  3. Betsie Swartz

    Rob Bell’s new book “Sex God” is a wonderful discussion of the link between our sexuality and spirituality. I’m only half way through and would highly recommend it.
    Thank you, Jeff, for being brave enough to write about this.

  4. Jeff Barker

    Doesn’t require so much bravery when you’re writing someone else’s story. The brave ones are those who tell the church their own stories.


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