At recess one day, a boy on the playground told my son about a funny website address he should check out. The address name was catchy, so my little guy remembered it. For a whole year it sat buried in the recesses of his mind, untouched, until one day it reared its ugly head. It was on a day, in a tiny and terrible moment, when I stepped outside, briefly leaving my son inside and alone with my iPad.
He didn't have permission to get on it, and I hadn't set up the password protection, so two strikes against us. He should have been obedient. I should have been more vigilant. Lessons learned.
Within five minutes after I stepped outside, my boy came to find me on the driveway. He was ashen, his eyes had the "deer in the headlights" look, and I thought he was about to throw up. He looked at me blankly, then his lips quivered, and he started to cry. He stammered out the words, "I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry. I didn't know."
Some people dismiss the idea of parents' intuition or spiritual guidance, but it is as real as sight, touch, or any other sense. Instantly I knew everything - exactly what had happened to my son, what he had done, and why he was in such despair.
And was I ever mad.
Not at my son, but at the people who had found pleasure in doing something that would make a young child quake. I was furious that they had unveiled to the world - to my son - things that any respectable person would shun and keep private. What has happened to common decency? Why have boundaries been shattered? Do these people consider for a moment the ramifications of their actions? Do they think of a young child in Idaho who will cry at their pictures, run for help, have disturbing thoughts cross his mind, be unable to focus? When they see a sweet little boy on the street are they thinking about how to destroy his peace? How to hurt him? And not just my son or any other child, but what about the families they ruin, the husbands they destroy, the lives they infect? I know, I know - for the people who go searching out such websites, there is definitely accountability. And although in such cases both parties are at fault, neither's fault is mitigated by the other's participation - they are both 100% at fault. But not my son. The damage done to him was undeserved. And I hold those ladies accountable.
So I stood on the driveway, frozen in time as I held my son and prayed for guidance. He begged me to get the pictures out of his mind. He begged me to forgive him. He begged me to help him feel clean, to find peace.
How? How could I wipe clean the filth they'd shown him?
I couldn't. I don't know that those smutty images will ever go away completely. They'll pop into his mind at the worst times for the rest of his life. Our minds sometimes do that to us, even if we don't want it.
But I could direct him to the one source that he could find comfort, and I could teach him to deal with the disgusting pictures that were haunting him.
When we are exposed, intentionally or not, to things that hurt our spirits, we need to turn to him who can heal us. And my son was hurting. Christ, the Great Physician, can bind up those wounds. He can take us away from the hurt of our own evil acts through repentance, but he can also remove the hurt of other's evil acts through his healing power.
I told my wounded boy that I truly believed he could find peace through praying and by reading the scriptures. Trusting me, he went to his room and prayed. Teaching a child the way to pray is one thing, but turning it over to him to do it on his own is another. Worrying, I watched him walk away, wondering how things would go, praying for the best, but I didn't follow him. I could not offer him more, so I entrusted him to the Lord.
About twenty minutes later, he came and found me, all signs of distress replaced by a smile and light in his eyes. He was at peace as he showed me something he'd found in his scriptures:
"And now, my son, I trust that I shall have great joy in you, because of your steadiness and your faithfulness unto God: for as you have commenced in your youth to look to the Lord your God, even so I hope that you will continue in keeping his commandments; for blessed is he that endureth to the end." (Alma 38:2).
It had spoken to him and he had found strength. I sent a little prayer of thanks heavenward. It was a great teaching moment as we compared and contrasted the despair he had felt in front of wickedness to the true happiness he felt when he aligned his life with goodness.
I wish that had been the end of his problems, but it wasn't. Later that evening, he again lost his smile, lost his peace, lost his innocence as the pictures returned to plague his mind. We took the kids out to eat that night, hoping it would lighten the mood. He's the kind of kid that enjoys food.
But he wouldn't touch his plate. I felt sick to my stomach as I watched my little guy stare miserably at his food, knowing of the turmoil in his head and heart. He was physically ill.
Over-reaction? No, not at all. He is sensitive, though, and had not known such evil existed. Sensitive, yes, but also strong. Strong enough to run from the evil that others might find enticing, strong enough to ask for help, strong enough to realize there is no peace down that road.
I tried giving him suggestions, coping strategies, love, help, distractions. Eventually he went to sleep that night, but he didn't sleep well. Thankfully, the next few days were fine. He was able to find other things to occupy his mind. But about a week later, after we'd put all the kids to bed, he walked into my room where I reading. His eyes were focused on the floor. When he did look up at me, it was with a pleading look for help. The pictures were back in his mind. He didn't even say a word, but nodded when I asked if that was what bothered him.
Again, I held him close, praying for help. Jeff walked in and I knew that I could do nothing but point my child in the right direction. I turned him over to Jeff, requesting a Father's Blessing for our boy.
The blessing brought great comfort and help to our son. He went quietly back to bed and slept soundly. He has not had been disturbed since, but neither has he forgotten. (When he saw me writing this post, he knew instantly what it was, and helped me find the scripture that had helped him.) But he has been strengthened to where the images mean nothing to him - he dumps them out of his mind as one would dump out trash.
That's what it is. Pornography is trash. Filth. Smut. It is full of debilitating and addicting garbage that we cannot let infect us. For those who struggle with it, it can be overcome with the Lord's help. People can be healed, whether they have an addiction problem or are hurt from a loved-one who struggles with it. It may mean having to turn for help over and over again for as long as needed - like my son who kept coming back for help instead of caving beneath the burden.
I have dear friends whose spouses (husbands, in these cases) would not give up the sick and dangerous thrill. The marriages ended in divorce because the addict chose a virtual, vile world instead of the real, wholesome life that had been their marriage. The children cry for the father, the wife for the husband, the mother for the son...
On the other hand, I also have dear friends whose husbands also tripped up (sometimes pretty seriously) yet sought forgiveness, gave up the vice, and were made whole again. Now they are people who, like my son, see the images as revolting deviances of something that should be pure, private, respected. They see women not as objects to be used, abused, possessed, but as real human beings, and as real people - someone's daughter, a sister, a friend, perhaps someone's mother - with a soul and mind so much more precious and important than the body they inhabit. If only the women could see themselves that way, too...
So yes, it made me mad. As mad as I've ever been. How dare they mess with my family, my pure little son, our sheltered, peaceful life? But it also made me thankful for the guidance and help from the Savior. My son was robbed a part of his childhood and will never regain that. What he does have now is the too-early strength of a righteous man, and too-soon sombre realization that all is not well in this world. And while my son found out there is gloom in the presence of evil, he also found there is joy in goodness. Perhaps he - perhaps all of us -can help our world family - our sisters, our brothers - want to behave. There is indeed peace in righteous doing.