Dear Josh Harris,
I recently watched your documentary called “I Survived I Kissed Dating Goodbye” in which you described the process whereby you decided to withdraw your book from the publishing market.
You look different than you did 20+ years ago when you crafted a treatise about courtship, marriage and sex.
A bit more weathered, a lot less hair.
Life does that. Grappling long and hard with deep truths over time, it leaves us with tangible evidence that we’re getting older.
I think you were 21 when you wrote your book. Since then, you got married, lost your dear mother to cancer, shepherded a large community of believers, raised kids, made an international move and who knows what else. …
That’s a lot of miles on the proverbial car.
And the road trip of life has a tendency to expand not just our view of the world but also our self-understanding. And, that challenges us to reconsider, well, lots of things….I’ve been doing it too.
I’m a mom of 4 daughters, 3 grown now. If you asked them what my cardinal virtue for choosing a life partner is (after aligning themselves with another Christ follower), hands down they’d all tell you the same answer.
“Find someone teachable.”
In my “book”, there’s no more crucial quality to assess in a candidate for husband.
A teachable man listens well, owns sin, leads in repentance and sets the tone for the entire family by his authenticity and humility.
I see that posture in you. Thank you, Josh, for your excellent example.
I guess I feel an affinity to you. Your family was an iconic example of successful homeschooling back in the day and us homeschoolers, we stick together.
Christian homeschooling parents, like all humans, make choices with mixed motives but generally speaking, our intentions are to help our kids thrive according to God’s design and to shepherd that process in an environment that also provides an extra layer of protection from harm and regret. We tend to be the high achieving, worrying types. I’d love to see a psychological study on homeschooling moms. I bet they’d find us to be off the chart Enneagram 6’s. People who are always threat forecasting, wired to love by protecting.
Maybe that was part of the appeal of your book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye. Enneagram 6’s want to be proactive guardians for our loved ones and your premises felt like a safeguard from hurt and a free pass to relational utopia for our children. Like a means to an end.
Truth is, I owe you an apology as well.
I failed as a parent to discern responsibly when I read your book. You were obviously a smart guy, a good kid, a sincere young man when you authored I Kissed Dating Goodbye, but you did not yet have enough life experience to pass along expert widsom on relationships or sexuality. Marriage is complex. Anyone who’s graduated out of the newlywed stage ought to have realized that human brokenness rarely fits perfectly in a neatly wrapped package.
I gave your words more weight than I should have and I’m sorry.
I also want to apologize to my kids, especially my oldest. In God’s sovereignty, He made her the guinea pig of the family. Ultimately, the undesireable effects of being the test-trial case will only be salved by Jesus but I want her to know– all of them to know -that I realize that my training on relationships and sexuality has not been as life giving as the shepherding that I had in my heart to offer.
Sexuality was presented more like a mathematical formula and less like mystery.
Purity got shortchanged into a pass or fail grade rather than a journey of walking with Jesus in daily dependence. Allowing Him to transform your thoughts, desires and actions increasingly and over time into His own image.
Relational risk factors were elevated while potential relational learning was undervalued.
Guys lost their three dimensionality and my girls ended up afraid of them.
We didn’t make space for the impact of sexual harm on children, like it wouldn’t be a thing for our kids if we just did everything else “right” and that was naieve.
But, the truth is, that God can be trusted with our hurts, disappointments and failures personally and in the context of relationships. That’s where He does His best redemptive work no matter how messy it’s been or gets.
Secondly, I apology to my kids because they have not seen a blueprint for marriage in our example.
I, personally, have struggled to turn the other cheek.
To forgive lavishly. Repeatedly.
To be slow to anger.
To guard my tongue.
To choose kindness.
To be generous with my affection.
They already know this but it deserves repeating anyway, actions speak louder than words and a model of a mutually life giving marriage is far more valuable than quibbling about courting versus dating, kissing or waiting.
Toward the end of your documentary, you say this:
“When I first started this journey, I think I was looking for a simple answer. Was my book good or bad? Right or wrong? But I’ve come to realize that life isn’t that simple. I think that’s the mistake I made when I first wrote the book. I was looking for an easy, simple answer but life is full of contradictions.
My book hurt people. My book helped people and the tension with both of those things being true, I think reflects the complexity of reality.
My thinking has changed since I wrote I Kissed Dating Goodbye. I think that it’s premise is flawed. I don’t agree with a lot of my own book. But whether you agree with me today or you agree with what I wrote 20 years ago, I hope that you will think for yourself and I hope that you will engage with people who’s stories are different than yours, people who disagree with you. I hope you will take the time to listen to them. Listening to people has changed me.
I want to say to anyone who was hurt by my book that I’m so sorry. I know that’s coming too late. I know that doesn’t really change anything for you but I never meant to harm you and I hope that somehow me going back and evaluating all this and owning up to mistakes in my book will somehow help you on your journey. You know, I used to be so afraid of getting something wrong but I’m not afraid anymore. You can change your mind about things. You can make mistakes, and honestly there’s something really freeing about just saying “I was wrong.””
I resonate with that and would personalize it to my daughters like this:
Angela, Lily, Robyn and Starla,
When God made me your parent, I wanted to do things right so your life would be good and sweet. It was a short sighted objective. Now I know that parenting isn’t formulaic and life is full of paradox. As your mom, my training and influence especially about your sexuality have both harmed and blessed you. I’ve learned a lot about God and myself because He wrote you into my story.
Maturing is, in part, learning to admit when we’re wrong or misguided and having the courage to change our minds. I’ve valuded our dialogue and benefitted from listening to you. My opinions on all sorts of things have morphed and changed over time because God’s growing me up too. I’m sorry for the ways my sin has hurt you. I can’t take back the impact but I hope it helps to hear me own it.
I love the ending of the documentary. All of the participants together at a wedding banquet eating, drinking, talking and laughing together.
Here’s what my feast would look like. My husband, and daughters, and all of the other people God’s put in our lives to share the journey, we’d sit together around the table, and I’d borrow your concluding words as the blessing:
“The great narrative of the Bible starts with a couple who lose their way and cut themselves off from God but the story of God’s redeeming love ends with a wedding; but it’s not a wedding for people with no regrets, no hurts. It’s not about an individual man and woman who find perfect romance. It’s a wedding that symbolizing God bringing everyone home. Inviting us all to his table and making this possible by his sacrificial love.
None of us are good enough. None of us deserve it and yet we’re all invited. It’s a feast. A party for people who might have given up on themselves. Who’ve failed, and hurt themselves and others and yet somehow God fixes and renews what is broken.
There are no ghosts at the feast. No lingering regrets.
Only a community of fully alive, fully human, fully redeemed men and women who are loved and healed and find their purity alone in Jesus.”
Peace and rest to you this advent season, Josh Harris.