July Mailbag: Conceived Before Marriage? Knowing God’s Will? Potty Training?

July 2015 Mailbag // yelling & hypocrisy, how to tell son he was conceived before marriage?, what does the Bible say about homosexuality? Potty training? knowing God's will // jessconnell.com

On the last day of each month, I take some of the Q&As that have happened in e-mails, private messages, and interactions with readers/friends, and anonymously share them here, with you all.


Q: I’ve wondered whether you have any experience in your yelling being passed on to your kids through modelling and how you are working on that? I often feel that I can’t correct a sin in my kids when I do the very same thing myself (hypocrisy I guess?) Sometimes I look around at my family and see the effect of this particular sin and how my modelling it has caused my children to deal with things in a sinful way too…and don’t even know where to start sorting out the mess. Any thoughts? Perhaps one day you may do a follow up post on that initial post of yours. Thanks Jess!

A: Yes– I have experienced this. I experienced this as the child, picking up those habits from my (godly, yet human) parents. And my children have picked up this terrible habit from me.  It’s hard, isn’t it? Proverbs 23 says, “Do not go with an angry man…” and yet, that’s hard to do when you’re a kid and that “angry man” is your mom or your dad. It’s hard for our kids to do when *WE* are the “angry man.” A young child can’t “get away” from an angry parent, and thus, they pick up those habitual sins. I’m saying that as both the child… and as the parent as well… so please, don’t hear heavy-handed condemnation from me.

But, this is what I know: Sin is something we must fight, and when we don’t fight it and kill it, it easily passes to the next generation. 

Ephesians 6:4 tells parents, “Do not provoke your children to anger…” and yet parents can do this when we discipline without self-control. There are so many potential pitfalls for parents with these fits of anger. And of course, raising sinful children is custom-designed by God to push all our buttons and expose our weaknesses… so we will run to Christ and not trust in ourselves.

For me, the ultimate answer is the Gospel. 

It exposes the truth about me, and the truth about my child. When I take on a posture of humble confession and step off the platform of perfect performance as a parent, I’m able to identity as fellow sinner who is also in need of forgiveness. I’m able to identify with my child, and able to say, “yup, me too. I need grace too. I’m still growing, this many years in.”

I’m still the authority, but I’m a knowingly imperfect authority. 

The other thing I have learned is this: I must WORK ON IT, actively, genuinely… Let your children watch you grow- let them see how a humble disciple wields accountability, and godly sorrow, and the Word to intentionally pursue growth. Let them see your confession and repentance through changed actions. You may not “never yell again”… but you can yell less this year than you did last year, and yell less next week than you did last week. You can fight this sin and, over time, cut it out of your life. 

Our children are blessed when they see TRUE godly sorrow over our sin. Don’t minimize/diminish, or excuse/justify sin. Don’t blame it on them (“I only yell because you don’t….”).

If you don’t feel sorrowful, intentionally place yourself under the weight of Scripture, meditate on the long-term effects of your sin, consider the result of raising angry, yelling children who will angrily yell at your grandchildren, at their husbands/wives, who will justify their own lack of self-control, because that’s what they’ve seen all these years in you. REALLY LISTEN to what the Bible says about yelling. Take to heart your own sin. Let it sink down heavy on your shoulders. Feel the full weight of it. THEN you can regard it rightly- as SIN– AND bring it to the Father with sobriety and an awareness of your need for grace and the Spirit’s work in your heart, and actions.

Our children can see through us; they see what’s really happening in our hearts and lives. We are living a model out before them.

  • How do you want them to fight sin in their lives? Model that for them now.
  • How do you want them to confess sin to their spouse and children? Model that for them now.

Live life before them as an open, growing believer… and trust God with the results.

So, should you still correct them, even while you struggle?

YES, you should. You should do so because you are the authority and you are charged by God with raising them in the way they should go. That said, do so with a compassionate heart that comes alongside them and identifies as a fellow-sinner. Fight sin together. Encourage and challenge them with the verses that challenge you. Bring them alongside you as a sinner in need of grace and growth in Christ. 


Q: When and how should my husband and I tell our son (almost 14) that I was 5 mos preg with him when we got married? My husband thinks he won’t care and it won’t be a big deal to him, but says that if he was a girl, he might care more. Should we tell him?

My kids know about sex and all that..I have’t yet talked to them about explicit/side issues but they know pretty much everything else. Also– Any ideas on how to bring that up-how to start that convo?

A: Yes, I think you should matter-of-factly tell him sooner rather than later, and it should be done with a regretful but forgiven attitude. I think you should tell him because it is about his life. Because one day he will do the math, if he hasn’t already. And because as Christians we live in the light. We confess, move on, and walk in obedience.

This is just the sort of thing that could cause distrust later, when it could just be brought into the light and then life goes on.

Don’t beat around the bush or use euphemisms. He needs to know that you shouldn’t have done it. He also needs to know that you’re thankful for him and not regretful at all that HE’s here.  smile And he finally needs to know that it’s all covered by Christ’s blood & while there is regret for having disobeyed, that you’re not under some kind of “other” category of sin… it’s all forgiven and that you just want to live in the light together. It’s something for him to learn from and use as a warning and admonition against sin. If possible, I think you and your husband should do this convo together.

I’d start the conversation simply, like this: “Son, your dad and I have something important we need to talk with you about.”  smile And then dive in.

(Those are my thoughts, anyway.) Please share your thoughts in the comments. 



Q: “How do you know if a decision is what God wants? I mean how do you ever really know? My husband and I are both plagued with doubt about *everything*. Is there some sort of feeling you get when you know it’s what God wants?”

A: I read a book last week that explained it like this:

“If someone had come up to me and said, ‘Clare (this guy’s name is Clare), your mom told me to tell you to be sure to help grandma when you get to her house today.’ “, then I wouldn’t even question it. That sounds just like my mom. Because I know her, I know what she would want and can feel reasonably certain that that directive is from her.

So for things like that, do what you feel reasonably certain your Father would have you do, based on what you know of Him.

For the confusing times, and times when we have a decision to make, and both options seem possibly “good”, or we just don’t know…

  1. We pray for wisdom, together. James 1:5 promises that God loves to give us wisdom when we ask for it in faith. So trust that He will lead you.
  2. We seek wise counsel from people we trust & respect. Proverbs says, “In many counselors, there is wisdom.” Of course, this includes each of us reading through Scripture or bringing up things we heard in a sermon, read in a book, something that came up in a conversation today, etc.
  3. Then we talk it through. And we repeat 1 & 2 as needed.

We’ve made so many decisions along the way, particularly during and since the time when we first considered moving overseas, and have gotten some wise counsel over the years… here are some random thoughts, for you to consider if they might apply to you:

(1) Once God speaks to you, go with that. Don’t get distracted by other neat-o-mosquito ideas. Go with what He has said.
(2) Ask yourself, “when He HAS spoken to us, what has He said?”
(3) Pray for complete peace.
(4) Ask for clarity. There’s a verse in Scripture that says “you will hear a voice behind you saying ‘this is the way; walk in it.” Ask God for that level of clarity in your decision-making. He is Your Shepherd. Trust that He will lead you with clarity.
(5) Trust that God knows my heart even more deeply than I do. Pray that He will reveal what is true.
(6) Be willing to do what He says… and pray for a willing heart.
(7) Don’t stress about the future; consider- what has God made us for? What are the unique things He’s built into us?
(8) If we don’t know, keep going with what we do know.
(9) Remember that timing is significant. God allows things into our lives intentionally and whether the answer is yes or no on a particular thing, this “thing” has not come up willy-nilly.
(10) God sees my needs and has ways of meeting them. Possibly with the resources available to me, and possibly in some other way. Look for how God will meet those needs, and look for ways to meet them myself, but TRUST that He will provide a way for my *needs* to be met.
(11) Consider the implications of your decisions... what will the outcomes be? In what ways might this free us? In what ways might it bind/complicate our lives?

Cover everything in prayer. Seek wise counsel. And go forward trusting in His sovereignty. He does not leave His children, and if you are immersing yourselves in His Word (as much as you are able), seeking wisdom (as much as it is available to you), and seeking to do right, He’s not up there waiting for you to take a misstep so He can laugh at you and push the button that pulls the floor out from under you. He wants to guide you and help you. Trust Him.

One more thing- and this is important:

If after doing #1, 2, and 3, you still don’t know which way He is guiding, then make the best, wisest decision you can and walk forward in confidence.

Sometimes He makes His plans very plain to us, and we can see very clearly what He has for us, and sometimes it is unclear, at which point we can rest in His sovereignty (even in our human-decision-making) & strive to make the best, wisest decision we can.


For big decisions, definitely pray pray pray. Seek all the wise counsel you can get. And then wait and see what He says. It is quite possible He will lay out a clear course of action. But if not, then we can rest in His sovereignty and take the next step in faith, knowing that (if we are continuing to dialogue with Him about it), He will do a mid-course correction in our lives if necessary.



Q: “Hey so I believe that homosexuality is not ok but when I look for verses I can’t really find any that make since. I want to be able to defend my belief so could you pont me in the right detection.”

A: Here’s a good basic overview: http://www.gotquestions.org/homosexuality-Bible.html

We could talk more about this in person, but the basic reason goes back all the way to creation: God made a man and a woman as the highlight of His creation. He pronounced them married, and said for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother (this assumes that a father and mother are the necessary leaders of a home) and cleave to his wife (not his husband, or her wife)– this language is important and exists from the beginning.

Everywhere– every single place that homosexuality is spoken about in Scripture is negative, never positive. Even though it most definitely existed, in very obvious forms, in Roman society, at the time of Christ. There was plenty of opportunity for it to be “OKd” by Jesus if it truly was OK.

Ephesians 5 is a great chapter for all kinds of reasons– http://biblehub.com/esv/ephesians/5.htm it talks about sexual immorality (sexual sin) as never OK…

But then at the end of the whole passage about marriage, it says this:
” a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”

The whole point of all of creation– including the fact that we are made male and female– is to give us pictures that point us toward Jesus.

The picture of marriage between one man and one woman is all pointing to the picture of Jesus Christ and His Church. The Chuch is called the “Bride” of Christ & He gives Himself up for His bride. She (the church– us) submits to him as He leads. He protects and provides for His bride. He protects her purity and purifies her. That’s the way a man and woman marriage is supposed to work.

The whole point of marriage on earth is to point to the ultimate union of Christ and His church.
Any other sexual act… outside of marriage, a married person with a person they are not married to, homosexual acts, lesbian acts, sexual acts with animals, even solitary acts like masturbation & porn… are NOT what’s intended by God. Sex is for marriage. Marriage is for sex. They go together, and anything other than that is deemed sinful. That’s why people who condemn Christianity because we don’t think homosexuality is acceptable are missing the point. ANYTHING outside of a one man-one woman marriage is sin. That means most heterosexual activity happening today is sin. It’s not just homosexuality that’s sinful. ANYTHING outside of God’s planned “picture” for sex– which points to the ultimate loving union of Christ and His bride– is sinful.
One very clear place is in 1 Corinthians 6– “do you not know that the unrighteous[b] will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
“Such were some of you” is a great encouragement, because it is NOT saying that if any of us ever used to do that stuff, we won’t inherit the kingdom of God (go to Heaven to be with God). It IS saying that if we are still practicing these things, it shows that we are not children of God. God’s children obey Him.
And He makes it clear throughout Scripture– sex is for marriage between one man and one woman. Anything else… not just homosexuality, but anything else… is using sex for something other than God’s design, and is sin.


Q: Our oldest is almost 3, and we’ve been down an already LONG road of trying (unsuccessfully) to potty train. I’ve done a ‘boot camp’ with the charts, stickers, candies, etc. for 5-7 days two different times (18 mo, 2.5 years) and both times we ended the week with me still having to issue tons of reminders with lots of accidents. At some point, I just had to throw in the towel and go back to normal life. I couldn’t be in ‘potty training’ mode for weeks on end! …here are my questions: – When do you potty train? – Is there a particular method you use?

Also, this is more of a theoretical question, but I’m just curious to get your take on it… I’ve heard over and over again that you should NEVER discipline for refusing to use the potty. I’ve read that in ‘expert books’ from medical professionals and from seasoned parents. However, this seems inconsistent with all other areas of parenting. There is no other thing where if we ask our child to do something, and they refuse, that we would just ‘let it slide’. So I’m curious – is using the potty different? If I know my child can use the potty, but just doesn’t feel like trying when I ask, can / should I discipline for that? I’ve been treating it as an exception to the rule, but I almost feel like our child is tugging us along – one day wanting to be a ‘potty user’ and the next day not really caring or wanting to try. I feel like we’ve botched this attempt at training, but I’m confident he WILL eventually be trained :-). We are looking forward to doing a different approach with our other children. Thanks for any thoughts or help you can provide!

A: Thanks for your question! :)

First of all, how do we do it– it’s similar to my approach for teaching reading. I wait for readiness. I watch for signs, and I would rather wait too long than start too early. 

So I’ve had some that I did earlier, but now… I wait until the summer after they turn 3. Yes, I realize that for some people that’s incredibly late. But for me, it’s where (with a heap of boys) we’ve landed. By then, (barring any disability or learning delay) I know that they physically CAN do it, and they are consistently obedient, so I’m not fighting obedience AND potty training at the same time. (One battle at at time…) :)

Here’s the deal: the earlier you train, the more you’re basically training YOU. YOU have to be on top of it– reminding them, asking them, remembering, giving advance warning, coaching them to hold it, etc. The later you train, the more you’re training THEM. They are capable, they are willing partners, and it’s not *all on you.* Now, with girls, you could possibly do sooner. And, if you want to, you could do it earlier with boys. (My oldest son was trained at 21/22 months.)

But honestly, it’s all about YOU. What YOU’RE committed to. And for me, as a busy mom of many, I’ve found that when I try too early, we all get frustrated and they have a bunch of accidents cause I’m so busy and forget to remind them and take them all the time. But when I start later, we have more success and they take ownership for it themselves.

The METHOD FOR POTTY TRAINING? I wait until I have about a 2-week period with no outside-the-home commitments except for Sunday church. They run around naked, and I have them sit on a doubled-over towel while they play. (To catch any accidents.) I remind them every 20-30 minutes and work really hard for that one week or so. I encourage them to drink often, and feed them salty snacks (so they’ll be more thirsty, and thus, have more opportunities to practice and learn about pee-pee always going in the potty. By the end, they’re usually on track. Because they’re older when I train them, we tend to have less accidents and it takes a much, much shorter time than it did when they were younger.

NIGHT TRAINING: My daughter was night-trained almost simultaneously with being day-trained. None of my boys have done that. They have all been day-trained by 2-3 years old, but none have night trained (consistently, completely making it through the night with no accidents) until somewhere between 4-6 years old. So they wear undies at daytime and wear a diaper to bed until they can go 7 days in a row with no accidents. I don’t push for this. I wait until it starts to happen naturally, and then encourage it with the reward of big-boy-undies-and-no-diapers at the end of a 7-day streak with no accidents.

OK, then as far as discipline-in-potty-training goes, here’s my general approach: I do not discipline unless I am certain they are being defiant. But… again… I’m not fighting them on potty training. I’m waiting for them to have signs of readiness and a willing, eager heart to learn (we “bribe” them with new cool “big-boy” undies, etc.). So once we set out to learn, and then if I see an ugly, defiant attitude in the midst of that, then, yes, that’s treated like a normal discipline issue– correction, instruction, etc. But I do not discipline IN ORDER for them to learn to go potty… I hope that’s clear. It’s discipline because of an attitude once they’re already in the process of learning. (i.e., not because they “can’t” or don’t know how… but because, once they’ve already done it before, they all of a sudden stop trying and start dawdling, throwing fits, grumping, doing something other than the normal, pleasant going along through life). Also– by waiting until they are older, it shortens this process and makes it at a time when obedience is already normative in our home so there is less defiance in general, because they’ve already learned to go along and get along in our home.

Hope that helps make it clear what we do. I’m certainly not claiming it’s the only way to train or anything, but it works for us and keeps me from constantly cleaning up accidents or having the success of the whole enchilada depend on me for months on end.

Thanks to those who wrote, for the questions and dialogue!
Have a question? SUBMIT IT HERE.

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Jess Connell

Jesus-follower, Happy wife, Mom of 8 neat people. Former world-traveler, now settled in Washington. Host of Mom On Purpose podcast (momonpurpose.com). I write and wrangle kids.

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8 Responses

  1. Emily Jensen says:

    Thanks for responding – very helpful and encourages me to not feel bad waiting a little longer to start with our other children (all boys!). I agree that things seem to be a bit more straightforward with age and consistent obedience. A good reminder to do what’s best for our family, even if it feels ‘late’ compared to others. :-)

    • Jess Connell says:

      So glad it encourages you. Thanks for the question!

      Finding our way toward the best way things can work for us is such an important part of motherhood– we’re not all the same. As Christian moms, there’s so many things I *have* to do in order to honor Christ, but potty training is one of those things that is not a scriptural absolute, so this is what works for our crew & keeps my stress levels low surrounding the whole idea of getting them from diapers to personal responsibility. :)

  2. Evie says:

    About knowing God’s will … A great book I read is called Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoung. Highly recommended!! Easy enjoyable read. Similar advice to what you’ve said here.

  3. Kendra says:

    I potty train very similarly! (Okay, more lazily, because the two week period is nowhere near as organized with salty snacks et al ;)) but the waiting til the summer after they turn 3. SO much easier, SO fewer accidents.

  4. Katie S says:

    On Knowing God’s Will:
    Jess, you said, “So for things like that, do what you feel reasonably certain your Father would have you do, based on what you know of Him.” I know you agree that the primary way we get to know God is through His revealed will, i.e. the Bible – so much so that that’s an assumption behind what you said and not stated explicitly. I did want to point that out explicitly, though. There are plenty of people teaching that ‘Surely God didn’t really say….’ and encouraging us to be true to our gut feeling rather than checking that feeling against the counsel of God’s word – the loudest, clearest way God speaks to us is through the book He gave us.

    For people who have not been in a context where they are encouraged to systematically learn about, study and survey all of God’s word, it can seem overwhelming to try to figure out what He would have us do based on His character, since His character is still not well understood. (Not that that’s necessarily the case for the questioner, but it is certainly the case for some Christians.) I’m sure there are good resources that provide a road map for this sort of thing, but I don’t know what they are, besides perhaps systematic theology textbooks (multiple, to benefit from examining varying viewpoints). Any suggestions?

    • Jess Connell says:

      Great point! Yes, this assumes that you know the voice of your Father… which unfortunately not all believers do.

      This is where Romans 12:3 comes in handy (well, it comes in handy a LOT)– because we are to soberly estimate ourselves and determine… is my faith genuine? Do I know my Father? Do I know His voice? Do I know the way He leads and do I know His Word? Am I able to judge things rightly– with discernment and wisdom– based on God’s Word?

  5. anne says:

    I can only agree. Starting late with potty training reduces a lot of stress. I never did any potty training, beside showing them our bathroom and if they are interrested sitting them on it. My oldest son was the slowest but with 4 years he stoped wearing diapers from one day to the other and was dry day and night without any accidents (and no reminders from my side). (Only later half a year, when he was sick). Therefore I did the same with my other 3 . They got all fry between 3-4 years, only one girl had accidents for 2 more years in the night. We solved that by setting her on the toilett one hour after she fall asleep.

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