With a flourish, the hostess seated Richard and our youngest child, Jonathan, in the main dining room of a nice restaurant near our home. The fancy furnishings, subdued lighting, and pricey menu told our fifteen-year-old that this night was to be a special occasion.
As they scanned the large red menus, Richard mentally reviewed what he wanted to say to Jonathan. Our son knew they had gone out for his key talk, a time specially set aside for a discussion of any questions he might have about sexuality.
Of course, Jonathan already knew the basics of sex education. We had raised him in a home with the express family policy that “no question is dumb.” He had begun learning from us about the human body in his preschool days, and from then up through the ninth-grade health class on human reproduction he had recently completed, Jonathan had had ample opportunity to ask questions about the topic.
Nevertheless, this night the conversation would go far beyond human anatomy and physiology to include the special meaning of commitment and honor for a young man who was fast growing up. When the chilled jumbo shrimp appetizers arrived at the table, Richard leaned over quietly toward Jonathan.
“Tonight is your night, son,” Richard began. “This is a special time for you and Dad to talk about any sexual questions that might still be on your mind. If you’ve ever had questions that might have seemed a little awkward, well, tonight is the right time to ask them. Nothing is off limits tonight.
“If anything’s been bothering you about your body or adolescence or marriage or whatever, it’s okay to talk about it now. As we work our way through the meal this evening, I want you just to be thinking about any questions you might have.”
At that time in his development, we knew, Jonathan was much more interested in riding his mountain bike through the hills near our home in LaVerne, California, than chasing after girls. But he was maturing rapidly, so we also knew this talk was coming none too soon. When he first sat down, Jonathan had seemed a little uncomfortable as he looked nervously around. But as he and his dad began talking, he relaxed a bit.
Our son, who at that time had never been on a date, wanted to know first for sure what “the line” was. How far was too far? He thought he had a good idea of the boundaries, but he wanted to hear it from his father.
“A light kiss is about as far as you can go,” Richard replied. “Sexual emotions are very strong, and if you’re not careful, you’ll do things you don’t want to do. So you need to avoid anything that leads you up to that.”
They discussed the matter then in more detail—such as what kinds of kissing were off limits. Richard noted, for example, that kissing a girl on the neck can lead to going much farther. The conversation continued until Richard had answered to Jonathan’s satisfaction all the questions he’d been pondering for a while.
As the main dishes were being cleared away, Richard told Jonathan that it was time to make a commitment before the Lord. Of course, that restaurant table was not the most private place available, but we felt that a more public setting added to the significance of what our son was about to do.
Jonathan was to pray, making a covenant with God, but first Richard had to provide a context for what he was doing. They talked about the seriousness of a covenant commitment and reviewed all the reasons why sexual purity was a standard Jonathan needed to make his own. Then it was time to pray together.
“Son,” Richard said, “this covenant will be something between you and God until you’re married. We’re going to include your future wife in this prayer. We’ll ask God that whoever she is and wherever she is, He’ll be with her as well. We’ll ask Him to help her to be pure until the time you’re married.
“Then I want you to ask God for His grace to keep this covenant, because even though you may have right intentions, sometimes things go wrong. I want you to pray, and then Dad will pray.”
Jonathan turned to his father and took his hands. It surprised Richard a little that his son would be so bold in a public restaurant, yet he realized that this was precisely the kind of boldness Jonathan would need in order to stand alone when necessary to keep his covenant with God.
Jonathan bowed his head and prayed fervently. Then it was Richard’s turn. Before he prayed, he said, “Jonathan, I have something for you.” He took out a custom-made fourteen-carat gold ring, engraved with a key symbol, and slipped it onto our son’s finger as a token of the covenant he was making. Bowing their heads, Richard then asked the Lord to honor that covenant and help Jonathan to resist temptation in the coming years.
As Jonathan and his dad left the restaurant that night, a couple sitting at a nearby booth stopped them. They said that they couldn’t help but notice that something special had happened. They were right: Something special had happened, and it was between Jonathan, his wife-to-be—whoever, wherever she was—and the Lord.
Jonathan was the fourth and last of our children to have a key talk. By that time we had learned a great deal from getting so much practice! As we mentioned in the last chapter, the whole idea had started ten years before when we read Dr. Dobson’s idea about giving his daughter a key to wear, and we decided to try it ourselves. At that time we had taken the “key” thought and expanded it for our oldest child, Kimberli, who was then a mature eleven-year-old and fully developed physically.
First of all, though we liked Dr. Dobson’s idea of presenting his daughter a key to wear around her neck, we decided to give Kimberli a custom-made “key ring,” which in her case was actually a key wrapped around into a ring shape. Our reason for that choice was that a ring is used in wedding ceremonies as a sign of commitment.
From a practical standpoint as well, we speculated that in gym class or other active settings, a necklace chain could easily be broken and the key lost, while a ring might remain in place more securely. We must admit, however, that our son Jonathan took off the valued ring while playing sports and lost it, and we had to replace it. For that reason, we encourage parents to emphasize to their children that the ring shouldn’t come off. If necessary, they can always have it re-polished or have a stone replaced.
Why did we have our daughter’s ring made from a key? The purpose of a key is to unlock a door, and we wanted the ring to symbolize the key to our daughter’s heart and her virginity. It would also represent a covenant between Kimberli and God in which she would promise to keep herself pure for her future husband, and God would respond with grace to help her.
As she wore it daily, the key ring would serve throughout the difficult teen and young adult years as a powerful and strengthening reminder of the value and beauty of virginity and of the importance of reserving sex for marriage. It would also encourage her that God would honor her commitment and bless her faithfulness. And on her wedding night—that sacred evening when a life of sexual experience could begin in its proper setting—she could take the ring off and present it to her new husband as a precious gift, telling him all that it represents.
In addition, however, we realized that our daughter needed a special time to talk about what the ring symbolized and to verbalize her commitment to God in prayer. We thought that at the same time we should make sure we had answered her remaining questions about sexuality. And we wanted to do all this in a memorable setting that would set it off as a once-in-a-lifetime event to be remembered.
The result: Renée arranged to take Kimberli out to dinner at a fancy Mexican restaurant for the key talk. At the time we were laboring to build a young and struggling congregation, so finances were tight, and a dinner out was an added expense. But our willingness to save up the money for that evening was in itself an indication to our daughter how much we valued the time she and her mother would have together.
Because dressing up is one way people recognize the significance of an extraordinarily special occasion, such as a wedding or a graduation ceremony, Renée insisted that the two of them put on their best for the evening. Jeans and sweatshirts just wouldn’t have conveyed the sense of importance that particular event deserved.
Kimberli was a bit anxious, but Renée’s encouraging attitude soon put her at ease. She asked questions and Renée replied, even drawing anatomical diagrams on the paper napkins when necessary! Kimberli knew most of the basics about human sexuality, such as where babies came from. But this was a time to talk about how the act of sex was to be an act of love between husband and wife.
Renée was still a young mother, and this was her first child. No one had ever had such a talk with Renée herself when she was young. So there were a few times that night when she had to overcome some slight feelings of embarrassment—usually when Kimberli asked an unexpected question. But Renée nevertheless answered each question as simply and directly as she could, and Kimberli was satisfied.
The conversation’s atmosphere was full of excitement and warmth, and it made a deep and lasting impression on our daughter. Renée recalls her own priority that night of affirming the essential goodness and naturalness of sex within the bonds of marriage. Evidently, she was successful in that regard. Today Kimberli says, “I especially remember my mother telling me that sex was not our idea, but God’s, so it had to be good.”
After the talk, Renée pulled out the silver ring we had had specially made for the occasion. She said, “Honey, now you’re going to get a special gift, coming from my heart, Dad’s heart, and the Lord’s heart.” The gift totally surprised and pleased her as she responded with squeals of delight.
After talking together about the commitment Kimberli was making, mother and daughter joined hands to talk to God. Then they agreed in prayer that our daughter would have the strength to remain sexually pure. Though the full understanding of a covenant was not at that time as well-developed in our key talk as it was later with Jonathan, still the importance of Kimberli’s commitment was clear.
From that day on, our daughter began showing her ring to her friends and telling them what it meant. Today, as a successful adult, Kimberli reflects: “That ring was a constant reminder—and got me through some tough times! I’m now considering marriage, and I look forward to the day when my husband will receive my key ring as a token of the pledge I made to the Lord.”
A few years later it was time to have the key talk with Anna, our second child. Kimberli, knowing the importance of the evening, kept the specific contents of the key talk a secret from her younger sister. But Anna knew something wonderful had happened the night Renée and Kimberli had gone out, and she was full of excitement that now it was to be her turn. She and her mom talked about it and planned it for months.
Anna’s ring was different from her sister’s. Renée searched for weeks and finally found a beautiful silver ring (gold was more than we could afford at the time) with a Holy Spirit dove on it. We had a little zirconium stone set into the ring and had a key engraved on it as well.
Anna’s course of development was also different from her sister’s. She was not interested in boys until a later age; at fourteen she was still playing with dolls and going to bed with teddy bears. In addition, puberty came later for her than it had for her sister. So we determined that her key talk should not come as early as Kimberli’s had.
When Renée opened the conversation, Anna was surprised at how easily she could speak with her mother about sexuality without feeling any sense of guilt. Renée seemed to understand well what Anna was feeling and thinking.
Looking back, Anna realizes that the night of the key talk forged a new bond between her mother and herself. She says, “It’s impossible to say how important that conversation was in my life.”
Today Anna remembers: “I had strong sexual feelings; I had a Christian boyfriend for nearly four years, and we spent precious moments together. But because I made a stand from Day One of our relationship not to have sex, I was able to keep the covenant with God that I made the night of our key talk.”
The key talk with our third child, Timothy, was the first one for Richard to have. So he was a bit nervous about how to approach it. Yet Tim’s own enthusiasm about the event encouraged him.
Tim had been a late bloomer like Anna. He had simply not been interested in girls as early as his brother—Jonathan had begun asking questions about them at the age of six! But by the time we had our key talk, Tim was quite ready for the occasion.
As it turned out, Richard and Tim enjoyed the evening so much that they felt as if they were the only two people in the restaurant as they relaxed over the meal. Knowing that this particular night was an “appointed” time to discuss sexuality made it easier for them to do it without intimidation. Richard was proud to be alone with his oldest son addressing a subject that was so critical to his success; Tim was just as proud to be with his dad because he knew he really cared.
The high point of that evening came when Tim offered his prayer of commitment to God. As he and Richard held hands and bowed their heads, Richard began to weep. He heard Tim utter words to the Lord reflecting a depth he’d never known Tim had. It sounded as if an angel had slipped in between them to say the words because they reflected a wisdom and eloquence usually far beyond a teenager’s years.
Tim recalls: “I remember anticipating the day I would make a long-term commitment to God. I felt I was doing something that would make God happy with me. God has always been someone I’ve wanted to please, and I know if I keep this covenant with Him and don’t break it, God will smile upon me.
“I’ve kept that commitment. I’ve only dated girls who have the same morals as I do. I’m still tempted, but that ring on my finger reminds me of my covenant with God and the gift I’ll someday give to my wife—a gift I’ve never given anybody else.”
Raising Pure Kids in an Impure World by Richard & Renée Durfield
Copyright © 2004 ; ISBN 0764229028
Published by Bethany House Publishers
Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.