I want to tell you about a dream I had. It was very real and it feels like something that is needs to be shared so that parents and leaders may better understand challenges that they may not have faced when they were young.
In my dream I was walking in the foothills of somewhere much like the Wasatch Mountains. It was early spring and the weather was starting to warm up but much of the brush and weeds were still grayish-brown from the winter. Scattered sagebrush, branches from shrub oak, and lots of rocks everywhere.
Very soon I heard the distinct sound of a rattlesnake. It didn’t sound like it was immediately next to me so I paused to find where the sound came from. Then I saw its hiding place, coiled up between some sagebrush branches. As the snake kept my attention, I noticed it was far more interesting and detailed than at first glance. It's head and body were highlighted with spots of indigo blue, charcoal gray, and deep oranges along with its usual dusty color of brown. Almost as if it was sharply rendered in full high definition. However, it didn’t seem as aggressive in its stance, less like it was trying to defend itself, but more like it was casually and arrogantly waiting for me to come pick it up.
I am no fool, I grew up near these foothills, and was taught by parents and scout leaders about possible dangers. I know that if you just leave a rattlesnake alone, it won’t bother you. Stay away, stay safe.
So I thought in keeping my distance I was fine to look on, but the moment I decided to stick around, the snake left it’s coil, and started heading straight towards me.
“He's just going along on his way,” I thought, with no fear of the danger right in front of me.
I waited for it to turn and slither away from me, but it continued right in my direction. I backed up and moved aside several feet to give it some room to go on by in its decided direction, but as I did, it changed course and came directly at me.
By now in my dream, I realized that,contrary to what I had been taught, this snake was chasing me down. I tried several times to evade its oncoming pursuit, but the snake seemed to get faster and closer every time I tried to escape it.
Surely, it was just a snake. I am much larger, and I have legs, it doesn’t. I should be able to outrun a snake on my own!
This was no ordinary snake! No matter how much I changed direction, or ran as fast as I could, it came at me from every possible angle to destroy me.
Then, when I was about to give up, out of nowhere a shovel shot down and dispatched the snake in a single stroke. Looking up I saw a man with gloves, and shovel in hand. I didn’t know the man at first. In my dream it felt like a combination of many men I have looked up to in my life: my dad, my grandpas, some of my bishops and friends. He was a wise farmer that knew just how to take care of this particular kind of rattlesnake. He knew these snakes don’t wait for prey, they seek it out. He took swift action to ensure the snake would not endanger or ensnare another child of God if he could help it.
In my youth I often heard the story of the Indian that carried the rattlesnake down the mountain and “knew what [he] was when [he] picked [him] up.” I heard Elder Sorensen speak of not petting a rattlesnake. I heard every talk about David, Joseph of Egypt, and the prodigal son. I read my scriptures, listened to conference talks, attended church and loved going to EFY. I never even kissed a girl until I knew she was the one I was going to marry. In so many ways in my life I was trying to live the very best I knew that God wanted me to.
I knew that pornography is a deadly snake that poisons its victims to become slaves until it destroys both you and your family or anything else you hold dear.
Then why did I get bitten? Again, and again, and again.
I believe one reason is that we are dealing with a different kind of rattlesnake crafted by the same old serpent himself.
We know that prior to the mid 1990s pornography was much more hidden than it is today. Go back another generation and it was even less likely that anyone would stumble across it unless they frequented dark alleys or backrooms. If you wanted to pick up a rattlesnake, you had to go find it.
Now, the snakes are chasing you down.
Among the men I’ve spoken with I find an alarming amount of them that are being exposed to pornography at younger and younger ages. Many of these men were already down the path of habit forming behavior prior to age 8. The snake was chasing them.
Our teens are the technology generation with ever increasing exposure to media on every device in school, out of school, and sometimes the device is their school. Even those who are limited in electronic device time by parents or by choice, statistically, boys will be exposed to pornography before age 18 with the average age of first exposure being 12 and dropping. The snakes are chasing them.
These aren’t the ‘bad’ kids either. These are the honor students, the star athletes, the seminary council and young men with mission calls. They are the kids that Satan wants to take down so they do not disrupt ‘his kingdom’. They are the kids who may not fit in, or they might be the ones that stand out in a crowd. They are the ones who care about others, and want desperately to be obedient to parents and especially to the Lord. The snakes are chasing them.
Is it really a wonder? When we read the prophecies of the last days we are told that Satan will rage in the hearts of the children of men and veil the earth with a chain of darkness. I often feel like we are like a bunch of pharisees pretending that we’re all exempt, but never willing to show to one another that we have weakness
So back to the rattlesnake that now isn’t just chasing the young men, it is chasing all of us. How do we stop it? How to we help our young people, so they don’t get bitten over and over and over again.
Does the principle of “don’t pick up a rattlesnake” still apply? Yes, I believe it does, and now I think we need to include in the teaching, what to do when the snake chases you, how to fight back, how to defend yourself from the onslaught of filth, deception, and shame.
Prevention is always better, but what we must remember as we speak to these youth, is that most of them already know that it’s wrong to view pornography. They are already trying to avoid the very appearance of evil. They know that they should stay away, but many of them already have a snake chasing them around striking at their heels. This doesn’t mean that they are at an addiction stage, but they have been exposed, maybe they have returned and it could be becoming a dangerous habit.
First, stop telling your youth to “just don’t look” or “don’t you want to be worthy to serve a mission?” or “only perverts would ever look at that filth, and if I ever catch you...” True or not, phrases like these can just pile on more shame and add fuel to the fire.
Love them first. LOVE THEM FIRST! Give them a hug, sit and cry with them, listen with your mouth closed, pause your busy schedule and take them out for an ice cream just because. Love them before you try to fix their problems. If you’re faking it or if you’re just trying to help them because of how embarrassed you feel, they’ll see right through you. Love them so fiercely that they know without a doubt that you are on their side. Then, do it consistently, not just until they are “being good.”
If you really want to help them, love them first, teaching comes second.
When your child trusts you, don’t just teach them to run away from the attacks of filthy media, teach them to fight back. If you’re not sure what to do or if it’s uncomfortable to talk about the subject of pornography, a wealth of excellent resources are available to help parents better understand how to effectively teach their children how to protect themselves from this pernicious evil of our time. (See the links at the end of the article)
If you feel overwhelmed about technology, scared for your kids’ safety, or ashamed because they are already trapped...know that you are not alone. My experience talking with parents and youth tells me that to some extent, this strikes nearly every family. The most devout Christian, the most faithful temple attender, and very often the kids and parents in ‘perfect’ families.
You are probably doing better than you think.
Forgive me for a little Star Wars insertion, but I do love the line from the character Leia Organa speaking to a older and doubting Han Solo about their rebellious son. When Han relates to Leia his concerns about ever being able to help their son, Leia emphasises an important point for all of us: “Luke is a Jedi, but you are his father.”
You don’t need to be able to strike down the leader of the dark force with a lightsaber, just love your kids. When you love them with real honest intention, and you genuinely care about their long-term physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being, then you begin to tap into that ‘perfect love’ (Mormon 8:26) which ‘never faileth’ (Moroni 7:45-46).
Jimmy Coray is a husband and father, hiker and adventurer, author and speaker. Jimmy spends time each week in the mountains of Utah enjoying the freshness of high altitudes. He takes a couple cameras with him to record thoughts and experiences of his own path to recovery and peace. Speaking from the heart, Jimmy will share with you how to break down shame and enjoy being genuine...even if your genuine isn't your ideal...yet. He is the author of the forthcoming book, "26 Peaks in 26 Weeks" a series of lessons that inspire change and humility. He shares these lessons in men's retreats, youth groups, and corporations. Jimmy also is currently serving on the Utah Coalition Against Pornography Advisory Council.
You can follow him on the mountain by subscribing to his YouTube channel: Every Mountaintop
Super Small Sampling, but some excellent resources: