(Photo: Courtesy of Simon and Schuster)
The four oldest Duggar girls of the popular TLC reality TV show "19 Kids and Counting" share never-before-told stories about how their family applies biblical principles to guide them through all of life's challenges in their new book, Growing Up Duggar: It's All About Relationships, which is out this week.
In their book, Jana, Jill, Jessa and Jinger share the life lessons they've learned from their parents and mentors in an effort to better the lives of teenagers who are struggling with relationships and social pressures.
Each chapter of their book deals with relationships – parents, siblings, internal struggles, friends, dating, social and cultural pressures; how everyone can impact their communities and country by getting involved in politics; and how having a servant's heart and working in missions can transform people's lives.
In a recent interview with The Christian Post Jill said she and her sisters wrote their book as a continuation of the one-on-one conversations they've had with grandparents, parents and teenagers at conferences or when volunteering their time at orphanages and juvenile detention centers.
The girls speak boldly in their book about why they hold to conservative Christian values and wear modest clothing, and also talk candidly about one of the most difficult times in their lives when their youngest sibling, Jubilee Shalom, died as a stillborn baby in 2011.
"We were stunned. Speechless," the girls write. "The baby brother or sister we had so looked forward to holding and playing with was gone."
Despite the sadness of losing a loved one, especially a young child and sibling, the family maintained their unwavering faith in Jesus Christ and knew that He would use their heartache for a greater purpose and they would one day see their sister in heaven.
"As Christians, we believe that God can use everything that happens to us – even the hardest heartache – for good," they write, citing Romans 8:28 and1 Thessalonians 5:18.
The following is an edited transcript of The Christian Post's interview with Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, and their four oldest daughters: Jana, Jill, Jessa and Jinger.
CP: What was your inspiration for writing the book and what to do you want teenagers, especially young girls, to learn from you and your experiences in life?
Jill: I would say that our inspiration for writing the book has really been a lot of the letters and emails that we've received from young ladies, and also from parents who ask a lot of questions. They've seen the television show and they ask, "What makes y'all honest and good Christian girls?" And they want to know that. In this book we try to go even more in-depth than what people have seen on the TV show and share our hearts with young ladies.
We hope that girls can come away from this book and feel like they've had a conversation with us, and that we have been able to encourage them, like we've been encouraged by other young ladies in our area, and among our friends and even our parents.
Our hope with this is that young ladies and parents alike will be inspired and encouraged just by our daily life and our daily struggles, because we're not perfect. We're human just like everyone else, and we hope people will see our faith in God in this book.
There are a lot of stories in the book that we use to illustrate different points and to talk about relationships and how important those are. We want to give everyone a ray of hope, especially teenagers.
CP: Each chapter of the books deals with different types of relationships, and you also deal with the issue of forgiveness. Would you like to explain why Christians are called to forgive their friends and family members?
Jill: I know that it's very important to forgive and not harbor bitterness. Our parents have encouraged us, since we were little, to be each other's best friend. Like the Bible says, don't let the sun go down on your wrath. Therefore, not letting little things build up, but taking care of offenses right away. Whether it's sibling relationships, or as friends, or as parents, you don't want to let those things stay or blow up and get angry or use the silent treatment with people, because those things will build up a wall between you and that person.
In the book we talk about ways that you can take those steps to finding that freedom to be able to have what's called a courageous conversation. Talking to that person, going to them like it says in the Bible in Matthew 18, and not gossiping about them to other people – it's so easy to do, especially for girls, to go and gossip to other people.
Taking the initiative on your part, as a young lady, and going to that person not in anger, but in a considerate manner and talking with them if you've been offended. Put that fire out before it grows bigger in your own heart and makes you bitter toward that friend or family member.
CP: What tips and advice have your parents given you and your siblings about the qualities they want you to look for in a spouse? Some girls might not have parents who've advised them on character traits to look out for when considering marriage. What advice do you share in the book about what young women should be seeking?
Jill: That is something we felt strongly about including in the book, because so many young ladies are distracted by guys – it's a huge thing. And once you reach the teenage years that's a big part of your life, and what you talk about is guys. We want to encourage ladies who read our book to not just settle for the first guy who comes along and shows them attention, and think, "Oh, because he's showing me attention, I'll do whatever he wants me to do."
We really challenge young ladies in this book to write down character qualities they feel would be important in a future spouse and to not just date to have a companion, but to look beyond that. We want them to think about whether or not they believe a guy they're dating would be a good father to their children. Does he have a godly character?
In our book we've compiled, along with our parents, a list of qualities that would be vitally important in a marriage relationship.
We include such things as: Is he a man who is slow to anger? How does he handle his anger? Would he be abusive? These are questions that you do need to think about. And, is he honest? How does he treat his family – his siblings or his mom? Is he disrespectful?
However he treats his mom or his sister is how he's going to treat his wife someday.
We try to help young ladies to take a look, stop and see and not just say, "This guy is being really sweet to me, and I just love him so much." But really, you need to stop and think and know that before you go any further with courting or dating a person, you need to consider some of the guidelines that you want to have down for a potential partner or a potential spouse.
CP: Will parents and grandparents be able to read the book and use it as a resource to connect with and guide their children and grandchildren?
Jill: Absolutely. In our book we reach out to parents and grandparents who are helping to be an influencer to their children and grandchildren. We've received a lot of emails, letters, phone calls and have conversations with people asking such things as, "What do I do with my 15-year-old daughter?"
In our book, we try to encourage them. We've asked our parents to share what they've seen as being vitally important in our lives with raising each one of us. We've talked about having heart-to-heart conversations with your children and even your grandchildren.
Really, you want to be that influence in their lives, especially during the transition going into the teenage years. As the parent, you want to have that role and to offer godly counsel. But if you don't have their heart, then they're going to be going to someone else for their advice.
We share helpful tips regarding conversations. If you ask your child how they're doing and they respond by saying, "fine." They really do want you to dig deeper most of the time. They want to see from their parents how much they are loved and how interested parents are in their lives. They want to see that their parents care.
My parents have given us godly counsel and we've asked them a lot of questions in the process of writing this book. We hope that we'll be able to reach out to parents who are raising up their children and to offer them advice and counsel too.
CP: What did you learn from writing your first book together?
Jill: I think the main thing that I really loved about writing this book is that we got to work together, as sisters, and tell our stories.
My mom tells a story in the book that I hadn't heard before, and so it's neat to see how, instead of just writing words on paper, you're thinking about giving advice directly to a young lady who is struggling in a relationship within herself. What do I want to tell her? I think about that. And then being able to share from your own heart your personal stories with her.
I feel that it's also neat to look at the book and see how different each of us is, even though we're similar because we're sisters, but we each have different personalities. It's cool to see how each one of us has had a different avenue of writing in this book. We hope that each girl who reads this will be blessed by our testimonies and by our stories that we've been able to bring out.
I think people will be challenged and encouraged as they read this book.
We just really hope that people will glean from things that we have been blessed by learning from mentors in our lives and from our parents. We pray that they will feel like they've had a conversation with us and be able to see God's principles laid out. A message from the heart reaches the heart, and that's what our prayer is – that they will see the love of Christ coming through.
CP: Since your family has been featured on the TLC network for 10 years, how it is that you and your siblings have managed to maintain your humility with the popularity of the TV show?
Jinger: Our parents have always given us the perspective that it's not about us, but about having a ministry mindset and realizing that we each have struggles every day. We understand that God has given us this platform, this window of opportunity, for a short time to share the struggles of everyday life and to come alongside it from a different perspective and to encourage others. We want to be able to share hope through Christ. That's what our goal is in being in TV – to encourage other people and to share Christ's love.
Jessica: One thing that's different for us is that we don't have a television in our home. I think that is helpful and beneficial. As we have opportunities to attend conferences or to speak to other people, it's a reminder that the show is an opportunity to reach out to people who want to talk to us and to show the love of Jesus.
Our parents have encouraged us to think about the other person, and to carry on conversations and to ask about their story and take an interest in others, opposed to talking about ourselves; and not having a selfish mindset or self-centered focus and talking about yourself all the time.
CP: Will you share the role of mission work in your family's life and how it's strengthened your bond and why you would recommend other Christians to participate in missions?
Jessa: I think our parents always encourage us to have an outlook on life of genuine love for other people and a desire to share the Gospel and see lives changed and transformed. I think that whenever you're looking for people to minister to, probably the most needy amongst us are the ones who are really down and distraught. We've had opportunities to volunteer in third-world countries, and Central America, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. We've done that as a family for the past six or seven years.
It's been a huge blessing for our family just because it opens our eyes to see that not everybody lives like we do here in the United States. And just realizing that the poorest people amongst us here in the U.S., could be considered to be among the wealthiest people [in areas of third-world countries]. It's been amazing to go in and do disaster relief in areas that have had mud slides.
Most recently my brother, John, returned from the Philippines, and was there for a month doing medical missions.
Our parents are always encouraging us to keep our eyes open. Whether that's going overseas to another country or just looking around at our own neighborhood and our own community and helping out at soup kitchens, volunteering at homeless shelters, ministering to those who are in nursing homes. Just keeping your eyes open and looking for ways to be a blessing.
We've also had the opportunity to reach out to a lot of widows and orphans in our area and minister. And I think about what Scripture says. What we're told in James 1:27: "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction ..."
I think that, as Christians, it's our call and our duty to go forth and bring comfort and help to those who are in need.
CP: Let's talk about political involvement and why the Duggars believe it's important for families to be engaged in politics, at all levels of government.
Jill: My dad has been involved in politics for about as long as I can remember. Even before he ran for political office, we were out campaigning and knocking on doors as little kids. As we jokingly say, it's in our blood.
As I've grown older I've become avid about people being involved.
Looking back at our history in America and what we're founded on – biblical principles and our Founding Fathers who fought for our freedom. And today, so many people don't even care about where our country is headed.
I think it's vital that young people take a stand and know what they believe in and get involved in the local races in their area because eventually people want to have a voice. When we're out on the campaign trail people will make remarks, "Oh, I don't like what this person is doing in politics." But then you ask them if they voted, they say, "Well, no, I'm too busy; I stopped voting a long time ago."
If you don't vote then you have no right to speak because you haven't given your voice. You haven't done your part. I think it's very important that people, both young and old, let their voices be heard, and voting and being involved is one way to do that.
My parents have encouraged us, since we were young, to not just listen to what politicians say, because politicians can be smooth talkers, but to dig deeper by researching the candidates and comparing their views to what we stand for, individually, and then we have family discussions around the table about candidates and legislation.
I think it's important for young people to know about the state our county is in, and educate themselves about politics – even on a local level – because every position makes a difference. And one man makes a majority. One person can make a difference.
A lot of young people are rising up and making their voices heard and becoming more involved, especially in the pro-life movement.
Jim Bob and Michelle share their thoughts about their daughters' first book, Growing Up Duggar and the impact they want it to have on readers' lives:
Jim Bob: Our daughters are normal girls. They have struggles and challenges like any other young lady, but we really believe that the Bible principles of accepting yourself, of having a grateful spirit toward God, toward everything that He has done for each one of us, is really a foundation for our lives.
We try to teach our children that we should thank God for the good things that happen in our life; and also thank God for even the things that, on the surface might not look like they are good, but yet, God promises that He works all things for good to those that love Him and those who are called to God according to His purpose.
When we go through life from that perspective, then it really creates a joyful life. And it's amazing how God wants to use each one of us to impact those around us – and that's my daughters' heart in writing this book; and we pray that it will encourage a lot of young ladies to give their whole life to God.
Michelle: I really think that people can identify with us and will be encouraged. Not only because of all the mountain top experiences that we face in life, like the victories, but truly though our struggle is when we can really connect with one another in a heart-to-heart relationship.
Everybody struggles and everybody has their challenges. They might be different, but there are struggles, still. And it's how we get through those struggles in life is what people want to know.
Believe me, we get 19 times the struggles in our family – conflict, issues and the same girl feelings that all girls have.
The Bible is the office manual for our life, and all the answers to life's questions are there. And as we humble ourselves and ask Him to help us, and to show us the truth about where we're at right now, He is faithful to do that.
And if He shows us the answer then we're free – we really get free from whatever the lie was that we believed about ourselves or about someone else. We can have the right response, even though we don't feel like it, our feelings will come later. By choice, we choose to obey and do it right, and then we get the benefit and the blessing.
I honestly say this: Any good that you see in our family is because of God – it really is. Anything else you see is because of our mistakes and who we are as humans. I'm just really thankful that the girls have been able to take the time to put these things down in writing and just share from their life experiences. We pray that they will be an encouragement to others.
CP: You mentioned prayer and shared that not only do you and your husband pray together, but both of you also pray with your children. Will you share how consistently praying together has benefitted your family?
Michelle: The temptation, even for us, is to talk about everything. We always encourage our children and they know they have a safe place to come and share their hearts, and to come and talk. So we talk all the time – the girls are really good at that and the boys too.
One evening I was talking to one of my boys and after we finished talking he left the room. Then I realized, Lord, we forgot to pray. I ran and I got him and I said, hey, wait a minute. We need to pray together about this.
I realize that after we talked about an issue then we go to God, we ask God to help us, we don't know how to handle this, or we think we know, but Lord, if you have any insights that you want to share with us, we want to know. And even just asking forgiveness for the failures and being free to take it to the Lord. I know that is where the power is.
Our kids are not going to be with us all their life. We might go before them, and proceed them in death, or they'll be married and on their own, or doing other ventures in ministry apart from us. But those soul times of us taking them to God, and letting them walk with the Lord, we're together and we've prayed, and I know that God said, where two or three are gathered together, there am I in the midst of them.
Gathering together, acknowledging God and talking to Him is key. It's very hard to do, because you'll get distracted, you'll forget, and you will not remember to do that. But that is one of the most important things.
To learn more about the Duggar family, visit their website here. The next season of TLC's "19 Kids and Counting" starts on April 1.