18 Oct 2018
It’s a weighty responsibility to shepherd God’s people. Ellen shares how Psalm 34 can instruct pastors and church leaders in wise ministry to hurting wives who are crushed by their husband’s sexual sins.
To learn more, read Ellen’s accompanying blog: Wives and Porn and Busy Church Leaders.
04 Oct 2018
Women involved in friendships and ministry (discipleship, caregiving, counseling, etc.) sometimes become ensnared in messy, emotional, codependent attachments with each other. These codependent relationships easily take on a romantic feel and can become sexualized. Breaking free can be excruciating! However, rest assured that messy relationships are a “common to man” temptation and sin struggle. Consider Beth and Anna.
“Ellen, we never saw ourselves as gay, but we have never been in love with another person in this way.”
This was how Beth¹ a woman in her forties, described her affair with Anna, a young grad student who began coming to her church. They connected easily, and a warm friendship and casual mentoring relationship developed quickly.
Beth described her marriage to her husband, a pastor, as “living under the same roof but being physically and emotionally divorced.” With Anna, however, she experienced the deeply satisfying emotional oneness she had always craved. Their physical affection slowly pushed past appropriate boundaries. Before long, these two Christian sisters were involved in a sexual relationship. No one questioned the intense, consuming nature of the relationship. “Everyone just thought we were the best of friends and even envied our connection,” Beth told me.
When these messy relational dynamics happen in Christian mentoring relationships, the spiritual component adds tremendous confusion and fuels the agonizing question, “How can this be wrong when it feels so good?”
Diagnosing a Messy Relationship
Here are five indicators of an unhealthy attachment.
- Fused lives, schedules, and relational spheres.
- Exclusivity and possessiveness. Other people feel like intruders, as a threat to your closeness.
- The relationship needs regular clarification of each person’s role in it. Generally, one woman has a needy/take-care-of-me role and the other a needy-to-be-needed/caregiver role. Fear, insecurity, and jealousy are triggered when one steps out of her role.
- Maintaining consistent emotional connection is vital. Texts, emails, calls and time spent together grow and intensify to typically become life-dominating.
- Romanticized affection through words and physical touch, and of course any sexual involvement.
When these messy relational dynamics happen in Christian mentoring relationships, the spiritual component adds tremendous confusion and fuels the agonizing question, “How can this be wrong when it feels so good?”
The Mess of Relational Idolatry
Our desires for unfailing love and being deeply known are beautiful aspects of being image bearers of God. He loves us perfectly, knows us completely, and exists in a holy relational Trinity. However, every detail of our image bearing capability is distorted by sin.
The Bible is clear that no one and no thing is to be exalted in our lives over obedience and love for God. As God’s redeemed and no-longer-belonging-to-ourselves people, we are created by, through, and for Christ as Colossians 1:16 beautifully declares. This means that all of our relationships, and the place we give people in our lives, are to be submitted under the loving Lordship of Christ. No friend or woman we may be mentoring should ever become a god or Jesus-replacement in our life!
The Bible is clear that no one and no thing is to be exalted in our lives over obedience and love for God… Relational idolatry happens when we look to people to give us only what Jesus can.
The truth is that messy relationships can still feel beautiful and loving. But even our desires are disordered and need the radical Christward orientation that only the clarity of Scripture gives. Desires can be corrupt and sinful (2 Peter 1:4), or they can be “of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:17), which bears out in the sweet, holy good fruit of the Spirit. Though created for wholeness and holiness, all of us struggle in one way or another in our desires and relationships.
Relational idolatry happens when we look to people to give us only what Jesus can. Sister, if you are involved in a relationship similar to Anna and Beth’s, know that idolatry is a common struggle to all of us.
The Bible and Idolatry
My journey of faith, relationships, and sin has included the worship of people, including women I’ve mentored. Though Scripture does not use the phrase “relational idolatry,” it’s in there.
Consider these passages.
“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.” (Ex. 20:2-3)
God does not command us to be exclusive in our devotion to him because he is insecure or narcissistic! Instead, God loves us and knows that when we worship him alone, we glorify him, and people will be in their proper place in our lives as godly friends rather than Jesus-replacements.
“For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and dug out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” (Jer. 2:13)
God’s people had committed a variety of rebellious acts, yet he sums up their sin with two statements that apply to us today: a) we turn away from him and b) seek other sources as our living water. What do you value in your relationships?
- Is it to fix someone’s life?
- Is it to have someone put your life back together when you feel broken?
- Is your heart empty and you want someone to make it whole?
You know the name for this: codependency. But it’s deeper than that: it’s co-idolatry as two women look to each other for their value, identity, and security, something only God is able to give to us.
Steps of Repentance if You’re in a Relational Mess
God is committed to rescuing us, and keeping himself as our ultimate source of life, joy, and identity. Wholeness in our relationships comes from holiness in our relationships, which is a fruit of worship and trust of God alone. Here are steps of faith and repentance to take.
1. Admit your relational sin and flee into the loving arms of Jesus. Fleeing to Jesus means letting go of this relationship by turning towards him. Which means you must leave where you are, throw off sin and hindrances. He is faithful to hear, forgive, and love all who come to him (Heb. 4:16).
If you don’t know where to begin, try praying Psalm 139:23-24. Here’s my expanded version.
“Lord, search and examine me…explore all the crevices of my heart and mind…all my anxious thoughts. See if there are any sinful paths I’m walking in, if there are patterns of painful idolatry in me. Reveal the true nature of my heart Lord and give me spiritual guidance in your good, holy pathways.”
2. Expect a season of pain and grief that can lead you to God’s deep comfort. Letting go will be anguishing; it will get more painful before it gets better. But the pain which comes from costly obedience is healing rather than enslaving pain. Soul surgery requires you to allow the gospel to touch, cut, and heal the deeper issues of your heart (unbelief, fear, insecurity, anger, trauma, pain, etc.).
3. Separate and allow space to happen between you and this woman. Colossians 3:5 is a hard word, but one that leads to true life. “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” If you’ve been sexually involved, you must sever ties completely. Indefinitely. This is how you will put to death the messy attachment that has formed between you.
God is committed to rescuing us, and keeping himself as our ultimate source of life, joy, and identity. Wholeness in our relationships comes from holiness in our relationships
On this point, I usually get pushback. But Ellen, we love each other as friends! We encouraged each other so much in Christ before things got sexual…can’t we just go back to what was good?!
If you are in this situation, I wish I could see your face now and talk to you tenderly, yet directly. Sister, you must flee temptation and sin at all costs! 1 Corinthians 10:14 says you are to flee from sin…not try to manage it, heal it, or contain it. Put to death, flee, repent (or turn a relational 180). These are the words that God’s word uses in considering our relationship to sin. When sexual sin enters a non-marital relationship, obedience means turning from that person and relationship so that your heart can become set fully on Christ, your true life, once more (Colossians 3:1-4).
Consider this a season of intentional fasting from any contact with this person. No social media stalking. Do not muse over texts, emails, etc. Let go and the comfort of God will be a bottomless well of comfort if you stay the course.
New gospel life WILL come from this death. “For I will restore health to you, and your wounds I will heal, declares the Lord…” (Jer. 30:17).
4. Pursue biblical discipleship regarding:
How to cultivate an intimate relationship with Christ. It’s possible to be busy for the Lord, without loving and abiding in him. A wise Puritan pastor said, “The soul is so constituted that it craves fulfillment from things outside itself and will embrace earthly joys for satisfaction when it cannot reach spiritual ones. The believer is in spiritual danger if he allows himself to go for any length of time without tasting the love of Christ and savoring the felt comforts of a Savior’s presence. When Christ ceases to fill the heart with satisfaction, our souls will go in silent search of other lovers.”²
The underlying heart issues you need to address. Jesus said, “You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free!” (John 8:32). What made you vulnerable to this messy relationship? What is off kilter in your beliefs?
God’s design for healthy relationships. What does it mean to have the kind of wise love that Paul prayed for in Philippians 1:9-11? Christ is eager to teach you what it looks like to have himself in his rightful place in your life so that people will be in theirs.
5. Seek accountability for your relationships. I’ve learned that I must have people who have meddling rights in my life! Trusted, spiritually mature friends who love and encourage me to cultivate godly relationships and will help me discern if I’m blind to a potential relational mess.
6. Cry out to Jesus your Deliverer day after day. He is our precious Savior… and our faithful Bridegroom, the One to whom we are married to for all of eternity. He will help, love, and comfort us while we live during this short earthly time. He will grow “into us” the testimony of David:
“He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me.” (Psalm 18:19)
God loves his daughters so much that he faithfully calls us to himself away from idols, including messy relationships. Hear this promise today as you ponder what your next steps of faith are:
“Now to him who is able to Keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” (Jude 1:24-25)
This blog first appeared on Revive Our Hearts under the title: “Untangle Twisted Relationships: When Women’s Friendships Become Unhealthy.”
² John Flavel, “The Method of Grace,” The Whole Works of John Flavel (London: Baynes, 1820), vol. 2, p. 438.
Ellen talks more on this subject in the accompanying video: When Do Friendships Between Women Become Codependent? These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
Good friendships in the Body of Christ are vital and necessary. And those friendships should be rich and deep. But sometimes there’s a danger lurking there: when one or both friends look to each other for what only Jesus can give us, then relational idolatry happens. Listen to Ellen talk about how to get yourself out of that unhealthy friendship and move toward Christ.
There’s more to learn after this video! Read Ellen’s accompanying blog: Codependent Struggles in Women’s Friendships. You can also go to Ellen’s 3-part blog and video series on emotional affairs. Click here for “Emotional Affairs: When Closeness Becomes Destructive – Part I”.
In this video, Ellen Dykas explains how to begin talking about your sexual history and why it’s critical to discuss past and current sexual struggles before engagement and marriage.
If you’d like to learn more, consider reading Ellen’s minibook, Your Dating Relationship and Your Sexual Past: How Much to Share. When you buy this minibook from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.
What happens when a couple enters marriage, and they don’t really know each other? Of course, engaged and newlywed couples can’t possibly know each other to the degree they will after years of marriage. Wise pre-marital counseling usually addresses important issues like family history, faith, finances, children, sex, roles, etc. However, often people marry having avoided a critical component of their story: sexual history.
When a woman and man commit to marriage, it should mirror God’s eternal, exclusive, united-together relationship with his people (Ephesians 5:25-33). The unique one-flesh relationship (Genesis 2:241) of marriage refers to a concept broader than sexual intimacy. Marriage involves two people becoming one in sharing all of life and an intimate knowing of each other.
That’s why knowing your future spouse’s sexual history is so important. Sexual history refers to experiences of sexual activity with another person, with self, mediated through technology, sexual fantasy, etc. Knowing a person’s sexual history includes understanding what the struggle has looked like as far as length of time, frequency of giving in to temptation, attempts to fight and overcome sin, and a willingness to be transparent and accountable with others. Sexual history also includes traumatic experiences of being sexually harassed or abused.
There are many reasons people avoid discussing their sexual history: fear, shame, and feeling intimidated by tough topics are just a few. Private sins like porn and masturbation sometimes seem to fade out when a dating relationship is going well. Some unwisely say things like, “Let the past be the past; move on into the future with this person you love and start fresh!”
Why it’s wise to discuss sexual history before you get engaged.
Most brides begin wedding preparation within days of getting engaged. It’s an exciting time as engagement communicates, I’m committing myself to marry you, as is. Before a couple gets engaged, they should be able to say: “I know your strengths, weaknesses, temptations, sins and the pattern of your life. I want to marry you knowing what I know.”
When dating and engaged couples hide the real deal of their sexual history and current struggles from their loved one, they set the stage for broken trust and future broken hearts.
Jesus strengthens and comforts you in the process of sharing your sexual history.
This may feel scary, but you’re not alone as you consider honest conversations with the man or woman you’re dating or engaged to. Jesus is with you to guide, encourage, and enable you to do the right thing and walk in the light rather than hide or avoid.
Secondly, God promises mercy to those who walk in the light. Proverbs 28:13 says, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” His mercy comes through forgiveness, redemption, and providing friends to walk with you through this process.
Finally, Jesus is your eternal companion and spouse. He is with you for all of time and will never abandon you! Your relationship may or may not survive the vulnerable process of sharing your sexual past, but Jesus will never leave you or forsake you.
General principles for sharing sexual history.
Here are some general ideas to help you think through this process:
- Remember, the goal is to be known as someone who needs God’s grace in this area, not to vent or dump all the nitty-gritty details of sexual behaviors. Ask a wise friend or mentor to pray for you and help you discern what you need to share.
- Next, remember that this will be an ongoing conversation, not an intense, one time tell-all. Cultivating patient listening and transparent sharing will set your relationship on a healthy trajectory for marriage if you move forward.
- When is the best time to begin these conversations? There isn’t a spiritual formula to figure out the exact moment when a couple should share with one another about their sexual history. Each relationship is unique; however, if both of you are seriously considering marriage, then it’s important to begin revealing parts of your sexual past.
- If you’re on the receiving end of hearing a dating partner’s sexual past, here are the important things you want to find out. Keep in mind that you’re not looking for perfection but integrity and commitment to walk in repentance.
• How is he/she seeking to walk in faith and repentance? Is it all-out or half-hearted?
• Does this person have solid friendships in his/her life, people who both love and ask the hard questions in light of knowing him/her?
• If sexual sin is a present tense reality, what is the trajectory of the struggle? Is there a decrease in giving way to temptation and an increasing strength to resist and flee?
If your partner is half-hearted, casual, and/or doesn’t see any of this as a big deal, STOP. Do not proceed forward in this relationship. Words of affection, promises to love you, and even a commitment to pray more are not enough! You need to see ongoing, intentional steps to flee sin and grow in Christ before you take one more relational step with this person.
Sexual history is an important and significant topic to discuss in dating relationships, especially if you are considering marriage. But remember, such history does not define or identify any of us; Jesus does! He’s the King of his kingdom and so as we trust him, rest in his love and grace, we’ll have the wisdom we need for our relationships.
This blog first appeared on enCourage, the PCA’s website for Women’s Ministry, but it has been slightly edited for this post.
Ellen talks more about sexual history on her accompanying video: Why Couples Who Are Considering Marriage Need to Share Their Sexual History. These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
17 May 2018
In the Church, men and women are brothers and sisters in Christ. This means we can relate to one another as friends by sharing life together and helping one another run the race of faith. To learn more about biblical friendship, read Aimee Byrd’s blog, “Does a Woman’s Sexuality Hinder her Capability for Friendship?” You can also read our latest harvestusa magazine, “Women, Sexuality, and the Church,” here.
In this video, Ellen talks about Jessica Harris’ blog, “My Problem Wasn’t Amish Romance Novels.” Many people think women do not have intense struggles with hard-core porn, but Jessica writes about her struggle and what women need to battle—and win—over addictive pornography struggles. You can read Jessica’s blog here. And you can read the entire Spring 2018 issue of harvestusa magazine on Women, Sexuality, and the Church here.
In the lead article in our Spring 2018 harvestusa magazine, Ellen Dykas discusses three blind spots the Church has about women and their sexuality. What the Church doesn’t see, or what it chooses to ignore seeing, hurts women in their walk with Christ. Watch as Ellen raises these important issues, and then go read her article on what the Church needs to do here.
26 Apr 2018
In our Spring 2018 issue of harvestusa magazine, Ellen Dykas discusses three blind spots the Church has about women and their sexuality. One, they do struggle with porn and lust like men; two, wives are not necessarily the ones not wanting sex with their husband; and three, women are hesitant to go to church leadership for help on these and other issues. Ellen goes on to show how the Church can change the way its leadership sees women and their call to live with sexual integrity. (You can read the entire magazine issue online: Women, Sexuality, and the Church)
Crunch! My little Civic didn’t stand a chance when the larger SUV swerved into my lane. Even though I passed it slowly, a few seconds in the driver’s blind spot racked up hundreds of dollars of damage to my car.
Blind spots are dangerous when you’re driving. We have blind spots in our lives and relationships, also. When we don’t acknowledge that we have them, the results can be devastating. Relationships in our jobs, friendships, families, and even in the church are impacted when we fail to see what we can’t or don’t want to see.
I want to address three blind spots I have seen over the past eleven years of my ministry here at Harvest USA, three areas where the church has repeatedly failed women in their sexuality. There are others, but these three are the ones I consistently see when I talk to women who struggle with sexual issues. When churches recognize these three blind spots, they will be better equipped to understand and help women.
Blind spot # 1: Women don’t struggle with sexual sin and lust like men do
A few years ago at a Harvest USA fundraising banquet, I found myself defending my full-time position as Women’s Ministry Director. The conversation went like this:
Well-meaning man: “You’re full time? Are there that many wives who have Christian husbands looking at porn?”
Me: “Well, yes; not only do wives reach out for help, but Christian women who are struggling with things like pornography and casual sex do as well.”
Well-meaning man: “Really? I never thought women struggled with that stuff!”
It wasn’t the first time I had to defend my job. Women have felt invisible in the church. When it comes to sexuality, most of the attention has gone to men. So, when a woman looks for help, no one is there for her because we rarely acknowledge women’s sexual struggles.
Darcy¹ came to me for help because she couldn’t stop hooking up with men. She’d sought out more men than she could remember, and her face and voice communicated shame and pain as she gave me her diagnosis, “Ellen, I guess I’m just more like a man.”
She needed help understanding that lust and sexually-sinful behaviors are gender neutral.
Why did Darcy think that? Because in her church circles, she only heard that men had problems with lust. Yes, there was something wrong with Darcy, but it wasn’t that her sexuality was more like a man’s. She needed help understanding that lust and sexually-sinful behaviors are gender neutral! Idolatrous and lonely, selfish hearts don’t belong to one gender.
I see two reasons that contribute to this blind spot. One has to do with how men perceive women. Men do tend to have stronger sex drives as a result of their biology. And since men are overwhelmingly in church leadership, they know their own issues but somehow think that women are radically different than them. The standard script is: women are drawn to relationships; men to sex. You mean women have libidos? Why does the church have this blind spot when current statistics on porn use show that 60% of females ages 18-30 acknowledge that they look at porn at least monthly?
Secondly, I have noticed that women contribute to this blind spot, too. We don’t talk much about sexual issues (at Bible studies, retreats, etc.). If men are ignoring our struggles, we are complicit in not speaking up. It’s what I call the ABC mentality: A, men don’t think women have these struggles; B, women aren’t speaking about them; therefore C, churches don’t devote resources and ministries to women in this area.
Pardon me, but I have to yell: THIS IS A DANGEROUS BLIND SPOT! It’s leaving Christian women to struggle alone in silence and shame! I have taught on sexuality to women from all over the United States and several countries, and their testimony is consistent: we are struggling, we don’t hear the church talking about this as a women’s issue, and we don’t know where to get help!
How can churches eliminate this blind spot?
First off, recall that Jesus had no problem coming alongside women who struggled sexually. From the “sinner” who most likely was a prostitute (Luke 7:36-50) to the Samaritan woman who had multiple husbands (John 4:5-26), to the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11), Jesus did not ignore women. Jesus engaged these women as who they are: sexual sinners who need forgiveness and truth woven in with compassion.
Here’s how we can follow the example of Jesus:
- Pastors and women’s ministry leaders, teach a full-orbed biblical sexuality. God gifted women with their sexuality for his glory. Even though the Fall has marred its beauty, Jesus came to forgive and transform sexual sinners, women as well as men! When you speak or preach, utilize illustrations and testimonies that highlight how the gospel gives hope, courage, and holiness for women who are bound up in sexual sin. Perhaps do a sermon series or Sunday school class on the three passages listed above, explaining how we can follow Christ’s example to protect and extend grace to women.
- Take the courageous initiative to weave sexual topics into ongoing discipleship ministries, and equip women to come alongside each other. Our workbook, Sexual Sanity for Women: Healing from Sexual and Relational Brokenness, was written for this purpose and has a companion E-Book Leader’s Guide. Also, our website has loads of free articles and blog posts on sexuality that can give you ideas for rich discussion topics.
Blind spot # 2: The primary sexual issue in Christian marriage is that husbands want sex more than wives
The first blind spot leads to another erroneous belief that married women, in particular, do not care about or lose interest in sex. Wives are often told and counseled that this is why their husbands are looking at porn or have gone outside the marriage for sexual encounters.
The reality is far different. More Christian marriages than we realize have sexually-unengaged husbands. Peek into my ministry world:
- A woman’s husband has not initiated sex, or responded to her initiation, in over two years. She described herself as a woman with a strong longing for sexual intimacy.
- A pastor’s wife who hadn’t had sex in 10 years with her husband said, “I guess life just got busy with his ministry, and we got out of the habit.”
- Finally, there is a young wife who wants sex more frequently than her husband. There’s no sexual sin going on; she just has a stronger sex drive!
Of course, there are many reasons for these stories. And yes, some wives are less than enthusiastic about sex with their husbands. I have met many wives who do not enjoy sex and even disdain it. But if you look a bit closer you’ll see reasons that are important to know.
I see this more all the time: wives who feel like nothing more than an object for their husband’s sexual pleasure.
Past sexual trauma will influence a woman’s view of her husband and her own body. Sex that is not physically pleasurable, like rarely experiencing orgasm, will impact a woman’s desire. A full life of working and being a mom leads to exhaustion. Who has the energy? And, I see this more all the time; wives who feel like nothing more than an object for their husband’s sexual pleasure.
Now, hear me on this point. I’ve already said that women have battles with sexual sin too, including pornography, fantasy, lust, compulsive masturbation, and adultery. And like men, they bring the residue of past sin or current struggles into the marriage. So do NOT hear me playing a blame game on men here.
But in the age of the internet, one stark reality is that far too many Christian men are more than dabbling with a little porn here and there. It should not surprise us, given the degree to which the internet is embedded in our daily life, and the ease with which pornography can be accessed, that Christian men are viewing pornography in greater and greater numbers (with the use of porn among youth and younger men being far higher). As one study concluded, “Men of all ages and stages, but especially married men, are coming to pastors for help with pornography struggles.”
When a husband trains himself to be aroused and satisfied sexually by images or other types of pornography, his ability to be aroused by his wife often diminishes. Real life—and real bodies— pale against the photoshopped, fantasy stories the internet sells. Porn-induced erectile dysfunction is now a thing.
And when porn doesn’t reduce a husband’s interest in having sex with his wife, it can become the coach for what he wants sexually from his wife. The result is wives who feel manipulated and used.
Pastor, when you hear of a marriage problem involving sex, dig for the reasons why.
- Do not accept pornography usage as being either a “small porn problem,” or “just what men do.” Regardless of how often a husband views it, pornography teaches a way of life and relating that is so terribly damaging. Do not say to a wife of a husband who is involved with porn that she should “have more sex,” so that he won’t look at it. I’ve heard so many tragic stories from wives who were counseled this way.
- It is time to offer marriage classes that have discussions on sex. There is a lot of confusion about sex among God’s people. I’ve been asked many questions from Christian married women like, does anything go in marriage as long as it’s mutual? What do I do if my husband wants to do things I’m uncomfortable with? Is it ok if we watch pornography together before we are intimate? I masturbate secretly because I rarely orgasm with my husband…is that ok?
- Be proactive with pre-marriage couples. The best time to catch problems that will likely destroy a marriage is before the wedding. Pre-marriage counseling must include a frank and honest discussion of sexual history, current sexual sin struggles, as well as a clear emphasis on God’s beautifully good design for husbands and wives to serve and love each other selflessly in their sexual relationship.
Blind spot # 3: Women should have no problems talking to pastoral leadership when they are struggling with a sexual issue
There is a sad and tragic reality that I have seen in working with women. Most women do not feel safe going to pastoral leadership to talk about sexual struggles.
A forty-year-old woman came to me for help after two decades of promiscuity. She ran a highly successful business: an escort service which offered sex for money. At age 19, she had been an active member in her church, singing on the worship team, and living a life of sexual integrity. What happened?
She had a secret: she had feelings for girls. She was scared and confused but finally mustered the courage to seek help from her pastor. She explained that she’d never pursued any romantic or physical experiences with girls but needed help.
His response? “We don’t have anything for you here and, it’s best you step down from the worship team.” She did step down—and out of that church and found acceptance in the LGBT community, which became her home for twenty years.
I’ve sat with too many women who have shared stories that have made me ache with tears; others have infuriated me. Single women who have been counseled like this, ‘If you’d just find yourself a husband then you wouldn’t have these kinds of issues.’ Wives who have been told to submit to their husbands in the bedroom, even when that submission meant feeling degraded and used. Wives have been diagnosed as paranoid, because they suspected their well-known and respected-by-the-church husband of infidelity.
Experiences like these teach women to keep their struggles hidden and silent. They live with shame for feeling like a failure in their life or marriage, and they are desperate to talk to someone who understands and is safe.
Women with this history transfer their fear and distrust of men to male leadership in the church. Far too many men in leadership do not recognize this as a substantial issue for women.
And there’s the sober reality of sexual abuse survivors who are in your church. It has become common knowledge, backed by numerous studies, showing that 20% of women have experienced some form of sexual abuse before the age of eighteen. This trauma is devastating, and while survivors respond to their abuse in unique ways, it is not uncommon for many women to fear men and authority. Far too many men in church leadership do not recognize this as a substantial issue for women. It’s a glaring blind spot.
Here are a few ways church leaders can cultivate an atmosphere of safety and grace for women sexual strugglers and wives.
- Examine your beliefs about women and sexuality, and discuss this article with women you respect. Ask them: where do you see my blind spots? What do I need to learn?
- Offer anonymous surveys to the women in your church to learn from them about what their reality is regarding sexual struggles and sin.
- Work to make your church grow into a place where women have a voice and will be protected, defended, and helped if their husbands are unrepentant. Raise up and train women leaders to whom the women in the church can go for help. This would greatly encourage women to address their fears of talking to pastors and leaders.
Paul’s pastoral benediction to the Thessalonians, a church obviously struggling with sexual sin, was this, “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:23).
Brothers and sisters, our God’s peace has been entrusted to us as his ambassadors. It is our calling to extend Christ’s shalom, or human flourishing, to women and their sexuality. Will you engage it? Will you consider implementing changes to the way you teach, preach and disciple your people? Your women? I hope you will and will pray to that end.
Ellen Dykas is the Women’s Ministry Director of Harvest USA. To reach her with questions or advice about her article, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
¹All names have been changed.
Ellen talks more about this on her accompanying video: Women and Sexuality: What Are the Church’s Blind Spots? These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
Devastated! For most wives, that word describes sexual betrayal. When a woman confides that she’s discovered her husband’s porn habit or his infidelity with an online sexual encounter, what do you say to help? What can you do?
Here are five good first steps to take:
- Listen, listen, listen
The woman in front of you just had her world rocked, and a primary way to love and help her NOW is to know her and understand her situation. Too often, wives who find out about their husband’s porn problem hear others minimize their pain. “Is it really that bad? You’re making such a big deal out of this! It’s not like it’s with a real person!”
No, this is a big deal! Porn, along with its many ancillary behaviors, means that her husband has gone outside the marriage and engaged sexually with others, and the fact that it’s an online image, person, or fantasy persona doesn’t matter.
You’ll need patience and self-control too, to hear her heart and resist the urge to overwhelm her with interrogating questions, advice, resources, or actions you think she must take now. No, make your initial priority to love her through listening, comforting, and knowing. Don’t be afraid to cry with her and get angry at sin with her. Give her hope from Scripture, like Psalm 32: 8: “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.” Leaning into Jesus will give you everything you need to gently help this wife do the same.
- Understand that sexual betrayal is traumatic
This wound can trigger paralyzing fear, depression, sadness, confusion, and bitter anger. Any combination of these is a normal response! Your willingness to grasp trauma’s impact is vital. God will enable you to hold the pain of sin and the hope of Christ together as you enter into this wife’s situation and the swirl of emotions that are crashing over her, and perhaps onto you, as well.
- Offer practical help and love-in-action
Are there practical ways to help her today or this week? Childcare, meals, making phone calls? If she discovered her husband’s sin rather than him confessing it, she may need help knowing how and when to confront him and may desire that someone be with her for this scary conversation. The goal is for all things to be “brought into the light” (1 John 1:7) so that the couple is facing the truth of their situation and not a façade. This is the healing path that Christ is calling them to walk: honesty, humility, and a new beginning through the gospel of grace which enables repentance.
God will enable you to hold the pain of sin and the hope of Christ together as you enter into this wife’s situation and the swirl of emotions that are crashing over her, and perhaps onto you, as well.
If everything is out on the table already, yet her husband is resisting repentance (say by minimizing what he has done), and refusing to get help, she may need guidance and encouragement to speak with a pastor or another trusted spiritual leader, effectively ‘outing’ her husband and his sin. This marriage is in crisis, and it needs outside help from one or two mature believers. This kind of sin and the pain it causes won’t just work itself out in isolation.
- Check in on her and follow-up
Follow up is not just important, it is probably the most powerful help you can give. A text, call, FaceTime chat, walk around the block are simple ways to help her not feel so alone.
Do not fear getting in over your head, or that to love this woman means signing your life away. Yes, you will be giving her your time because right now she’s hurting and needy. Focus on this week and not on an unknown future. Reach out to her with love, even if this week your presence can only be a series of text messages that say you are praying or a Scripture passage. The main thing is: keep in touch.
- If you’re her husband reading this, you must be completely honest
This means full disclosure of what you’ve been involved in. Not the nitty-gritty details, but enough to be fully known. I cannot emphasize how painful it is when a confession comes in like a slow trickle of admissions over weeks or months. Ongoing deception will be crushing to your wife, and it will profoundly damage any attempt to rebuild trust.
If you need help, listen to a podcast by Brad Hambrick called False Loves. Steps 4 and 5 regarding repentance and confession are particularly practical. God is with you in this humbling and scary process, and you can only take responsibility for your obedience and not your wife’s response to your confession.
These 5 points will help you connect well with a hurting wife. She, and the marriage, will need lots of different kinds of help over time. But utilizing these five things will help her move forward on the right foot, gently helping her to trust Jesus to bring healing to her heart and wisdom over the long haul.
As I mentioned in Part 1 of this blog series, every broken marriage has two sinners contributing to it. A wife is never responsible for her husband’s sin, yet I’ve seen God use the trial of sexual betrayal to bring transformation to so many wives. One woman said,
“I was not only bitter towards my husband but marriage in general and ultimately towards God as well. If God was sovereign, why did he allow me to marry a man with such a struggle that was so isolating for me? As God worked on my heart through a couple of friends who journeyed with me through this season, I began to see that I needed grace as much as my husband. My lack of forgiveness was just as despicable to God as his pornography. At the foot of the cross, we were equally in need of Christ’s mercy.”
Hurting wives and struggling husbands need Christ’s mercy, just like those of us who want to love them well and wisely. Hopefully, these five steps can assist you in doing just that.