For sexual strugglers, the holidays can be a perilous time of struggle and temptation. The holidays can be a pit of despair and sin for sexual strugglers. Watch as Dave discusses a hope-filled perspective on life that can lead to joy and hope during the holiday season. If you haven’t seen the first video in this series, click here.
Click here to read more on what Dave is saying on his blog: ‘Tis the Season for Temptation – Pt. 2
28 Dec 2017
In my last blog, we considered how the holidays pose a unique challenge for people seeking to live sexually faithful lives. Temptation: lots of temptation.
We all face temptations at the holidays (overeat on Sunday or Monday, perchance?). But for many, these are compounded by a drive toward sexual sin when faced with relational stress, frustration, anxiety, etc. How can we find hope when faced with so much pain in this broken world?
Do you have hope this holiday? I want you to, and I believe it’s possible. Not just by battling temptation, but by looking deeper into the struggles you face.
I want to consider how our holiday aches point to our ultimate hope.
My last blog mentioned that one challenge of Christmas is most of our families don’t look like a Norman Rockwell painting. But even for those with great family relationships, Christmas still brings an ache. (Which is another reason why there’s so much temptation around the holidays.) Our most upbeat Christmas carols (think “Joy to the World”) stir unsatisfied longings.
Why? “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life” (Proverbs 13:12). We sing “No more let sins and sorrows grow, Nor thorns infest the ground,” but here’s the crucial point: these things are all still happening. At the holidays, more than other times of the year, we long for relationships restored, wrongs to be righted, pain and suffering to be eradicated. In Advent services we listen misty-eyed to passages like Isaiah 11:1-9, hoping in the promises while living squarely in the “not yet” of a fallen world where violence, disease, and death still have the last word.
Lest this blog feed your post-holiday blues, I want to point you to the hope behind this ache, hope that started long ago.
The Jews eagerly awaited the Messiah to free them from foreign oppressors, bringing hope and healing to the world. God began that process in sending Jesus. But the work is far from finished. We’re now living in the middle of the story, what theologians refer to as the “already, not yet.” There’s more to come; specifically, Jesus will come again. But for now, we’re called to live by faith. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).
People who love you aren’t content with vague answers when you’re clearly struggling – they want to know your heart. It’s a copout to treat God differently because “He already knows what I’m feeling.”
As you look toward the New Year, consider these implications of the holiday ache and hope:
First, the ache is a sign of life! This is so important. Just as the Spirit groans within us and all of creation groans as in childbirth waiting for the renewal of all things, your holiday ache is homesickness for your ultimate Home. In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis says if you experience a longing nothing in this world can satisfy, it must mean that you were created for another world. The hope of the gospel is that God is uniting all things in heaven and earth in Jesus so that – finally! – the dwelling of God will be visibly and tangibly with his people. This began with reconciling us through the cross, but the ultimate goal has cosmic proportions (consider Ephesians 1:7-10; Colossians 1:19-20; Revelation 21). Your ache evidences the Spirit within you, longing for the life to come.
Second, be honest about the current ache with God and others. “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). Realize it really matters that you talk to him about the things swirling inside you. Like any good friend, he cares! People who love you aren’t content with vague answers when you’re clearly struggling – they want to know your heart. It’s a copout to treat God differently because “He already knows what I’m feeling.”
Through our heart cries, we receive the Spirit’s comfort and learn the truth that he is the “God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). Further, talk to others about the ache! Sexual sin is isolating – turning inward to find ways to medicate pain. Growth and healing will lead to deepening intimacy with others in the Body. Let people in!
Third, don’t forget the “already”! How is he calling you to have a part in making “his blessings flow as far as the curse is found” right now? We’re invited as his ambassadors to be active participants in ushering in his kingdom. How might your particular ache be an opportunity to act for his kingdom? Are there specific relationships where you need to pursue reconciliation? Difficult people for you to love for the sake of the Lover? Ways to show generosity, or help the poor? He invites us to not shrink back from a broken world, but participate in overturning the Curse by the power of the Spirit.
Finally, flip the ache on its head through thankfulness. God’s promises mean it won’t always be this way. Give him thanks that one Day every tear will be wiped away. Death will be emptied of power. In the wonderful words of John Donne, “Death, thou shalt die.” Like the rush of relief when waking from a nightmare, the aching of this world will only enhance the joy and glory of the life to come.
“And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (Isaiah 35:10).
Watch Dave talk more about this on his accompanying video: How do I battle temptation during the holidays? Pt. 2. These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
For sexual strugglers, the holidays can be a dangerous time. In a season that exults family and good times, struggles and loneliness can bear in painfully. The holidays can be a pit of despair and sin for sexual strugglers. But Dave White gives four steps to handle it successfully.
Click here to read more on what Dave is saying on his blog: ‘Tis the Season for Temptation.
21 Dec 2017
The holidays can be particularly challenging for people struggling with sexual temptation and sin. Why? Despite our best wishes for Christmas to look like a Norman Rockwell painting, it rarely does.
Sexual temptation is a powerful struggle in a season where there are disappointments and loss. There may be a bounty spread on the table, but relationships are often fraught with problems. Hidden behind forced smiles and meaningless chatter are past hurts and unreconciled issues, seemingly impossible to resolve. Perhaps you long to truly be known by family and friends, but they’re content with banal superficiality. Or there are empty seats that were filled in years past.
The holidays shine a light on aspects of life that feel deficient. During my “single again” years, holiday shopping meant wading through a mall of smiling, arm-in-arm couples. It seemed everyone was paired—except for me. This can be particularly painful for same-sex attracted believers, honoring Christ with a celibate life, but surrounded by same-sex couples (and jeered by the culture for denying themselves). One brother recently lamented the pain of celebrating with others, while very aware he’s not making memories with a family of his own.
Because sexual sin is often used for “false comfort” in the midst of stress, frustration, anxiety, etc., all these challenges means Christmas ‘tis the season for temptation.
Others struggle financially and, in a culture of rampant materialism where personal worth is determined by “stuff,” gift giving can be a painful pointer to your (supposed) inadequacy. Or a siren’s call to dive even deeper into debt.
Then there’s the reality that lust thrives off the “me-centered” vacation attitude. Not to mention the lure of so many other pleasures (food, drink, gifts) that, if used improperly don’t satisfy, leaving us craving more.
These compounding factors warn you to be on guard during the holidays! Because sexual sin is often used for “false comfort” in the midst of stress, frustration, anxiety, etc., all these challenges means Christmas ‘tis the season for temptation. A significant shift happens when you begin to understand the context of your temptation and sin and prepare ahead of time to face them in the Spirit and with the support of the Body.
There are four key things to do to get you successfully (and maybe joyfully) through what can be a painful holiday season.
First, prayerfully consider how the holidays have been difficult. Journal about causes of sadness in the past. In what ways do you wish your relationships were different? What do you feel is lacking? What changed circumstance, relationship, etc., do you believe would transform your life? How do your answers to these questions impact your view of yourself? Your understanding of God and his character?
Typically, we translate painful past or present experiences and relationships into evidence of God’s faithless abandonment or indifference to our plight. In what specific ways does your current situation cause you to doubt God’s goodness, love, or power?
Second, examine the lies you believe about God and yourself. Talk to him about them. Ask him to help you believe what is true. Record in your journal biblically accurate descriptions of God’s character to counter the lies. Ask believing friends to help you in this! According to Ephesians 6:17, the Bible is our offensive weapon against the enemy’s lies. He wants you to know the truth of Psalm 28:7, “…in him my heart trusts, and I am helped…” Further, ask God to glimpse his purposes for you in not changing the things you wish he would. How does he want to make you more like Jesus? How might he encourage others through your self-denial and obedience?
Third, because of the likelihood of increased temptation, you need greater support from the Body of Christ. What specific challenges will you face this holiday and how can others come alongside you? If you usually check in weekly with someone, it might make sense to report in at the end of each day you’re away (or your family’s in town). Consider sending a quick daily text/email to let others know what you’re experiencing, your level of temptation, the lies you’re fighting, and the truths you need to believe.
Will you be staying with relatives where there’s unprotected Wi-Fi? Commit to keeping your phone off their network and make sure your laptop/tablet has accountability software. (You have taken that important step, right?) If you’re traveling, are there dangers specific to that location? Being away from home can create the illusion of anonymity. Are there particular places that will be a danger either en route or once you arrive? If returning to your hometown, are there potentially dangerous “old flames”? Acknowledge these things beforehand and invite your friends to ask intrusive questions. As with all of life, we shouldn’t face the temptations of Christmas alone.
Finally, focus on him! Be intentional to draw near to him through Scripture and prayer. Meditate on the wonder of the incarnation. Fight to not lose perspective on the true meaning of Christmas. By his Spirit, he is still “God with us” and (in the words of John Newton) invites you to experience “Solid joys and lasting treasures; None but Zion’s children know”!
Watch Dave talk more about this on his accompanying video: How do I battle temptation during the holidays? These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
11 Jul 2017
There are few hurts deeper than sexual betrayal. Sex is supposed to be a space of deep vulnerability and intimacy, a place of joyful self-giving. No wonder the Bible calls marriage a “one-flesh” union, where physical nakedness is a profound image of intimacy, of total knowing and complete trust between a wife and husband.
When that trust is broken, a husband and wife will struggle to believe that their sexual intimacy can ever be restored. For those who stay together (and sadly, sometimes that will not be possible), they will need a way forward to become vulnerable and again. It will not be easy, but a focus on the gospel gives real hope and practical help.
To understand how to rebuild trust, it helps to see God’s intention for sexual intimacy within marriage. As Dave White says in his blog, “Just What is Godly Sex?” sexual expression is “analogous to a deeper, eternal reality—a husband and wife are to be devoted to one another, forsaking all others, as a reflection of Jesus’ desire that we be utterly devoted to him, forsaking worship of all others.”
Sexual unfaithfulness breaks trust at the most vulnerable aspect of oneness as a spouse chooses, rather than forsakes, something or someone instead of the one to whom they promised faithfulness. Whether the betrayal is mental, emotional, or physical (or all three), the sins of pornography, sexual fantasy, masturbation, and adultery are ways a spouse breaks from devotion to Christ and their spouse, for worship of self and pleasure.
It is crucial for relational trust and spiritual togetherness to grow between two spouses before they attempt to restore sexual intimacy. If you are already actively pursuing healing in your marriage after the disclosure of sexual unfaithfulness, then consider the following four steps which can bring the kind of healing that makes the renewal of sexual intimacy a reality. If you are a friend, counselor, or pastor, these steps can enable you to help.
Sexual unfaithfulness breaks trust at the most vulnerable aspect of oneness as a spouse chooses, rather than forsakes, something or someone instead of the one to whom they promised faithfulness.
1. Pray and commit for Jesus to have the first place in your heart. Colossians 1:16-17 describes Jesus as Lord and Creator over all, which means he is to be first in all things. This includes your marriage and your sex life! Ask God to show how this failed to happen in your marriage, and in repentance begin learning what a biblical view of sex within marriage is and how Jesus helps you love your spouse.
2. Turn towards your spouse. Firm and strong choices to turn from all things that led to sexual sin must be another initial step. That means cutting off people, places, and situations that are sources of temptation. Trust cannot grow if the offending spouse is not actively seeking to flee from sin. However, fleeing is not enough! It is just as important for both to choose to turn towards the other sexually. This means making your marriage relationship a priority, as well as learning what cultivates an atmosphere of trust and safety for sexual intimacy, before, during, and after being together.
To move in that direction, pray for God to give you renewed emotional, mental, and sexual desire for your spouse alone. In other words, ask God to make you spousal-sexual: radically oriented and devoted to your husband or wife. God delights to respond to this prayer! After all, godly sex is his idea.
3. Cultivate honest communication about sex. God will use the exposure of sexual sin to open up communication on many topics, but the one that will require major focus will be your sexual relationship. Rebuilding trust will require an openness to share feelings, thoughts, and desires in this area. You need to learn what the other enjoys, what brings pleasure, what is uncomfortable, what communicates being used rather than being delighted in. These are extremely vulnerable topics; go slowly, and remember to continually/actively build up your emotional trust with each other. For some, fasting from sexual activity can enable a couple to communicate honestly without the pressure (and fear) of engaging sexually.
4. Pursue and receive your spouse with patient love. Restoring your sexual relationship will take time. Expressing non-sexual affection is a way to express love for the ‘whole person’ of your spouse. Remember that pain and hurt don’t go away quickly, so be patient with yourself and your spouse as you learn new ways of relating. Patience and perseverance are the key words!
You can watch Ellen talk some more about this on her video: Rebuilding Sexual Intimacy After Sexual Betrayal These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
11 Jul 2017
Pornography has destroyed countless marriages. Sexual sin of all kinds inflicts deep pain and damage. But in order to repair and restore the marriage, if possible, Ellen talks about four key things every couple needs to do.
“How did this happen?” asked the woman sitting across from me in my office.
“Our relationship started out as one of the best friendships I’ve ever had. I feel like I have waited for years to have a close friend, someone who lights up when she sees me. I guess she got tired of me because now she won’t even talk to me. I feel like someone has punched me in the stomach. I wake every morning and wonder if she will ever call me again.”
Another woman spoke with me on the phone and said, “Neither of us has ever been involved with another woman before. In fact, I’ve never had sexual feelings for women, but somehow we’ve gotten physically involved with each other. I know this is wrong, but I don’t know how to salvage our relationship. I’m afraid you will tell me I need to give her up. Is there any way to fix our relationship and still be friends?”
A third woman asked me, “Is it normal to want to be with one friend all the time? My husband works long hours and he isn’t around much. My friend is available, and she understands how I feel… even before I tell her. I think we are too close though; my husband seems jealous of her. He thinks we’re too dependent on one another.”
“My last female friend and I became so enmeshed that I couldn’t make decisions without talking it over with her first. When she moved away, I thought it would kill me,” said another woman. “Our relationship was unbalanced, but I couldn’t see it until we were apart. How do you know when your friendship is too close in an unhealthy way?”
These are questions often asked by women who are questioning the health of their friendships. In addition, women who have turned away from a homosexual life often express concern about becoming involved with women in an unhealthy way. They want to know how to develop new friendships that will reflect their growth and refusal to connect with others improperly. In this article, we will explore why and how friendships go wrong and how to repair the damage between women who have an unhealthy relationship.
Designed with his image
Women are relational beings. It is a fact that few would argue. Even our play from childhood reflects how we feel about relationships. It has been said that little boys play “side by side” while little girls play “face to face.” I see the truth of this desire for relationship as I watch my daughters and their friends play. Tears and frustrations surface often for them. If one feels left out or ignored by someone they want to be connected to, they react strongly. While these eruptions in their friendships eventually calm down and they return to playing and enjoying one another, their passion for wanting to be loved and included remains very important to them.
God has built within us all a desire to connect. God himself experiences ongoing intimacy within the Trinity. In turn, he has fashioned us to experience some of the connection he enjoys by giving us other humans to know and love. These friendships enrich our lives, giving meaning and purpose in ways that living in isolation will not.
Sometimes, however, we take the beauty of friendship with another human and expect it to fill us in ways only God is meant to do. When does friendship enhance life properly and when does it become unbalanced? Let’s look briefly at how unhealthy relationships develop for some women.
The desire for connection gone wrong
1. An unhealthy relationship starts with relational disappointment carried over from childhood.
None of us had the perfect parents. None of us will parent perfectly. All of us have scars and wounds left over from the effects of interacting with parents, siblings, extended family, teachers, and other figures we thought should love us, but frequently failed to do so well. All too often these relationships included sexual, physical, and emotional abuse of the worst kind. Some women grow up and find a way to integrate their past and move on to live life with a balanced understanding for relationship in their lives. Still other women reach adulthood vigilantly searching for the significant figure that will love them in some fashion so as to erase the memory of the pain they have endured.
No woman vows this consciously, saying in her heart, “Since my trust has been betrayed in my childhood relationships, I will look for and find someone to fix this hole in my heart.” However, we all, by trial and error, find what works for a season to fill us relationally. Our self-focused goal is primarily to minimize discomfort and maximize the experience of acceptance and love. If our lives are motivated by avoiding abandonment or looking for acceptance and approval, we relate in ways that flow from an empty heart mainly concerned with itself, not with God or others. Once we engage in a relationship that we think will satisfy us continually, we begin to find ways to manage the relationship so that we don’t experience the sting of loneliness again.
2. An unhealthy relationship continues for the purpose of satisfying a nagging sense of emptiness.
As some women search for someone to love them unfailingly they often attach themselves to another woman who appears to offer the nurturing they long for. Like “hand in glove,” these relational dynamics seem to fit—temporarily.
For example, there are some women whose stories compel them to be the “rescuer”; for others, their stories compel them to be the “rescuee.” When these relationship designs match, an intense connection can begin to fill up a hole in each that gives a temporary sense of satisfaction. However, requiring another person to “fix” our empty broken hearts is a tall order and can quickly become a burden. Such was the case of Anna (fictitious name) who called my office for help.
Alone and rejected from a failed seven-year marriage, she poured her heart out in a women’s prayer meeting at her church. Her vulnerability touched something deep in Carol (name has been changed), and she invited Anna out for coffee. As Anna talked about her life, Carol felt herself drawn towards Anna’s pain and sorrow. Carol knew all too well the pain of divorce, having experienced it just four years prior herself. Carol also felt a familiar pull to take care of Anna, but she had always thought it was a sign of compassion for others.
Carol kept checking on Anna over the next few days and surprised her with a homemade dinner for her and her kids. It felt so good to have someone help with the household chores. Another adult pair of hands lightened her load, so Anna gratefully received the help offered. Anna also enjoyed the companionship of another woman who seemed to understand what she felt. Within weeks, it seemed, Anna and Carol were inseparable, and Anna’s children began to think of Carol as a permanent appendage to their mom.
Carol also enjoyed a burst of zeal for this new friendship. Anna’s children played a unique role in her life since she was childless herself. It felt so good to lighten the burden of her friend, and she thought often of ways to brighten her day. It was not unusual for Carol to invent reasons to either see Anna or at least talk to her daily.
Eventually, though, the children grew to hate the talks between the women that often robbed them of their mom’s attention. They grew tired of Carol’s presence and resented going everywhere with their mom’s friend. Because Anna felt the children’s remarks were ungrateful and demanding, she dismissed their complaints to the notion that they expected to always have their mom all to themselves. She found herself frequently defending her relationship with Carol to her own children.
It wasn’t unusual for the women to hug when they saw each other, but late one night after a particularly long, intense talk, their hug seemed to last too long. That hug stirred something in Anna that kept her up all night wondering what was happening to their relationship. She felt something was wrong, but wasn’t sure what. Hugging Carol seemed inappropriate, but what could be wrong with a hug? She finally decided it was best to put some distance in their relationship until she could sort out what was bothering her.
The next morning, the two women talked about how close they were becoming. It surprised Carol when Anna suggested that they might need to include others in their relationship or spread out how often they saw each other. Fearing Anna might be forsaking the relationship, Carol became upset and moped through the rest of their breakfast. The sulking made Anna realize that to pull away would result in disapproval and resistance from Carol. Not wanting to disappoint the woman who had done so much for her, Anna scrambled to reassure Carol that everything would be fine. But Anna began to feel fearful that her friendship may not be so healthy after all.
3. Unhealthy relationships remain exclusive, unusually intense, and resist attempts to manage the frequency or intensity of the relationship.
As we saw in Anna and Carol’s relationship, friendships that are earmarked over “matching” pasts often sprout up over short periods of time and become intensely intimate. These friendships can be like a seed that finds soil in the cracks of pavement and germinates, sometimes even blooming flowers. But the roots of these tiny plants can’t grow deep, and the plant itself is not in the right place.
So it is with unhealthy friendships. Perhaps the friendship started out well, but the intensity and exclusivity of the relationship has resulted in strong feelings of protective loyalty and impenetrable cohesiveness. As a result, it is often very difficult to objectively evaluate the dynamics of the relationship.
Sometimes when the intensity builds, a desire grows to express the closeness and intimacy being enjoyed—in a physical way. When this happens and appropriate boundaries are crossed, the friendship can become sexualized. No one is more shocked and confused when these sexual feelings begin than women who have never thought of themselves as homosexual in orientation. The process of sorting out a relationship that is unhealthy is difficult and often painful, but it can be done.
Hope for healthy relationships: steps to freedom
When involved in a friendship that has turned into something unhealthy, you may wonder if you can ever break free. If you have a history of these kinds of friendships, you may even question if you are fatally flawed and are destined to forever develop unhealthy relationships with women. You may have even determined to keep everyone at arm’s length from your heart, erroneously thinking this will keep yourself and others “safe.”
However confused you may be about your ability to relate in healthy ways, God’s promise to forgive and make you new reaches the deepest of relational problems. We often don’t turn to God for help until our relationships make us miserable or fall apart. Such was the pattern for the nation of Israel.
In the book of Isaiah, we find God using his prophet Isaiah to caution Israel from trusting the strength of their foreign neighbors’ armies to rescue them. In chapters 30 and 31, Isaiah warns them not to depend on alliances with Egypt or to trust in their swift horses and chariots. He wants them to turn their wandering hearts back to him as their God. His plan is to protect them and deliver them on his terms. Israel experienced disappointment, misery, and literal torment when they disobeyed God. Similarly, unhealthy alliances with other women often result in some type of agony, as we see from the examples of real conversations I have recorded at the beginning of this article.
Finally, God speaks to Israel through his servant Isaiah again in 50:10-11 about the consequences of finding solace in anyone other than him.
“Who among you fears the Lord
and obeys the voice of his servant?
Let him who walks in darkness
and has no light
trust in the name of the Lord
and rely on his God.
Behold, all you who kindle a fire
who equip yourselves with burning torches!
Walk by the light of your fire
and by the torches you have kindled!
This you have from my hand:
you shall lie down in torment.” (ESV)
Like Israel, his love for us is demonstrated in how he will not permit us to depend more on his creatures than we depend on him. In fact, God will lovingly allow our worlds to collapse so we will experience the torment of our persistent pursuit of any torch we depend on to light our path and find our way in this dark world. He knows our hearts will build an idol out of anything, and he will keep exposing the inability of our idols to save or satisfy our hearts built for him. However, he never intends us to live a lonely, unattached life.
Admitting the truth
Facing the truth that your friendship is not healthy for you or the woman with whom you are in relationship is a brave step towards freedom. It is crucial to find the time to be alone and to reflect on what has made this relationship unhealthy. Creating space to reflect, apart from this woman, allows you to think and feel for yourself without the complications of handling her thoughts and feelings. Developing your own sense of self is not only a good place to start, but is also foundational to building healthy relationships.
Also, facing our God-given design for companionship and connection is an important step to health. Nevertheless, only the bold can admit they want to be loved but may have gone to wrong sources to get it. Fundamentally, these kinds of relationships are taking a God-given longing and squeezing people to fit a hole in our hearts that only God can satisfy.
Inviting others to help you
The next step will be important. It is vital to name out loud to others the conclusions to which you have come about your relationship. It would be easy to get confused if you are isolated from others who could give you a much needed perspective. It is also easy to waver from your convictions if your decision is being challenged by the woman with whom you are involved. Mature and committed friends are necessary to help you disengage from the relationship in question.
Inviting a few women, perhaps from church or from a Bible study group, into your life will ensure accountability and give you objective evaluations about your relationships. If your relationship has crossed sexual lines, be sure to confess this to God and your support system. Crossing lines sexually doesn’t mean you are a worse sinner than most. It only means you must avail yourself of helpful support and accountability to continue walking the path of relational integrity. Exposing your relationship to mature women who will help you grow will put to death the desire to keep the relationship exclusive or “secret.”
The significance of grieving
Learning how to live as a separate woman apart from the woman with whom you had a relationship will be difficult at first, especially if you had daily phone contact or visits. There will likely be a time of loneliness and grieving as you begin to live your life without the influence and affection of someone who was so vital and important to you. This would be a good time for you to draw near to God, spending a significant amount of time talking and reflecting with him about what you are experiencing as you separate from the other woman.
As you grieve the loss of relationship, you might find yourself sorrowing over the damage you feel from the unhealthiness of your friendship. This kind of inventory is important for your growth as a new woman, open to new friendships. You may begin to see how being exclusive warped your openness to others and how you may have allowed this woman to be important to you in a way that inhibited your development as an individual. You may also see how your friendship may have damaged others who tried to offer you friendship, or how you may have used this person to escape pain or loneliness by the intensity of the relationship. This grieving is an important part of the process of repentance that, over time, will give you a new perspective and help you make the necessary changes to love others from a new heart.
Setting new boundaries
The next step is to develop and begin to practice certain relational limits in all your relationships for your own health and growth. As you reflect on how to set limits you can begin to identify some of the dynamics of unhealthy relating patterns. Asking God to help you uncover a relational agenda of trying to fill yourself inappropriately will be helpful as you begin this journey. Pay attention to what he shows you as you investigate what you want from others. Begin to talk openly with your support system about how to get these needs met safely and appropriately. Allow yourself to watch how other women relate to one another and begin to label what makes their friendships healthy. Ask the women in your support system to help you by offering you feedback when they sense you doing something that feels uncomfortable to them.
Some examples of relational sins may be how you always appear needy and dependent so that others feel pulled to take care of you. Perhaps your style is to always rise to the occasion of taking care of others, making them feel indebted and obligated while making yourself feel competent and superior. Maybe you relate to others by keeping the relationship intense all the time or being emotionally erratic in disruptive ways to manipulate or control the behavior of another. Asking a few trusted and mature friends to honestly tell you how they see you in relationships will be invaluable to your development as you learn how to keep personal boundaries.
Risking and choosing to love again
Finally, there is no fail-safe code to personal relationships. Even if you watch carefully and try your hardest, you can be sure you will slip up and find yourself looking for someone to fill your empty heart in a way that keeps you from needing God. Our hearts are endlessly creative in looking for some way to avoid needing a God who won’t be managed or behave predictably. The Israelites are an example of how easily we replace God with something or someone we think might do a better job of satisfying our hearts.
No sooner had the Israelites experienced a miraculous exodus from the slavery of Egypt and a miraculous rescue from their enemies, than they became restless. When their tangible leader, Moses, disappeared from their sight while camped on the foothills of Mt. Sinai, they begged Aaron to fashion a god for them that they could see, touch, and ultimately control. One thing led to another, and they soon found themselves rationalizing their “needs” so they could indulge in immorality.
You would think they would have already learned their lesson to depend on God alone, but they had to learn this important lesson again. While traveling in the wilderness, they tried to save enough manna to free themselves from the trouble of going out the next day and dependently receiving from God the daily supply of food he provided. Imagine their surprise the next morning when, after sleeping in, they found maggots in their manna. God intended for the Israelites (and us!) to find him to be the “Living Bread.” His desire for Israel and for us is to remain dependent on his daily provision for our hearts and our souls, as well as our stomachs.
Part of learning this dependency is the practice of inviting God to reveal to us which idols he wants us to destroy with his help. It is not work for the faint of heart. A deep look at our sin must involve the necessary trip to the foot of the cross to be cleansed and made new. However, a woman who develops the habit of returning to her Creator again and again will find the cherishing she longs for as she hears her Father remind her of his Calvary love. In his presence, she will receive the courage to love others in new and healthy ways that will continually bless their life here on earth.
As women we can enjoy relationship as God intends. The experience of knowing another’s soul is a privilege that gives us a glimpse of the intimacy we were designed for, as well as point us to the eternal enjoyment of God and his people that awaits our souls. God will reward us with meaningful relationships with other believers as we daily invite him to fill us. Let us enjoy him by uniting our hearts with his. Then we can in turn offer the source of our satisfied hearts to others.
09 Aug 2012
Sex, intimacy, and community
We all yearn to be deeply known, and to be affirmed by the one who deeply knows us. In his book, Washed and Waiting, Wesley Hill explains why intimacy seemed so unattainable for him. As a believer in Jesus with same-sex attraction, celibacy is the choice of faithfulness to God,. Hill found himself holding male relationships at bay for fear that they would be come sexualized, thus already compounding the loneliness he felt.
Does a life without sex mean a life without intimacy? In our culture, we often cheapen sex so that two strangers can casually use each other for their own sexual satisfaction. But we also idolize sex to the point where a deep relationship without sex—heterosexual or homosexual—is considered to limit intimacy. Must intimacy include sex to be complete? If so, intimacy is unattainable for any person committed to celibacy. Such a person must be destined for loneliness.
Building on some of Hill’s observations, we reject this. First, the Bible describes our relationship with the Father as “one” (John 17), the apex of intimacy. God commends us, “For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends” (2 Corinthians 10:18, ESV); he praises us, “But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God” (Romans 2:29): and he loves us sacrificially, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10). There is nothing sexual here, and yet we are deeply known, affirmed, and delighted in by our heavenly Father.
Second, some of the most intimate relationships described within the Bible were not sexual relationships. They weren’t marriages, but rather relationships within the community of believers: Ruth and Naomi, David and Jonathan, John and Jesus, etc.
Hill takes us a step further. Under the guidance of a mentor, he realizes that humanity, as beings of flesh and spirit, requires intimacy of the flesh and spirit. Certainly Jesus meets every need. But he does that partly through providing a flesh-and-spirit community of believers– brothers and sisters with whom we can weep and rejoice. We confess sin to them, receive assurance of forgiveness through them, sustain loving mutual correction among them, and are loved for our good. This is incredibly intimate, unlimited, and not sexualized at all. So there is fulfilling intimacy in the gospel, even for the one who chooses a celibate life!
07 Aug 2012
Washed and Waiting is a series of Christian theological and personal reflections written by a doctoral student who struggles with same-sex attraction. Wesley Hill begins his story as a secret, frightened believer with forbidden yearnings in the church. He ends his biography as an open, integrated member of Christian community who has chosen celibacy as a lifestyle of faithfulness for Christ. The book is almost devotional at points, exploring the spiritual nuances of the gospel as they apply to his struggle. Even if he weren’t addressing same-sex yearnings, he provides us with a model of what growing discipleship looks like as we live in a broken world.
This is not a “success” story. There is little movement away from his same-sex attractions during the course of his story, and Hill says he cannot even imagine what the absence of these desires might look like in his life. But we do see personal transformation in how he increasingly understands and welcomes his celibate struggle as an impetus and means to deepen his relationship with Christ. After all, intimacy and union with Christ are the ultimate goals for all believers.
In the introduction, Hill explains his terminology. He calls himself a “gay Christian” and, more frequently, a “homosexual Christian.” Since we hear this term from those who want to legitimize homosexual relations as a “Christian” alternative, it feels uncomfortable—probably both to those who want to legitimize homosexual practice and to those who reject it. At Harvest USA, we feel that using a sexual orientation qualifier for Christians lessens one’s full and primary identity in Christ (see this blog for an excellent discussion on this topic).
But Hill is absolutely on target in reminding us that there is, and always has been, a slice of the Christian church who have struggled, usually silently, with same-sex attraction while remaining faithful to Christ in their lifestyle. Hill provides a number of well-known names as representatives; there are more than we realize. God calls us in the church to understand, empathize, and support them. Like all of us, whatever our sexual attractions, they are broken people, and Christ walks with them in their suffering.
You can’t take this journey of celibacy without accepting that sin causes basic human brokenness. Same-sex attraction is, like all forms of brokenness, a result of the human race’s fall in Adam. And like all effects of the Fall in our lives, we struggle to attain the goal of personal holiness for which Christ calls all of us to strive as we wait for the coming glory when sexuality will no longer be an issue, and intimacy will be complete in Christ. Those who have a small vision of the coming glory—when the coming of Christ will usher in a restored humanity and world—who see sexual intimacy as a right, and who refuse suffering as part of the spiritual journey, will struggle with Hill’s book. But those who long for deep intimacy with Christ, understand the relational power of Christian community, and find Christian waiting profitable in the long run, will find this book encouraging and full of hope.
04 Dec 2008
Fear is the enemy of love. Fear is the enemy of trust, honesty, sharing of oneself, and thus the enemy of intimacy.
In his book False Intimacy: Understanding the Struggle of Sexual Addiction, Harry Schaumberg defines this concept of false intimacy as essentially a selfish strategy and self-created illusion for a person to avoid the relational pain inherent in real intimacy by pursuing sexual experiences—whether through fantasy, solo sex, or acting out with another person. False intimacy reveals a deep commitment to controlling or managing actual or potential emotional disappointments or pain and seeks emotional comfort, security, peace, and autonomy over the best interests of another person.
How does Schaumberg’s idea relate to the fears and unbelief in your past or present struggles? Fear is the enemy of love, but love is the enemy of fear. Love and truth fight fear and unbelief. (Does this sound like Yoda of Star Wars or a Haikou poem?) If love is a verb, and living in truth means confession, vulnerability, and self-disclosure, then how are you doing in loving God and others, with truthful self-discovery and honest self-disclosure with others? “Heart work” is the hardest work of all.
Since God accepted you and me when we were still enemies (Romans 5:8,10), what have you been so afraid of? What has distorted your vision of God’s goodness and trustworthiness? How are you seeking honest relationships now?
False intimacy—and the fear that drives it—is endemic in our culture, and not just because of porn, which is an extreme variety of avoiding real intimacy and controlling emotions by using real people. Someone has said that the three rules of a dysfunctional family are 1) don’t talk, 2) don’t feel, and 3) don’t trust. Yet we are called to be true brothers, the real family of God, a community of true honesty, acceptance, and mutual support. Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35, ESV). Jesus is against the fear of false intimacy. “Perfect love cast out fear” (1 John 4:18). And, “God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7). The true meaning of Christmas is to set us free from the fears that enslave our hearts.