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.
The #MeToo movement keeps rolling along. As with any new cause, there is a tendency to go overboard and push things too far, but overall what has happened has been a very good thing. As a father who raised a daughter, I worried that she would be taken advantage of and then shamed or scared into silence. What a horrible experience that is for a child, for a young girl or boy to go through! With every outing of such men and their behavior, I say, Good! You finally got caught!
The latest offender in the #MeToo public bullseye is Larry Nassar, the doctor at Michigan State University who has been on trial for sexually abusing more than 100 girls. So many of the men in the news who are accused of sexual violence and misconduct did these things over and over. For years. With victim after victim silenced by power, reputation, fear, and shame.
The details of what they did vary, but what finally brought about the means to stop them was the same. They got caught. That is, someone talked. One woman, and then another, and another, mustered up the courage to give voice to expose such evil. Tragically, horribly, inexcusably, it took years for those voices to be heard. But finally someone listened, and now we are all listening.
We have an expression in our men’s biblical support groups here at Harvest USA:
It’s God’s mercy to you that you got caught.
Here’s what I mean. Many of the men who come to our biblical support groups are married, and they’ve been trapped in pornography. They aren’t sexual predators like Nassar, but in some ways, they are like him. They’ve spent years doing these behaviors, hiding their behavior, lying to their wives and family and looking respectable on the outside, while giving their hearts over to desires that rule them and own them.
A few self-confess and seek help. But the majority have gone so far with their sin, and have staked their livelihoods on their reputation and identity, that outing themselves is unlikely. Getting caught becomes the only way out.
But getting caught does not feel like God’s mercy at all. It feels like hell itself! Their entire world has crashed down upon them. Some have lost jobs, others their marriage and family, all have had their polished public image ripped to shreds.
Sin owns you, and in turn, you own it. The paradox is that while you feed on sinful impulses and desires, it feeds on you.
And then we tell them when they show up at group, “It’s God’s mercy to you that you got caught.”
It takes some time before the men come around to understanding this.
First, they have to acknowledge a strange paradox of human behavior. Rachael Denhollander, the gymnast whose legal action outed Larry Nassar, gave a stirring Christian testimony at Nassar’s sentencing where she touched on that paradox. She spoke about how Nassar pursued his desires to get sexual satisfaction from his victims, while being, at the same time, ruled by those same desires. She said, “You have become a man ruled by selfish and perverted desires, a man defined by his daily choices repeatedly to feed that selfishness and perversion. You chose to pursue your wickedness no matter what it cost others…”
Sin is slavery, said Jesus. “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34). Sin owns you, and in turn, you own it. The paradox is that while you feed on sinful impulses and desires, it feeds on you.
And the first damage it does is to your own heart. Because sin—repeated sin—over time hardens your heart. Hardens it to the point where the heart begins to justify whatever it wants. Freezes it, with little warmth or compassion left for those you hurt because your needs must be met. Eventually, that heart, though made in the image of God and capable of great love and beauty and kindness, becomes the shadow of death to others and to itself.
In her testimony, Rachel then spoke about what repentance and forgiveness would mean for her abuser. “The Bible you carry speaks a final judgment where all of God’s wrath and eternal terror is poured out on men like you. Should you ever reach the point of truly facing what you have done, the guilt will be crushing. And that is what makes the gospel of Christ so sweet. Because it extends grace and hope and mercy where none should be found…I pray you experience the soul-crushing weight of guilt so you may someday experience true repentance and true forgiveness from God…”
All of us will be exposed – either in this life or the one to come. Will you come into the light? The question is whether we will voluntarily come into the light, or get caught.
Getting caught is the best thing to happen to Larry Nassar. Sure, primarily because the evil he did has now been stopped, and justice is now being meted out on him for his crimes. But also for his sake. That is what Rachael is offering him. He now has a chance to face, while still alive in this world, a God whom he would inevitably face in the world to come. Repentance is being offered to him, a chance for him to allow God to restore his heart and his humanity.
Getting caught is the best thing to happen to the men who come into our groups. Only now can they clearly see themselves and their behavior, see the damage it has done to others, the damage to themselves, and fall upon the grace Christ gives only to those who know they are guilty.
If we are honest with ourselves, all of us need to be caught. We need the eyes of others to see us, and we need their voices to speak up when they see us act wrongly. The writer of Hebrews exhorts his readers to do these very things with one another: “But exhort one another…that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13).
Where does this blog find you? Are you still in hiding? Jesus warned, “Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops” (Luke 12:2-3). All of us will be exposed – either in this life or the one to come. Will you come into the light? The question is whether we will voluntarily come into the light, or get caught.
Either way, it’s God’s mercy to us.
Nicholas talks more about this on his accompanying video: Why Is It Good to Get Caught in Your Sin? These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
01 Feb 2018
When you get caught in sin, it’s an awful feeling. No one likes to get called out for their behavior. But when it comes to living your life in secret, getting caught is the best thing that can happen. It’s God’s mercy to you that you got caught. When you come to see that truth, and embrace it, it restores your heart and your humanity.
Click here to read more on what Nicholas is saying on his blog: “Getting Caught Is God’s Mercy: Reflections on Larry Nassar and Repentance”
14 Dec 2017
Like millions of others, I felt another gut punch recently. Another high profile person facing allegations of sexual misconduct, this time NBC personality, Matt Lauer. Really?! Another allegation? Him too? Gut punched. Another nice guy—I thought!—outed for sinful, selfish acts.
Apparently, according to a Google search, there have been more than 80 publicized sexual harassment allegations against actors, politicians, artists, athletes, musicians, corporate titans, and more. The media hasn’t categorized these acts as sin, but instead, have used a variety of words to depict these sexually-selfish actions since the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke in October. Slow down and listen to the sound of these words. Harassment, misconduct, assault, degradation, rape, abuse, inappropriate and non-consensual touching and advances.
Do you fully realize the impact of these acts in the lives of those who have endured them? In my ministry, about 80% of the women who confess their personal struggles with sexual sin to me also confess the sexual sins of others done against them. These kinds of sinful actions inflict long-lasting damage in a woman’s life!
So even though the Matt Lauer story gut-punched me, I have celebrated and done my own fist-pumping over the past months as these allegations have exposed abusers. Exposing sin is important!
Accusations and allegations are one way to address these horrible experiences. When someone alleges the wrong acts of another, she is, essentially, confessing the sin of another; she is exposing, as Ephesians 5:11-13 says, the deeds of darkness, making them visible so that justice might be done.
I wonder how different it would be if some of these men would have come forward and acknowledged their behavior before the allegations outed them.
But although going public was, in perhaps most of these cases, the only way these evil actions could have been exposed, I still grieve that it had to come to that. There is another way, but it places the responsibility on the one accused.
Proverbs 28:13 says, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” Hmm, a sober promise and a sweet one alongside each other. Concealing, or covering up sin, leads to a lack of prospering, or God-honoring success and victory in this life.
Here’s the sweetness of this verse: confessing (honestly acknowledging) and forsaking (intentionally abandoning) our sin against another leads to God’s merciful, compassionate love and forgiveness pouring into one’s soul and life. An instant removal of sin’s consequences and scars? No. Easy, painless restoration? Again, no. But a soul right with God, free of guilt and shame and now enabled to take the next steps of costly obedience? Yes!
I wonder how different it would be if some of these men would have come forward and acknowledged their behavior before the allegations outed them? I know that might be expecting way too much; a great many of these sexual offenses were particularly dark and destructive. Behaviors like these live in the dark, they feed on power and control, and exposure to light is the very thing they avoid at all costs. These men and their behaviors deserve the harsh exposure to light for all to see.
But now I’m thinking of the women I work with. How much different, perhaps, would their lives now be if any of the men—many who were as involved in the church as these women were, men who identified as believers—would have come forward, on their own, and acknowledged their sin. I wonder how many, while continuing to live in fear of being found out, have, at some level, been moved by the cries of those they hurt. But they remain in the darkness because they fear what exposure will do to them.
And the Harvey Weinsteins and the Matt Lauers of this world give them evidence of what can happen.
But God offers a way out, a better way out.
There are consequences and scars from sin that will remain for all of us while we live on this earth. However, God’s way for the damage of sin to be healed (in both offender and offended) is to bring the sin into the light: “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16a).
Have you sinned sexually against someone? Have you pursued someone selfishly, without consent—touching, groping, kissing, sending unsolicited sexual images, speaking sexually derogatory words, manipulating someone into sex, forcing someone? Look, the excuse that many of these men gave that these actions were consensual is pure obfuscation; they pursued what they wanted on their selfish terms. They thought they could get away with it.
Dear man or woman: God is pleading with you to confess and abandon your sin and to be washed in his mercy. But you must “self-allege:” I am a sinner needing grace and Christ’s washing! I am feeling trapped by these behaviors; drawn compulsively toward them. You must forsake and renounce: I will flee this sin, seek the help I need, humbly ask for forgiveness, willingly seek restoration, and courageously entrust the consequences of my obedience to Jesus.
These faith steps will take courage. They will be costly and painful; they will feel humiliating. Your sin has also been costly, painful, and humiliating to those on the receiving end of your selfish acts. But God’s good news is for you! God’s grace and mercy are yours for the taking, yours for what God has wanted to lavish upon you all along: forgiveness and freedom which only comes by dying to self.
And death to self starts with confession.
Watch Ellen talk more about this on her accompanying video: Why is it best for you to confess your own sin? These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
14 Dec 2017
The wave of sexual misconduct allegations is something the likes of which we have not seen. There’s a lot of good coming out of this exposing of sin—terrible sin, overwhelmingly against women. Healing is happening because of this exposure. But a deeper healing is possible if only the offender would take the first step. After 10 years of ministry to women at Harvest USA, Ellen Dykas shares her thoughts on one key way to respond biblically.
Click here to read more on what Ellen is saying on her blog: Confession: Better Than Allegations.
27 Jul 2017
I used to lie in bed at night and pray to not wake up. I wanted to be gone, I wanted it to be gone. I struggled, prayed and did the right things. I still do the right things and put in the work, but I am still, for as long as I can remember, a woman who is attracted to other women. Call it bisexuality or same-sex attraction or fluid sexuality or an abomination or a natural affection, it doesn’t change the fact that my same-sex attraction is unwanted.
I never wanted to be this way. I had enough problems already. Born to an alcoholic mother, abandoned by my father before I was born, placed in foster care at 4 to spend the rest of my childhood in homes that never felt like my own. I was already set apart in the loneliest of ways.
But it’s all I’ve ever known. I would fantasize about my mom coming to rescue me, taking me home and promising to never leave, loving me the way a little girl is supposed to be loved by her mother. It never happened.
To add to the avalanche of painful circumstances, I was sexually abused by a foster father, kissed by a youth pastor, experimented on by a female family member—the list goes on and on of sexual brokenness finding me and owning me.
The fantasies of my mom morphed into fantasies of any woman coming to rescue me, and since much of the affection I received was overly sexualized, these fantasies became sexually charged, too.
Feeling loved, accepted, approved of, and wanted by a woman became the defining pursuit of my life. Since I was abandoned by a woman who didn’t value me or cherish me, in my mind, the only way I would have worth or value was to be loved by a woman. My troubled heart translated friendship into sex, fueled by an intense jealousy.
There was no miraculous removal of these desires from my heart and body. There was only me, wanting to love God with the entirety of my being, even if it meant refusing to act on my feelings, denying myself and putting on Christ every minute of the day.
Amid all this confusion and shame was a deep-seated self-hatred that completely blinded me. I saw nothing in myself worth pursuing. It magnified the worth I placed on other people, especially other girls. I worshipped these peers who were beautiful and loved. I wanted to be with them. I wanted to be them, consume their best traits, I wanted them to worship me in return, and the closest I could get to being them was to engage in a physical relationship with them.
All this time I longed to know Jesus as personally as I could, but I was never enough, never felt whole. I looked for comfort in porn, masturbation, drinking, cutting, and adolescent sexual encounters in alley ways, behind garages, in basements, dark stairwells, with both girls and guys.
I believed this particular struggle was the worst one you could possibly have. The constant crushes on my girl friends, the fear of exposure and rejection, the aching need for connection that was never quite fulfilled brought me to a place where I felt like I had no hope and I sunk into a heavy depression. The shame surrounding this temptation forced me into isolation and despair and a loneliness so deep and dark it made me want to kill myself.
I felt cursed and punished by God, like I was tainted from conception and at one point was convinced that Satan owned me and God was not powerful enough to get me back. I wanted to be a “good Christian girl,” but felt like that would never be me, unless God healed and delivered me. I prayed after I flirted with friends, I prayed after spending the night with a girl, I prayed as I pined away from unrequited love. I prayed alone in bed when the crushing weight of my brokenness could only be alleviated by a blade across my skin.
I begged for healing, but there was no deliverance. There was no miraculous removal of these desires from my heart and body. There was only me, wanting to love God with the entirety of my being, even if it meant refusing to act on my feelings, denying myself and putting on Christ every minute of the day. There was only me, burrowing into God’s heart and begging him to be enough for me, to fill the cavernous emptiness inside me, to comfort me with his love so completely that I wouldn’t settle for a love that feels good but draws me further from his heart with every flutter in my stomach, every furtive kiss, every secret touch.
When I was 19, homeless and hopeless, I was faced with the choice to pursue God or pursue a woman I was in a relationship with. I had an opportunity to move to Chicago to serve in a ministry I could make my home, where I could be discipled and known. God spoke to me, telling me my sexuality was expressed out of brokenness, loss, and grief. I knew, even in the darkest, dirtiest corner of my heart, that if I acted on my desires, I would be choosing to live from my fear, my deficit, my huge, gaping mother-wound.
I made a deal with God. I told him I would go. I promised that I would stop living a double life and be painfully honest about what I was wrestling with, that I would answer any question with absolute truth. I also told him that if He didn’t meet me in Chicago I would never go back to him. I kept my end and he did too. I was taught the transforming energy of transparency and confession, the desperate need for accountability, and the expulsive power of a new affection.
Healing has a different meaning now. . . I’ve learned the power of healing is in its ongoing nature. It’s not a point in time, but a living, breathing Thing with seasons of lying fallow and flowering flush, of flooding the plain and feeding from beneath the surface.
A few years ago a woman I knew was writing a piece about faith and homosexuality, and I offered her my story. She let me down easy, telling me that she wasn’t in the market for any “ex-gay” stories. I wish ex-gay referred to me. I wish I could be summed up that easily. But nobody can be reduced to so few syllables.
For myself, I don’t find it helpful to allow myself to identify as gay. My sexuality does not define my identity. It’s a small part of it but not enough for me to choose to identify by it. I am so many other things than same-sex attracted. I identify more accurately as a sci-fi geek girl than a girl-who-likes-girls.
Pursuing wholeness, for me, doesn’t look like becoming fully heterosexual. It looks like honoring God through obedience in mind and body. Putting on Christ, dwelling in him, suffering with him, and experiencing transformational change that draws me closer and deeper, as I live out and live in the God-breathed Word that saves and heals.
I love God. I want to live a whole life. I may not be able to choose being same-sex attracted, but I can choose what I do with it. Nobody chose it for me. I chose a life of drawing near to God as best I could every day. I chose to say no to myself in a hundred different ways, not just when I wanted to hook up with the cute girl I just met, or look up that high school crush that almost was. The other hundred ways I say no to myself are the ones that might not be as flashy and dramatic, but they matter just as much, if not more.
I’m 44 years old. I’ve been married to a man I love for almost 20 years. I have a beautiful daughter who I smother with love and attention so she knows, in her deepest places, that she is loved, valued, wanted, and cherished. I am still attracted to women, I still feel the pull sometimes, I still struggle with crushes and fantasies. But it doesn’t control me anymore. I am not overpowered by it. I am not without hope. Even though it doesn’t look or feel the way I want it to, my prayers have been heard and answered, and God’s promises of faithfulness and a future have defined my life and identity more than my attractions.
I no longer daydream about being rescued by my mother or a lover or a friend, I am already rescued by Jesus who loves me like a father and a mother. When I left my first foster home, the mom put a little prayer card in my hand. It had that classic image of a child leaning into God’s hand with the verse from Isaiah: “Behold, I will not forget you, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” I can still picture it. I still lean into that truth.
It’s taken years of counseling, group therapy, prayer, hard choices, vulnerability, excruciating confessions, and brutal honesty. It’s taken a strong community-now-family, good friends and a great husband, but I am more convinced every day that I am delighted in, rejoiced over, comforted, forgiven, and deeply, truly loved.
Healing has a different meaning now. I always assumed that its significance was only in its past tense, but I’ve learned the power of healing is in its ongoing nature. It’s not a point in time, but a living, breathing Thing with seasons of lying fallow and flowering flush, of flooding the plain and feeding from beneath the surface. Deliverance has also showed me a new facet of its many sides. I was so obsessed with being delivered from same-sex attraction that I forgot that I was being delivered to something, or rather, Someone. And that was the more needful thing.
You can learn more about same-sex attraction and homosexuality by purchasing our 15-session video series, God’s Design for Sexuality in a Changing Culture, which is perfect for Sunday school and small group settings. And to read more from Tammy, check out our Spring 2017 harvestusa magazine.
01 Jun 2017
In the Bible, living out one’s faith is sometimes referred to as a race. A race we are called to run well—and that includes living with our sexuality. Living a life of sexual integrity means that our focus needs to be on Jesus through every struggle we face and looking at the goal toward which God is calling us.
Click here to dig deeper into what Ellen is saying on Ellen’s blog: Women: Running the Race Well—Part 4.
01 Jun 2017
I hope my first three blogs in this series have helped you consider taking some practical steps to increasingly live with sexual integrity in your life and your relationships.
We’ve looked at how, by faith, we need to throw off anything that distracts or hinders us (blog 1); to learn how to persevere through tough times and not give up (blog 2); and to watch over our hearts to discern when discouragement and discontentment will set us up for failure (blog 3).
In this final blog on making progress in living a life of sexual integrity, here’s the fourth thing we need to do: to keep Jesus and the race he ran in the front of our minds and hearts. It’s this fourth thing that undergirds all the others in pursuing sexual integrity.
We need to take encouragement to put on the mind of Christ, who himself kept one primary goal in his mind during his race.
It’s both an encouragement and a challenge for me to ponder this exhortation: “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13, ESV).
Peter’s words encourage me when I’m weary or discouraged. Sometimes life feels overwhelmingly tough, even when it has nothing to do with sexual integrity! Or sometimes old temptations rise back up, and I can feel shame in finding myself struggling with the same thing again. But if I prepare my mind for action, I can turn towards God and trusted friends for help and encouragement right when I need it.
Just last week a friend helped me become “sane” again when I was struggling with the seedling of an old sin pattern that emerged again. Her text message to me read, “We need to pray together about this before it grows into something bigger!”
In pride, I hesitated at first but then welcomed the invitation to confess, examine, and pray with someone about the situation. My friend helped me set my hope on Christ, that he would give me what I needed, and that kept me from spiraling inward and getting stuck in examining my temptation, rather than fixing my eyes on Christ and his very present help for me.
Now, there’s everything right in examining our hearts and gaining clarity on the temptations facing us, but we can do that and not take the next step. It’s the next step that is crucial!
I needed to have my thinking reoriented by both the present grace and the future grace that Christ gives me. I needed to hope again in what God can do in and through my present struggles (read that verse in 1 Peter again).
Peter’s words challenge me that I must also put my hope in the grace which is to come: the ultimate redemption which will fill the earth upon Christ’s return. It’s so important to practice redemptive remembering both backward and forward: that Christ has finished his race and that the glorious and final overcoming of sin, death, and the kingdom of darkness is coming. It is still yet to come, but it IS coming!
OK, you say, how does looking ahead help me now in my present struggles with pornography, or sexual fantasy, or unholy relationships that I get myself entangled in?
Remember earlier when I said to put on the mind of Christ, who himself kept one primary goal in his mind during his race? We need to realize that Jesus had us in mind when he endured temptation and suffering!
Hebrews 12: 2-3 says, “…looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross…Consider him who endured such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.”
Thinking about, reflecting upon, meditating on Jesus’ sufferings and his obedience through everything he endured is the key way we faithfully walk our race of faith.
Our mind is to have Christ in mind; our goal is to honor Christ, to glorify him, in how we grow to trust him and live for him.
Jesus’ mind was to have us in his mind; his goal was to anticipate the joy he would have when his death and resurrection secured our place with him.
“…who for the joy set before him endured the cross…”
There is a finish line. Look at it, like Jesus did. All of human history is moving toward Revelation 4 and 21, which speaks of Jesus sitting on the throne, the One who will wipe away every tear from our eyes. All sin, death, suffering, every struggle you have had in running this race of faith will be overturned; everything will be made new (Revelation 21:5).
And then you will fully believe that it was all worth it.
Sisters, don’t live and act like this life is all there really is. Don’t live out of the acronym FOMO (fear of missing out) and think and live sexually in ways that dishonor Christ because you are not getting your needs met.
RUN, sisters, RUN this race of faith with sexual integrity! Find running companions. Don’t try to go solo. As Hebrews 12 says, when our hands are drooping and our knees are wobbly and weak, God sends encouragement through other believers, other runners in the race of faith.
Let’s together help one another to grow in living with sexual integrity, urging one another to look to Jesus when this dark world distracts or entices us.
We can persevere in this life of faith by considering Jesus: our great High Priest, our Loving Savior, the One who sat down on the throne…and is coming again to complete the work he has started!
You can watch Ellen talk more on this subject here in her video, Running the Race Well—Part 4. These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
Updated 6.13.2017, 5.31.2018
25 May 2017
In the Bible, living out one’s faith is sometimes referred to as a race. A race we are called to run well—and that includes living with our sexuality. Living a life of sexual integrity involves what Ellen calls “staying in our lane.” God has marked out a path for us, and it is in that very path that we grow and prosper. Not outside of that lane.