Coming Home: a story in 3 parts

by Elizabeth

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1. We landed in L.A. for an 18-hour layover after what was perhaps the Most Turbulent Flight Ever. Then we headed to an airport hotel to sleep off some jet lag (courtesy of my husband, the Expert Trip Planner).

The next morning after breakfast, we walked around to get some sun so we could keep fighting off the dreaded jet lag. And lo and behold, what did I see? Only my very favorite plant: the magnificent palm tree.

(There were also succulents, which may just need to be added to my list of favorite plants.)

And I thought to myself, maybe the part of my soul that longs for palm trees really can be satisfied on this soil. I think on some level I knew America had palm trees, but I’d never been in a place to see them before. It was a welcoming sight.

 

2. That next day as we settled in to our last flight, we ran into an old family friend. (Actually, it was the minister who performed my husband’s grandfather’s funeral, and his wife.)

As we chatted, the husband said, “Heading home?” And I nodded and said, “yes” — because we are, and that’s the way most people talk about these trips anyway.

But then he paused, for maybe only half a second, and said: “Heading home, on your way from home.”

Yes. We’re heading home, on our way from home. And I THANKED him for that statement, because it’s the truest way of describing this strange mobile life, and not everyone takes the time to acknowledge that truth.

We are, ever and always, heading home on our way from home.

 

3. Friends and family greeted us at the airport and helped us load our luggage into their vehicles. In the car I talked with my parents some and listened to my parents talk to my kids some. I was tired.

We passed plenty of places that looked just the same, and we passed plenty of places where new homes and businesses had sprung up. The highway doesn’t look quite the same as it did when I was growing up.

But the moment we turned onto the street that heads to my parents’ house, I knew I was home. It may have been 2 1/2 years since I’ve seen it, but it seemed like I had driven that road only yesterday.

And so I am Home. It’s a good feeling.

Announcing Elizabeth’s new book!

Jonathan has been working hard behind the scenes to compile and edit my new book, Hats: Reflections on Life as a Wife, Mother, Homeschool Teacher, Missionary, and More. What can I say? He’s my biggest fan. (This whole project was his idea, in fact.)

The book is available in both Kindle and paperback formats, and I’ll share the cover and the foreword below. I also want to say thank you so much for reading us both over the past 6 years!

With love, Elizabeth

P.S. If you read the book and like it, I would absolutely love it if you left an Amazon review. It helps other people find the book. Thank you so much!!

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No matter your background or experiences, being a woman is hard. That’s partly because being a human is hard. It’s also due to the many roles we women tend to carry in life. Daughter, sister, friend. Professional, mother, wife. Marriage and motherhood are indeed holy vocations, and they require much of a woman. Whether we work outside the home or from within it, our vocations sometimes stretch us so much that we fear we will break.

The truth is, there’s not a lot of preparation for marriage or motherhood. Certainly, we can read books. We can read books on how to have a great sex life or how to build a godly marriage or how to live out biblical submission, but when it really comes down to it, we marry a human person, not a book, and our husbands also marry a human person – us. A lot of marriage is simply trying new ways of doings things and seeing if they work (including, at times, seeking professional or pastoral help).

It’s the same with motherhood. We can read books on natural childbirth, healthy homemade baby food, and the most godly parenting – or the most logical. But nothing can really prepare us for meeting our child, some mysterious arrangement of our own DNA, or someone else’s. No one can prepare us for their likes or their dislikes, their strengths or their weaknesses. We have to discover these things for ourselves, over time.

What follows in this book is precisely that: the things I’ve discovered over time. There are articles and essays on marriage, motherhood, homeschooling, and the Christian life. In case you don’t know me, here’s a bit of background: As of this writing I’ve been married for nearly 18 years, having gotten married at the age of 18. I’ve been a ministry wife almost that entire time and have been living overseas as a missionary wife for the past 6 years. I’ve been a mom for 14 years and have been homeschooling for 9.

This book is my lived experience wearing all those hats.

You can purchase the book here!

Women have desire too: the thing we overlook when we talk about the Billy Graham Rule

by Elizabeth

So I decided to weigh in on the Billy Graham Rule. Sounds risky, I know. But realize before you read this that I’m not attempting either to criticize a rule OR to make new rules for people. I’m just reflecting on the atmosphere of sexual teaching I’ve personally encountered in Christian culture.

I’m not assuming that my interpretation of Christian sexual teaching is universal or even up-to-date. I speak only from my experience growing up in 1990’s middle America. Church culture in various places and in various times will likely be different, as will each of our interpretations of said church culture.

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Growing up in the Church, I didn’t get the sense that the power of a woman’s sexual desire was really acknowledged. A woman’s sexual attractiveness was certainly acknowledged; young men were taught how to fight their attraction to women, and women were taught how to cover their attractiveness. This led to an idea of women as temptresses, but only so far as their appearance goes. The temptation and attraction of the female wasn’t at the soul-level. It was only skin deep.

We were taught that women didn’t have the strong sexual desires or visual natures that men had. This of course meant that no one taught girls how to keep their sexuality under control in any way other than their clothing choices.

I think this does a grave disservice to both men and women. Men become dehumanized through this view: they are greedy creatures who must be sexually satisfied at all costs and who are incapable of looking beyond a woman’s appearance to see her soul. It reduces sexual desire to physical appearance, while I believe sexual desire is very much rooted in the emotional and spiritual.

Women fall by the wayside when we see through this lens. Girls are not taught how powerful their desires can become. They are not taught that forming an intimate emotional relationship with a man could stoke their sexual desire in ways that are later difficult to manage. They’re only taught that they must keep their bodies under wraps so that the men can manage their desires. But girls aren’t taught that they themselves might need to control their desire or given any practical ways to do so.

So the thing that concerns me about the Billy Graham Rule conversation is not whether it is wise to follow it, or whether it is legalistic to follow it. What concerns me is the way the conversation seems to reduce women to an object of desire and not a source of desire.

Perhaps I do not fully understand the conversation, but this is the way I see it: When we talk about women as temptations to men (because we tend to think more about the ways the Billy Graham rule protects men), we are talking about the way women’s bodies are tempting. The impression I receive, then, is that if a man is in a room alone with a woman, he won’t be able to contain his sex drive, especially if that woman is considered societially “beautiful.”

The way I hear it discussed seems to me almost to border on harassment or assault, the way a man wouldn’t be able to control himself in a woman’s presence. In this view a woman tempts a man passively but not consensually. I think this is ludicrous. It means we don’t think men have any self-control at all. It means we don’t think of men as being fully human with a mind and a will that can make self-sacrificing choices.

I know, through both personal experience and years’ worth of conversation and reading, that there is an abundance of bad men in this world. Many men are willing to take advantage of women’s physical and social weaknesses. But I have also met an abundance of good men who respect women as fellow humans and would not dream of taking advantage of them.

I’m deeply bothered when I sense men and women being categorized so simplistically. Men are not merely dominators who, at the same time, are helpless in the face of a pretty woman. And women are not merely seductresses unaware of their overpowering attraction to men. People are more complex than that.

Whether couples or singles choose to follow the Billy Graham Rule should depend on their personal and shared histories. It should depend on their consciences and their circumstances. But it should not depend on a distorted view of male and female sexuality.

For myself, having lived nearly 37 years as a woman in a woman’s body, I will say that if I were going to follow the Billy Graham Rule (but spoiler alert: we don’t), the reason would not be because I don’t trust men to control themselves. No, the reason would be because I don’t trust myself.

I know how strong sexual desire can become. If my husband and I remained virgins before marriage, I have to credit him with the “no.” I cannot possibly credit myself. The strength of desire surprised me — I think in large part because of the pervading idea that women aren’t sexual beings in the same way men are. But perhaps my experience is singular. Perhaps other women did not grow up in an environment that minimized their sex drives.

It is for these reasons that I consider my own self as a potential source of desire. Even as someone enjoying a very happy marriage, I have to be honest and say that temptation or attraction can still occur. This statement is true for both of us (and yes, we talk about these things). Temptation happens simply because human desire is powerful — including the female desire that is too often neglected in these Billy Graham Rule conversations.

So what I wish for the world is not that we would universally follow the Billy Graham Rule or universally disregard it. What I wish is that we could have more and better conversations about temptation and about what it means to be a human made in the image of God.

I don’t want us to treat other human beings as primarily sexual beings, thus reducing their humanity. Nor do I want us treat ourselves and others as immune to temptation, thus living in ignorance and arrogance. What I wish is that the world could be a place where both men and women truly see each other as the fellow humans that we are.

I want us to know ourselves and our spouses well enough that we know what kinds of boundaries to place around our marriages and our other relationships. I want us to pour into our marriages and live in love and trust with each other. I want men and women to be able to relate to each other in the Church and in the workplace with interest, integrity, and respect.

I want us to understand so deeply who God created us to be that we won’t waste time arguing over legalities but will work to build up the image of God in each other through thoughtful conversations, safe relationships, and a shared wonder and worship of the Maker of all things.

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Thoughtful readings on the Billy Graham Rule/Modesty Culture:

Misogyny in Missions by Jonathan Trotter

Misogyny in Missions Part 2 by Tanya Crossman

Women are Scary (and other lessons modesty culture teaches men) by Jonathan Trotter

It’s Not Billy Graham Rule or Bust by Tish Harrison Warren

An Open Letter to Men Who Broke the Billy Graham Rule by Tish Harrison Warren

A Few of My Favorite Things {March/April 2018}

by Elizabeth

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Ballet performance. We attended our local ballet school’s performance, which featured both expat dance students and Cambodian dance students. There were goose bumps, jaw drops, and tears all around. The first half was classical ballet and simply delightful to watch. The second half was a faith-inspired piece about Grace. I think most members of our family cried at some point during the performance.

Easter Vigil. Each year a large section of the community shows up for the Anglican church’s Easter services. It had been 3 years since I’d attended the Vigil, but I knew I wanted to make time for it this year; sometimes you just have to set aside time to focus on God. In addition to the rich liturgy and meaningful worship, our homeschool group performed a shadow theater version of the Creation story during the service. The depiction of the Fall was so moving that I cried through the next two songs. I could only start to sing again on the third. There is just something different about the way drama and dance speak to our souls. I’ll quote some of the more moving liturgy in the Quotes section.

Velvet Ashes online retreat. I was able to get away with a friend for two nights right after we finished our school year (yay!) (but I have a high schooler now — just how did that happen??). We don’t get to spend a lot of time together, so that in itself was precious, but the testimony and teaching videos also prompted some really valuable conversation. There’s something about discussing the ideas together that holds you accountable to actually process your life. Doing the retreat alone, while valuable for getting some time and space away from normal life, doesn’t force you to process in quite the same way. The worship provided by Eine Blume was fantastic – especially the first two songs. They’re much better with music, but since you don’t have access to the music, I’ll just have to quote the lyrics in the Quotes section. They’ve been on repeat in my head and in my mouth.

Co-op Performance. This is always the highlight of our school semester. It’s hard work, but the children always feel so accomplished when they’re done. The youngest children performed while a parent narrated the Creation story, and our director (who is also a dancer and dance instructor) performed along with them. The first time I watched her lead the children in the acts of creation, I wept for the beauty and the truth of it. Like I said before, the performing arts just do something in our souls that words alone can’t do, and I won’t attempt to explain such a visceral experience here. I don’t think I could if I tried. But I can tell you it took me by surprise — I hadn’t expected the little kids’ play to touch me on such a deep level.

As for the teens, this time around, they wrote their own script and were both funny and insightful. I have to say, even thought I taught co-op classes in the States, I have never formed relationships like this with my co-op students. I have gotten to know each of their personalities and come to cherish their creative work. I’ve taught them math and science and seen them come alive with curiosity. I’ve seen them create art projects so different from one another yet all so fascinating and beautiful. And I’ve watched them perform plays, each time marveling at the gifts God has given them. In an environment absent of tests and grades, we are free to enjoy each person completely apart from academics — and I do. I always thought that in an alternate life I would have become a math or chemistry teacher, mainly because I love math and science. What I didn’t realize then was how I could fall in love with my students, and how that love for them would keep me wanting to teach. I’m especially nostalgic this semester because we are losing 5 teen students to high school graduation or family repatriation. Life will not be the same again in the fall.

Date with my husband. He got a rare weekday off, and we stole 4 hours for ourselves. It was magical.

Sculpt and Burn Body Blitz (a Denise Austin workout DVD). Someone gave this to me several years ago, but for some unknown reason I never used it. I was getting bored with the same old workout DVDs I had been using, so I pulled this one out and gave it a try. Such great workouts, and such good variety. Although I will say, when it gets this hot in Cambodia, I don’t do a whole lot of exercising!

 

BOOKS

Humble Roots by Hannah Anderson. I’m reading this for the Velvet Ashes book club, and let me assure you the book is even better than the description. It is profound and practical. I really appreciate Anderson’s footnotes. They often balance out anything she was trying to say, which is usually already seasoned with grace. I love finding such nuanced, thoughtful writers.

Busman’s Honeymoon by Dorothy Sayers. I loved Gaudy Night, but it was long and at times stretched my brain too much. Lord Peter and Harriet Vane got together at the end, and I didn’t feel like committing to an entire detective novel after their marriage. But after finishing Sayers’ book of short stories, including “Talboys,” which took place several years after Peter and Harriet’s wedding (and which wasn’t published until after Sayers’ death), I knew I had to read Busman’s Honeymoon. In “Talboys,” Lord Peter turned into a hilarious, understanding, and practical father, and Harriet kept her sharp mind even after motherhood. And the novel Busman’s Honeymoon did not disappoint. British romance is understated, certainly, but I got to know Peter’s and Harriet’s hearts in a way I never had before. Both the novel and the short story are deeply satisfying.

Malcolm Guite’s Holy Week cycle of sonnets in Sounding the Seasons. Takes a while to get through the entire Holy Week cycle, but I’m glad I took the time to read them. You can access them online at Guite’s blog. Begin with Palm Sunday, and just keep clicking forward until you get to Easter Day.

Napoleon’s Buttons by Penny Le Couteur and Jay Burreson. I finished this book. It gave me a new appreciation for history — and man’s depravity. Helps connect the dots between my understanding of science and history. Both sobering and enlightening.

Exploring the History of Medicine by John Hudson Tiner. I read this to my middle kids for science and really enjoyed it myself. It’s mostly narrative so you can really grasp the progression of medical knowledge and practice through the ages.

 

QUOTES

From the Anglican liturgy:

“Holy and gracious Father: In your infinite love you made us for yourself, and, when we had fallen into sin and become subject to evil and death, you, in your mercy, sent Jesus Christ, your only and eternal Son, to share our human nature, to live and die as one of us, to reconcile us to you, the God and Father of all. He stretched out his arms upon the cross, and offered himself, in obedience to your will, a perfect sacrifice for the whole world.”

From a Kenyan (also Anglican) liturgy:

“All our problems of this life on earth, we send to the cross of Christ.
All the difficulties of our circumstances, we send to the cross of Christ.
All the devil’s works from his temporary power, we send to the cross of Christ.
All our hopes for wholeness and eternal life, we set on the Risen Christ.”

Paschal Troparion (5th century Orthodox “Resurrection hymn”), sung by Eine Blume:

“Christ is risen from the dead, He’s trampling down death by death.
And to those in the grave, He’s given life, He’s given life.”

“There is no fear in love,” also by Eine Blume:

“There is no fear in your love. There is no shame in your light. Only the laughter of God, seeking the dead back to life.

There is no fear in your love. There is no shame in your light. Only the mercy of God, only impossible life.”

Ephrem of Syria, 4th century A.D. (found through Kathleen Norris’s Cloister Walk, which I picked up again this month):

Have mercy, O Lord, on my children.
In my children, call to mind your childhood,
You who were a child.
Let them that are like your childhood
Be saved by your grace.

 

ON EDUCATION – HOME, PUBLIC, AND UNIVERSITY

Why American Students Haven’t Gotten Better at Reading in 20 Years at The Atlantic.

“The implication is clear. The best way to boost students’ reading comprehension is to expand their knowledge and vocabulary by teaching them history, science, literature, and the arts, using curricula that that guide kids through a logical sequence from one year to the next.”

(Hmmm this modern research-based advice sounds suspiciously like Charlotte Mason one hundred years ago: knowledge is food for the mind, and children crave it.) (Here again we see the way children in poorer communities miss out educationally while wealthy kids suffer less, even in struggling school districts.)

The New Preschool is Crushing Kids, also at The Atlantic.

“Here’s what the Finns, who don’t begin formal reading instruction until around age 7, have to say about preparing preschoolers to read: ‘The basis for the beginnings of literacy is that children have heard and listened … They have spoken and been spoken to, people have discussed [things] with them … They have asked questions and received answers.’ For our littlest learners, what could be more important than that?”

Students Think They Can Suppress Speech Because Colleges Treat Them Like Customers at Washington Post. Interesting.

A Case for Contemporary Poetry at CiRCE Institute. Makes me feel justified in my love of Malcolm Guite’s poetry.

Every Dumb Plan in Hamlet, Ranked, also at CiRCE. I laughed!

 

THIRD CULTURE KIDS AND GLOBAL NOMADS

Stop Blaming Your Host Country for All of Your Issues by Jerry Jones. True. And also sometimes, ouch.

Failed Missionaries and “But God. . . “ by Marilyn Gardner. Honest and humble. A wise response to some of the “missions conversations” circling around lately (or always).

Are Transition Talks Increasing MK Angst? by Michele Phoenix. Intriguing question that can only be answered through person-to-person conversation.

10 Questions to Routinely Ask Your TCKS by Lauren Wells. A treasure trove of conversation starters — all of them pretty deep.

 

AT THE INTERSECTION OF THEOLOGY AND CULTURE

What We Lost When We Lots Hymnals by Tim Challies. I’m a lifelong hymn lover. In fact our family keeps three copies of our favorite hymnal, Songs of Faith and Praise, in our house for devotional singing. I’m also (confession time) a lyrics and melody snob. (I need depth! I need beauty!) So I appreciated these thoughts.

Eggs, Peanuts, and the Wedding Supper of the Lamb by Jim Miller. As both a parent of a kiddo with dietary restrictions and a person longing for the new heaven and new earth all on my own, I appreciated this post.

For Tenebrae: A Liturgy for Those Who Weep Without Knowing Why at The Rabbit Room. If, after Easter, you still need to spend some time weeping, here’s your link.

The F-Word: Why Feminism is Not the Enemy by Amy Peterson. Thoughtful, Christ-centered, and historically researched.

Adam Could Have No Name by Joshua Gibbs. Hefty food for thought.

6 Privileges of Living in a Wealthy Country by Amy Medina. Just some things to be aware of, if you live in a wealthy/developed country and have never visited a less wealthy/developed country.

The Vast Difference Between What We Think and What We Love by Rebecca Reynolds. Convicting.

 

ON RACE RELATIONS

Matt Chander Says That When He Preaches About Race, White People Accuse Him of Being Liberal at Relevant. An important acknowledgement. We need to really think about how we label people. I respect Chandler for even trying to talk about race.

A Quiet Exodus: Why Black Worshipers are Leaving White Evangelical Churches at The New York Times.

Why America’s Black Mothers and Babies Are in a Life-or-Death Crisis by Linda Villarosa. This claim is unfortunately supported by robust data — you have to have reliable data to make a claim like this one — and it broke my heart. As an educated white woman, I only ever encountered one medical professional who didn’t believe my symptoms (an ER nurse, who was rightfully chastened when the OB/GYN came in and diagnosed a real issue). And I remember being so irritated at that nurse for not believing me. To think that that kind of treatment is the default for so many black women in America, and to know that their medical outcomes are so much worse (yes, even when adjusted for income and education), is horrifying. They know now that this a particularly American problem, as women in Africa do not have these worse outcomes (you can read the whole article to understand the details). The researchers believe that it’s not only that the medical system in America tends to disregard black women’s health concerns; the very fact of enduring their whole lives under systemic racism puts so much stress on their bodies that they have more pregnancy-related medical issues than can be accounted for by poverty alone. The proposed solution is beautiful — community-based care — but can be difficult to implement on tight budgets. Long, sobering, and important.

 

PODCASTS AND VIDEOS

Guys, We Have a Problem: How American Masculinity Creates Lonely Men on NPR.

Still Evangelical? With Karen Swallow Prior by the Story Men podcast (I went to high school with one of the hosts). I’ve read small portions of Prior’s work at Christianity Today. Karen blows me away with her knowledge and wisdom.

Walking the Tightrope. I explained on Facebook why I love this Greatest Showman song so very much.

From Now On. Also from Greatest Showman. Such a powerful song, sung at the end of a long, mistake-riddled journey. And isn’t it everyone’s deepest longing, to come back home?

Seth Meyers’ birth story. I laughed hysterically. Then I cried.

 

WORSHIP MUSIC

Is He Worthy? by Andrew Peterson. A new congregational song full of longing and hope.

Christ Will Hold Me Fast by Keith and Kristyn Getty. Comforting.

Across the Lands by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend. We sang this song at the Easter Vigil. Captivated me. Read all the lyrics here.

The Lion and the Lamb by Leeland Dayton Mooring, Brenton Brown, and Brian Johnson. Not new to me, but sung at the Vigil. Powerful.

O Praise the Name (Anastasis) by Hillsong. Such a perfect Easter song. We didn’t sing it on Easter but sang it the next week.

Forever by Kari Jobe, Brian Johnson, Christa Black Gifford, Gabriel Wilson, Jenn Johnson, Joel Taylor. Speaking of Easter songs, we did sing this one on Easter Sunday. Resurrection songs never get old for me.

This I Believe (The Creed) by Hillsong. Sang it during a baptism service. I love this song, I love remembering the truth of this song, and I love it when a congregation proclaims together.

What Christians Can Learn From a New York Times Article About Sleeping With Married Men

by Elizabeth

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The New York Times recently published an article by Karin Jones entitled, “What Sleeping With Married Men Taught Me About Infidelity.” A friend shared it, and I read it. I found I had a lot to say about it, so I commented on my friend’s Facebook share, where it received so much positive feedback that I thought I’d share it here. But my response will make more sense if you take the time to read the article first.

My worldview obviously differs from the author’s – in fact I might say it diverges greatly – but I think she makes some important observations. My thoughts on this subject are influenced, of course, by nearly 18 years of marriage. But they are also greatly informed by my husband’s readings on relationships and sex.

Before you think that sounds too weird, let me explain why he reads extensively about these issues: he works with a lot of couples in his pastoral counseling ministry. For the record, I don’t know who any of his clients are; I only know about the ideas in his books. (The only exception to this would be when a client of his walks up to me and announces, “Your husband is my counselor.” This is not frequent but has occasionally been known to happen.)

And now that I’ve finished all my caveats, we can move on to my thoughts about the New York Times article.

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I know it might sound crazy to say this, but I think a lot of “Christian” wisdom is not super helpful to marriage and that we can learn from “secular” or research-based sources. First off, sex is more important to a marriage than we in Christian circles sometimes like to think. Dr. Barry McCarthy, author of the 2015 book Sex Made Simple: Clinical Strategies for Sexual Issues in Therapy, claims that a counselor simply cannot afford to treat only the communication/relationship aspect of a marriage and assume good sex will follow.

Rather, McCarthy claims, sex must be addressed separately and intentionally, in addition to other relationship needs. Sex is too important to the marriage for a counselor to be silent on the issue. And it’s highly complex and individual. This is part of the reason it needs purposeful addressing, though even many counselors are uncomfortable talking about it.

The research shows that couples in America are having less and less sex, with a good percentage (around 15%) being in what is considered a “sexless marriage” (sex 10 times a year or less). The research also shows that when a couple stops having sex, it’s more often the husband’s decision, not the wife’s (this information was also found in McCarthy’s book, where he quotes H. Feldman’s 1994 article in the Journal of Urology).

The fact that sexlessness was primarily dependent on the man was news to me as women often get slandered in culture for being “frigid.” This mischaracterization seems key to common “Christian” teaching that women want affection and connection, while men want sex. Research shows that this traditional approach is unhelpful in the sexual arena: women want good sex too. This is something the author of the New York Times article touched on and something proponents of the traditional view often neglect. God made us all sexual beings, and satisfying sex is important for both spouses in a marriage.

Another aspect of relationships that the article’s author noted was that men do not just want sex. They want connection and affection as well. Maybe it’s modern American culture, or maybe it’s American “Christian” culture, or maybe it’s both, but men are sometimes expected to be emotionless and connectionless in favor of more “manly” behavior.

If you want support for that claim, you can listen to this radio program about the way men’s human needs are marginalized in modern American culture. I think the church needs to push back against this aspect of mainstream culture and show a better way — one based in our foundational beliefs of a relational Godhead and of humans created in God’s image. The Bible is actually good news for culture, even when culture accuses it of being otherwise.

This artificial differentiation between men’s needs and women’s needs is unhelpful for marriage and society in general. Men are images of God as well as women, and God is a relational God. Men and women both want loving, secure attachments, and men and women both want satisfying sex. I wish we didn’t have some of these stereotypes, stereotypes I learned before marriage as important for maintaining a happy marriage: a man should give his wife the affection she so desires, so that she will be more willing to give him the sex he so desires.

(In my mind this teaching is parallel to the teaching that women only need love and men need respect, which I believe is categorically untrue. Both men and women need both love and respect, and behaving otherwise treats human beings as too one-dimensional and cheats them both of intimacy and relational fulfillment. But I digress.)

The Bible does not even support this idea of “his needs, her needs” or “women give sex to get love and men give love to get sex.” The woman in Song of Solomon showed strong sexual desire and initiation. Paul, often accused of being misogynistic (though I no longer think he was), told married couples that sex goes both ways — the wife’s body belongs to her husband, and the husband’s body belongs to his wife’s. Meaning: the woman has desire too. Men aren’t the only ones who want sex. It seems to me that sex is actually a place in marriage where our theology gets worked out, but we rarely think about it that way.

I do appreciate the author’s note that even the urge to have an affair could be the beginning of an important conversation in marriage. Of course we as Christians believe this: temptation does not inevitably lead to sin. Temptation can be a wake-up moment and lead to increased marital intimacy, but only if we, like the author suggests, are willing to be honest with ourselves and with our spouses.

If we desire something we are not currently experiencing, we need to talk to our spouses about it, and not (if the Bible is our authority) seek out extramarital affairs. Research from the Gottman Institute indicates that being able to talk about sexual issues is essential to sexual satisfaction:  “Only 9% of couples who can’t comfortably talk about sex with one another say that they’re satisfied sexually.”

Meaning: if you can’t talk about sex with each other, the likelihood that you’re having mutually satisfying sex is pretty low. But, like Jones explains in her article, talking about sex can be risky. You might find out something about yourself that you don’t want to know. You might feel rejected. And that was apparently too high a risk for the married men she was sleeping with.

Esther Perel, who is referenced in the article, has a fascinating TED talk on the interplay and tension between love and desire. I’ve actually watched it several times as I believe its vocabulary is helpful. It may not be specifically Christian teaching, but there is nothing anti-biblical about it. It frames the monogamy conversation better than it has sometimes been framed, and I encourage you to watch it (TED talks are, after all, fairly short).

The Bible seems to indicate that the intimacy — including sexual intimacy — that we can experience in marriage is only a small picture of God’s love for us and what He intends for us to experience with Him for all eternity. So it only makes sense that Satan would attack our sexuality as it is intended to be lived out, both before marriage and in marriage.

Our cultures are obsessed with sex, but according to research, few people are actually having mutually emotionally and physically satisfying sex. So the ways we as a culture are seeking sexual fulfillment are not working. We’re seeking it in all the wrong ways. Sometimes because terrible things have been done to us, sometimes because we have simply believed the culture’s (Satan’s) lies. There are a myriad of reasons our sexuality gets broken in this world.

If we care about our own marriages and the marriages of our children, if we care about the marriages in the future Church, sex cannot be some taboo topic that we think will work itself out in silence. It won’t. It needs specific cultivating and sometimes outside help (in the form or medication or therapy), and there is absolutely no shame in seeking help and wholeness for a part of our lives that is not thriving.

But if we feel ashamed of needing help, we won’t seek it. So if this article can do any good in the world, I hope it can empower people in marriage whose sex life is less than they desire, to seek out help somewhere. I believe seeking healing is worth it.

 

References:

What Sleeping With Married Men Taught Me About Infidelity, by Karin Jones for New York Times.

The Secret to Desire in a Long-Term Relationship, a 20-minute TED talk by Esther Perel

Sex Made Simple: Clinical Strategies for Sexual Issues in Therapy, by Barry McCarthy.

Couples That Talk About Sex Have Better Sex, by Kyle Benson for Gottman Institute.

How American Masculinity Creates Lonely Men, a 48-minute program by Shankar Vedantam for NPR

From Jonathan: On Making Love (book recommendations about sex)

Other articles Jonathan and I have written about sex and marriage

Despair is where hope lives (Psalm 130)

Listen to this message on hope here, or via the trotters41 podcast. (21 minutes)

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Some excerpts and quotes:

“The prophetic poet asserts hope precisely in exile.” — Walter Brueggemann

If you’re not really feeling it. If you’re not feeling happy-clappy-Jesus-is-alive-and-all-my-problems-are-fixed, then take heart, because that’s precisely where hope lives.

“Hope expressed without knowledge of and participation in grief is likely to be false hope that does not reach despair. Thus…it is precisely those who know death most painfully who can speak hope most vigorously.” — Brueggemann

We need this reminder.

We need to remember that true hope is not just optimism. True hope is not a flimsy, fluffy thing. No, true hope, Biblical hope, sees it all. It sees the bad, the hard, the pain. It sees the depths and the darkness. It sees the world’s sin and my own sin.

And it keeps on seeing… all the way to Christ. In the end, deep hope must be securely grounded in the character and love of God.

“Speech about hope cannot be explanatory and scientifically argumentative; rather, it must be lyrical in the sense that it touches the hopeless person at many different points. More than that, however, speech about hope must be primarily theological.” — Brueggemann

“Hoping is not dreaming.” “[Hope is] a confident, alert expectation that God will do what he said he will do. It is imagination put in the harness of faith.” – Eugene Peterson

“Hope is a projection of the imagination; so is despair.” –Thornton Wilder

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Psalm 130 A song for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem.

1From the depths of despair, O LORD,

I call for your help.

2Hear my cry, O Lord.

Pay attention to my prayer.

3LORD, if you kept a record of our sins,

who, O Lord, could ever survive?

4But you offer forgiveness,

that we might learn to fear you.

5I am counting on the LORD;

yes, I am counting on him.

I have put my hope in his word.

6I long for the Lord

more than sentries long for the dawn,

yes, more than sentries long for the dawn.

7O Israel, hope in the LORD;

for with the LORD there is unfailing love.

His redemption overflows.

8He himself will redeem Israel

from every kind of sin.

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On Peace, Busyness, and Remembering that I’m not God (Psalm 131)

On March 18th, I was privileged to preach at ICA here in Phnom Penh. You can listen to the message here, or via our podcast on iTunes.

We talked about three things that block peace and a few things that help bring peace.

I also introduced a short song called Be Still, Be Quiet, based on Psalm 131. It’s at the end of the message around the 25 minute mark.

all for ONE,

Jonathan T.

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                      “Psalm 131 is one of the shortest Psalms to read, but one of                                         the longest to learn.” — Charles Spurgeon

 

Psalm 131

My heart is not proud, Lord,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.

But I have calmed and quieted myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and forevermore.

 

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