Author and Advocate for Healthy Sexuality and Spirituality

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Combining Sexuality and Spirituality- Part 1

Combining Sexulaity & SpiritualityIn the fall of 1997, I was speaking to a group of parents about proactively instilling sexual values in teenagers.  In a sea of faces typically including men and women in their thirties, forties, and early fifties, this one little blue-haired old lady stood out of the crowd.  She was sitting perfectly upright in her lavender leisure suit, knees and ankles pressed together, black patent leather handbag resting in her lap with her clenched fists firmly gripping the handles.  She sat wide-eyed through the entire 90-minute presentation, barely moving a muscle except to scratch her blue-haired scalp.  I tried not to let the thought distract me, but I couldn’t help wondering the entire time, What in the world is this woman thinking about all of this sex talk?

 

After the session was over, the elderly woman, hanging on the arm of her adult daughter, approached me at the front of the room.  The daughter introduced herself first, then introduced her elderly mother.  As we engaged in conversation, I began bracing myself, assuming that this prim and proper “church lady” was about to lambaste me for talking publicly about “S-E-X!”  I could almost envision her asking, as comedian Dana Carvey often did on Saturday Night Live, “Who possessed you into talking about such a vile thing out loud in church?  Hmm, let’s see… Who could it have been?   SATAN???”

 

After exchanging a few pleasantries, the younger woman said, “I just want to thank you for your courage in speaking out about these important issues!”  Surprised and relieved, I reached out to give her a hug.  As I did, her mother chimed in with her two cents worth.  She said to her daughter in a slow, sweet southern drawl, “Honey, you are so lucky to be living in a day and age where we can talk about this!  Why, I could never even tell your father that I liked what he was doing to me at night!”

 

I’ve never been so tempted to bust out in laughter and cry tears of relief at the same time!  I thought, Thank God for people who get it!

 

Of course, I haven’t always been so lucky when I speak to adults.  I’ve had a handful of real, live “church ladies” respond very differently to some of my presentations.  One woman insisted, “This is shameful!  There’s so much sex in the world already, and now we have to bring it into the church?” Another said, “This is a holy place of worship!  You’re going to talk about SEX here?” 

 

If these women find talking about sex in church so disturbing, are they really able to indulge in it freely in their bedrooms?  I’m guessing not.  It’s as if they believe God created our heads, shoulders, knees, and toes, but that our genitals were all the devil’s doing.  Over the past twelve years of speaking about sexuality in a spiritual context, it’s become painfully obvious that in some women’s minds, talking about sex in church is as taboo as marching into a Weight Watcher’s meeting with a grocery cart full of Häagen-Dazs! 

 

Speaking of ice cream, my favorite is chocolate and vanilla swirled together, which brings to mind the perfect illustration of how I feel about the “church lady” syndrome.  One of my favorite places to dine is a casual restaurant called Jason’s Deli.  The real reason I go there isn’t the yummy soup, fresh salad, or delectable sandwiches.  The real reason, I confess, is the free soft-serve ice cream.  To me, nothing tastes better after a light lunch than a cool and creamy chocolate-and-vanilla swirl cone! 

 

My husband on the other hand, well, let’s just say he’s a “plain vanilla” kind of guy when it comes to his ice cream.  He’s probably the only person on the planet that walks into a Baskin Robbins, peruses all 31 flavors, and still orders vanilla.  My kids and I get a big kick out of this every time. 

 

But once I convinced Greg to let loose and take a walk on the wild side.  I presented him with a small dish of chocolate-and-vanilla swirl, insisting he give it a try, if only to entertain us for a moment.  We all anticipated Greg’s response as he dipped his plastic spoon into the mixture, brought it to his lips, and shoved it into his mouth.  After a split second of mental consultation with his palate, he declared, “Ugh!  I don’t like chocolate ice cream!  Just give me my dear old vanilla and I’ll be a happy man!” 

 

That’s basically what those “church ladies” were saying, too.  “I like my spirituality all by itself!  Don’t try to mix any sexuality in with my theology!”

 

Me on the other hand, I like vanilla okay, and I like chocolate okay, but you swirl those two together and WOW!  My taste buds sing!  I believe the same is true with sexuality and spirituality.  Each is great, but when you experience them together, that makes both of them all the more satisfying.

…continued

by Shannon Ethridge. Copyright 2008.  All Rights Reserved. Published by Random House Inc, New York, NY. Used by Permission. Not to be copied without Publisher’s prior written approval. 

Forfeiting Fear

Woman Rock Climbing ca. 2000

Have you ever counted how many references there are to fear in Scripture? Three hundred and sixty-five (one for every day of the year!). As many times as God proclaimed, “Fear not…” it is obvious that fear is a major hindrance to the Christian life.

 

Why is it such a hindrance? Because fear is the opposite of faith. When we focus on our fear rather than having faith in God to deliver us from evil, we are much more likely to lose the battle for sexual and emotional integrity. How can we focus on what we know God will do when we think we are doomed? Such lack of faith says to God, “Even though you’ve carried me this far, you are probably going to fail me now, aren’t you?” Overcoming our fear and exercising our faith says to God, just as David did in Psalm 9:9-10, “The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you.”

 

I love taking youth groups to a high-ropes challenge course. There we gear up with helmets and safety pads and are connected to a guide wire in order to waltz across a twelve-foot balance beam suspended twenty-five feet in the air between two telephone poles. This exercise can bring out the lion in the most timid of creatures and the mouse in the boldest. I’ve seen dainty young girls saunter up the pole and tiptoe across gracefully without breaking a sweat. I’ve also seen two-hundred-pound linebackers turn white with fear and break out in tears midway through the course.

 

Before they climb the telephone poles, I always ask, “Would you have a problem walking across a wooden beam that was two inches off the ground?” When they say no, I remind them that walking across a beam twenty-five feet in the air is physically no different. The only difference is the mental challenge of overcoming the fear of heights. Success comes when we tune out the surroundings and focus on putting one foot in front of the other.

 

The same is true in our battle against sexual and emotional compromise. Many women are steeped in the fear of being alone, the fear of not being taken care of, the fear of not having another man on the hook in case the current one gets away. We can be so afraid of compromising tomorrow that we fail to take notice and celebrate the fact that we are standing firm today.

 

For example:

~ Helen says, “Bill is not someone I am really interested in because he’s too touchy-feely, but whenever a weekend comes around that I don’t have plans, I usually accept his dinner invitation because I just can’t face a whole weekend alone.”

~ Married eight years, Barb isn’t sure she and Jim are going to make it. They argue frequently and Barb is bitterly disappointed over Jim’s callous style of relating to her. “When I get really upset with him, I always know I can cry on Charlie’s shoulder.” (Charlie is Barb’s old boyfriend who always wanted to marry her.) “I have kept all of Charlie’s love letters and our old pictures together. I’m afraid to get rid of them. After all, he might someday be ‘the one’ if Jim and I don’t work out.”

~ Since her husband died two years ago, Beatrice worries about her financial situation. “I don’t feel that I am ready to invest in a new relationship and am not even sure I ever want to remarry,” Beatrice says. However, she thinks she may have to begin dating again because she may eventually need a husband to provide for her.

 

I used be overwhelmed at the thought of long-term, lasting fidelity. I often thought, Oh, there’s no way I can be faithful to one man for an entire lifetime! When a mentor asked me, “Can you be faithful for one day?” I scoffed at the ridiculousness of the request. “Of course I can. One day is no big deal! It’s the rest of my life that I’m worried about.”

 

“Life consists of one twenty-hour period after another. If you can be faithful for one day, you’ve got it made,” my mentor responded. “You just do the same thing the next day and the next day.”

 

The simplicity of her response floored me. Taking one day at a time and trusting our future to God is all it takes. That’s why Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us this day, our daily bread.” That is why God rained down bread from heaven each day when the Israelites were wandering in the desert without food — so that His people would learn daily dependence on Him. When we change our focus from the distant future to the immediate present, we gain the strength and courage to overcome the fear of what we may encounter down the road. Don’t focus on whether you can be faithful to one man for a lifetime — just focus on being faithful to him (or to God if you are single) just for today. Then do the same thing tomorrow, and the next day, and the next.

 

Excerpted from Every Woman’s Battle: Discovering God’s Plan for Sexual and Emotional Fulfillment by Shannon Ethridge. Copyright 2003. All Rights Reserved. Published by WaterBrook Press, Colorado Springs, CO 80921. Used by Permission. Not to be copied without Publisher’s prior written approval.