I recently met a young woman who grew up in the war-torn country of Sierra Leone in West Africa. As bullets whizzed through the city streets and landmines blasted limbs off of children playing in the fields, every day was a struggle for Lela and her family to survive. She had been in the United States less than two years when I asked her what she liked most about living in this country.
She answered with a sweet smile, “Peace. There is nothing like living in peace.”
I also asked, “How did you cope with the chaos of war all around you day after day?”
Shrugging her shoulders, she replied, “When war is all you have ever known, you don’t realize how chaotic it is.”
Although I’ve never known the terror of dodging bullets or landmines, the truth of Lela’s statement struck a chord. I never realized how intense and chaotic my life was until I experienced the peace of living with sexual and emotional integrity. For years I had walked blindly into compromising situations, begged over dinner tables for morsels of affection, and found myself sleeping with the enemy time and time again. I consistently mistook intensity for intimacy and the concept of a peaceful relationship seemed unfathomable.
…My journey toward the peacefulness of sexual integrity began in 1996 with several months of individual and group counseling. There, by ripping up phone books and screaming at empty chairs instead of at the innocent people I lived with at home, I vented my anger toward every person who had ever hurt me. I sat in a chair across from an imaginary “Shannon at fifteen” (the young girl I once was who was about to make all the sexual mistakes that I had just lived through). With my counselor’s guidance, I was able to voice my new understanding of the pain and loneliness this fifteen-year-old had felt, to sympathize with her naiveté and confusion about her sexual and emotional desires, and forgive her for the bad choices she was making and the pain that her poor judgment would cause me and many others. I wrote letters of forgiveness to my father and mother, one painfully honest set that would never be mailed and another more socially acceptable set that were mailed and received with sincere appreciation. I also wrote a letter of forgiveness to myself. As I looked over my list of previous partners, I recognized that I was looking for love, approval, and acceptance from every authority figure in my life except from my real father and my heavenly Father. I embarked on a mission to get to know both of them better, frequently carving time out for family camping trips and retreats with the Lord.
…God, in His sovereignty, looked beyond my weaknesses and saw my need for genuine intimacy. And in spite of my unfaithfulness, He’s been faithful to guide me toward that place of quiet rest in my relationships with my father, my husband, and myself. This was not an overnight trip from chaos to peacefulness, but a long process — one that continues to this day.
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.