Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Heart of Rejection, Part 1

When you thought about getting married and when you anticipated having sex with your husband, did you ever think about how often you’d be saying “no” to him? I know of a few women who decided before they married that they would never refuse their husbands and who have, admirably, stuck to their promise. For the rest of us, though, “no” is a word we use far more than we ever would have thought possible (or desirable). Maybe we say “no” with our words, whether kind or gracious; maybe we say “no” with our attitudes or body language; maybe we say it with our wardrobe or simply by going to bed long before he is tired. We grow adept at finding new and creative ways of refusing sex. 
We are not completely comfortable with rejecting him but at the same time, he wants so much! Can’t he see that I’m too tired? Can’t he see that I’m just not in the mood? Can’t he back off just for tonight (and maybe tomorrow night…and the night after that…)? 
In chapter one we touched on what sex means to your husband and its importance in married life and in chapter two we tried to figure out what sex is all about anyway. In this chapter I want to focus on an area in which many women harm their husbands.  I want to talk about how a wife is to respond to her husband’s advances. How does the Bible want her to view sex? Is she never to reject him? Is she called always to have sex when he is in the mood? What does God want from us in all of this? 
You are probably familiar with these words from 1 Corinthians 7: “Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer, but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”  According to this passage, under what circumstances are you allowed to stop having sex?  By mutual agreement, for a limited time and to devote yourselves to prayer. (This is why you always say “no,” right? Because you want to pray? “Not tonight, honey, I think we need to pray…”) Take out the exception clause and it reads as a straightforward command: “Do not deprive one another…so that Satan may not tempt you.” 
As I understand it, this command does not necessarily speak to saying “no” to sex tonight; it refers to rejection. Let’s draw a line between these two things.  The inability to have sex tonight is not the same as actually depriving him (perhaps you are feeling sick or you actually do have a bad headache or you’re just absolutely worn out in every way). You can turn him down for noble reasons and he will survive until tomorrow. But what may be sin in your heart and what may tempt him to sin is your rejection.  You can say “no” without rejecting him. But do you?  Today let’s talk about rejection and see what rejection does to you and what it does to your husband (Challies, False Messages, Pg. 13).
 If you'd like, you can download the booklet here.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Theology of Sex, Part 3: Unequal Desire

Unequal Desire 
Yet sexual desire, the appetite for sex, is not given in equal measure. It is typically given in greater part to men. Why is this? The answer, I’m convinced, goes right to the heart of the husband-wife relationship. God commands that men, husbands, be leaders. Men are to take the leading role in marriage while women are to follow. God intends that men take leadership even in sex and, therefore, he gives to men a greater desire for it. This way men can lead their wives, taking the initiative, taking care to love their wives in such a way that they wish to have sex with their husbands.  Generally speaking, a man finds intimacy and acceptance through sex while a woman needs to first experience intimacy and acceptance before she can be prepared to enjoy sex. And so God gives the man a sexual appetite so he can in turn provide for his wife’s needs before she provides for his. His sexual appetite cannot be separated from his leadership. If the wife was to lead in this regard, if she was to always be the sexual instigator, the husband would be far less likely to pursue his wife and seek to meet her unique needs.  Do you see the beautiful dance here? The husband has a desire that only his wife can meet, a desire for his wife; therefore, he takes the lead in seeking to fulfill that desire. He does this by meeting the desires of his wife that will, in turn, cause her to see and appreciate and eventually fulfill his desires. And then, in that act of consummation, God grants a grace that surpasses the mere union of flesh and blood. 
As the husband leads, the wife is called by God to submit to her husband’s leadership even in the marriage bed. As in other areas of life, she is called to defy leadership only if her husband demands of her something that would violate her conscience or God’s law. We can see this as a responsibility of the wife but we must also see it as a particular responsibility of the husband. He is to lead in such a way that his wife will have no reason to refuse him. He must seek to be sensitive to her needs, to her desires. He must
acknowledge the times where, for one reason or another, she might find it exceedingly difficult to give herself to him and must keep from cajoling her into acts that would make her uncomfortable or leave her feeling violated. He needs to exemplify leadership as a servant even here in the bedroom. His first thoughts must be for her.
If Adam and Eve enjoyed sex before their fall into sin (I’m under the impression that the Fall happened soon after Creation but that there was some time between the two events; therefore, they must have enjoyed perfect sex for a while.) there must not have been an occasion where Eve refused Adam because there was never a time when he was not thinking first of her. What reason would she have to refuse? But after they sinned, when Adam stopped thinking first of Eve and when she began to rebel against his leadership, this is when sex became a struggle. And it remains a struggle today. I know that most husbands and wives will testify that they have had more fights and arguments about sex than about anything else.  The most special means of grace to a husband and wife has become the greatest cause of strife. And this is exactly as Satan intends it. Though Satan hates any kind of pleasure, he will still use it for his ends.  His plan is that people should have as much sex outside of the marriage relationship and as little within the marriage relationship as is possible. His plan is to mask, to hide, the true purpose of sex behind the pleasure it brings simply as a physical act. It is a clever plan and one that has been proven effective time and time again. 
We may not understand exactly what sex does within a marriage, but we can trust that God has his reasons for inventing it and commanding it. Sex is a call for a husband to pursue his wife and to lead her, as a servant, into a deeper understanding and appreciation of this gift. It is a call for a wife to serve her husband, trusting him and trusting that God’s gifts, when used as he intends them, always bring good (Challies, False Messages, Pg. 11-12, emphasis mine).
 To download the booklet, click here.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Theology of Sex, Part 2: Desire

Along with sex, God created sexual desire. There are some who say that sexual desire is meant only to motivate procreation—that the desire to have sex will draw a husband and wife together with the happy and ultimate result of conception. Here C.S. Lewis applies a helpful corrective (in Mere Christianity). He affirms that the biological purpose of sex is procreation (and let’s not lose sight of this important purpose to sex) but draws a helpful parallel to the appetite for food. The biological purpose of eating is to repair the body and though some people are given to overindulgence, we find that the appetite goes only a little way beyond its biological purpose. A man may eat twice as much food as his body needs for its biological purpose, but few will eat even that much. When it comes to sex, though, the appetite far exceeds its biological purpose (even in women!). If the sexual appetite matched its biological function either a person would only desire sex a few times in a lifetime or he would have thousands of children. Does this not teach us that God  desires that we have sex for reasons beyond procreation? The only other alternative is that this appetite is a product of sin and ought to be suppressed. But no, this cannot be. The Bible is clear that legitimate sexual desire, desire within a marriage and a desire for one’s spouse, is legitimate before God. 
God gives us sexual desire, a sexual appetite, because he wants us to have sex; he wants a husband to have sex with his wife and a wife to have sex with her husband. Can’t it be just that simple? And what’s more, he gives us an appetite that surpasses any kind of biological purpose because he wants the couple to have sex a lot. After all, the only admonition in Scripture regarding the frequency of married sex is to permit a brief pause with a defined end and even then only for the  specific reason of dedicating time to prayer (see again 1 Corinthians 7) and still even then only if it is mutually agreed upon. In fact, the Bible goes so far as to say that a wife’s body belongs to her husband—that he has authority over her body— and a husband’s body belongs to his wife—she has authority over his body. The ruling principle is that husbands and wives are to have sex often and not to refuse one another this special gift.  
Sex is such an integral part of the relationship of husband to wife and wife to husband that God has given the desire to participate in it, to enjoy it. This sexual desire motivates a man to pursue a wife and to marry her so together they can enjoy sex. This desire motivates a wife to keep pursuing her husband even after they are married. Without this desire, this appetite, it would be far easier for us to avoid carrying out our God-given duty to have sex (and lots of it) and through it to experience intimacy and unity (and lots of it). So God gives the desire that is meant to be fulfilled in only that way. If we did not experience pangs of hunger we might not eat. If we stopped eating, our bodies would stop repairing themselves and we would die. If we did not experience sexual desire we might not have sex. And if we stopped having sex, our marriages would suffer and die. Sexual desire, then, is a gift of God given not to torment but to motivate obedience. When a woman feels sexual desire it is a nudge toward pursuing her husband; when a man feels that sexual desire, it is to motivate him to pursue his wife (Challies, False Messages, Pg. 10-11, emphasis mine).
 The rest of the booklet can be downloaded here.

Monday, March 28, 2011

A Theology of Sex, Part 1: Sex

God gives us sex because it has unique power in drawing a husband to his wife and a wife to her husband.  He knows this because he is the one who invented it!  He made it so that it is far more than the sum of its parts. We could describe sex in terms of body parts and hormones, but we would not be any closer to understanding it than if we were to describe a cake only in terms of its ingredients—flour and milk and eggs (or if we were to describe the Lord’s Supper making reference only to eating bread and drinking wine).  Sex goes far beyond merely the physical and instead extends to the emotional, the spiritual. It is through sexual union that two are made one, that they are bound together; there is a mystery to it that can only really be compared in impact to the union of God’s people to God as they are grafted into him. 
God gave us something remarkably powerful and was wise to place strict boundaries on it. He has every right to do so because he is the one who has created sex and who has given it its function. Sex, then, is to be shared only between a husband and a wife, and cannot be extended to others either before marriage or during marriage (Matthew 5:27,28). Sex must not be stirred up or awakened until the time is right (Song of Solomon 8:4). Sex is to be practiced regularly throughout a marriage (1 Corinthians 7:1-5). Such boundaries are not intended to inhibit freedom but to enhance freedom. When we use the gift as God intends it, we gain great joy and freedom in it. When we abuse the gift, we ultimately suffer for such abuse. 
The purpose of sex, then, is to provide a unique means through which a husband and wife can know one another, serve one another, express vulnerability before one another, give and receive. No other area in marriage offers so much to gain and so much to lose.  No other area in marriage so closely grafts the couple together. 
Many theologians have attempted to get at the deepest meaning of sex. “Sex is a picture, a metaphor, to point us to the joys of heaven,” they might say. And perhaps this is so. But I don’t find that the Bible tells us this clearly. Neither am I convinced that we need to find some deeper meaning in sex in order to affirm its goodness. Sex is inherently good because it was created by a good God. We do not need to construct a complex theology around it as if it is only good in some kind of secondary sense. It is perfectly good in and of itself. Even if its ultimate meaning is no deeper than pleasure and mutual fulfillment, it is good because God is good. He could easily have decreed that sex be an integral part of every marriage and then made it inherently unpleasurable. He did not. Instead he made sex almost transcendent in its pleasure. At its best, sex really transcends most of life’s other pleasures in its uniqueness, in its joy, in its freedom and vulnerability. And in these things, sex draws a husband and wife together in a completely unique and unparalleled way. 
When you understand this you must also understand why sex is meant to be enjoyed only between a husband and wife. You understand why God forbids pre-marital sex (fornication), why he forbids extramarital sex (adultery) and why he even forbids selfish sex (masturbation). All these things make a mockery of the real thing. All these things abuse his good gift (Challies, False Messages, Pg. 9-10).
 Again, for the rest of this booklet, click here.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

What He Really Wants, Part 4: Superglue

This is the conclusion to the first chapter.  There is still more to come.

Think about what you do to show your husband you love him. Maybe you are a stay-at-home mom and you show your love by making his lunch in the morning and making sure you meet him at the door with a kiss when he comes home. Maybe he is the type who loves physical affection so you make sure to rub his shoulders or back in the evening. You know the things you do to express your love and affection. 
Now understand that sex is probably the most meaningful way in which he shows you that he loves you; and it is the most powerful way in which he wants you to show how much you love him. Sex is every man’s love language! If you want to be a wife that serves and builds up your husband, regular, joyful sex will be a part of your relationship to him. So I guess we arrive at the obvious conclusion: have sex, have it often, and serve your husband freely and joyfully in this manner. You will have a stronger marriage to show for it. And, think on this: every marriage counselor is likely to agree that if the sex life is good, the marriage is good. Rarely do you see a bad marriage with a good sex life. It’s almost like sex is…superglue (Challies, False Messages, Pg. 7-8).
Three more chapters are on their way.  If you're not interested in waiting, the link to the whole book is here.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

What He Really Wants, Part 3: All of You

All of You
The fact is that your husband wants both the physical release and the relational intimacy he finds in your arms. He wants you, body, soul and spirit and he wants to give you his body, soul and spirit. He needs you to be willing to both give and receive. The physical desire he feels is a kind of trigger to remind him to seek this connection with you. It is a reminder and motivator to him that he needs to pursue you. You must not allow yourself to separate the physical urge from all the rest. God designed your husband to need this physical release. He provided you, the wife, as the one who can and should provide the means for that release. And he provided the act of making love so that it becomes about far more than just the physical act.
And aren’t you glad for this, that God made it about so much more than just forcing you to give him some instinctual physical release? We are far more than animals here. In the act of making love you and your husband are knit together, body-to-body, soul-to-soul.  The Bible calls it “becoming one”—a perfect word picture. This is why sex as a mere physical act, one divorced from the heart and mind, does not deliver what it may claim to offer. It leaves you feeling used.  It leaves your husband feeling incomplete, knowing that you have not truly given yourself to him. You can fulfill an obligation to bring about the release but he may still not experience the emotional and spiritual engagement that is so important to your marriage.  For that to happen, you need to offer him more than your body. You need to offer him your body, your soul, your mind, your acceptance. This is what makes sex so intimate and makes you so vulnerable in it. You need to offer up all you are, all you’ve got.
This may be hard to believe, but even more than your man wants sexual fulfillment, he wants you to be sexually fulfilled. On an emotional level he wants to see how much you enjoy what only he can give you.  If he fails to do so he feels inadequate. If he knows that you are not enjoying sex but are only trying to placate him, he will not be truly fulfilled. He does not want to be a consumer but a lover. That is an important distinction. Placid participation is not enough.
And right there, I understand that we have come to a difficult issue. How do you turn something on that seemly doesn’t want to be turned on? And what if your husband is just really bad at pressing the right buttons (and maybe really good at pressing all the wrong ones)? What if you’ve been nursing a baby all day and tucking kids into bed all evening and then he gives you the look—that look? It may be worth picking up a couple of the books listed in the Recommended Resources section at the end of this booklet. Some of them offer very good and practical advice on these issues. One thing I would add to those is this: if we as women are honest with ourselves, we’ll have to admit that so often we choose not to participate.  We, unlike our male counterparts, have a great deal of mental control over our sexual nature. When we are not in the mood we are not in the mood, right?  End of story. But I wonder, if we let our mental guards down, if we looked beyond ourselves and served our husbands as we know God wants us to…maybe we would find that things would work out a whole lot better.
So what does your husband want? He wants you — all of you. And his body gives him the reminder to keep pursuing you and to keep making love to you.  Do not allow yourself to see his sex drive as something that is animalistic or gross or unholy. It is given to him by the God who does not make mistakes. It must be given for our good. It is a blessing to be appreciated, not a curse to be rejected.
Harry Schaumburg, in his book Undefiled, says this (this quote is so good—make sure you read it carefully!), “The drive to be sexual is more than simply a desire for pleasure or excitement. The sex drive is really a longing for closeness—in both sexes. Don’t be fooled by false messages or even personal experience: men want closeness too. Every man that I have counseled who made his wife a sexual object, therefore giving the impression that all he wanted was sexual pleasure, has admitted—often with tears—that what he really wanted was closeness. This revelation was unbelievable to the wives who heard their husbands say that. It may seem unbelievable to you too—but it’s true" (Challies, False Messages, Pg. 6-7).
Part 4 will be here shortly, but if you want to download the full 20-page booklet, you may click here.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

What He Really Wants, Part 2

What Does He Really Want?
Is your husband’s sex drive something that is purely physical, his body telling him that he just needs a release and that your body is the way to get it? Or is his sex drive in some way connected to you, a need that can only be filled by the spiritual and physical intimacy of making love to you? The message always seems mixed in the female mind. Does my husband want me or does he just want my body? We hear of men who, even though they’re married, look at porn and masturbate and we think, “That solves it! It’s all about the release.” And somehow we really do believe it is that simple. From what I’ve learned as I’ve talked to other women, from what I’ve learned as I’ve responded to emails my husband has received from people who read his series, I can see that a lot of women struggle with this.  Just what does my husband really want?
Today’s wife has good reason to believe that sex is no deeper than the physical and that her husband wants and needs her only to meet his urgent needs.  All around us society screams this message—that sex within marriage, sex designed as mutual pleasure from husband to wife and wife to husband—is the relic of another age. Instead it tells us that sex is actually nothing too special. It is just the release of pent-up hormones, an enjoyable act that can be shared with just about anyone with little ill effect. Many wives bring to marriage these messages from society, from movies and books, from parents, from previous relationships.  The worst part is that your own husband may confirm the bad messages by taking what he can get, settling for your body in those times that you refuse to give him all of you. He rolls over and goes to sleep unfulfilled, convinced that he cannot arouse you or please you. Meanwhile, you roll over feeling used, confirmed in your suspicion that he is a pervert who is just after your body. The vicious circle commences and grows with both husband and wife contributing to it. 
It turns out that women need sexual detox, too.  You may have never looked at pornography and you may not have a long and extensive sexual history.  But still, you have absorbed messages that are causing you to withdraw your heart from your husband.  You believe lies and allow these lies to shape your marriage. Thankfully truth trumps error like spades trumps diamonds. So let’s bring some truth to the error. 
First off, a good sex life takes work; most people are surprised to learn that it takes skill and practice.  Sex is something that seems like it should come very naturally, but often it does not. It can take a long time for the act to be mutually pleasurable for both parties.  You first have to learn about one another and you have to learn about yourself. If a woman comes into marriage a virgin, she may have many misconceptions about the wedding night. She goes into that evening expecting fireworks and may come out wondering what on earth is wrong with her. This can continue for weeks, months, years even. During this time, women can begin to believe that all the husband wants is her body. He is being fulfilled and may seem satisfied with the way things are going. Bitterness and discontent grow and sex becomes a battle. Eventually most couples hit their stride, but it is possible that damage has already been done (Challies, False Messages, Pg. 5-6).
 There's more to come, but if you just can't wait, click here for the rest of the 20-page booklet.

Monday, March 21, 2011

What He Really Wants, Part 1

Last week, an insightful, little book by Aileen Challies was brought to my attention.  It is entitled, "False Messages:  A Guide for the Godly Bride".  This helpful, yet challenging book is geared toward married, Christian women, and it is about sex.  With permission, I will be sharing it here, piece by piece, with the hope that it will open up avenues of discussion and healing for husbands and wives.

A couple of years ago I read a book by Sharon Jaynes called Becoming the Woman of His Dreams. In her research Jaynes surveyed and interviewed hundreds of men as she tried to understand the qualities men desire in a wife. You won’t be surprised to hear that sexual fulfillment was at the top of the list (like we didn’t see that one coming, right?).  This leads her to call sex the superglue that holds a marriage together. Here are a couple of examples of what men said about their sex lives. “What is the one thing I wish my wife understood better about me and what I long for? The need for her to be more sexual. I wish she’d be more creative and enthusiastic about it.  I wish sex would be more fun and more of a priority in our marriage.” “The woman of my dreams would want sex as much as I do. I don’t think women really have a concept of how ‘wired’ for sex men are. It can’t make sense to them, not exactly sure why myself. It seems petty, but it’s real.” Her research showed what I think we already knew or at least suspected: for your husband, sexual fulfillment is not a want but a need.  It’s a need that arises from the very core of who he is.
In my discussions with other married women I’ve seen clearly that sex, for many couples, is the one thing they fight about most (It’s not just us!). At least from the wife’s perspective, it usually comes down to a pretty simple fact: she simply doesn’t understand why sex is so important to her husband. Because she doesn’t understand, she continues to see it from her perspective and dismisses sex as unimportant, an annoyance, a chore, perhaps an occasional indulgence.  She gives herself to him every now and again, hoping it will get hubby off her case for a couple of days, but she does so out of obligation or duty, not delight. 
Can you identify with this? I think most women can, at least at times.  But if Jaynes is right and sex truly is the superglue that holds a marriage together, we, as wives, need to get it right, don’t we? We need to make sure that we are not eroding our marriages from within because we can’t or won’t understand sex.  (Pg. 5)
 Stay tuned for part 2, or if you are impatient like me and want to read the whole thing at once, you may do so here: