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Intimacy Outside of The Garden

Fri, 04/18/2014 - 5:55am

There is a rift between the sexes and genders; we see it all around us. We struggle against each other for power, long for significance, carefully conceal our most vulnerable parts, and weep for naked connection in the deepest corners of our psyches and souls. We feel afraid, we feel so alone, but we want to connect. What drives this dissonance and disconnection? Why does it matter?

Jeremy came to me weeping. He caught his wife using pornography again. The months of her recovery they worked through together crumbled. His heart is broken. His wife had made such progress in her recovery from porn use in their marriage. As a step of trust, Jeremy made a promise two months ago that he’d stop looking into her e-mail, social media, and Internet history. But, while on his lunch at work this last week, insecurity seeped into Jeremy. He knew looking at the outlets was breaching trust. But, their last weekend together was so sweet and wonderful, and his vulnerability and anxiety in that quiet moment at lunch just wanted to make sure. And his worst fear came true.

Naked and No Shame?

Many of us know this pain—both the pain Jeremy felt in being betrayed, and the despair and shame his wife felt in her deepest struggle overcoming her once again. We feel when intimacy is hijacked; when our ears start ringing and time stops because fear and abandonment swells over us.

“Both the man and his wife were naked, yet felt no shame.” We are made for intimacy. The Author of the tale describes a relationship between two sexual beings (and their Maker) who are fully exposed, fully loved, and unafraid. Can you even imagine that?

This naked, unashamed love is the kind of intimacy we all long for, at the core, but so often fail to experience. Adam and Eve had it, but they lost it. While the bulk of the Bible tells a story of hope for the joyful restoration of our identities and our relationships, we lack intimacy. The expectations of gender and sexuality, colliding with personal failures inhibit our enjoyment of intimacy. We feel shame. We look at our phones and keep earphones on—anything to avoid our shame.

Female Sexuality and Our Image-Driven Culture

Our sexuality plays itself out in every aspect of our lives. Biology and social experience often dance together. According to certain social norms, traditions, and some research, men tend to have a more fixed sexual identity. They are the “pursuers” in sexual relationships, and they are the “givers of life.” Women are chaste, nurturers, the “weaker vessels,” and receivers. Some of these norms make sense biologically, and certain spiritual and cultural circles encourage them.

But sometimes these simpler, somewhat static, descriptions of male and female sexuality do not align with our personal experiences—or with scientific research. Believe it or not, many therapists are beginning to believe that the female brain is shifting from a more relation-based approach to sexuality toward a more image-driven bent, in light of our image-saturated culture.

As an artist and a female, I (Heather) personally relate to this—I have an image-driven brain. In most social circles I felt like an anomaly growing up. I was told to be modest and pray for my male friends bombarded with temptations to lust and use porn. What about me? I didn’t understand why boys in the church youth group could wear Speedos to swim events and we girls had to wear one-piece swimsuits with a wrap. This innocent but important dynamic, along with other social situations, led to many years of confusion and shame about my sexuality and my femininity.

Shame Reminds Us of Our Origins

Not fitting into social norms creates shame. Just last week, I grabbed coffee with a friend so embarrassed because he’s age 31 with no prospects of dating anyone. “How am I supposed to keep showing up to work events?” Or, “I am tired of dating sites, and candid smiles from friends trying to set me up.” Then, “I don’t want to try anymore! This pain isn’t worth it.” Underneath his pain, I gleaned that he was asking: Will I always be alone? What am I doing wrong? Will I always feel rejected and disconnected? Soon, we can even begin to believe we are fundamentally bad or unworthy of connection.

This shame, and the deafening fear of vulnerability that so often accompanies it, remind us we are far from the Garden. We feel like we’re in a desert, preventing our experience of holistic intimacy. We hide behind the withered bushes well, just like Adam and Eve. Maybe we don’t fashion the latest banana leaves, but we cover our personal failures and insecurities. We learn to hide from people when we instead long for intimacy, because we’re afraid of being let down again, just like my friend.

We try to sever emotions from sex, or even give up on relationships with flesh-and-blood people altogether. We often develop habits or addictions in the heart-breaking pursuit of intimacy that is tainted by our fears and insecurities. We tend to behave in ways that are likely to elicit the same hurtful responses we expect from others—over and over again.

Hope Outside the Garden

Lucky for Adam and Eve, they didn’t have the mess of sin and shame in the Garden. But, we have hope, even in the desert. The idea of intimacy with another person can almost feel impossible because of our fear and shame.  Still, we can change how we think about ourselves and how we pursue intimacy through new experiences with safe people, including in therapy. We can unlearn some of our shame. In fact, Paul, the apostle, taught that it was precisely within an intentional, relational context that followers of Christ were slowly “built up” and restored to holiness (Ephesians 4).

Wherever we are along this road, we find ourselves resting within or pushing against the norms that have guided us. We feel the tension of life outside the Garden. And we are faced with difficult considerations about how our own sexualities and behaviors influence the world around us.

This is only the beginning of a very large, deep conversation. While we all live this side of Heaven, a perfect union with another beckons us. We want love. We want abiding intimacy. Let’s pursue the other side of Heaven in our sexuality and our relationships; I’ve heard great things about the Garden.

Heather Lundy is a Licensed Professional Counselor Candidate, and a National Certified Counselor. Jason Bell is a National Certified Counselor and a Licensed Professional Counselor Candidate. Both Heather and Jason have their Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Denver Seminary.

References

Bem, S. L. (1974). The measurement of psychological androgyny. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 42, 155-162.

Cassidy, J. (2001). Truth, lies, and intimacy: An attachment perspective. Attachment & Human Development, 3(2), 121-155. doi:10.1080/14616730110058999

Conley, T. D. (2011). Perceived Proposer Personality Characteristics and Gender Differences in Acceptance of Casual Sex Offers. Journal Of Personality & Social Psychology, 100(2), 309-329. doi:10.1037/a0022152

Ferree, M. C. (2010). No stones: Women redeemed from sexual addiction. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press.

Feldman, S. S., Biringen, Z. C., & Nash, S. C. (1981). Fluctuations of sex-related self-attributions as a function of stage of family life cycle. Developmental Psychology, 17, 24-35.

Johnson, S. M., Moser, M., Beckes, L., Smith, A., Dalgleish, T., Halchuk, R., & … Coan, J. A. (2013). Soothing the Threatened Brain: Leveraging Contact Comfort with Emotionally Focused Therapy. Plos ONE, 8(11), 1-10. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0079314

Myers, L. B., & Vetere, A. A. (2002). Adult romantic attachment styles and health-related measures. Psychology, Health & Medicine, 7(2), 175-180. doi:10.1080/13548500120116058

Scharfe, E., & Cole, V. (2006). Stability and change of attachment representations during emerging adulthood: An examination of mediators and moderators of change. Personal Relationships, 13, 363-374.

Shorey, H. S., Snyder, C. R., Yang, X., & Lewin, M. (2003). The role of hope as a mediator in recollected parenting, adult attachment, and mental health. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 22(6), 685-715.

Zhang, F., & Labouvie-Vief, G. (2004). Stability and fluctuation in adult attachment style over a 6-year period. Attachment and Human Development, 6, 419-437.

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Dealing With The Frogs In Your Life: Getting Rid of Idols

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 5:55am

In Exodus 8 we read about the plague of frogs God inflicted upon Egypt.

  1. Frogs were over the entire country (v.2).
  2. Frogs blanketed the land (v.6). Everywhere you looked you saw frogs.
  3. Frogs were in the homes, bedrooms, on people—everywhere (v.3-4).
  4. Pharaoh’s magicians duplicated what Moses and Aaron had done (v.7).

Interestingly enough, the Egyptians worshiped a frog goddess named Haquet.

What “Frogs” do You Worship?

Each of us have our own “frogs” (sin issues) that are making us miserable. We have frogs affecting everyone around us. We have sins we consider “sacred”— worshiping them in the place of God. If we don’t choose to deal with them right here, right now, they will multiply and begin to cover (take over) every aspect of our lives.

Your Frogs Aren’t in Just One Area of Your Life!

Satan wants to convince you that your sin issue is in just one isolated area of your life. “It’s not like it’s impacting every part of my life.” Oh really?

One of my major “frogs” was porn addiction. I thought I had it under control. I thought it was something that I could keep secret. I believed that I could pull out my “frog” in the secret spot of my life and play with it any time I wanted, enjoy it for a while, then put it back in its box until later.

Just like the frogs of Exodus 8, my frog multiplied. It began to hop into other aspects of my life. My frog began to invade my home life. It crept into my bedroom, and into my bed. It was on me—I carried it around with me everywhere I went. I was foolish enough to believe that I still had it under control.

God allowed it to continue to grow until it became so big, so noisy in my life, that everyone around me was deeply impacted. I nearly lost my marriage, I nearly lost my family, I lost my job—twice—and I attempted suicide. But God had other plans. He lovingly, patiently worked with me. He helped me get rid of my frog goddess!

When Will You Get Rid of Your Frogs?

Exodus 8:8 says Pharaoh called for Moses, demanding that he ask God to remove the frogs, promising that the Israelites could then go and worship. Moses responds: “Pharaoh, I’m so glad to hear you want the frogs gone! I’m so glad you finally realize the misery they’re causing not only you, but everyone around you! I’m so glad you recognize that only God can save you from these frogs! So I’m going to give you the privilege of determining when. When do you want God to remove these frogs from your life?”

Have you gotten to that point yet? Have you come to the full realization that your “frogs” are making you—and everyone around you—miserable? Do you realize that the things you’re worshiping, thinking they are your friends, believing they are actually bringing you pleasure, are in reality false gods intent on your destruction? Have you accepted the fact you need to get rid of those “frogs” and only God can help you do that?

I must confess, Exodus 8:10 baffles me. I don’t get it. Here is Pharaoh, miserable, upset, acknowledging that his “god” is making him miserable. He’s finally come to the conclusion that only the One True God can help him get rid of his frogs. Moses gives him the opportunity of deciding when he wants God to remove the frogs from his life…and he says “Tomorrow.” What? Are you kidding me?

I can almost hear Pharaoh saying: “I’m so glad your God is read to help me get rid of my frogs. They’re bad, unclean, unhealthy, making me—and everyone around me—absolutely miserable, they’re causing all kinds of problems for me…but I want one more night with these frogs. Let’s deal with the frogs in my life—tomorrow.”

What’s so Special About Your Frogs That You Are Willing to Put Them in the Place of God in Your Life?

What are your frogs doing for you that God cannot do? Don’t be like Pharaoh. You know there are frogs in your life. You know there are specific sins you need to get rid of. You know they are hindering your relationship with God. You know God stands ready right now to help you get rid of those frogs. Please don’t wait until tomorrow to deal with them. Choose right here, right now to give them over to God and let Him help you get rid of your frogs once-and-for-all!

Photo credit: paukrus

Steve Etner is a national men’s speaker, author, and Purity Coach with The Pure Man Ministry. His book, Extreme Mind Makeover: How to Transform Sinful Habits into God-Pleasing Patterns of Life, and his conferences, seminars, and retreats focus on what God has to say about the way we think and the impact it has on our behavior. Teaching men how to live in moral purity by equipping them with Biblical answers, Steve’s goal is for men to have a re-ignited passion for Jesus and learn how to prepare their minds to successfully overcome their temptations and thus live pure lives for Christ.

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