Thursday, June 4, 2015

At the Heart of the Purity Paradox....and Lasagna

Imagine a world where there was a teaching about lasagna.

You see, in this world lasagna is only meant to be shared by married couples. It's holy, sacred, and set apart. You grow up in a home where lasagna is never mentioned outside of phrases like, "Lasagna is meant for a man and a woman within the covenant of marriage" and "Some people eat lasagna together before they're married but God tells us that is sin." You have questions about it but you don't feel comfortable with talking about it since it seems like no one else is either. You've got a few friends who say that they've been eating lasagna with their boyfriends but the thought is scandalizing to you. After that emotionally charged True Lasagna Waits weekend at church you're positive that saving lasagna for marriage is the right thing to do. But how?? In the movies you've gotten glimpses of what it might be like to share lasagna with someone but it's all smoke and mirrors and romanticism.

But it. looks. good.

You're in a relationship and it's getting pretty serious so thoughts like, "What if we just have some noodles without the cheese and sauce??" or "How bad can it be to just take one bite, right?" But after years and years of being told that God has designed lasagna for marriage without much practical application for why or how you're feeling pretty lost. So what happens next? You're in the car on the way to your honeymoon full of jitters and nerves. You get to your destination, take a long look at one another and your heart cries out, "We did it! We made it! Here we are on our wedding day about to share some lasagna!" But after some awkward glances and looks around the kitchen you both get a little nervous. Things go quiet until you say what you're both thinking, "Hey, honey. Ummm. Do you even have a recipe for lasagna?"

"Well. Um. Actually. No, I don't. Don't you?"

"Sure don't."

And then a resounding chorus of "Well crap." is followed by a most awkward attempt at cooking by two rookies who've been, 'til now, just making toast. I hate to break it to you, folks, but lasagna takes a little more preparation than toast.

I love a good analogy for many reasons, but one of the main ones is that it can make me laugh about an issue that's really needing some hard thought. We all know that lasagna isn't just for two people who love one another. I'm actually talking about sex. Duh. But now that we're on the same page here are five things I want to say about what I feel like is at the heart of the purity problem.

1. Open up the discussion
Parents, let me ask you this: do you want your children learning about sex from their friends or from you? If you want them to be comfortable asking questions then you must first create an atmosphere of trust and a platform for discussion. If you communicate then you'll probably be pleasantly surprised that they do, too. And answer real questions with real answers! If a child or teen is old enough to ask a question then they're old enough to receive an age appropriate answer. This is preferable to "I'll tell you when you're older" or skirting around the issue. Pray over this and ask God to lead your answers. Use grace and heavens, don't be awkward about it!

2. Keep it sacred
As I sit here and write about this I also admit that yes, this is a topic that deserves to be treated as special and sacred. Sex isn't just an action between two people, it's a reflection of love and God's covenant for marriage. Focus on the power of love that should be driving a desire for sex. 1 Corinthians 13 would be a great place to start.

3. Never resort to shame
I'm so weary of the shame that has been placed on the hearts of my Christian brothers and sisters in relation to sex. If the message is always focused on the "No" it will be difficult, even in marriage, to experience enjoyment in the "Yes". Because after years of being taught that sex is something perceived as sinful and dirty it sure is hard to wipe that reputation clean.

4. Don't give instruction without a reason and a plan
"Because I said so" is not a good reason for saving sex for marriage. Just in case you didn't know. Where is our teaching on WHY and HOW. Why should I save sex for marriage and how do I actually accomplish that? That's what our youth really need to know. For the "why?" I would point to passages like 1 Thessalonians 4. For the how, I think it's important to talk about boundaries, consent, communication within relationships, and what it means to be "holy and set apart" which leads me to.....

5. Focus on the heart
Purity is a state of the heart, not just of the body. I could enter marriage having never even been touched by a man but that doesn't guarantee that I have a pure heart that is seeking after God. However, if I've been instructed to study what the bible says about living a holy life and my heart reflects God's teachings then the outward signs of purity will overflow from God's presence in my life. It's a backwards theology to say that avoiding sexual sin will lead to a purity when it's really the pure heart that leads to a desire to abstain from sexual sin.
2 Timothy 2:22 says, "Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart." The pure heart is the goal here. Everything else lines into place along side it.

Before I end this post, I want to go back to the lasagna. Our newlywed couple didn't have a recipe, so they didn't know how to make lasagna. But what's in the recipe? I don't think it's another form of physical affection, and I don't think it's some book called "Let's talk about Sex", either. I think it should be made up of realistic expectations, lots of grace for yourself and your spouse, a lot of prayer, and a mind and heart that is expectant instead of heavy with guilt. It will look a little different for everyone but I think each couple will reach a place of comfort with their recipe by being open and communicating with one another in love.

And this is the best part. That first batch of lasagna is going to suck a little, right? Right?? Come on, please share a laugh with me over this. It's the truth. But it's also going to be awesome and completely worth it. And you're going to have years and years to spend more time in the kitchen together making lasagna until you have it just right. I think there's very little in life more special than that reality. You see, this is why it's so important to me to talk about this. To bring it up even if it's awkward. Because the shame and the guilt that so many Christians face after years of seeing sex as sinful is hurting the church. It's breaking our marriages and leading our youth to sources of information about sex that treat intimacy like it's casual instead of sacred. If we want to see a change we have to be the ones to make it!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Changing the Perception of Purity

I have something on my heart. It's not an easy thing to share because it's on a topic that everyone likes to avoid. But I'm feeling sassy enough to bring it up, so let's hope I don't regret it in the morning.
I started a blog post that was meant to gently share my thoughts on this but after more than half an hour and only finishing a couple scant paragraphs I realized that I was going about this the wrong way. So instead I'm unleashing my real, raw emotion because I think this topic deserves it.

Modesty. Purity. Sex. Breastfeeding.

In the modern American Christian church we've got a little problem. We've been teaching our young ladies and gents for quite some time that modesty equals covering your body and purity equals saving yourself for marriage. But I've got a bit of a problem with that. I do believe that God designed sex for marriage and I also believe in wearing clothing that reflects modesty. But there's more to purity and modesty than the superficial, outward reflections of what God is doing in our hearts.

It wasn't until Kris and I were engaged that I started to become aware of the major flaw in the system. Now, as we're approaching our five year anniversary and I'm breastfeeding our second child my eyes are increasingly opened to how skewed our teachings are.

I have talked to too many young women who walked into their marriages terrified of sex. Why? Because after years and years of being taught a one-sided theology of the importance of modesty and sexual purity they're lost. They've valued their virginity and their covered bodies so much that they can't find pleasure in the act of sex. They are filled with so much mental conflict over finally giving up what they've held onto for so long. Then, a little down the road, they are approached with the task of giving birth to, and breastfeeding, a baby. I have a little newsflash for you here: God doesn't reach down and place a holy covering on every new, modest Christian mom. Birth is raw and it's eye opening. Breastfeeding is a learned skill. Neither of these things comes as naturally as you might think and both require an immense amount of comfort in your own skin.

If we really want to impress upon Christian men and women that purity isn't defined by virginity, but instead a state of being in Christ, then I think we'll pull them into the depths of God's abundant love. That is where the real teaching begins, you know? But here's the catch: we aren't going to change this flawed perception of purity without talking about sex. I'm so tired of the idea that simply saying "Save sex for marriage!" we're somehow teaching a deep truth. It takes talking about the WHY and the HOW and the WHERE in the bible do we learn about that? In depth, real, raw discussions of the every day challenges of sexual purity in today's American culture.

What I want is for every woman struggling with this is to understand a little something that I've struggled with and learned along the way. Modesty and purity are as much a state of your heart as they are of your body. God made your body and he didn't add an ounce of shame. I want to see our young women saving themselves for marriage because they believe in God's design for sex, not because they think that God is standing in heaven with a checklist. I want to see them choosing clothing that is a reflection of the modesty and purity of their hearts, not a shallow representation of their church's teachings.

These are my very short and to the point musings on this topic. Seriously, I could go on and on and on. But I'd like to hear the thoughts of others in my faith community who have been a part of this generation of teaching about purity! Please feel free to (gracefully) share your thoughts :-)