Today’s post from our friends at Authentic Intimacy and guest blogger Jerusha Clark is so, so, SO good. I (Josh) regularly receive emails from readers saying “my spouse has shut me off from sexual intimacy.” Today’s post is an honest look at where that starts, with some great advice on how to get back to God’s best. And as usual, it all comes down to one thing: replacing selfishness with a Christ-centered servanthood.
I don’t even remember what we were fighting about.
Isn’t that so often the case? I stormed out of our bedroom with my pillow and a blanket in hand. Not that I actually planned on sleeping—I was far too angry for that; I just wanted him to know that I had no intention of coming back to bed with him.
A little backstory here…My husband is a genuinely great guy. He’s a godly guy. He’s also just as sinful as the next person (who, sadly, happens to be me). We’re two broken people trying to love one another. I praise God that we ever get it right; that night, however, everything was wrong.
He had hurt me. I had hurt him. We said horrible things. And I sat fuming in the silence of midnight, arguing with God. I never wanted to be intimate with him again. I “knew” this wasn’t a godly solution, so my mind searched for a “way out.” The thought presented itself: “Fine; he can have my body, but he can’t have my heart.”
In the next breath, the truth hit me with blunt force: this is the greatest sexual temptation I’ve ever faced…the temptation to separate sex and love.
I’ve been married for almost twenty years now. It would be impossible for me to count the number of times I’ve been frustrated by how complicated sex is. I had no idea that it would take so much work for my husband and I to stay on the same page sexually, to love one another well, to reject shame from the past, to avoid the temptation to shut down love when we’re wounded.
It was Love that awoke me to the looming threat that night. It’s Love that drew us back together, Love that keeps us fighting for what’s good and true and beautiful in our marriage. It’s the picture of Jesus loving His bride that is reflected in our bedroom. As Dr. Juli puts it, “The Gospel is written into our sexuality.”
No wonder the enemy wants to fill our minds and our bedrooms with smut! He wants to disconnect sexuality from love, intimacy, holiness, and God-honoring worship. He’ll do anything within his power to make us despise our sexuality, resign ourselves to boring sexual expression in marriage, fixate our single life on “finding the one,” or any number of other attacks. He’ll introduce bitterness or addiction, fear or shame whenever and wherever he can. The enemy prompts abusers to abuse, tainting sex with pain and terror. He prowls around, looking for women to devour.
The only solution is to practice Jesus’ kind of Love: “A new commandment I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:33-35). Must. Not “should” and not “can.” You must love one another.
Let No Man Separate
Maybe this has occurred to you before, but it was novel to me when I realized that the opposite of love isn’t always hate. In my marriage (and in my parenting, friendships, and serving God, for that matter) the opposite of love isn’t hate, but selfishness. And selfishness can impact our intimacy in so many ways…
When I was single, I spent a lot of time wondering whether I’d get married, when I would if I did, what my life would be like in the future (this included thoughts about sex, most of which amounted to wanting to reenact particularly wonderful kiss scenes from my favorite chick-flicks), and so on. Interestingly enough, I spent zero time thinking about the sacrifices that love might require of me, the despair I might feel when marriage didn’t equal feeling perpetually loved, and the deliberate resolve love would necessitate. In short, I fantasized about my personal fulfillment/happiness, and ignored the truth that loving someone else costs a great deal.
Please understand me; I’m not encouraging singles or married women to dwell inordinately on these other, less immediately appealing, aspects of love. That only leaves us in a similar predicament: thinking mostly about ourselves. Instead, we love best when we focus on what is, rather than what we think should be. This brings glory to God. This is unselfishness at its finest (and often most difficult).
I speak with a lot of married women who view sex mostly as an obligation they’re resigned to now and then, mostly because “it’s such a big deal to him.” I only ask you to consider—as I keep considering myself—where Love fits into that sexual equation. Is it loving to communicate, “Okay; fine. Just get it over with as fast as possible” with our bodies, even if we don’t say it with our words? Are there times when you might, instead, choose to unselfishly give life by being a willing lover?
On the other hand, you may feel rejected by your husband or undesirable to him. Perhaps sex feels like a constant reminder of your “not good enoughness.” Maybe the truth of your belovedness in Christ feels weak compared to the heartache you bear. I encourage you to renounce the lie that you are unwanted or unworthy. The enemy wants you to believe that; your husband may unwittingly—or maliciously—be perpetuating that lie, but God will never reject, abandon, or dismiss you. He cherishes every piece of you. Align yourself with Truth by boldly, lovingly confronting the issues in your marriage. Pursue counseling for yourself; pray fervently that your husband would be convicted and healed; address specific problems, and do not allow lies to steal your confidence. You are accepted (Romans 15:8). You are chosen (Isaiah 43:1-4). You are beloved (Jeremiah 33:3), and that will never change (Hebrews 13:8). Living in Truth gives you the power to love others and experience love yourself.
Some of you reading this fear embracing your sexuality. Past abuse or scornful and shameful memories may have poisoned your ability to delight in holy sexuality. If so, I encourage you with all my heart to reach out to a trusted counselor or clinician. You’ve already taken a great step by getting connected here at Authentic Intimacy. Well done! What we see anecdotally and know from research is that sexual trauma doesn’t simply “sort itself out.” Not having sex; ignoring the messages you’ve heard or absorbed in the past; burying yourself in work, parenting, or Christian service; or despising sex…None of these will resolve the pain. But there is hope, there is redemption, there is restoration and Love in finding peace with your sexuality through the power of Christ.
Having a healthy outlook on sex and a fulfilling sex life is neither simple nor swift. Because of this, we often lose heart; resignation threatens to set in. Modern society leads us to believe that everything should be fun, fast, and easy. But this lie erodes our hope! When we encounter the challenges of sexuality, we may think, “This is too difficult; it shouldn’t take so much time and effort.” Finding freedom and joy in holy sexuality is what one pastor and author describes as “a long obedience in the same direction.” It’s not a short walk, but a journey that brings us to fulfilling intimacy.
You can discover more about your identity in Christ and living free of toxic lies that keep women feeling “less than,” by checking out Jerusha’s latest book, Every Piece of Me: Shattering Toxic Beliefs and Discovering the Real You (available online and at bookstores near you).