Loneliness is rampant.
And people both outside and inside the church are pointing to this loneliness as reason to challenge, reject, or rewrite Christianity’s teachings on marriage, sex, and gender.
“How can a loving God give such strong desire for deep, intimate, and physical connection, and then command us to refrain from sex unless we’re married to someone of the opposite sex?”
Many of us know people who have left orthodox Christianity over this, or others who, without leaving, are certainly disregarding Christian morality because it seems unbearable.
Singles, especially, can be vulnerable to these temptations: “Why am I alone when it seems everyone else has somebody?”
Whether single or married, you are meant to be a part of God’s answer for the lonely. To hold men and women to a biblical sexual ethic is to uphold God’s Law. To do so while lovingly walking with them is to fulfill the Law (Gal. 5:14, 6:2).
So ask God what He has for you to do.
Below are four thoughts to help:
- Marrieds, adopt a single around you. Invite an elderly neighbor to your kids’ dance recital, a college kid for a home-cooked meal, or a single in his 40’s over after church. You might be surprised how God can use your family as-is.
- Singles, adopt a family. Practice seeing singleness as the incredibly powerful relational ministry opportunity it is. Paul revered singleness as better than marriage for this very reason (1 Cor. 7:32-38).
You’ll likely need to plan ahead more than you do with single friends, but look for ways to serve a family. You might be surprised at how many moms and dads struggle to make ends meet, care for their own souls, or resolve feelings of exhaustion, boredom, and internal loneliness.
- Accept that sex is not a need. Despite what our culture teaches, and despite the benefits of a healthy sex life within marriage, you do not need sex to be healthy, holy, and happy. Are you missing out on something by abstaining? Yes, but nothing you can’t live without.
- Relatedly, embrace that your longing is for more than another person. It’s for God. Yes, even your physical longing is a longing for God. If God who is Spirit created all that is physical, can He not then also meet every physical need? David knew He could, so did Isaiah, Jesus, and Paul (see Ps. 84:2, Isaiah 58:11, Jeremiah Jn. 4:31-34, Phil. 4:12-13). And so have so many saints throughout history, including many who endured the unmet hunger for sexual union for years on end.
(For more ideas on dealing with loneliness, check out the comments following last week’s blog, or add your own below.)
To belong to God is to become a part of His family. Come to His table, bring others, and scoot down to make room for another.
Care to join me?
From my perspective, it’s a tough era for singles.
A relatively common refrain from men and women who are single—especially those who find themselves single long after they expected or wanted to be—goes something like this:
“Year after year, I watch friends get engaged, marry and have kids. I’m happy for them, but I’m still going home alone, still longing for that someone special, for a family of my own.”
And too many singles in the church are leaving, or suspending their faith, or attempting to rewrite it because, “After a while, I just couldn’t believe in a God who would give me these deep desires for connection and intimacy (including physical intimacy) and then ask me to live without them for the rest of my life.”
Singleness isn’t new, but singleness as we know it today is something new.
As we hold to traditional biblical teaching on marriage, sex, and singleness, we do well to also recognize that in some very significant ways, singleness is harder than ever.
Although over 40% of the adult population in the U.S. is single, and although singleness doesn’t carry the same stigma it did 50 or 60 years ago, still the relational framework in our culture (including in our churches) is not conducive to relationally healthy singleness.
- Relationships have become transient. The norm for marriage, home, work, and church used to be that they were life-long. Not so anymore.
- Same-gender friendships, perhaps especially among men, have become optional. These relationships used to be a primary source of information, community, reputation, and dignity for both marrieds and singles.
- Touch has become oddly taboo. Because of concerns about abuse, “sending the wrong message”, or spreading germs touch is viewed with a level of suspicion unprecedented in history.
- Physicality has become over-sexualized. Perhaps as a result of the touch taboo, or perhaps the cause of it, physicality is for many a slippery slope to something sexual.
- Face-to-face interaction is less. The quick go-to for connection has fast become Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter, while research suggests these can actually increase unhappiness and discontent.
- We’re extremely busy. With work, ministry, fitness, family. We live with nearly zero margin in our lives.
As these and other realities have combined, they’ve sucked relational oxygen from around us, leaving especially our single brothers and sisters gasping, desperate for air. (And subsequently, it’s a more challenging environment for single Christians to live out a Christian sexual ethic.)
What can be done? I’ll give some thoughts next week, but for now I’d love to hear from you:
How do you think we, as Christians, married and single, can be a part of the solution to loneliness in the lives of singles?
When an unfaithful husband’s* betrayal comes to light, and both he and his wife begin the process of recovery, it’s not uncommon to hear something along these lines:
“I’ll do whatever is necessary to get things back to the way they were.”
“I’m through with the other relationship. I don’t want to lose my wife and family.”
“If my wife will forgive me, I know we can be happy again like we used to be.”
To a hurting wife who herself doesn’t want to lose what she had and desperately wants things to go back to the way they were, this can be encouraging.
But in a certain light, it shouldn’t be.
The reason why is this: The way things were isn’t what they remember. Those times may have felt better, but the truth is, they weren’t better.
Sure, in some cases she may have been blissfully unaware, but back then, something was stirring under the surface that eventually led to where the marriage is today. For example, perhaps . . .
- He was keeping secrets from her and others.
- She was ignoring her own concerns.
- He wasn’t maintaining honest relationships with godly men committed to his spiritual health and the health of his marriage.
- His relationship with Christ was more rules than relationship, was lukewarm or was non-existent.
- She liked the reputation (or income, or lifestyle) they had more than the truth of their life.
- He was unaccountable, no one could touch him.
- She didn’t know one of his most daunting areas of struggle, and so in one sense she didn’t really know him.
If you’re in recovery from marital infidelity, you don’t want to go back. Backwards is where the problem was cultivated, took root, and grew.
This doesn’t mean everything in the past is lost, but it does mean that in order to have a healthy, godly marriage in the future, you both will have to get help to face reality, develop new patterns, and practice new ways of relating with each other as well as other brothers and sisters in the body of Christ.
The way of healing and reconciliation can only be accomplished by moving forward.
Leave a comment or question below.
* Although both husbands and wives can be guilty of marital infidelity, I write here from the perspective that the husband has been unfaithful so as to avoid confusion and the cumbersomeness of using “he/she” and “him or her.”)
Confession: All throughout school, I purposefully avoided any science class that included dissecting a frog. I didn’t want to be the guy passed out on the floor, because the thought of cutting through any body makes me a bit queasy.
But this is also one of the reasons I became motivated to overcome lust.
Lust dissects a man or woman against their will. It disassembles a person, cutting away any part that doesn’t produce romantic or sexual pleasure in you in the moment.
Lust (which is the gateway to all other sexual sin, by the way) is a heartless surgeon, leaving reality—history, hearts, hopes, family, fears, flaws—discarded on the floor.
Consider the last time lust tempted you. Did it point out the complete, real person? Or just parts, idealized images, and fictionalized versions of the person?
It’s impossible to lust when seeing an actual, intact person. Lust requires unplugging from the reality that this is a real man or woman, just like you.
- The man or woman in porn has a real name—not the inane provocative one assigned to them by the men behind the camera.
- The flirtatious woman at the bar is actually an insecure little girl inside, longing to be known, secure, and loved like everybody else.
- The celebrity sex symbol worries about what people think of him, has quirky habits, and gets morning breath, just like you do.
- And those who have sex for pay rely on a bottle or a needle to quiet the memories of where they’ve come from and to numb the pain of what life has become.
In the midst of lust, we don’t think of these things. Lust won’t allow it.
But love does. Love insists on it.
On our path from lust to love, we can practice remembering each one’s unique humanity. Sometimes, this will mean running the other way, averting our eyes no matter what, and saying, ‘In the name of Jesus Christ, and for the sake of my brother/sister, No!”
And day by day, we can invite Jesus to put people back together in our eyes and minds, to retrain us to see everyone, no matter what they look like, as a whole person again. Just like He sees them.
Just like He sees you.
I’d love to hear your thoughts! Leave a comment below.
More than meets the eye,
It’s cursing of a different kind, and all dressed up like a gift.
It’s the curse of being Fine.
A few years ago, during my yearly physical, my doctor made the comment, “Well, you’re getting older so it’s to be expected you’ll be carrying a few more pounds.”
At first I just took the information in. After all, this was my doctor. But later, I realized how faulty her words were. It’s true I’m getting older. And it’s true that as my metabolism slows down, it’s easier for me to gain weight. But that doesn’t mean I have to!
She was offering me the new four letter ‘F’ word. She was saying, It’s Fine. You’re Fine. You don’t have to try, and you certainly don’t have to suffer.
In the realm of sex and sexuality, there are similar versions of this same theme:
- If the temptations aren’t going away, it’s because it’s who you are. It’s fine.
- As long as the sex is between consenting adults and doesn’t hurt anyone, it’s fine.
- If you’ve felt this way all your life; it’s because God made you this way.
- Porn is just for fun. At least you’re not physically cheating.
Each of these comes disguised as a long awaited blessing, promising an end to suffering, and an end to the inner conflict between desire and devotion to God.
But there’s a problem. It’s not real.
I was having lunch with a friend recently who experiences same-sex desires. He gets lonely and hates the idea of never getting married. And yet, when faced with the notion that God wouldn’t ask him to suffer, he replies, “Well, Jesus suffered, and I’m following Him.”
His words are a sword cutting through the murky fine-ness surrounding us and revealing light from eternity.
A doctor might tell me that gaining weight after 40 is expected, and that might relieve me of a sense of guilt at eating more and exercising less. But where there’s guilt, or brokenness, or sickness, I don’t want to be free of my ability to sense it. I want to be free of it.
I don’t just want relief. I want restoration.
As long as I know I’m not all fine, then there remains the possibility of restoration. The problem with thinking I’m fine when I’m not is then I never will be.
If you’re stuck in some area of your life (sexual or otherwise), it might be because of shame.
Shame has an unrivalled ability to derail progress and hinder growth, and . . . it’s sneaky. It can come so subtly that often you don’t even realize it’s there.
Shame’s primary message goes something like this:
You are uniquely defective.
Take a look at those words for just a moment.
Is there any area of your life where you hear this message? Any area of your life where you have a general sense that no one in your life (or in your family, among your peers, at your church, in your company, at your age, or of your gender) is as bad as you are?
Or maybe it’s not something you hear. Maybe it’s just something you feel.
If so, shame is likely at work.
If shame has slipped its primary message in, here’s what it will whisper next:
- You don’t belong here.
- You’ll be rejected.
- Your only hope is to isolate: Keep your defective parts hidden or withdraw yourself completely from everyone. Including God.
Before you know it, shame has shoved you (or at least a part of your life) into a dark corner where no one will see.
It’s a crock.
And it’s time you know: Jesus and shame don’t like each other much.
I know shame has told you they’re buddies. I know shame’s told you it’s delivering a message from Jesus, maybe even that Jesus didn’t want to deliver the message himself because the defects disgust him.
But it’s not true. Jesus doesn’t despise you. He despises shame (see Hebrews 12:2).
No matter what shame has been saying, Jesus is searching for you. And throughout your life, his love has been searching for those parts of you that are defective, weak, broken, or sinful.
The cure to shame is not isolation; it’s the love of God.
So when you find yourself hiding, when you find you’ve been shoved little by little into darkness, step back into the light.
And if you’re having trouble with that, ask Jesus for help. He said he came for the lost and he wasn’t kidding.
And if you’re still having trouble with shame, give us a call. We’d be honored to help.
A pen is designed to write. A book to be read. A violin to play music.
A pen can also punch a hole in a watermelon. A book can work as a decent footstool. And in a pinch, a violin would make fine kindling.
Likewise, eyes can lust. But they’re not designed to.
If you struggle with lust, you need to know this. Your eyes aren’t the problem.
Christ came to condemn sin in your eyes, not to condemn your eyes (Romans 8:3), Why? Because there’s nothing wrong with how he designed your eyes. They’re perfectly designed to love.
Maybe your eyes have gotten really good at lusting. Maybe you can’t imagine they’ll ever stop. No matter, practice trusting that God’s Spirit in you is at work giving His life to your eyes (Romans 8:11). This is a fight of faith, to be sure. But it is one worth fighting.
As a part of this faith walk, do this:
I mean it. Tell your eyes you’re sorry for mistreating them.
I don’t know where I got this idea, but when I was trying to stop using pornography, I’d take time afterwards to confess to God, and then I’d put my hands gently on my eyes and say:
“I’m sorry. Jesus made you to look with love, and I let sin mis-use you to lust. Please forgive me. In Jesus’ name I bless you to love.”
Here’s what I like about this practice:
- Like apologizing to a person, it helps put you and your eyes back on the same team.
- It reminds you that your eyes aren’t the problem, lust is.
- It honors your eyes for the great gift they are.
- It reorients you that the goal isn’t to see less, it’s to see with Christ’s love.
I know, it sounds funny. And it might feel weird to do. But give it a try and see if it doesn’t help over time. Something about this can actually stir you toward using your eyes creatively, joyfully, lovingly.
That’s what they were made to do.
Leave a comment below: What’s one way your eyes can love that no other part of your body can?
How often do you see men depicted in contemporary media who successfully resist when tempted sexually? Examples are rare, but I’ll bet most of us can think of at least a few.
Now what about depictions of men turning away from an opportunity to lust?
Examples are nearly non-existent.
The man always turns to see what he’s not invited to, to steal a glance, to take a peek, even to let his eyes linger.
One of my favorite shows growing up had a lead character who fumbled all over himself when encountering an attractive woman. He shared an apartment with two women he ogled every chance he got, and they’re reactions suggested they thought what he was doing was natural, comical, even boyishly innocent.
I grew up drinking all this in, unaware of the lies embedded there. Or what they were doing to me.
Today, the idea that lust is natural, comical, or innocent is even more prevalent. It hangs in the air like the smell of a dump. And we’re all so used to it, we hardly notice it anymore.
Lust is just what men, even Christ-followers, do. They can’t help themselves.
This is a lie, and I’m not exaggerating when I say it comes straight from the pit of hell. It degrades men and women alike. Animals can’t help themselves. Men were made for something more.
Jesus, the man, was tempted to lust and had every opportunity. He never did. He only ever loved with His eyes.
He is our older brother, our hero to emulate. And what’s more, as we reach forward to be like Him, He reaches back to make us so.
On the cross, He became lust that his younger siblings could become the righteousness of God in Him.
Renounce in Jesus’ name the lie you’ve believed about yourself and lust.
God did not create your eyes to lust, to take, to trespass someone else’s privacy, to treat another human being as a something for you to use.
He created your eyes to love. He created your eyes, in fact, to love like no other part of you can.
Ask a few people close to you to tell you about a time when a man’s eyes conveyed love to them and see what they say. See how your heart stirs as you listen.
Woe to a world whose men have eyes grown dull with lust, eyes that can no longer see with love.
Jesus designed his sons and daughters for something far better.
Can you think of a time when a man’s eyes conveyed love to you? Leave a comment below.
God put freedom in our DNA. We feel it when we look out over the ocean. Or when we can’t see over the prison wall.
But if I’m honest with myself, I’m not always happy with how far God goes with this gift of freedom.
Freedom means any number of possible outcomes, and they’re not all good. “God, do you see what’s happening down here? Could you scale back on the freedom just a bit, please?”
As a parent, I love my kids’ freedom when they’re getting along, doing well in school, growing, laughing. But I also know they could really, really screw up their lives. Even if I give all I’ve got as their dad. I’m not so sure I like freedom there.
Heck, I’m not always happy with how much freedom God’s given me. I’ve got a lot of responsibility, and a lot of people depend on me. I could wreck all this.
Take parenting, I can’t help but turn to God and ask, “Seriously? You’ve put me in charge of raising kids? But . . . they’re living beings! And they’re breakable! (They also don’t stay where I put them.) God, you do know I’m still basically a kid trying to figure life out, too, right?”
All this is as God designed.
Pascal wrote of the “dignity of causality”—the incredible honor God’s given that when we pray, it actually changes things in the world.
Our thoughts and actions have this dignity, too. What we choose to think about, to say, to do, all of it can bring about good or harm. (And we don’t always know which.)
God, who is love, would have it no other way.
For us to share in his love, we must be free. Because if we cannot say no to God’s love, then the yes we say would not really be our own. Our heart’s lift when a bride says, “I do.” But if we found out the groom had held her captive and alone since she was a girl? Well, that would change everything.
Freedom is indispensible if we want love, real love, godly love, to reign. And this is exactly what God wants.
So where I find myself mistrusting freedom—whether in my life, my kids’ lives, or in the lives of others—I let Christ remind me that freedom is our only chance at coming to receive and give God’s love.
And I let him remind me the lengths he’s gone to rescue us from our captors and bring us back to his love.
If only we’ll freely give him our yes.
Leave a comment below.
One of our greatest and deepest human needs is to be naked.
We were not created to hide ourselves, whether behind clothes, possessions, achievements, or titles. Nor were we made to hide behind silence, small talk, anger, a smile, or busyness.
We were made to be naked and unashamed, yet in this fallen world, we also know instinctively we need to be clothed, to be covered somehow. We’re not in Eden anymore.
Even in a culture like ours where bodies are flaunted, and used to attract or to sell, we cover more than we expose. It doesn’t take much to discern that much of our obsession with body size, weight, and shape is not about health, but about trying to cover feelings of inadequacy or shame. It’s possible to hide behind nakedness, too.
Our eternal longing to return to our naked and unashamed beginnings cannot be shaken. But neither can our need to be clothed. We live with an inner conflict and we feel it.
We make the same mistake our first forefather and foremother made. Their best efforts (sewing fig leaf coverings, hiding among the trees, blaming others for their choices) could not restore the freedom they felt before.
We do the same when we believe we can cover ourselves adequately. We cannot.
I think Adam and Eve’s original experience of nakedness felt like they were completely exposed and also completely covered. Not concealed, but covered. God’s glory, His protection, and His love covered them. And their love and honor one for the other also covered them.
Our meager attempts at looking like we have it together physically, spiritually, emotionally, financially, etc. can’t hold a candle to what they experienced.
We cannot shake that we were made for what they once knew.
There is only one way for us now. It’s not posing or posturing. It’s not religious perfectionism, financial success, well-behaved kids, a growing church, or a fitness program. (And just to be clear, it’s not nudism.)
We must allow God Himself to clothe us.
First, be gentle with yourself when it comes to any shame you feel. Acknowledge it to yourself, to God, and to those closest to you.
Second, admit your inadequate attempts to make yourself “naked and unashamed.”
Third, allow yourself to be naked in front of Jesus. Come to Him acknowledging your needs, fears, sins, and deepest longings. Don’t decide for Him how He will respond to you. Leave room for Him to respond as He will. (And know however He responds, His response will never be to strip or shame you further.)
It was He who let Himself be stripped and shamed for our sake on the Cross. In a very real way through the Cross, He clothes us with Himself.
If we’ll let Him. This isn’t a one time event. Daily, we must come naked and let Him clothe us.
And as we walk this way with Him, we become those with whom others also can be again naked and unashamed.
Leave a comment below.