That was the "ice breaker" question. We went around the circle, introduced ourselves briefly, and then answered that question. A couple of the women wanted to skip answering (but we wouldn't let them off that easy). Most had trouble coming up with even one man from their own life they could call "good." Not one woman was able to say the best man in her life was her biological father. Thankfully, the two of us married ladies in the group were easily able to say that the "best man we know" is our husband (and I happen to be very thankful for a faithful dad and grandfather). The sad, but general consensus, though, was that "good men" are rare ~ very few and far between, as in almost none of these women could name one easily.
|This group of ladies is such a joy. I could hardly rein them in for discussion on Sunday due to their laughter and|
chattering and sheer enjoyment of being together. They also inspire me so much with their wisdom,
insight, and personal testimonies.
Several months before receiving this email, a another beautiful young woman told me about the man she had "accidentally friended" on Facebook ~ a friend of a friend, yet a complete, but very handsome stranger to her. ("That's weird," I said. "It's never happened to me ~ 'accidentally friending' someone," I had to tease.) They agreed to meet. Alone. In her home. While her parents were away.
Her roommates were against the idea entirely. It was dangerous. It was crazy. She did it anyway.
Not too long before that story, another beautiful young woman called my cell phone feeling frantic. She was in her car and driving north on our nearby Interstate. She was headed to meet a man she had struck up a conversation with online and via text that evening. At a motel. A MOTEL. With a stranger. She panicked when she began to imagine what would happen there based on what she had led him to believe might happen via a flirty and sexual online chat. She asked me what she should do. I begged her to TURN AROUND. I pleaded with her to turn around. I all but demanded that she TURN AROUND, as if I had some control over the phone. She was worried about letting him down and making him drive all that way to meet her. (Really?) I was worried for her life and ready to call the police, as if they could do something about a consensual arrangement.
She did turn around, and fortunately had only given the man her first name along with her phone number.
And over the years I've heard many similar composite stories (way too many in my opinion) that go something like this: We work together/had class together/were in a campus organization/met at a party. He came to my room/I went to his room. Our interaction turned physical/sexual. It's not really what I wanted. He's not really who I wanted. But it happened/he forced it/I initiated it anyway.
Beautiful women. Highly intelligent women. Strong and capable women. Women who ought to know their worth, their value.
What's going on?
(And just in case you were wondering what the big deal is, these are all Christian women who hold to the biblical standard of sex within marriage only, believing it to be God's will and a beautiful design which leads to life and joy. And though they were acting contrary to that belief, they also believe, as I do, that marriage is an earthly metaphor, given by God to point to the Gospel ~ His sacrificial life and death for his Bride, the church. So to us, sex before (or outside of) marriage is a big deal. A REALLY big deal. And one that leads to lots of soul damage.)
(P.S. NONE of the women I'm describing here are pictured above!)
Eventually, the long-distance friend who grieved an evening fling with her co-worker and I were able to talk in person. After she recounted the events that led to the sexual encounter through tears and we talked much about God's forgiveness and grace, I asked her if she had ever had any positive male influences in her life. Did any man ever show a healthy interest in her? Did any man ever show her proper affection? Did any man ever teach her anything or try to protect her?
She could think of a lot of men who were around during her growing up years, but all of them let her down. Some of them even took advantage of her. NONE of them treasured her. Not one.
And yes, it's more than having a strong, healthy, protective male presence in your life, I know. It's also about a fallen world, a lack of preparation by parents, selfish, rebellious choices, the oftentimes negative feminist push for women to have complete and unlimited equality with men, the inherent (created by God) power of sexual attraction, and the exploitation of it all around us, and more.
(But check the research. A girl who does have a loving and involved father is much better off in every area of her life.)
During one of these many recent conversations, a book came to mind. I can't remember where I first heard of it, but I knew the Lord was putting it on my mind for a reason. I ordered two copies, and began to read it and meet weekly with one of the above mentioned women. It resonated so deeply with her. It also resonated deeply with me, since I am literally in constant contact with women who are making regretful decisions about their sexuality, which is partly due to their own choices, indwelling sin, lack of responsibility, and obedience to their Lord, and partly due to never being treasured and protected by a good man in her life and consequently not believing they are worth anything more than an illicit affair with a stranger.
I alternate between being shocked at their risky behavior and completely heartbroken over the pain they experience and its destructive ripple effects in their lives.
So I ordered 10 more copies of Sex and the Soul of a Woman by Paula Rinehart, and our church agreed to allow for a 6-week summer small group focused on this book. We're half way through, and it's been such a wonderfully, encouraging time. Every woman in the group has a story of struggle ~ including me ~ and it has been so helpful and healing to read together the effects that both sex outside of marriage and inside marriage have on the soul of a woman. (The first being negative, and the second being positive.)
There are so many profound sentences and passages in this book, but one of my favorites is this one, because it contains almost word-for-word what I have said countless times to the young (and old) women in my life who are compromising and settling in their romantic relationships...
"I find myself wanting to protest, 'You are meant to be loved and valued and cherished for the rest of your life by a man whose face lights up when he sees you.' Whether a woman marries or not, strength and respect are her God-given birthright. I long to help women find the back door out of promiscuity and to recover the parts of their hearts and souls they feel they have lost. Doing so is entirely possible." p. 24 (emphasis mine)I can't tell you how many times I have gently grabbed a woman's shoulders or her cheeks, locked eyes with her and told her these very words, but it's more than I like to recount. This past Sunday during small group, I may have even enthusiastically elaborated on how wonderful it is, how safe it is, how secure and blissful and freeing it is to have sex with one good, godly man for your whole life. And though this particular group of women believes me (believes God!), I fear that, overall, my doing this doesn't really make all that much difference for other women. She's got to believe it, embrace it for herself, and that is really a work of Christ Himself.
And so I pray that in coming together this way and looking at the "profound mystery" (Eph. 5) of marriage and sex the Lord will transform and heal hearts. I pray that despite the absence of worthy men, Christ Himself would be enough, and that each woman would recognize herself as being created in His image, and therefore worthy of love and steadfast commitment, not lowering herself to the "hook up" culture and what the book suggests is simply a sanitized, acceptable form of prostitution.
Thankfully, this past Sunday, there were stories from these women of the conversations they've had with their other female friends ~ instructing them and encouraging them to embrace these truths for themselves. The book is giving them language with which to speak, equipping them (and me!) with the beautiful reasons behind the biblical standard of sex within marriage only. How wonderful is that?
I pray that we will all know, understand, and experience the larger story regarding sex and enjoy it (eventually for some) fully and within its proper, life-giving, God-glorifying context.
"So sex is always more than just sex. You and I cannot engage in something with our bodies without our hearts and souls being affected. A man and woman's passionate longing to be together in a sexual relationship is their greatest clue to how fervently they long for God; the pleasure they bring each other honors God! In most other major religions, to be more spiritual is to be less sexual, but not so in Christianity." p.99
(There's soooo much more I could say, but the book does it best, and I highly recommend it to women of all ages and stages of life.)