What if Balance is Overrated?

Balance is Overrated

Here is an older post that I really love, so I wanted to resurrect it–in case you missed it the first time!

Balance. It’s the buzzword of this generation.

In our hectic lives, everyone is searching for that elusive thing called “balance”, where we feel like we’re living out our priorities, we’re able to get the rest we need, but we’re still being purposeful.

What if the whole idea of finding balance is more like a millstone around your neck than it is a real thing to aim after, though?

Let me explain.

Finding Balance, in and of itself, says that some things must lose.

It says that you have to put less of an emphasis on one thing so that you can put more of an emphasis on something else. To aim for balance is really to aim for a constant series of trade-offs. You decide that this will have to go, that you can’t do this, all so that you can do this.

It’s not exactly an easy psychological process.

What if there’s a better way?

A bunch of very disparate but interesting things have led me to this conclusion. First, I was reading Kathy Peel’s book The Family Manager while staying at a friend’s home recently. Her point is that many housewives are extremely capable when it comes to organizing work or organizing big functions at church, but we can’t seem to organize our homes. The solution? Take what you’re good at and apply those same principles at home. In other words, work to your strengths.

I’ve read something similar in another book recently, which even though I disagreed with much of it, that one part I thought was useful.

Forget finding balance; instead, figure out what you’re good at.

What makes you feel alive? What gets you excited? Now concentrate on maximizing your time for that.

At the same time, I’ve been delivering a number of messages at various speaking engagements about finding your purpose in life. And it occurs to me now that if we apply all three of these principles to our lives, we’d be a lot happier than if we just sought balance. So here’s what such a life would look like:

1. Figure out your purpose.

What is it that God is calling you to right now? Where does He want you investing your time, your money, your energy? Sometimes there may be just one area; some of us have several areas. I feel called to speak, to homeschool, and to lead the Bible quizzing program with our youth at church. One of those areas is simply my specific responsibility (my family). God always calls you first and foremost to your family. The others are more where I am using my gifts and serving in my particular church.

When you figure out where you are most called, then it’s easier to emphasize those areas. Forget everything else. Let it all fall by the wayside. We don’t need to be “balanced”, doing everything in moderation. We need to be sold out to the areas where God has called us!

Figure out where God has called you, and ditch the rest. Yes, the other stuff needs to get done. But God will call someone to do that other stuff. Your responsibility is just to live out the areas where you are called.

I believe that we are always called primarily to our families and to the people who are closest to us. Those are the people that God has trusted us with to show them Jesus. We are also called to our local body of believers, to serve in at least some capacity. I don’t think having children gives you an excuse not to serve. We all can be serving somewhere, because without us the church can’t function. So ask God to show you in what one area you can serve that will make a difference.

2. In those areas where you feel called, work to your strengths.

Maybe you don’t cook. Maybe you never will learn to love cooking or cook very well. That’s okay. Stop beating yourself up about it. Learn to make 7 meals well, and rotate them every week. You’re allowed. Maybe your real gift is in making a fun home where you play lots of games and create an atmosphere where people just plain have a roaring good time, even if the house is never in tip top shape.

That’s who you are. Stop trying to become someone you’re not. What are your strengths in your family? Play to them. Do the things that you do well, and then figure out how to minimize the other tasks which do need to get done so that you have more time for your strengths. Don’t strive for balance, because in your case, balance means spending more time on stuff that frustrates you and makes you miserable, and less on stuff that gives you life.

I was reminded of this a few years ago when I went on a craft binge. I bought painting supplies. I bought fabric to sew. I bought all kinds of stuff. And then I started doing it and hated it. I sewed my maternity clothes and they never fit quite right. I tried to stencil something and kept going out of the lines.

And all the while my knitting sat beside me, untouched. I was trying to conquer all these other crafts that I admired, instead of doing the one that I am great at (if I do say so myself) and that relaxes me. So now I proudly announce that I don’t sew, I don’t cross-stitch, I don’t scrapbook, and I don’t crochet. What I do do is knit. Everywhere. Even in line at the grocery store (I always have a pair of socks on the go in my purse).

Sheila Wray Gregoire knitting--work to your strengths!

It may not be balanced, but it’s what I’m good at and it’s what I enjoy. You don’t need to do everything. Work to your strengths.

When you figure out what you’re good at, it’s easier to apply those things to your home. If you’re a spontaneous person, then create a spontaneous home. Work less to lists and more to creativity. That’s okay. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. Figure out how to get done what does need to get done, but then create a tone for your home where you’re laid back, and people can drop in anytime and it doesn’t bother you.

If, instead, you’re very organized, then don’t try to be spontaneous! Create a schedule for your day and stick to it. You’ll feel better.

Often instead of working to our strengths we work to our weaknesses. We see the things we’re not good at and we spend all kinds of time trying to make ourselves better at these areas of weakness, rather than spending productive time in the areas where we do excel. If we each worked to our strengths, we’d get things done a lot more quickly and with a lot less grief.

God made you the way you are for a purpose. You do not have to be the typical Christian woman, because God may not have made you that way. He sure didn’t make me that way! I function best when I have a ton of things on the go. I work really hard, and then I crash really hard, and my family loves it. We’re busy, we do interesting things, we talk about interesting things, and no one day is ever exactly like the other.

That’s who I am. Do you know who you are? Or are you still reading all these books that tell you that you should fit into a specific mold? I think often we mistake our identity and calling with the things in life that need to get done. Just because laundry needs to get done does not mean that you are naturally a laundry person. Just because you’re looking after your children at home does not mean that you are naturally a kid person. But you can take what you are naturally good at and you can apply those things to how you manage your home, how you raise your kids, how you serve in church.

3. If you don’t fit the mold, break it!

Just don’t try to have balance, if what you mean by finding balance is that you do a little bit of everything. It seems to me that God calls us to live out our purpose, and to work productively six days a week, and then He calls us for one day a week to rest in Him, to have time to think, to meditate, to enjoy each other. That’s the balance that we need.

So make sure that you’re spending time connecting with God so that you can find your purpose. Spend time on your own everyday rejuvenating yourself so that you can live out that purpose. And then apply your strengths to living out your calling day by day. Don’t be everything to everybody. Be uniquely you. And that is perfectly okay.

This One Tip Revolutionized Our Marriage

Tip_1Today, welcome Kyle Gabhart, author of The Phoenix Marriage, who wanted to share how to revolutionize your marriage.  His experiential story will change how you see your spouse!

One weekend in February of 2013, my wife and I attended a weekend marriage conference that rocked our world. The workshop was presented by Dr. David and Teresa Ferguson at our local church. We had so many amazing realizations that weekend, but one of those stands out more than any other. Dr Ferguson walked the couples through a simple visualization exercise:

Imagine you are sitting next to God and both of you are gazing a short distance away toward your mate. Rather than seeing him or her as your spouse, try to imagine what God sees – His child. Uniquely created for a divine purpose, He has cared for and nurtured this child for years. Now ask Father God what He loves about His child. What is it about him or her that delights the Father? What special qualities has He uniquely placed within him or her and why did He choose this person to be your soul’s mate?

This simple exercise transformed our marriage. Our physical eyes that saw only chores and bills and schedules were exchanged for spiritual eyes to see one another with grace, compassion, and love.

How do you see your mate?

If your marriage is anything like ours used to be, you likely see your spouse in terms of his or her function. Your mate is a partner that helps with chores, finances, logistics with the kiddos, and makes sure you never have to go alone to the movies. While all of those are true, they only scratch the surface. All of those functional elements are generic qualities which would be applicable to anyone operating in the role of husband or wife. Beneath that surface layer is someone specially crafted to share a life and a mission with you. Yet, losing sight of this truth is so easy to do.

This one tip revolutionized our marriage--see like God does!

What does God see?

“The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” -I Samuel 16:7 (NIV)

God sees His son or His daughter. He sees a precious child whom He uniquely endowed with talents and capabilities. Your spouse didn’t come from a mold. There was no factory assembly line. This was a custom job for a specific purpose. God lovingly crafted your husband or wife and chose to trust you with loving this person for the rest of your life. Before the two of you even met, He was delighting in this person every day. Long before the two of you said your vows, He was weeping over your mate’s failures and celebrating each success. He LOVES your mate unconditionally. Do you?

Honor your mate

“Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established. The Lord has made everything for its purpose.” -Proverbs 16:3-4 (ESV)

The Lord has made EVERYTHING for its purpose, your spouse included. Those qualities that annoy you most, may actually be a side effect of the unique gifts that your spouse has been blessed with by God! My wife sometimes gets frustrated by my absent-mindedness. But this is just a natural side effect of being a thoughtful and introspective person. These are the very same qualities that I use in ministering to her heart and shepherding marriages on a daily basis! Likewise, I tend to get aggravated by Tammy’s insistence that we leave on time to get to places we need to go, and yet it’s this very quality that makes her so invaluable to managing our crazy family of eight!

Commit to honoring your mate. If one or more qualities bother you, ask God to help you see why He created them that way. Chances are, you’re missing out on an incredible aspect of your spouse. Then once you discover it, commit to celebrating this quality of your mate and praise them for it. The dynamic of your relationship will radically change when you honor your mate’s uniqueness by seeing them the way Jesus does.

Kyle and DebbieThe Phoenix Marriage: God Creates Beauty Out of AshesKyle Gabhart is a devoted husband and father of 6. He is also a blogger, public speaker, entrepreneur, and author of the the newly released The Phoenix Marriage. He and his wife Tammy, founded Equip Your Marriage, a faith-based ministry dedicated to empowering, equipping, and restoring marriages. Kyle is an avid soccer player and board game enthusiast, but he prides himself on being a constant embarrassment to his children.

WEBSITEEquip Your Marriage

BOOK: Phoenix Marriage

 

A Little Higher Than the Squirrels

character of humanitySquirrels are nature’s little speedbumps, my daughter likes to say.

This time of year it’s a pretty apt description, with all the plump squirrels scampering to and fro fervently collecting food for the winter. They’re bulking up, so they’re a tad slower when cars rush by.

A few farmers have told me recently that we should be paying closer attention to these hyperactive rodents. They seem to be gathering more than usual, signalling that we’re in for a bad winter. Animals, you see, operate on instinct. They know when it’s time to gather, and when it’s time to sleep, or mate, or fight. It’s all hardwired.

That’s why animals are mostly concerned with the here and now.

Their goal in life—in as much as they’re able to make goals—is to get all their physical needs met. And by and large, they instinctually know how to do that.

People, on the other hand, have to be taught. Then, even when we are taught, we have the capacity to refuse. We can act in ways diametrically opposed to our well-being. We can be stupid. We can be selfish. We can even be noble, something most animals, with the exception of a few dogs, aren’t able to do. That’s what makes us essentially human: we have a choice. And because of that, we have the capacity to actually be good and to choose to do what’s right.

So let’s do a thought experiment. When you sit with your mother who has Alzheimer’s, even when she can’t recognize you, are you closer to a human or a reptile? On the other hand, when you leave your baby with a baby-sitter you hardly know so you can party at the bar, are you closer to a chimp or to Mother Teresa? When you stick with your marriage vows, even during the rocky times, I think you’re being human. When you have an affair because you feel like it, and betray your kids and your spouse in the process, you’re being a lizard, a rhino, or a baboon.

When we decide that our lives are all about our appetites—eating more and better food, getting more and better sex, having more and more fun—are we not becoming mere animals?

There’s nothing wrong with the fun things in life, of course, but if we deliberately ignore our responsibilities, or betray our commitments, in order to get those appetites filled, then the character of humanity isn’t advancing. We’re regressing.

A few centuries ago people had to work hard in order to survive. The rock fences that dot the countryside in my native Ontario hometown are standing monuments to the effort that farmers of old had to put in to clear their fields just to be able to plant. You worked, or you did not eat.

Today we have the freedom to be far lazier and far more self-centred than people did when work was a necessity to life. Our basic needs are much more easily met. And yet that also means that we have the opportunity to be even more human. When we choose to do what is right, to work with integrity, or to honour our commitments, even when we don’t have to, then we grow as people.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure those kinds of decisions are really honoured. Our society celebrates lavish lifestyles and the baser instincts rather than integrity, responsibility, and generosity. Too often we’re just living for the moment and doing what makes us feel good, rather than thinking about our character. In so doing, I think we’re losing what makes us human. We are, after all, a little higher than the squirrels. It’s time we remembered that, before life runs us over.

Marriage Box

It’s Wednesday, the day when we talk marriage! This week I’m taking a hiatus while I finish the edits to my book 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage, and so I’ve asked  guest poster Darlene Lopez to tell us about her marriage box–and how it changed the way she saw her relationship.

When I got married 13 years ago we were given a beautiful wooden  box with this poem, Marriage Box, written in it.

Marriage Box

This box truly has been an inspiration to me in my marriage. Marriage truly is like an empty box. Many people get married for all the wrong reasons and have an abundant of expectations when they get married, I was one of them. I thought marriage was going to be filled with all sorts of companionship, sex, love, romance, intimacy, prayer, Bible studies, understanding, deep friendship and love. Boy, was I  wrong.

I found out that marriage truly is empty unless you are infusing into it daily.

The truth is marriage at the start is in fact like an empty box. There really is nothing in it at the beginning. All the things you look for in marriage is really what is in the other person and it is up to both of you to infuse those things into your marriage lest it become an empty box. You can not day after day take out of your box if you don’t put something in it to withdrawal from. It reminds of a bank account. You can not keep spending and withdrawing money from your bank account if you have not deposited any money into it. If you attempt to do so, you will find your account over drawn and eventually the account will need to be closed because you were irresponsible and unable to maintain it.Early on in my marriage I would complain about my husband not being romantic enough, affectionate enough, serving enough, loving enough, not spiritual enough etc.

I remember being reminded daily as I saw the wooden box sit on our bedroom dresser, that marriage was like an empty box. As I complained about how “empty” my marriage felt and how lonely I felt, God showed me that it was because I was withdrawing more than I had deposited. I was in the “negative” so to speak.

I remember calling my husband during the day frustrated and overwhelmed with homeschooling and housework. I’d want him to drop all he was doing to pray with me, I had no consideration that he was working nor did I care that he didn’t need the added stress. To top it off when he would get home, dinner wouldn’t be ready, I’d have him make dinner because after all I had been with 5 children all day. I wanted him to rub my feet while I relaxed, I was very selfish always wanting to be served, even sex became all about me and my needs. I was taking so much out our marriage box and would rarely deposit anything in it. If I did manage to make a deposit I was sure to take out my portion before my husband took out a with-drawl.
I would daily look at that box and it would serve as a reminder to daily pour into my marriage.When I would take out, there was a sense of entitlement, after all I had infused whatever I took out into my marriage so I had every right to take out my fair share.

I remember keeping a running tab and account on how much my husband was infusing and putting it.

It was terrible. Can you imagine the kind of wife my husband had to endure?  Just thinking about how I behaved makes me sick.I remember if he wanted to be intimate sexually, I would check our marriage box to see if he had infused romance lately and it had to be in the form that I approved. If he didn’t read or pray with me, then he had no right to to tell me how to behave spiritually. If he didn’t listen to me then I wouldn’t listen to him.Marriage isnt 50-50 its 100-100

Our marriage became this you scratch my back, I’ll scratch your back kind of love.  The only problem,  I was so quick to point out when he wasn’t scratching my back and therefore I would withhold scratching his.

How horrible to live this way. I was so judgmental, always pointing out his faults/failures as a man and leader of our home.  We both were miserable.

I knew the scriptures, Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and love thy neighbor as thy self.

You see,  It was not a love issue for me, I loved my husband. I loved him the same way and as much as he loved me.

Until one day, I was reading and the words of Jesus to His disciples really penetrated my heart so deep. They were the words in John 13:34-35 “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”

I was hit with the pondering truth of the love of Jesus.

Jesus was calling me to a different kind of love, a gospel kind of love. If I was going to love my husband the way Jesus said to, then I would need to think about how he loved me.

This led me to the cross. The cross is where love was demonstrated and ultimately on display for all to see. While we were yet sinners Christ died for us. Scarcely, would one die for a righteous man but Jesus laid his life down willingly for the joy that was set before him.

He showed us what love is. He loves without condition, without reservation, and without wanting anything in return. His love is unconditional.  This is gospel centered love.

Jesus love isn’t a if you do this or that then I will love you, but rather nothing can separate us from the love of God neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,  Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

What a glorious love indeed. I remember after reading and thinking about the way Jesus loved me the next question was this, “Is this enough for me?”  Was the way Jesus loved me enough to compel me to love my husband the same way, or would I continue to love my way, the way I had been, the if you scratch my back, I’ll scratch your back kind of way?  Was Jesus enough for me?

This is what it boils down to in marriage, it isn’t about putting in–in order to take out.  It isn’t about serving to be served, loving to be loved, nor giving to get.

It’s about sacrificially laying down your life, saying my life is yours.

Marriage represents Christ and the Church, we wives represent the bride of Christ to an unsaved world. Therefore, the way we love our husbands shows the world our love to Christ.

The gospel in marriage changes our attitudes from a serve me attitude to a glorify God and love my spouse attitude.

The gospel is enough and until Jesus satisfies you, you will continue to love selfishly.

 

WIN_20140829_115619 (2)Darlene Lopez  I am vintage_retro_women_kitsch_50s_kitchen_magic_postcard-r1bc589a962f149588e409401d9d4f2c9_vgbaq_8byvr_512a wife of 13 years, mother to 5 (including a set of twins), keeper of my home but most of all I am a  blood bought saint.  By the grace of God I am raising a generation of  future homemakers and men. I am passionate about herbalism/natural living and love to inspire and motivate other homemakers to love their husbands and chidlren. I am learning that I am more sinful than I ever knew yet more loved than I ever imagined. You can read more about my journey at http://homemakingforrealwomen.blogspot.com/.

Christian Marriage Advice

Now it’s your turn! What marriage thoughts do you have for us? Just enter the URL of your marriage post in the linky below!

31 Days to Great Sex
31 Days to Great Sex is here (only $4.99!) It's the best $5 you'll ever spend on your marriage!

Learn to talk more, flirt more, and even explore more! You'll work on how to connect emotionally, spiritually, AND physically.

Find out more here.




Top 10 Things I Want to Teach My Teens About Sex

Top Ten

Yesterday we talked about how to talk to your younger kids about sex. Today’s guest post from J at Hot, Holy & Humorous  offers some great advice for parents of older kids–how to begin, KEEP the conversation going and how to teach your teens about sex.

“Hey kids, gather around and let’s talk about sex!” No, of course, I don’t approach my teens that way. Instead, we have an ongoing conversation about sexuality in my home, because I want my kids to be well-informed, well-armed, and also well-excited about sex when done the right way.

As we raise our teens, here are ten things I want them to learn about sex:

Top 10 Things to Teach Your Teens About Sex

1. God created sex, so it’s good.

Sometimes in our quest to get across the message that sex before marriage is bad, we communicate that sex itself is bad. But it’s not. Sex according to God’s design is a wonderful thing—a beautiful gift—and I want my kids to have that foundational belief.

2. You can always talk to me about this topic.

One of my kids asked me a question about something mentioned at school, but prefaced that friends had warned him not to ask a parent because he might get in trouble. Thankfully, I’ve made it clear my kids can ask me anything about this topic. It’s not taboo. God created sex, He talked about it (the good and the bad), and He put parents in charge of instructing kids. I tailor my answers to age and context and so on, but my door is open for tough topics. It’s part of the parent job.

(By the way, that question was about condoms. The friends had erroneous information, and because he asked, I got to provide better information, along with our biblical values.

3. Pregnancy and STDs aren’t the only consequences for premarital sex or promiscuity.

These concerns get drilled into teens’ heads so much. Many believe the worst, or only, consequences of having sex before marriage or having multiple partners is unwanted pregnancy or contracting an STD.

Yes, kids, those things could happen, but the scars left on your heart, the disruption to your future marital happiness, the disobedience to God—these matter so much. They may be intangibles right now, but in time poor choices can wreak havoc on your life. So make the right choice.

4. Birth control is not 100% effective.

Speaking of which, many expect to dodge an undesired pregnancy with birth control. Sure, we have some great contraceptive methods that couples have used successfully. But I could also sit down and make you a list of couples I know who got pregnant while using contraception. If a birth control method is 99% effective, that means that 1 time out of 100, you’re on your own. So don’t rely on it, and only make love in the context that could properly support a child (aka marriage).

5. Sex is more than intercourse.

What constitutes sex? Is it merely intercourse? Is foreplay fair game? When I was a teen, the phrase “technical virgin” meant you’d done just about everything else, yet considered yourself a virgin because you hadn’t done “the deed.”

I look back and think how utterly stupid that perspective was! Sex is the whole kit-and-caboodle. If you’re getting the least bit naked to do something with someone, welcome to the world of sex. Even purveyors of porn and erotica know this, so we really have no excuse. I want my kids to understand sex isn’t everything but, and that sex encompasses far more than intercourse.

(By the way, this is good news for their future marriage. There could be times when intercourse is unavailable, but they won’t have to give up being intimate with their spouse!)

6. “How far is too far?” is the wrong question.

However, that’s the question youth workers hear again and again when the topic of sex is brought up with teens. Teens want to know where the line is—how far can they go without sinning or risking consequences. It’s basically, “What can I get away with?” Which is not the attitude God wants us to have toward Him or His gift of sexual intimacy.

Rather, we should ask, “How can I honor God when it comes to sexual intimacy?” Framing it that way, some of our nitpicking questions simply go away, and it becomes clearer what we should and shouldn’t do.

7. If you mess up, it’s not over.

Activities such as dabbling in online pornography, chatting promiscuously in a chat room, going much too far on a date, engaging in premarital sex—yes, they are bad, but they definitely don’t make the unforgiveable list.

Messing up doesn’t mean it’s all over… and you might as well give in, and God’s already mad at you so what’s the point, and you have to hide your ugly stuff or people will know how bad you really are, etc. No, no, no! If you fail at some point, God’s grace and healing can cover our sins and both He and your parents are here to help you get back on track.

8. The Bible has a lot to say about sexuality.

It’s easy for kids and teens, and plenty of us adults, to feel that a book written thousands of years ago has little bearing on our modern-day challenges. After all, where are the verses about sexting and 50 Shades of Grey and the hookup culture?

But the Bible is relevant. There are direct stories of sexual sin and sexual love, as well as many verses about guarding our hearts, measuring our actions, and honoring others. If God’s Word is true, it permeates every aspect of our life, including the bedroom. You can’t compartmentalize, believing that “loving your neighbor” has nothing to do with treating that girl or boy in your arms with respect. So if you want to know the real deal about how we should approach sexuality, read the Bible.

9. More sex happens in marriage than outside it.

One might think it’s the opposite based on media, entertainment, and conversations. But studies show that married couples are getting more, and more satisfying, sex. If kids think the sex well is going to dry up the second they say “I do,” they’ll buy into the sow my wild oats theory before marriage, or put off marriage for fear of their sex drive going unheeded.

But I love what one newlywed man told our youth group: “I’m having lots of sex now, and I never, ever think, ‘Man, I wish I’d had sex back in high school.'” It’s kind of like Christmas, kids: It takes a while to get here, but the gift you receive is worth the wait.

10. Your parents love each other—yes, even in the bedroom.

My kids are well aware that marriage includes sexual intimacy, because they see it hinted at with their parents. Of course, they don’t have details, because that aspect of our relationship is private. But they see us flirt and display appropriate affection in front of them, and they know the bedroom door gets closed and locked at times.

They might roll their eyes at our hugs or kisses, but they also smile. It’s reassuring to know their parents love each other and that marriage, even as long as we’ve been married, includes true passion.

What do you want your teens to know about sex? Which tip speaks most to you (for me it’s #6!)? Let me know in the comments!

Sex Savvy WifeJ. Parker is the author of Sex Savvy: A Lovemaking Guide for Christian Wives and writes the Hot, Holy & Humorous blog, where she uses a biblical perspective and a blunt sense of humor to foster Christian sexuality in marriage.

 

Do We Need to Stop Using the Term Virgin?

Do We Need to Stop Using the Term Virgin“If you get raped, does that mean you’re not a virgin anymore?”

That was one of the anonymous questions asked at a small group my 17-year-old daughter was a part of this summer. The adults leading the discussion hemmed and hawed, saying technically, they guessed, you weren’t a virgin.

My daughter, worried that one of the girls in this group had actually gone through this and was in agony, piped up. “It’s not the physical that’s important to God. It’s the heart. And God looks at the heart, and He can heal you and still give you a wonderful pure marriage.”

She’s heard me talk about this a lot around the table, and she’s quite passionate about it.

But this was one of a string of things that I’ve heard of lately that make me think that we need to change the way we talk about sex. This is the last of a 3-part series I’ve written on how I wish Christians could reframe the way we talk about modesty and purity. Today I want to talk about purity, the word “virgin”, and how we’re emphasizing the wrong thing. Unfortunately, for this conundrum I don’t have a clear answer; I just see the problem. I hope, after reading this, that you all can help brainstorm with me and find a new way to talk about purity instead of emphasizing virginity.

So let’s start with first principles:

God made sex to be a beautiful, wonderful thing.

It is also meant to be experienced within marriage. It’s also only in marriage that sex can reach its full potential, because sex is supposed to be intimate not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well. You can’t feel “like one” if there is no commitment. So sex is supposed to be beautiful and passionate, and marriage was created to be the environment for that passion.

I hope that’s clear–God does want us to wait for marriage for sex. Absolutely no doubt about that. And He wants us to do so for very good reasons. That’s why we say that God wants us to stay virgins until we’re married. However, I’m not sure that saying “God wants you to be a virgin when you’re married” always gives the right message. Here’s why:

1. You Can Be “Impure” and Still Be a Virgin

When we stress virginity as the sign of acceptance by God and the church and obedience to God, then we inadvertently say that “anything up to that point goes”. Of course, no youth pastor or parent would say that’s their message, but it is one some young people hear. One friend of mine, now 45, told me that he was 22 years old before he realized that heavy petting was actually not okay.

We need to talk not only about sex but about everything sexual. If all we ever say about sex is “don’t have sex until you’re married”, then you haven’t explained why purity isn’t about making sure that you’re a technical virgin; purity is an attitude of the heart. And you haven’t talked about the fact that other things can be sexual as well, and should be saved until marriage. We simply need to open lines of communication.

2. You Can Be Pure and Not Be a Virgin

In the surveys that I did leading up to the launch of my book The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex, I asked people about their sexual experience before marriage. Then I left a box where people could write anything they wanted to say. I didn’t prompt them, but over 35% of women who weren’t virgins when they were married volunteered that they wished that they had waited. It really wore on them.

I so want to say to these women that God’s healing is available to them. You are not the sum of what you have done with your body; your identity is about what Jesus did with His body for you. And God takes our filthy rags and makes them new. He restores!

If you look back at the Gentile New Testament church, it was filled with people who were mostly NOT virgins when they were married. The Jewish culture protected chastity, but the Roman culture did not. When Paul was saying things like this, in Ephesians 2:1-5:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesha and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.

When he said that the people in Ephesus had “gratified the cravings of our flesh and followed its desires and thoughts” he meant it. Ephesus was a haven for temple prostitution. We think we live in a sexual culture, but so did they! These early Christians had quite the background, but they also were so grateful that Jesus had made them pure.

Because everyone in those days came to Christ as an adult, after they had messed up earlier, they could celebrate Jesus’ forgiveness perhaps easier than we do because most of  us were raised in the church and then messed up. And so we carry great shame. Maybe we need to identify more with these Ephesian Christians and stop beating ourselves up, but be grateful for what Christ has done for us!

3. Stressing virginity makes it sound like once you’ve failed, there’s no point in even trying anymore.

A few weeks ago a friend of mine in the military, who had been transferred to another base, crashed at my house for a few days with his wife and 21-year-old daughter as they were moving across Canada. During one of our conversations (don’t you love catching up with old friends?), my friend told me about one of her daughter’s friends who wasn’t a Christian. That girl had decided that she wanted to be a virgin when she was married all on her own, which is great.

But then one day she and her boyfriend got carried away and her virginity was gone.

She realized that she had lost her dream–to wait until her wedding–and so now there was no point. The horse has left the gate. You can’t close that door now.

I wonder how many people, both inside and outside the church, feel that same way. They want sex to be special and to be saved, but then if they mess up, they figure there’s no point in trying to reclaim any kind of boundaries, because you’ve already completely blown it.

When we stress virginity, then once it’s gone, it’s gone.

4. Stressing virginity makes purity legalistic

And that’s essentially my problem. Talking about virginity makes the issue a physical one, not a heart one.

God cares about the heart, not the hymen.

Of course, for our own sakes and for the sake of righteousness He wants us to wait until we’re married. But what He wants even more than that is people coming to Him with a pure and eager heart for a real relationship with Him. He looks to the heart (purity) not to outward appearances (the hymen). And you can have purity when you come back to God.

Listen, I still want my girls to be virgins when they’re married. Absolutely. But I just wonder if by using that word we’re stressing the wrong thing.

I really and truly don’t have an answer for this one. I would prefer to stress purity over virginity, but I’m not sure that’s a good answer, because “purity” has a bad ring to it in the wider culture, too. It sounds judgmental (though I don’t mean it that way. Our purity, after all, is not from our behaviour. It’s from what Christ has done for us).

I know this has been a heavy week. I’ve talked about how the modesty message can mess up women’s body image, and how the purity culture (the one that says that you can’t do anything other than hold hands before you’re married) can mess up our view of sex. And now I’m talking about how perhaps the word virgin is being used wrongly. I don’t mean to criticize the church, and I also don’t mean to demean modesty, purity, or virginity–all of which are important.

I just want to make sure that we’re stressing heart things and we’re pointing to sex the way that God intended. I think the time has come to have this discussion–with your youth pastor, with teens you know, with engaged couples–and start to reframe things.

As part of that discussion, then, let me ask you: how would you handle the virginity/purity issue? How would you frame it? Let’s talk! Just leave a comment below.

Good Girls Guide My SiteIf you’re struggling with understanding sex and not being ashamed of it, please take a look at my book, The Good Girls Guide to Great Sex. It’s a fun book, and it explains in detail how God made sex to be intimate emotionally, spiritually, and physically. I think you’ll find it really helpful in dispelling some of the negative things you were taught!

 

Other Posts in The Healthy Sexuality Series:

Does the Modesty Culture Make Women Ashamed of Their Bodies?
Does the Christian Purity Message Make Women Ashamed of Sex?

Where Have All The Men Gone?

men opting out of collegeThis week many of our teenagers headed on to higher education. And as they entered those hallowed halls of learning, they may have noticed that one thing seemed to be in short supply: men.

Why are men opting out of college?

A friend of mine attended the University of Guelph for a semester before returning home to start a successful agricultural business. It wasn’t that he couldn’t handle the academics; it was that he hated the environment. He was a hunter, an outdoorsman, a man’s man. He didn’t fit in well with what he called the “politically correct” atmosphere, so he left.

He’s not alone.

A recent survey in the United States found that for every 100 males on university campuses there are now 135 females. In Canada the story is virtually the same, as females constitute 60% of the undergraduate population, and two thirds of medical students. Of course, women aren’t overrepresented in all areas. In maths and sciences men still rule, as they do in most graduate programs. But the trends are certainly tilting towards female dominance.

Perhaps one reason fewer men are at university is because they don’t need to be.

Many trades that attract mostly men—like plumbing, contracting, or electrical work—pay more than many degree-required jobs, and come with the added bonus of no student loans. Perhaps university just isn’t very attractive for many men when other options, which aren’t as readily available to women, do exist. After all, my friend has just sold his second business, becoming a very successful man while he’s barely in his thirties.

Our universities, though, have not woken up to the new demographic reality. Much of campus life is still geared to helping women. Most universities have women’s studies departments, women’s health units, women’s clubs, women’s awareness sessions, women’s support groups, and women’s hotlines. What they don’t seem to have is anything to help men. In fact, if men started a “men’s support group” that didn’t have to do with teaching men not to rape women, it would be the subject of student editorials for months. It’s just not done.

This seems to be a strange aberration in Canadian society. Usually, whenever groups are underrepresented, we try to reach out to them. We start scholarships, mentorships, or special programs. The only thing I can conclude from the lack of pro-male initiatives is that to the universities, it really doesn’t matter that men are missing.

In the long run, though, is male underrepresentation best for the country? And is it best for the universities? Will they prove themselves relevant if 50% of the population is no longer interested in pursuing their degrees?

And what about women? Even in our more rural communities, many of our girls still aspire to university education. Since most women choose as spouses those who have as much education as they do, what will their options be as this pool shrinks? Does going to university mean putting oneself in a romantic black hole?

We need to start treating this as a serious problem and asking why men are opting out.

A lot of it has to do with the way we are teaching—or failing to teach—our boys. But I think university culture is also a large part of it. I spent seven years at Queen’s, and I cringe to remember it now. It took me years after graduation to come back to the real world and realize that, despite what I was taught—and indeed, what I taught undergraduates during my last three years—all sex is not rape, marriage is not an oppressive institution, and children actually do need their parents. These are basic values that most Canadians, and especially those who live outside the big cities, share. But they are not the values that are found on our campuses.

I think it’s time for the university, and the education establishment, to get its head out of the sand and realize that it is not women who are on the losing end of the education game, but men who are instead opting out. When women were on the losing end, we demanded that we balance the scales. Will we give men the same courtesy?

This column first appeared September 1, 2006.

If you appreciate these Reality Check columns, be sure to check out Reality Check, the book!

When Baby Isn’t Perfect

something is wrong with your babyToday is the eighteenth anniversary of my son Christopher’s death, and I’ll be heading out to the graveyard later, likely by myself. I like it better there alone. But I thought this post may be appropriate for the day–about what to do when you get a diagnosis that something is wrong with your baby.

I shifted uncomfortably on the cot. The baby had been pushing on my ribs for over an hour as the technician kept trying to get a better view.

“It’s a boy,” she announced as my husband entered the cubicle holding our 15-month-old daughter. We were ecstatic, but I couldn’t figure out why she wouldn’t look me in the eye.

The next day I learned the answer. “I’m sorry, Sheila,” my doctor told me. “There’s something wrong with his heart.”

It’s hard to explain the panic you feel when you hear that something is wrong with your baby, even one who isn’t born yet. And that panic only worsened for us as, over the next few weeks, I endured a dizzying battery of tests. We learned our son had Down Syndrome and a very serious heart defect.

I experienced such intense fears during that time. Could I handle a sick child? What would this mean for my daughter? Would all my time be taken up in caring for my son? What would his future be like? And above all, would I have to watch him die?

As soon as we learn we are pregnant—and for many of us, even before—we start dreaming of what it will be like to hold the baby, to watch him grow, or to see her blossom. But for some of us, those dreams are shattered. The child we dreamt about isn’t coming. The one we have has something wrong.

The first few weeks can be the most difficult in your life as you struggle to cope with grief and fear, care for a new baby and perhaps even rearrange your life. Here are some steps to help you through this challenging time.

1. Nurture your marriage

An estimated 25% to 33% of marriages break up within a year of the birth of a handicapped child. That’s not a statistic you want to join. Resolve now, before you do anything else, that you will still be each other’s greatest priority. Speak and act kindly to one another. Give each other space to handle the grief differently, without passing judgment. You will need each other in the years ahead. Remember that if you walk through this valley together, your marriage can emerge stronger and more precious to you than you had ever thought possible.

2. Take your feelings to God

Cheryl Molenaar’s daughter Lindsay, now 12, was born with a chromosomal defect that has left her profoundly disabled and with the mental level of a one-year-old. Cheryl remembers feeling grief at the loss of all her hopes and dreams, mingled with intense frustration at not being able to ease her daughter’s suffering.

It’s only natural that these feelings lead to anger toward God. How could He let this happen? For Cheryl, the experience shook her faith. Yet through wrestling with God, Cheryl learned God will always carry you through. “Sometimes you can’t feel God,” she says, “But ask God to let you see Him, and He will show you Himself.”

My son Christopher died when he was 29 days old. Though I never received an answer why, I was given something better: a peace I cannot explain that could only have come from God. God is big enough to handle our questions, when we seek Him out and let Him in.

3. Seek early intervention

Paul and Judith Colley’s daughter Laura was born prematurely at 25 weeks. A year later she was diagnosed with hearing problems and possible developmental delay, so she was quickly fitted with a hearing aid. At two years of age her speech was slow and doctors were concerned with her development. Today, though, after years of speech therapy, she is above average on almost every scale. This child, whom they once thought might be permanently delayed, is flourishing. The reason is early intervention.

When you’re given a diagnosis for your child, the simple truth is that no one knows the potential he or she has. Certainly some children will have a harder time learning than others; but for many early stimulation can help. Ask your paediatrician to connect you with community resources or books that can guide you through the process.

4. Ask for help

No one likes to feel that they can’t cope. Yet for Cheryl, outside help saves her sanity and keeps her from the brink of exhaustion. Seek out help from friends, relatives, your church, and community resources. You’ve been given a big burden to carry, but God never meant for us to carry our burdens alone (Galatians 6:2).

We live in a society that values perfection. Having a baby who’s not perfect throws us through a loop and challenges everything we believe. Yet through that challenge, we will inevitably come to “taste” God more as He sustains us day by day. As Cheryl cares for Lindsay, she is constantly reminded that His “grace is made perfect in weakness”. Her child has taught her things about God no sermon ever could. And as she loves Lindsay, so protectively and fiercely, she gets a clearer picture of how God cherishes her.

If you’re dealing with disappointment and grief, Sheila’s book, How Big Is Your Umbrella?, can help. Read more here.

Maybe Boys Need a Little Danger

Boys Need a Little DangerAre we making life too boring for little boys? What if boys need a little bit of danger?

I wrote a column about that a few years ago, and I thought I’d rerun it today. In my post where I recommended 10 different summer reads, I recommended the book Why Gender Matters, which looks at the hard-wired gender differences between boys and girls. And one of those differences is that boys naturally lean more towards danger and risk-taking–and too often we moms, and the schools, and society in general, are trying to eradicate that from boys’ lives. But what if they need it? Let’s talk about it today!

I have a little friend who, when he was only five, did a horrendous thing. He bit a boy at school.

This particular boy had been pestering him for months, and my little friend lashed out by sinking his teeth in.

A human bite, unfortunately, is not clean, and it sent the bully on a trip to the Emergency Room. Meanwhile my little friend was given quite the verbal lashing by the principal about how violence is never the answer.

His mother, a good friend of mine, was quite perplexed about how to react. Personally, I told her, I think his transgression was twofold: he used his teeth rather than his hands, and he did so at school where violence is never permitted. Other than that, was he really so wrong? Kids have been fighting back against bullies for time immemorial, and it’s often quite effective in getting bullies to back off.

Taking the publishing world by storm a few years ago was The Dangerous Book for Boys. It doesn’t give secrets on how to get your mothers to feed you chocolate or how to get your way with women.

It simply talks common sense about things that have been part of boyhood almost forever, until our generation forgot them.

Things like how to tie a knot, how to fish, how to jump from a rock into the water, or how to survive in the wilderness. These were the plotlines of most boys’ novels until relatively recently, when we started to believe that what boys truly desired was to share their feelings.

When places like schools try to curb boys’ natural impulses to be active, risk-taking, and even a bit violent, we run the risk that children will start acting out inappropriately in places with less supervision. If boys are told they must sit still and listen to books all day, they’re more likely to go off the rails after school. If boys can’t play tag at recess because it’s too competitive, or they can only play if everyone gets to be “it”, we aren’t going to curb their natural boyhood impulses. They’re simply going to express them in other ways.

Over the years we have taken all the danger out of childhood. We do this in the interest of safety, and few could argue against bicycle helmets for children, or against safe playground equipment, or for playing with matches. But there is a part of boys, and even many girls, that still yearns for risk.

Remember the playground equipment when we were young? You ran a risk every time you used the teeter totter because you had to trust the guy on the other end not to jump off suddenly. And what about that merry go round? They’re removed from most playgrounds today because if you get a few bigger kids creating momentum, a smaller child could go flinging off. Of course, that’s why many boys ride them in the first place—the flinging part is the attraction! But that’s all the more reason to get rid of these dangers.

As schools banish anything resembling danger, much of the adventure of childhood is being removed.

For all children, but especially for boys who tend to gravitate towards risk-taking more than girls do, this isn’t always a good thing. That’s why The Dangerous Book for Boys is needed. It’s a philosophy to bring adventure back into family life, even if the schools are squeezing it out because they’re afraid of being sued. And now that summer’s here, we’ve got a great chance to create some danger all on our own!

Most boys love seeing things explode, or collapse, or go bang. They love starting fires, sleeping outdoors, and even killing things. It’s time for some adventurous, adult men to step up to the plate and let boys be just a little bit dangerous. What else is childhood for?


Okay, everybody, true story:

When my girls were little, we took a yearly camping trip with another family who had two boys pretty much exactly the same age as our girls. The kids would love helping Derek (the other dad) start the fire at night. After the little kids went to sleep, we adults would play games late into the night. When the kids woke up at 6:30, then, we really didn’t want to get up yet.

And so I will tell you about one of the bad parenting things I did. I actually let Katie and her friend Liam start fires when they were about 6 and 7. It kept them busy for like half an hour so we could still sleep! And they would resurrect the coals from last night. When I talked to Derek about it (he’s a “dangerous” kind of man’s man himself) he always said, “the problem is letting kids PLAY with fire. Liam and Katie aren’t PLAYING with fire. They’re building a fire. And they know what they’re doing.” And they actually are really good at starting fires today! (Likely still shouldn’t have done it, but there you go).

Here’s a pic from the summer of 2000 when the kids were little–and enthralled by fire:

2000CampingPaulLiamBeccaFire

(That’s Paul at the fire with his older brother Liam on the right; Becca’s sitting down. Katie’s not pictured. She’s probably raiding the cooler for more chocolate to make smores).

And here’s Katie and Liam on Liam’s 4-wheeler last Sunday for Katie’s 17th birthday:

2014LiamKatie4wheeling

So now you tell me: what “dangerous” things do your sons–or nephews–do? What dangerous things does your husband do? And how do you deal with it?

Genetic Curse?

Genetic CurseIs the genetic curse real–are we destined to copy our parents?

In my quest to take a bit more vacation this summer, I’m rerunning some older columns. This one, which addresses this whole “genetic curse” issue, first appeared January 14, 2005.

When I was a kid my mother was always telling me to stand up straight. I really wish I had listened to her. A few weeks ago I threw my back out yet again, and the chiropractor and the massage therapist (no, that’s not as fun as it sounds) both came to the general conclusion—surprise, surprise—that I need to stand up straight.

My father and my grandfather were both very stooped. I get my body shape from them, and so I’m genetically predispositioned to slouch. Plus I’m at the computer way too much, which does very little for one’s posture.

I have two approaches to this problem. I could shrug, say, “what are you going to do?”, and go back to slouching, condemning myself to decades of intermittent pain. Or I can bite the bullet and cause pain now as I try to relearn how to stand up. I’ve chosen to go back to the toddler mode and boy, is it difficult. But at least I can walk again.

Our parents bequeath us many things, like hugs, smiles, love, and Christmas decorations we made when we were 7. But they also pass on a number of bad things.

Maybe it’s a tendency to gain weight just by looking at chocolate truffles. Maybe it’s a predisposition to alcoholism, health problems, or receding hairlines. Or perhaps it’s a personality issue: you’re too shy, too angry, too impulsive, too scared.

Unfortunately, at the same time as I have noticed the traits that my parents passed on to me, I have also noticed those that I have bequeathed to my own offspring. I am blessed with one daughter whom I love to pieces who is also the spitting image of me (minus the slouching), both physically and emotionally. All of the things that bug me about me I see in her, too. And I don’t want her plagued with my problems!

The funny thing about our personalities, though, is that our strengths are also often our greatest weaknesses.

For instance, my daughter Katie has a real ability to make people laugh. She’s a ham, and sometimes when you’re in the middle of disciplining her she comes out with something that is so funny you have to leave the room so she doesn’t see that she’s broken through your stern composure. At the same time, Katie is also the one who is hard to take anything seriously, or to work hard. While Rebecca is our little perfectionist, Katie would rather put on a ridiculous looking skirt, stand on a table, and twirl. I want Katie to learn how to be appropriate in different circumstances, but I don’t want her to lose her playfulness. In fact, I want to encourage her, because she has the gift of making those around her smile. But it needs to be steered in the right direction.

In the same way, my older daughter is a perfectionist, and takes life too seriously. Speaking as one who can identify, this is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because you tend to be a high achiever. It’s a curse because you make yourself miserable in the process. Learning to give yourself a break, to allow mistakes, to see areas where you’ve stumbled not as huge personal failures but as simply being human is vital to growing up without giving oneself an ulcer.

As parents, we’re the ones who can best see where our kids may be heading in the wrong direction, especially if those weaknesses are also in us.

But when we do see those weaknesses, we often over-reach in our criticism because we’re so sensitive about them. We don’t help our kids grow; we just make them feel ashamed. Let’s resist the temptation to lash out and criticize. Remember that every fault that we see probably has a flipside that’s positive. The best way to break this “genetic curse”, for lack of a better term, may not be to purge it altogether, but to steer your child see towards the positive aspect of this characteristic. Then you can help them minimize the negative. And now you’ll have to excuse me. I’ve been sitting at the computer too long and I have to do my stretching again.

Best of Reality Check

Enjoy this column?

Every Friday I send out my weekly blog roundup--with my Friday opinion piece--and lots that happened on Facebook and Pinterest, too. Don't have time to read the blog everyday? Get the Roundup!

And when you sign up, you'll also receive my FREE ebook The Best of Reality Check, with my 20 favourite columns from my 12 years of writing.

Sign up here!