My big prayer, the thing that motivates everything I do online, is “how do I help people grow emotionally healthy marriages that reflect God’s kingdom?”
That’s been my aim for years, actually. But one thing that I’ve realized in the last two years is that you can’t build something healthy and strong on a faulty foundation.
Like Jesus said,
I used to think that I could help people have healthy marriages simply by teaching what healthy was.
But that isn’t enough. You can’t pour new wine into old wineskins. It doesn’t work. You can’t build something healthy on a shaky foundation.
If women believe the obligation sex message, that they must have sex if their husbands want it, then no amount of teaching about women’s sexual pleasure is going to help. Sex has become about duty and obligation where her needs are erased. Sex feels depersonalizing, and even threatening. Sex feels like it erases you as a person. When women believe this message, orgasm rates plummet, and rates of sexual pain go up. You can’t teach women how to enjoy sex unless you first deal with the obligation sex message.
If couples believe that the husband should always make the final decision, and that he deserves unconditional respect, so that her speaking up about something that she feels is disrespectful or unsubmissive, then no amount of teaching about healthy conflict resolution is going to help. They both will already be prioritizing his needs and deprioritizing hers. If she has an issue that she brings up, she will already be labelled as being in sin. You have to deal with the root problem first (and my submission series is a great place to start!).
If couples feel that keeping the marriage together no matter what is what God wants and what glorifies God, then the husband will feel like he’s in sin if he brings up issues, too. He will feel that he has to unconditionally love her and put up with anything, and he may also be afraid to rock the boat. What if he brings up something and she reacts badly? Then he will have wrecked the marriage.
If we believe that the reason men watch porn is because wives aren’t having enough sex, and if he believes that the only way to quit porn is for his wife to have sex on demand, then their sex life will become empty, shallow, and degrading. They have already changed the very nature and very definition of sex. It is no longer the biblical idea of “knowing”, or of true mutuality. It has become, in the words of Every Man’s Battle, simply a methadone fix for his addiction. No woman can be excited about sex when she is merely called methadone. How can someone be excited about being used?
And this is the problem that we face.
We cannot build something healthy until we first demolish that which is dangerous.
Keith and I bought our grandson Alexander wooden blocks for Christmas. He’s 14 months old, and he likes stacking things up.
But even better than that, he likes knocking down whatever he builds (or whatever his parents build). Knocking things down is super fun! And it’s often easier than building things up anyway.
That’s the danger that we face.
The problem is that you can’t build without knocking down; the danger is that sometimes the knocking down becomes too much fun, or becomes the sole focus.
Please know, on a personal level, that I really, really wrestle with finding the right balance with this. I do not want to just knock down. I don’t think that’s fruitful, and that isn’t my intention.
But I also really, really want to build up that which is healthy, and we cannot do that without the knocking down.
As I shared in my post on Monday, the verse that keeps coming back to me this year, and that will likely be my verse for 2021, is this:
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
God Himself says that there is a time to scatter stones.
What does that mean exactly? It means to demolish something. There is a time to demolish that which is built, so that you can gather them together again and build again. We see this theme again and again in the Ecclesiastes 3 passage:
and a time for every purpose under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to break down and a time to build,
There is a time to uproot; a time to scatter; a time to tear down.
We have to deal with that which is unhealthy.
On March 2 our book The Great Sex Rescue launches. Behind the scenes, that has been our focus for the last year. Almost everything we do has been thinking about what is in that book–as we try to cast away stones, so that we can gather them up again. Identify where we have gone so wrong, so that we can rescue and build and heal.
I find it very personally difficult when so many call us out for criticizing what other authors say. I am told again and again that I am mean, that my daughter Rebecca (my co-author and frequent podcast guest) is mean; that we are out just to wreck other authors’ careers in order to advance ours.
Please know that’s not the case.
Honestly, it takes every breath of energy I have not to give up every single day. I’ll be more frank than I usually am on this blog: my husband is a physician. We do not need my income. I have a basement full of yarn that is just waiting to be knit. I have a grandson who lives around the corner who is just waiting to be played with. I absolutely adore cooking elaborate meals. I would love to retire. Just love it. I am not trying to be famous. In fact, my prayer is that this will never, ever be about me, but rather about Jesus and about these ideas. We are trying to figure out a retirement plan (don’t worry; it’s very long-term at the moment) where I can fade out but the materials can stay without them being associated with my name so much.
I had an epiphany when I was about 30 years old, that I recently shared with another young woman in a similar marriage/career situation. I said to her, “I realized when I was younger that I had an incredible gift. Our family did not need my money. So I could choose what I wanted to do. I could ask God to guide me, and I could work at what I felt was my calling, without concern for income. We could take the money that I earned and we could use it to support charities that I believed in. We could make sure that my time was being spent to further the kingdom of God. So because I have the blessing of that choice, I need to hold that blessing with deep responsibility.”
And I feel very called to do this, even though I would love to knit. And I am privileged that the money that I make from this blog can employ so many people, too.
I find it difficult, then, when people accuse us of just being mean, because I know that this is not what is going on.
I know how much Rebecca, Joanna, Keith, Connor, Tammy, even Katie and I all agonize how to do this well.
One of the first comments I saw this week after being offline for an entire week was this one, about my daughter Rebecca’s input in our podcast on unconditional respect not being a thing:
Whenever she talks about another author she always seems mad, rebuking, giving the idea every other author is a stupid person who does everything wrong. I know there are a lot of book bad teachings but she seems to have all the truth and her tone of voice let us know how smart she is while how dumb other authors and researchers are.
Please don’t tarnish a great ministry with arrogance.
We get this sort of thing a lot–watch your tone. Be nicer. You’re being too mean. You’re arrogant.
It’s interesting, because this kind of complaint is hardly ever lobbed at men doing similar things. It’s really only lobbed at women.
In fact, in this podcast Rebecca never raised her voice or got angry. Other people told me how very NOT angry she sounded.
You know who did get angry in that podcast, and in the one after it? My husband Keith. But no one ever criticizes his tone of voice; only Rebecca and me. That’s a little difficult, too. He’s allowed to sound angry; we’re not. And we’re told that we sound angry even when we’re quite calm.
And, in context, what Rebecca was critiquing was the study on which the book Love & Respect was based: a survey of only 400 men which asked an extremely ambiguous question which the survey consultant and the pilot study group both said was inaccurate. And they never asked women. When they did ask women, women answered the same as men–but still the study was used to say that men want respect and women want love.
Seriously, there was no way to sugar coat that. It’s not that research is on our side; it’s that we are on the side of research. There’s a big difference.
We will try to watch our tone this year. We aren’t trying to take glee in just breaking down.
But break down we must. When women have been told they aren’t allowed to say no to sex; when instances of marital rape are recorded in Christian books without even being called rape; when women have been told they don’t need sex, don’t want sex like men do, and don’t have sex drives; when sex has been made entirely about a man’s orgasm–well, it’s hard not to get angry. And it needs to come down. In smithereens.
And then we want to build up. We want to get rid of the harmful stuff so that we can talk again about what a healthy sex life and healthy marriage look like. Our goal is that, at this time next year, we won’t have to tear down anything anymore. Our prayer is that the Christian world will see it and agree and scatter stones with us, so that we can build up again. We don’t want to keep doing this forever.
It is exhausting. It is demoralizing.
But it is also necessary. And so, over the next few weeks, we’re going to tear down some big messages in the evangelical world about sex. I hope we can do it with some humour, because we did try to make our book humorous (and I think we succeeded). We will be a little tongue in cheek! But we may also be angry, because we are angry. It is very, very wrong.
It is time to tear down, to uproot, to scatter stones. That time will be brief, I hope, if people get the message and embrace it. And as we scatter stones, we will be simultaneously building up, painting a picture of what a Jesus centered marriage and Jesus centered sex life look like (even if it seems weird to put it that way!). That’s our aim. Please be patient with us. It’s hard to do this well, and we won’t satisfy everyone.
But it needs to be done, and we’re ready to get started!
I’m almost scared to hand this one over to comments now–but have at it! 🙂
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum
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