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September 14, 2017

The Whole Story

Guest Author — 

 

We all know that marriage begins long before a woman walks down the aisle. The way she views the intimate aspects of marriage are influenced years and sometimes even decades before any man places a ring on her finger. Therefore, one of the best ways to help our daughters grow into vibrant women who have vibrant marriages is to help them grow into a healthy and biblical understanding of sex. May our parenting be a stepping stone to their sexual fulfillment within marriage rather than a roadblock. I’m thrilled that my friend Sheila Gregoire has worked with both of her adult daughters to provide a wonderful resource for moms to talk with their young daughters about sex. I’m a fan of all three of these women! I’ve loved Sheila’s blog, I’ve already read (and greatly enjoyed) Rebecca’s book, and have laughed with and forwarded Katie’s You Tube videos many times. They are joining forces to provide a wonderful resource for moms and their daughters.

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I’ve been called “the Christian sex lady.” I speak every year to thousands of women about sex. I blog about it almost daily.

But even I was absolutely terrified when it came to teaching my own daughters about sex and puberty. In fact, my husband had to sit me down and tell me when it was time to get our youngest daughter a bra.

It’s not that I didn’t notice. It’s just that I was very good at avoiding what was ever-so-obvious right in front of me. Katie was only ten, and she was still a little girl with Barbies. I wasn’t ready for this!

Looking back, there isn’t a whole lot that I did right when it came to talking to them about growing up.

When Rebecca, my oldest, was ten, I took her away for a weekend to explain the facts of life. We used a program to help talk about sex, and the main aim was to teach her that she wasn’t supposed to have sex until she was married, and then encourage her to pledge to wait.

Honestly, she was so grossed out by the whole thing she would have pledged never to talk to a boy again! Reflecting on it now, Rebecca says that the hard-hitting “you must wait” message gave her the impression that Jesus loved her mostly because of her virginity.

Whoops.

I receive emails everyday from young wives struggling in their marriages because they grew up with shameful messages about sex–or else they were never told much of anything at all. One woman told me she learned about sex because her mom put a bookmark in the encyclopedia under “sex”. Another woman told me that as soon as she started to develop breasts her mom gave her such a long talk about modesty that it made her paranoid that older men at church were staring at her. She took refuge serving in the nursery. These women desperately want great marriages now, but these messages are hard to eradicate.

One of the most important parenting missions is to raise our daughters with a healthy view of sexuality, pointing them to their worth in Jesus and to the beauty that God made us for. It sets them up for a far healthier future marriage, and a far healthier self-image. God made sexuality to be beautiful; it’s the world that has corrupted it and added shame to it. We must reclaim it, and point our kids on the right road. We simply must get this right.

Yes, it starts with giving them the right information about puberty and the facts of life. But it doesn’t end there.

It also needs to involve keeping the lines of communication open, even, or especially, in the teen years. I did manage to muddle through the facts of life–barely. But we never talked about porn (even though teenage girls are the fastest growing group of porn users). We didn’t talk about masturbation (my girls were good girls, after all!). And I certainly never told them about male anatomy or what their guy friends were going through! It’s in the teen years when kids need us to continue those conversations by making them more personal. Our job isn’t done when they know about the mechanics of sex; they need our help navigating how to handle relationships, peer pressure, and body image issues.

Sound intimidating yet? Well, here’s some good news.

It’s okay if you’re scared.

Really! Kids don’t need perfect parents. They need authentic parents who aren’t afraid to be real with them.

It doesn’t matter if you’re scared. It only matters if you let being scared stop you.

I let being scared stop me from having some important conversations with my kids. And I was scared of a lot of things. I was scared that they may have sexual feelings that I didn’t know how to deal with. I was scared that they may realize that I had sexual feelings! (what would happen if they realized what my husband and I were actually doing?!?) I was so scared of the subject in general that it just seemed easier not to say much of anything at all.

I’m sorry that I missed the chance to guide my girls better when they were younger. But as they grew older, and I got more comfortable, God’s grace covered a lot of my mistakes.

My daughters are 20 and 22 now, and they have ministries of their own. Rebecca has a big book coming out in October called Why I Didn’t Rebel: A 22-Year-Old Explains How She Stayed on the Straight And Narrow–and How Your Kids Can Too. Katie has a large YouTube channel hoping to introduce millennials to Jesus in an unintimidating way.

Recently we were laughing about the mistakes I made talking to them about puberty (Rebecca remembers learning that the penis was like a finger. That really confused her. If guys have a finger there, then why do they need to scratch so much?).

After the hilarity died down, and we started thinking about how moms can do it better, we decided to try to help. We created what we wish we had had: an online, video-based course for moms and daughters called The Whole Story: Not-So-Scary Talks on Sex, Puberty and Growing Up. My girls star in the videos teaching about body changes, sex, peer pressure, boys, and self-care, while I provide coaching for moms. The videos start the conversations, but then discussion questions, checklists, and mother-daughter activity ideas help moms continue them.

Check out The Whole Story!

Your girls are going to get messages about sexuality, body image, and relationships from school, from friends, and from the media. But what they really need is to hear from you. And you can do it! God appointed you, as a mom, to do this. Even if you’re scared.

Sheila Gregoire’s course The Whole Story is available for moms with daughters aged 10-12 or 13-15. It’s not a replacement for moms; it’s a resource to start those important conversations, and make it much easier to continue them.

Sheila Wray Gregoire
Inspirational Speaker, Marriage Author and Blogger
Website: http://tolovehonorandvacuum.com

September 7, 2017

For Worse

Gary Thomas — 

A woman from a war-torn country told an American, “The difference between Americans and the rest of the world is that you expect everything to go fine and are surprised when something bad happens. The rest of the world expects life to be dreary and is surprised when something good happens.”

I don’t know about “the rest of the world,” but when you come from a country where the government has always been corrupt, most people regularly face destitution, and food supply has never been certain, I’m sure many Americans must seem rather spoiled. In this woman’s view many of the people rioting about “injustice” here in this country, so filled with outrage, wouldn’t last a week where she comes from. That’s not to say there aren’t any reasons here for outrage—it’s just to challenge our expectations that we could live in a country where everything is expected to always go right and to assume that we will always agree with the people who are in elected office.

Writing from Houston in the aftermath of Harvey, with some dear friends displaced from toxic water, perhaps makes me especially sensitive to this insight. When you see the pictures in Houston with homes flooded, just know that’s not “nice” river water flowing through homes. It’s worse than sewage—a toxic stew requiring houses to be stripped and bleached before they can be rebuilt. Second Baptist, leading the way with recovery efforts, has a nurse on staff giving tetanus boosters and antibiotics to volunteers. This is nasty stuff.

“Good” people don’t get to avoid bad things. We know a married couple who have heroically served many pastors and our church and still, their office was flooded. You might hope “special” servants could get a miraculous pass from the Hurricane, but that’s not how it works.

On one of my first longer runs following Harvey, I slipped on some mud, fell against a buckled sidewalk, and tore some cartilage in my chest. It only hurts when I move, take a deep breath, or, God forbid, sneeze. Lisa immediately got me on turmeric, arnica and some lotion with mustard in the name, but she also began recounting the litany of running injuries I’ve faced through the years, with the implication, “Are you sure you should keep doing this?”

Next year will mark some forty years of running for me, and that must mean at least 50,000 miles on roads and trails. I can’t deny several medical issues (or the funny look in the doctor’s eyes this time when he asked me what I was taking for the pain and I replied “arnica and turmeric”), but my reply to Lisa was, “Given that I’ve run 50,000 miles, I think I’ve come through surprisingly well. Running in the dark, in storms, in bad weather conditions, with dogs and careless drivers, I’m surprised it hasn’t been worse. Yes, I think I should keep doing this!”

When we look at any marriage with occasional bad episodes, no matter how many miles we’ve travelled together, we might also ask, “Should we keep doing this?” We pledge to stay married “for better or for worse” but most of us never really expect the “for worse.” So when something bad happens, if our expectations are that only good things should happen, we can question our commitment.

Let me ask: do we truly think we can be married for a long time and never have bad things happen? Do you think a couple can be married for twenty years with no medical emergencies, no financial hardship, no major weather events, no employer or investor issues where you’re treated unfairly, no relational frustrations?

If we get married only expecting the “for better” and are surprised and resentful of the “for worse,” we’re going to be like the masked rioters who live in outrage because everything isn’t going exactly as we think it should.

Do you expect to raise several children without one of them having medical issues, developmental challenges, or any spiritual rebellion at all? Do you think you can be a member of a church and never be disappointed by a pastor or fellow church member? Do you expect to agree with all parts and every one of a pastor’s sermons and every decision made by the church leadership? Or do you get outraged at one disagreement and loudly storm out the door, telling everyone on Facebook why?

Do you think one disagreement with a spouse, one behavioral issue, one lethargic season is one too many?

Just what does it mean, really, when we pledge to be together, “for better and for worse?” Is there a place in our lives for the “worse” or are we going to make the “for worse” even more miserable because we’re outraged that life isn’t always perfect and then storm out the door?

When I see in a documentary a husband and wife leading their kids out of a bombed-out city, carrying everything they own on their backs, walking through the rain, and then I talk to a couple who leave their million dollar mansion to tell me why they can’t be happy together anymore, you’ll have to forgive me, but sometimes I think that woman from the war-torn country was on to something. As long as we expect every day to  be perfect and every season to be “happy,” every storm to be minor, and every marriage to be always connected and euphoric, I don’t know why we ever pledge to be there for the “for worse.”

I don’t think it’s possible to run 50,000 miles without an occasional injury. And I’m not sure it’s realistic to be married for 50,000 hours without some major disappointments.  But that, alone, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep doing it. Let’s thank God for the “for better,” but let’s not curse him (or each other) for the “for worse.”

Every marriage, every life, will have plenty of both.

[Note: with the other blog posts I’ve written, I trust readers will understand I’m not considering abuse as a part of the “for worse” that needs to be accepted rather than fled.]

This blog is not written for women in abusive marriages. The advice offered in these posts will challenge both husbands and wives, but the advice could be counter-productive if it is applied in an abusive relationship.

August 24, 2017

Good in Bed

Gary Thomas — 

Thus I have become in his eyes like one bringing contentment.  Song of Songs 8:10

“Don’t let this lawyerly facade fool you,” Sandra Bullock warned Hugh Grant in the movie Two Weeks’ Notice. “I’m actually really good in bed.”

I was eating an airline dinner, flying somewhere over the Midwest, when I put on the headphones and caught this piece of dialogue. In a Christian worldview, a single person wouldn’t know whether he or she was “good in bed.” But since I was stuck in an aluminum tube 30,000 feet above the ground, I had plenty of time to think, and the question challenged me in another context.

When did I last ask myself whether I was good in bed? While it’s a grave mistake to reduce sex to mere mechanics, the question can go much deeper: When did I last care about that question? And why do so many women’s magazines that cater to singles feature this question, while publications reaching out to married couples almost never even raise it?

How sad, I thought, that a single woman who has no long-term interest in a man could be more determined to please her boyfriend sexually than a married woman would be in pleasing her husband. Shame on me if I spend less time thinking about how to pleasure my wife than a single man might think about how to keep his girlfriend interested.

We have to fight against taking our spouses—and our responsibilities—for granted. And taking them for granted is easy to do, because on the day we marry, we gain a monopoly of sorts. Our spouses commit to have sexual relations with no one else. In a faithful marriage there exists no competition or even comparison. The only intimate life our spouses can and will enjoy is the intimate life we choose to give them. Regardless of whether we act thoughtfully, creatively, or selfishly in bed, they receive only what we provide. It’s sheer laziness if I give less attention and care to the mother of my children than some twenty-something kid gives to a young woman he met mere weeks ago.

Rather than make us careless, this exclusivity should make us grateful, and therefore even more eager to please our mates. The principle goes well beyond the bedroom, of course. You’re the primary person for intimate talk and encouragement. Are you “good in communication” too? You’re the first person who should be supporting your spouse in prayer. Are you “good in prayer”?

But let’s not act as though the bedroom is unimportant: When did you last ask yourself, “Am I endeavoring to please my spouse in bed?” If we’re slacking in this area, our spouses can’t really do much about it—but we can, and we should.

Here are some questions to ask: Do I want to reward my wife’s commitment to me, or do I want to make her regret it? Do I want to bless her, or will I take her for granted? Do I want to be a generous lover, or am I content to be a miser who reluctantly doles out occasional “favors”? Am I creative? Am I enthusiastic? Am I initiating?

Honestly ask yourself, “Am I good in bed?”

 

 

This post is an excerpt from the newly re-designed Devotions for a Sacred Marriage.

This book has 52 short devotions for couples to read and reflect on—one a week for a year. If you’re looking to give a “spiritual boost” to your own marriage, or want to offer a gift to another married couple, this beautifully designed book could be just what you’re looking for.

 

 

This blog is not written for women in abusive marriages. The advice offered in these posts will challenge both husbands and wives, but the advice could be counter-productive if it is applied in an abusive relationship.

July 20, 2017

A Higher Kind of Love

Gary Thomas — 

 

About five centuries ago, Copernicus changed the way we think about our universe when he postulated what we all now know to be true: the Sun, not the Earth, is the center of our universe. Archimedes, Plato, Socrates, Augustine, and Aquinas all lived without understanding a basic truth that any educated person today takes for granted.

One hundred years later, just four centuries ago, Sir Isaac Newton discovered what we call gravity, something that even a contemporary fifth grader could describe.

The relative youth of basic knowledge is rather stunning. For all his wisdom and brilliant insight, Aristotle knew less of hard science—astronomy, anatomy, and even physics—than the vast majority of advanced placement high school students do today. It’s remarkable to consider relatively recent advancements in intelligence and understanding.

Regardless of one’s view of evolution, early humans (whatever date you would assign to them) would seem like brutes to us today. In fact, a TV series like Mad Men, initially set just fifty or sixty years ago, seems like a ridiculous relic of an atrocious past—men treated women like that? People were that insensitive to race issues?

Just as intellect and social understanding has grown, so our love should grow, as well as our view of what marriage can and should be. What was accepted as the highest and truest love in the ancient world of Paris and Helen of Troy, or the medieval world of Shakespeare, or the romantic era of Jane Austen, might perhaps look rudimentary to spiritually perceptive persons today, if we were to apply the same scientific methods to love and marriage as we do to science. Yes, of course, Jesus defined the very highest love for us about two thousand years ago, but how this love applies to the way a man loves his wife and the practical way a wife loves her husband can still evolve, as so much of other human understanding has.

Why shouldn’t the love of a husband and wife of a Christian couple in 2017 look vastly different than the love of a husband and wife in 1617 or 1817? Why, indeed, should we glamorize marriage from the 1950s instead of asking even more of marriage today? Why would we let marital love lag behind physical or social science? And shouldn’t Christians lead the call for the spiritual evolution of marriage?

A New Model of Marriage

There’s a key to “marital evolution” in the vows most of us uttered to “to love and to cherish until death do us part.”

Cherish is an attempt to define that higher love between a man and a woman. Just as we have sought to better understand the intricacies of the human brain, the vagaries of our climate, the shamefulness of racial prejudice, so we should seek to understand true honor, selflessness, service, kindness and even happiness as it relates to marriage. We’ve killed forests’ worth of trees writing books about “love.” Perhaps it’s time we pay attention to “cherish,” a higher kind of love. We should expect more of Christian husbands and wives, just as we expect more of today’s screenwriters, academics, and social commentary. People said things thirty years ago they would never say today—or pay a heavy price if they did. There will always be those who “lag behind,” who fail to keep up with the advancement of society, but we don’t want to be among them. Not because we are proud, but because we want to breathe the purer air of a higher, more refined existence.

The interplay of love and cherish is best demonstrated by ballet. Ballet requires enormous strength, significant endurance, balance, and athleticism—the same things required of an NFL wide receiver or even linebacker. What makes the dancer different is that she also has grace, fluidity, beauty, poetry in motion. Love—sacrifice, service, commitment—is and always will be the backbone, the strength, and the muscle of marriage. Cherish brings the beauty and poetry—it’s supported by love, but it complements love, showcases love, and delights in love. It’s not just about sticking it out together; it’s about turning marriage into a beautiful dance.

As love is known by First Corinthians 13, so cherish is captured in the Song of Songs.

Love is about being gracious and altruistic. “Love is patient, love is kind.” (1 Cor. 13:4)

Cherish is about being enthusiastic and enthralled. “How much more pleasing is your love than wine, and the fragrance of your perfume more than any spice.” (Song of Songs 4:10)

Love tends to be quiet and understated. “[Love] does not envy, it does not boast.” (1 Cor. 13:4)

Cherish boasts boldly and loudly: “My beloved is radiant and ruddy, outstanding among ten thousand.” (Song of Songs 5:10)

Love thinks about others with selflessness. “Love is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking.” (1 Cor. 13:4-5)

Cherish thinks about its beloved with praise. “Your voice is sweet and your face is lovely.” (Song of Songs 2:14)

Love doesn’t want the worst for someone: “Love does not delight in evil.” (1 Cor. 13:6)

Cherish celebrates the best in someone: “How beautiful you are, my darling! Oh, how beautiful!” (Song of Songs 1:15)

Love puts up with a lot: “[Love] always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Cor. 13:7)

Cherish enjoys a lot. “His mouth is sweetness itself; he is altogether lovely.” (Song of Songs 5:16)

Love is about commitment. “Love endures all things. Love never fails” (1 Cor. 13:7-8; ESV)

Cherish is about delight and passion. “Your name is like perfume poured out.” (Song of Songs 1:3)

Love and cherish never compete—they complement each other and even complete each other. At times, they certainly overlap. By pursuing “cherish” we’ll become better lovers as well.

Men, your wives don’t want you to just “love” them in the sense of being committed to them. They want you to cherish them. They don’t want us to stop at, “I will be committed to you and never leave you.” They want to hear:

“You have stolen my heart, my sister, my bride, you have stolen my heart with one glance of your eyes.” (4:9)

And women, you’ll discover that a cherished husband is the happiest of husbands. A friend of mine asked seven male friends, “Do your wives love you?” and every one of them answered “yes.” He then asked, “Do your wives like you?” and every one answered “No.”

All seven husbands feel loved, but none feel cherished.

Husbands want to hear their wives say, “Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest, is my beloved among the young men.” (2:3)

Cherishing your husband will motivate you to pursue him, and thus raise the temperature of your marriage: “I will search for the one my heart loves.” (3:2)

Choosing to Cherish

The good news is that cherishing your spouse is something you can learn to do. People talk about “falling in love” (which is a misunderstanding of biblical love), but cherish is clearly a choice. It’s not just a feeling that comes and goes; there are spiritual and relational practices that generate feelings of cherishing your spouse as you act on them so that you do hold your spouse dear in your heart. Learning to cherish actually creates joy, fulfillment, happiness and satisfaction. It’s one of those spiritual realities that may not make logical sense, but when you take it by faith and put it in practice, it works.

It just does.

Learning to take our marriage from polite co-existing or even just basic friendship to the much higher spiritual call of learning to truly cherish each other is a spiritual journey before it’s a marital journey. God’s word will instruct us; we’ll need his Spirit to empower us and his truth to enlighten us to shape our hearts in such a way that we are able to cherish someone who “stumbles in many ways” (James 3:2), even as God cherishes us as we stumble in many ways. If you believe your marriage has all but died or even just gotten a little stale, the hope behind learning to cherish each other in marriage is found in this: God is more than capable of teaching us and empowering us to treat and cherish our spouses the way he treats and cherishes us.

Envy, Not Pity

May God raise up in this new era a renewed church that demonstrates a different kind of marriage. Not just a marriage that sticks it out—people have been doing that for millennia. But marriages that grow in grace, sweetness, kindness, service, joy, and understanding; where we even value cherishing each other more than we value being infatuated with each other.

Isn’t it a little pathetic that two young infatuated people think they have something deeper, richer, and more profound than what most married couples share after twenty or thirty years of life together? Yet hasn’t that been the popular, almost unquestioned cultural message for the past three or four generations? By pursuing cherish instead of just love, we can build the kind of marriages that inspire younger couples rather than make them feel pity for us. A thoughtful, cherishing marriage can make infatuation look like a Neanderthal kind of love.

If God has been gracious enough to allow us to grow in our understanding of the physical world; if God has allowed us to advance from the abacus to the slide rule to the calculator to the computer, why would He not allow His church to move marital love from mere commitment to active cherishing?

It’s not that cherish is opposed to love or in competition with love, but rather a higher, deeper understanding of love applied.  Jesus taught us that others should know we are his by our love. Our marriages should be factories of such a love. Cherishing marriages can be evangelistic as others will ask, how can a husband and wife cherish each other like that after thirty years of marriage?

The battle against redefining marriage is significant and necessary, but like in World War II, we have to fight on multiple fronts. We can’t let the battle over the definition of marriage lead us to ignore the battle over personally experiencing and demonstrating a higher, purer love, a marriage in which two people truly cherish each other, in our own families.

The analogy I make in Cherish is that just as God the Father cherished Jerusalem (Ezekiel 16), and just as Jesus cherishes the church, so we are to cherish each other in marriage. God laid the cornerstone of a cherishing marriage when he first began his relationship with Jerusalem roughly five thousand years ago. An ignored city has risen to become one of the most, if not the most famous city in the history of the world, because God chose to cherish her. His act of cherishing lifted Jerusalem to a new place of being.

A cherishing marriage can produce the same kind of people and point us to a higher kind of love.

A New Day

A young couple I’m preparing for marriage recently asked me an honest question: “Gary, we’ve had so many older couples tell us that there’s one and only one secret to a happy marriage, and that’s for the husband to learn two words: ‘Yes, dear.’ Is that true?”

Though this is an old, bad joke, it was refreshing to see a young couple be all but mystified by it. The subtext of their question was sincere astonishment: “People used to look at and define marriage like that? Do we have to do that?”

No, they don’t.

People my age (I’m 55) have to understand that the way our children relate to each other in terms of gender roles is very different from what we grew up with. This shift is going to have a huge impact on the quality and nature of marriage. There will be some new challenges—as there is much to appreciate about old truths—but also potentially many key gains.

I’m not talking about the complementarian/egalitarian debate. Thoughtful complementarians take pains to distinguish what they believe from 1960s’ chauvinism. Yet young people in their twenties can’t even imagine women being “kept” or condescended to; they are valued, listened to, considered as true partners, with equal intelligence and worth. How can this evolving understanding fail to positively impact the depth of intimacy a couple might have in marriage, if, that is, we are willing to expand our view of marriage from merely loving each other to cherishing each other?

I think it’s rather promising. Old jokes and old prejudice must die, or preachers will start sounding like ad executives from Mad Men when we talk about marriage.

It’s all in the Bible. We just have to move past thinking of the Song of Songs as something that exclusively discusses what’s happening between the sheets and expand it to also include what’s happening within our hearts and minds.

I’ve been infatuated, and I’ve been in a cherishing marriage.

Cherish is better.

Perhaps it’s time to spread the good news that the world is setting its sights much too low when it comes to the standards of true, intimate marriage. We’ve spent so much time talking about love. Let’s raise the bar and start talking about cherish.

This blog is not written for women in abusive marriages. The advice offered in these posts will challenge both husbands and wives, but the advice could be counter-productive if it is applied in an abusive relationship.

 

I received the following email (edited for length and taking out any identifying information) from a reader:

 

I am so grateful a friend recommended your book, Sacred Search.  I’m currently on my fourth reading!  I’ve found it so helpful in evaluating my dating relationships….as well as realigning my beliefs & hopes about marriage with Scripture (& confirmation of the Holy Spirit).  I can’t thank you enough.

Still, I have a lingering question.  Is it wise to marry someone if deep down you’re not as proud of them as they deserve?  Or worded another way…What do you do if your only hang-ups about a potential spouse are superficial traits (like physical appearance or position/profession) you wish didn’t matter to you at all, but in reality, still bother you?

I believe marriage is a choice, and I want to make a wise choice based off qualities God values.  With that in mind, if I don’t want to be a superficial person, do I just ignore the fact that I’m bothered or embarrassed by my boyfriend’s appearance, profession/position, etc?  Or should I trust that if a man’s character isn’t enough to make traits I don’t want to value in the first place seem unimportant, then he just might not be the wisest match, after all?

 

Here’s how I’d respond:

The marital choice is a lot about preference. We should definitely marry a believer (1 Cor. 7:39). We should marry a person of high character (Prov. 31:10ff.). But on issues of preference—appearance, personality, vocation, there isn’t any absolute “this is the right or wrong thing to decide.” It’s more “What are you willing to live with?”

I think the greatest weakness of The Sacred Search is that it may set the bar a little too high. Some have written to me that the kind of person I’m describing in that book doesn’t really exist–everyone must make compromises. I agree to a certain extent; it’s just that I’ve seen what happens when people compromise too much, and I want to help people avoid that, so maybe I went too far in the other direction.

Having said that, to answer this person’s question: I, personally, wouldn’t marry someone who embarrasses me. “Embarrassment” is a strong word and respect is the backbone of a solid marriage. Both husbands (1 Peter 3:7) and wives (1 Peter 3:1) are biblically commanded to respect their spouse, which is difficult to do if you’re embarrassed by them.

It’s impossible to “fake respect” someone for very long; eventually, he or she will catch on, and that will launch a number of negative things into your marriage.

When a guy doesn’t feel respected, he’ll feel like a “project,” as it will be difficult for you not to keep needling him about the issue(s) you hope will change. He may get discouraged that you don’t respect him and, as a defense mechanism, stop trying to earn your respect and worse, seek to be respected somewhere else. There are plenty of other ways a disrespected guy might respond and none of them, frankly, are good.

If you’re embarrassed by your wife, how is she ever going to feel cherished? How can a man tell his wife, “My dove, my perfect one, is the only one” (Song of Songs 6:9) when he wishes she looked more like someone else, acted more like someone else, or had another woman’s personality or job? And if you don’t cherish your wife, no one else is biblically allowed to, at least not in that way, so you are choosing to keep your wife from ever experiencing a marriage as God designed it.

We all have to compromise somewhat as no one gets to marry the fourth member of the Trinity. But in general, I want to see premarital couples feeling proud of each other, eager to show each other off, and each feeling like they got the best end of the deal.

When a couple is meeting with me and the woman can’t wait to tell me, “He’s not the kind of guy I’m usually attracted to,” that’s a bad sign, in my view. She’s apologizing for him before he’s even opened his mouth. Why does she want me to know that, anyway? Why should it matter to me how he looks? That’s a statement of pure embarrassment, and since I’m not much of a judge when it comes to masculine appearance, it’s a wasted observation anyway.

Making a reasonable compromise or two is a necessity in a fallen world when you’re marrying an imperfect man or woman. Accepting something that embarrasses you is, in my opinion, too big of a compromise. 

The writer’s last sentence sums it up well: “Should I trust that if a man’s character isn’t enough to make traits I don’t want to value in the first place seem unimportant, then he just might not be the wisest match, after all?” To that I’d say, “Probably so.”

What do you think? Let’s get a conversation going.

This blog is not written for women in abusive marriages. The advice offered in these posts will challenge both husbands and wives, but the advice could be counter-productive if it is applied in an abusive relationship.

Preachers and teachers on marriage (and I have been among them) often warn young moms about being moms first and wives second. It’s certainly a dangerous and ever-present temptation that deserves attention. But this post is for the young husbands who have their own temptation—expecting their wives to be more than any one woman could possibly be while raising their kids.

One August morning in Houston I waited just a little too long to go out for a run. The sun was unmerciful, and all the shade was gone. My pace slowed, and I even had to walk. I thought I could power through the run as planned but it was stupid not to shorten it before turning around, and I paid the price for my stubbornness.

About a mile and a half from home, I noticed the distinctive bounce of my wife as she pedaled her bike my way. She had a towel and a bottle of electrolyte-laced water.  “They said on the news that it was dangerously hot and humid today and I thought you should have been home by now so I figured I better go find you.”

I fell in love with my wife all over again. She is the best.

But she’s also an empty nester.

When she was a homeschooling mom of three, I don’t think, number one, she would have had time to watch the news in the morning. Number two, I don’t think it’s likely she would have noticed I had left, as she would be trying to keep child number one from ripping up her assignment, child number two from throwing a ball through the window, and child number three from having a diaper accident. Not to mention keeping our dog Amber from eating somebody’s shoe.

I suspect, fifteen years ago, had we lived in Houston and I had gone out for a run, I’d limp home, my wife would see me dripping sweat on the floor, and she might say, “You went for a run? In this? Are you crazy?”

As an empty nester, I now get all her care. There’s a lot of it, but it’s just…different when it’s not divided among four people. There’s just me now. We don’t even have a dog anymore.

Young husbands, please give your wives a break. Try to understand. She wants to be a world class wife—most women do. But when she’s got a job, kids, a pet, and a house, never forget that there’s only one of her and about ten of them (if you add everything together).

Yes, she should be a wife first. But you’ve got to do your part with understanding. I wish I had been more empathetic as a younger husband. Back then, I could occasionally be resentful. Lisa would freely admit there were seasons when she was definitely a mom first.  I thought the problem was her, but now I’d tell my younger self that the problem was really her situation. “Give it time, Gary,” I’d say. “Let her work this out. By the way, some amazing years are coming.”

If your wife really cares for your kids, she’s a caring person. When the kids are gone, all that care will be poured out on you. If you leave her now, she’s likely to end up with someone else and then her care will be poured out on that person. You’ll have endured the years in which she was stretched the most, only to miss the years when she could focus on you and love you the most.

It’s not a coincidence that I wrote Sacred Marriage about embracing the difficulties and challenges of marriage when I was in my late thirties, and now, in my fifties, I’m writing about building a marriage based on cherishing each other.

Same wife, but a different life.

So, young husband, be gentle with your wife while she figures all this out. Don’t let a very exhausting decade or two define your marriage or her.

I’ve been in a number of running groups. We meet Saturday, Tuesday, and Thursday mornings in our running gear, and leave looking sweaty and hot and tired. Every now and then there will be a “social.” And the most common comment you hear runners say to each other is “Wow, that’s what you look like all showered and clean!”

Defining your wife’s love and care by how she acts when she’s raising small children is like defining a woman’s beauty by how she looks in the middle of a marathon.

It’s not fair.

Give your wife a thankful hug. Even more, give her truckloads of understanding. And remind yourself whenever you feel neglected: it might not be her. It might just be her situation.

This blog is not written for women in abusive marriages. The advice offered in these posts will challenge both husbands and wives, but the advice could be counter-productive if it is applied in an abusive relationship.

April 28, 2017

Married for Adversity

Gary Thomas — 

“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”  (Prov. 17:17)

You’d be miserable indeed if you trained to become a fireman and resented it every time there was a fire. Not that you want there to be a fire, but putting out fires is what you’re trained to do. It’s what you signed up for. You don’t run from the fire—you move toward it.

In the same way, when we get married, we sign up to be there in times of adversity. If it is true that a brother is “born for adversity,” it is doubly true that a husband or wife is “married for adversity” for when I marry my wife, I become her closest friend in addition to being her brother in Christ. We’re thus signing up to be there during our spouses’ worst moments, most trying seasons, and even most irritating personal challenges.

What if we took Proverbs 17:17 seriously and thus considered ourselves “married for adversity?” Rather than resenting adversity, or feeling sorry for ourselves (instead of empathy for our spouse) that we have to deal with adversity, we would see adversity as a call to action, to closeness, to encouragement and support.

Imagine wives facing down social embarrassment with their husbands, but working with him instead of laughing at him: “This is one of the reasons I married him, to help him through this.” Imagine wives suffering a husband’s long bout of unemployment, thinking, “We got married so I could keep supplying the confidence and hope he needs.” Imagine the same attitude if he’s fighting an addiction, depression, or discouragement—a strong woman of faith realizing how dire things are but saying to herself, “I was born for this! I can love my man in the midst of this!”

Imagine husbands married to women who are gravely ill, doubling down on their affection and assurance: “I was born to help my wife get well (or even, sadly, to help her face her death).” What if a man discovers he married a sexually wounded wife who needs special care and understanding and he becomes more concerned about his wife’s healing and health than his own satisfaction? Imagine a husband who is married to a gifted woman who wants to start a business, but whose dad always told her she’d never amount to much. That husband provides the support, encouragement, and confidence she needs to become who God created her to be: “I was born to help my wife achieve her full glory!” Whatever the challenge, imagine Christian husbands taking up this biblical truth and instead of feeling sorry for themselves that they have to deal with adversity, loudly proclaim, “I can do this! With God’s empowering Spirit, I can love this woman! I was born to do this!”

Instead of seeing a weakness or limitation as a point of frustration, Proverbs 17:17 calls us to let adversity define our commitment, call out the best in us, and depend on God’s love working through us.

We live in a broken world where broken realities break our hearts. Knowing this to be so, God created marriage to confront this reality, not to be crushed by it. Marriage doesn’t remove us from the brokenness of the world but it does help us confront it together, and even to overcome it. Proverbs 17:17 is a rallying cry to let marriage be a castle against confusion. Rather than allow the brokenness of this world to cause us to question our marriage, Proverbs 17:17 says brokenness should remind us of why we got married.

The truth is, most of us marry for selfish reasons, but the Bible describes love as being showcased most clearly when we’re called to serve in the face of difficulty. A biblical friend doesn’t love only in wealth, health, social success, and sunny days. A biblical friend loves at all times. So, instead of feeling sorry for ourselves when our spouse hits a dry spell, or when he or she is going through a difficult time, let’s lace up our shoes a little tighter and remind ourselves, “I was born for this, to love my spouse at all times, especially in adversity.”

This blog is not written for women in abusive marriages. The advice offered in these posts will challenge both husbands and wives, but the advice could be counter-productive if it is applied in an abusive relationship.

April 20, 2017

Your Boyfriend’s Brain

Gary Thomas — 

 

Single women, your boyfriend’s brain is very different than yours. If you try to evaluate him like you’d evaluate a girlfriend or sister, you’re going to fail. You’ll miss cues. The male brain and the female brain diverge immediately upon conception. So, if you want to make a wise marital match, spend a little time getting to understand a bit about the male brain.

Dr. Louann Brizendine studied at UC Berkeley, Yale, and Harvard and is now on the faculty of UCSF Medical Center. She states, “The vast new body of brain science together with the work I’ve done with my male patients has convinced me that through every phase of life, the unique brain structures and hormones of boys and men create a male reality that is fundamentally different from the female one and all too frequently oversimplified and misunderstood.”

Her book, The Male Brain, can help young (or middle-aged) women understand what’s going on in a suitor’s brain.

Let’s look at some highlights to help single women while they are dating. There are also many applications for within marriage.

  1. Some men’s brains are more neurologically inclined toward monogamous behavior than others.

A study of lizards provides a “three types of men” analogy. There are “orange throat” lizards who basically guard a harem of females and mate with all of them. The males with yellow throats are called “sneakers” because they hang around the orange throat’s harem and mate with any of the willing females when the orange throat lizard isn’t looking. The “blue throat” lizards mate with one lizard for life and guard her 24/7.

This activity is partly guided by the vasopression receptor in the male’s brain, which is true in the human brain as well as the lizard’s brain. The longer the receptor, the more likely he is to be a “mate with one for life” kind of guy (the “blue throat”). As Dr. Brizendine puts it, “When it comes to fidelity, the joke among female scientists is that ‘longer is better,’ at least when it comes to the length of the vasopression receptor gene.”

If you’re not a scientist this isn’t something you can observe, but you can observe behavior. If your boyfriend has cheated on others before, it’s more likely he’ll cheat on you. If he left his former girlfriend to cheat with you, the time will almost certainly come when he will leave you to cheat with someone else. You’ve got to let his actions demonstrate the way his brain is wired. If you forgive him once for cheating on you, it’s far more likely you’ll have to become a “serial forgiver” if you want to stay with him. Some guys are just more wired for monogamy than others.

This isn’t to say biology is destiny. When you date a man surrendering to the work of the Holy Spirit and submitting to the truth of Scripture, he won’t be a powerless victim to his natural urges. But it will be more difficult for an orange throat to act like a blue throat. If you want a faithful mate, look for a “blue throat.”

  1. Sex takes up a bigger part of the male brain and guys are more comfortable than are women about lying to get sex.

Dr. Brizendine’s research has found that “Men have two and a half times the brain space devoted to sexual drive in their hypothalamus. Sexual thoughts flicker in the background of a man’s visual cortex all day and night, making him always at the ready for seizing sexual opportunity.”

The ongoing level of interest in sex between a male brain and female brain are widely different. Dr. Brizendine explains, “Women are surprised that the penis can operate on autopilot and even more surprised that men don’t always know when they’re getting an erection. The autopilot penis is part of a man’s daily reality for most of his life, though it happens less as he gets older.”

Further complicating this increased interest, and making it more dangerous, is that deception can be a big part of a guy’s mating strategy. Dr. Brizendine says, “Researchers found that three out of four men said they were willing to lie or ‘modify the truth’ to persuade women to have sex with them…Men exaggerate their wealth, status, and business and social connections.”

I heard a man once speak about the trick of collecting ATM receipts at the bank, which are often left lying around. He said to find one that had a balance of over $20,000 on it. When a young woman asks for your phone number you casually take out the receipt from your wallet, acting as if it’s yours, and write your phone number on it.  You can bet she’ll turn it over. “When it comes to verbal deception, researchers have found that men are biologically more comfortable with it than women.”

Since women tend (not always, but tend) to be looking for a relationship, they may not understand why a guy would blatantly lie to get sex when he’ll inevitably be found out. The reason he’ll lie is because he may want a one-time sexual encounter more than he cares about a long-term relationship, so he’ll jeopardize the long-term for the short term.

If you’re looking for something long-term, be faithful to save sex for marriage. And don’t believe everything you hear. As they say in journalism school, if a guy says his mother loves him, look for a second source.

  1. Distinguish between a guy who is interested in you and a guy who is interested in having sex with you.

One thing that was universal about men and women was that in the first flush of infatuation followed by sexual activity, the relationship becomes literally intoxicating—but because men generally have lower levels of oxytocin, it can hit a male brain with more force. “In one study, men and women said they spent up to 85 percent of their waking moments daydreaming about their lover.”

As soon as the relationship becomes physical, you unleash neurological ingredients that are almost impossible to control. If the release comes during a honeymoon, you’re serving a lifelong love. If it comes before that, you risk becoming obsessed with someone who could make you very miserable as a spouse. You simply cannot properly evaluate someone you are infatuated with and sleeping with at the same time.

Women, this is so important: during this phase you may mistakenly think that he wants you, that he’s enthralled with you and intoxicated by you. In fact, it’s the sexual pursuit and the chemicals that come from such frequent sexual activity (which is also affecting your brain, by the way) that makes him seem so devoted. The frequency of sex will die down—it always does. And when it does, the chemicals making this man interested in you will evaporate because they are largely based on the sexual activity. In a very real sense, a boyfriend will “put up” with the romantic stuff to get to the sex. Once the sex goes, so goes the romance. Put this together with the male propensity to lie and the fact is that he is primed to promise you a lifetime just to buy another hour in bed.

According to Dr. Brizendine, “Researchers have reported that men want an average of fourteen sexual partners in their lifetime, while the women said they wanted an average of one or two.” This discrepancy alone tells you that when women and men are considering “dating” each other, they may have two wildly different agendas.

  1. Men are actually neurologically wired to misbehave more than women.

I am not calling sinful misbehavior a biological necessity; the only perfect person in the history of the world (Jesus) lived with a male brain. The apostle Paul, who also lived with a male brain, claimed to be “flawless” in terms of human righteousness and keeping the law. Maleness thus cannot be an excuse for sin.

But men are biologically less in tune with the consequences of bad behavior. The anterior cingulate cortex is “the “fear-of-punishment” area of the brain and is smaller in men than in women. Furthermore, “testosterone decreases worries about punishment.” The prefrontal cortex, which Dr. Brizendine calls the “CEO” of the brain, focuses on good judgments and “works as an inhibiting system to put the brakes on impulses” and is “larger in women and matures faster in females than in males.”

Put all this together and you are dating a person whose biological ability to process negative consequences arising from bad decisions is less than yours; whose fear of being punished is less than yours; whose processing area of the brain devoted to making good judgements is more limited than yours; and whose inhibitions are naturally less than yours.

Men are always accountable for not controlling their urges.  But an analogy may be helpful here. Your boyfriend is more likely to be able to bench-press 250 pounds than you are, but girlfriends are more likely to make better decisions based on consequences, punishments, and reasonable inhibitions. Now, a woman can lift a lot of weight and end up pressing much more weight than many men ever could. And in the same way, a man can surrender to the work of the Holy Spirit and fill his mind with Scripture and learn to walk with wisdom and discretion. But biologically, a case can be made that it actually is easier for women to “behave.” While dating, be prepared to be the one who wants to think through the possible negative consequences of becoming physical right away, getting married right away, or doing something romantic but foolish.

  1. Older men become more like women neurologically

Because older male brains produce less testosterone and vasopressin, the ratio of estrogen to testosterone increases in the male brain, which means “hormonally the mature male brain is becoming more like the mature female brain.”

A man is gradually growing into a person who will likely be more in tune with your emotions, more capable of making sound judgments, and more relational overall. If you divorce a man in his forties, you’ve likely lived with him through his most difficult relational years and may miss his most in-tuned empathetic years.

This isn’t a promise—again, biology isn’t destiny, and stereotypes tend to be true but aren’t absolutely true.

This explains in part, but of course doesn’t excuse, why older men are often able to date much younger women. It’s not just the money. A younger woman may well be tired of a twenty or thirty-something male brain with its hyper-competitive, territorial, and sexually predatory nature and find it refreshing to have an older man who is more relationally aware. God’s ideal plan is that this man’s new awareness should be a gift to his wife who has been with him for three or four decades. When a man leaves his wife at this stage it’s a double-hit: she suffered while putting up with him in his more insensitive years and then she misses out on what could be his most relational years.

The younger woman’s devotion may be confusing to the original wife. The ex-wife may remember what this man was and thus not understand the new wife’s affection, while the new wife appreciates what he is and not understand the ex-wife’s rejection. This is terribly sad and goes against God’s creational design.

For the married women still reading this, if you value relational connectedness and understand the slow evolution of the male brain, it really is true that things are “getting better all the time.” A gentler, kinder, more relationally aware husband may be on the way.

Christians can become uncomfortable focusing too much on biology, as if it undercuts moral responsibility. I think most of you know I would never do that. Understanding a little science, however, can help single women be more aware of the issues they need to watch out for while dating. Every one of these issues are best addressed by living life the way God calls us to. In this case, modern neuroscience simply proves what we’ve known all along: God’s way is always best.

If you’re new to this blog and want more insight on making a wise marital choice, check The Sacred Search: What if It’s Not About Who You Marry, but Why? Link….

This blog is not written for women in abusive marriages. The advice offered in these posts will challenge both husbands and wives, but the advice could be counter-productive if it is applied in an abusive relationship.

 

Singles seeking to marry well can learn so much from a man who got married four hundred years ago. He made a supremely wise choice for all the right reasons and benefitted immensely because of it.

Don’t be freaked out that he was a Puritan.

Richard Baxter (1615-1691) lived half his life as a single man because he believed a zealous clergyman was “married to his congregation” and didn’t have time for a wife. When his church fired him and he was forced to make his living as a writer (he became the most popular writer of his day, sort of a Max Lucado and Tim Keller rolled into one person), he thought having a wife would be a very good thing indeed, and he soon entered into a very happy and fulfilling marriage to a young woman named Margaret.

They had an incredible marriage.

In making his choice, Richard was already a wise man who, as a pastor, had seen the folly so many others had fallen into to. Thus he was determined to “avoid the foolish passion which the world calls love.”

He didn’t eschew love, but sought a higher love: “I know you must have love for those [you marry],” he wrote, but he was insistent that it be a “rational” love that discerns “worth and fitness” in the loved, not “blind…lust or fancy.”[i]

Richard had seen how “blind lust and fancy” (sex appeal and romantic infatuation) could make seemingly wise people curiously blind to a person’s poor worth and low character so he determined early on that he would not be guided by those things.

Instead, he was determined to find a “worthy” spouse, and a “fit” spouse.

If you find yourself crazy with infatuation, and your highest desperate desire is to hear that they feel the same way about you, force yourself to ask two rational questions: “Is this a worthy person? Are they fit for marriage?”

Let’s look at each in turn.

First, are they worthy of you having such interest in them? Force yourself to look at them objectively. If you didn’t have such strong feelings for them, would you still like them, admire them, and respect them? If you can’t answer “yes” to all three questions you’re falling prey to “blind fancy.”

If you’re at all embarrassed by them, or constantly finding yourself having to explain away and excuse the faults and character flaws that everyone else sees and points out to you, you’re in the midst of “blind fancy.” They’re not truly worthy of you; you shouldn’t be afraid that they don’t feel the same way about you; you should be afraid of why you’re feeling that way about them.

Next, ask yourself, “Are they fit?” That is, do they have the necessary relational, emotional, and spiritual skills to be a superlative spouse? Can they handle conflict? Are they humble and gentle and patient? Are they a giver or a taker? Is God the center of their life? Do they pray and do they seek to grow in righteousness? Would they be a good parent and a true friend? Can you trust them in every way?

If the answer is no, they’re not “fit” for marriage.

Feelings are loud and strong, and they come and go. Asking questions about “worthiness” and “fitness” will help you to be objective and make a wise choice.

Dr. J.I. Packer summarizes the best of Puritan thought on making a wise marital choice by stressing that Christians were urged not to look for someone one does love romantically but rather for one whom one can love “with steady affection on a permanent basis.”

Because marriage is all about the future and feelings are only about the present, it makes the most sense to choose someone you can love in the future because they are worthy of your love and fit for marriage. Those things usually last; feelings never do.

Among the most stupid things said on a stupid reality television program is when the Bachelor or the Bachelorette keep saying, “I’ve just got to explore my feelings; I don’t know if I feel the right way about him/her.”

No, you don’t. That’s a stupid way to evaluate a relationship. It’s being guided by “blind lust or fancy” (and explains why that show has such a pathetic “success” rate for couples who get together).

Find out first if the person you are interested in is worthy and fit. Then ask yourself, “Is this someone I’d enjoy spending time with? Is this someone I’m attracted to physically enough so that I’d desire to be with them sexually?”

Sexual desire and “fancy” aren’t enemies—they can be delightful “spices” in life. If you make them the main course, however, you’ll end up relationally hungry, as they can’t satisfy on their own. I sprinkle cinnamon in my chai tea every morning, but I don’t take a spoonful as a substitute for breakfast. That’s what you’re trying to do when you let “blind lust and fancy” be the main factors in determining who to date and, ultimately, who to marry.

Worthy and fit.

That’s what you want to look for. That’s what you should evaluate.

[i] I’m taking these quotes from J.I. Packer’s A Grief Sanctified, pg. 25.

 

Readers,

When I was writing Cherish, I’d ask wives how they wanted to be cherished. If you poured a cup of coffee right away, it would be room temperature by the time most of them stopped talking. When I’d ask men how they like to be cherished, the most common answer was, “Do you want the PG version or the real answer?”

The reality is that many husbands won’t feel cherished if they are not sexually pursued. Sometimes, the husband needs to change a few things so the wife can safely pursue him—but sometimes, wives can address ways to build their own libidos. No man feels cherished with mere “duty sex.” He wants to see in his wife’s eyes and even sexual hunger, “He is altogether desirable. This is my beloved and this is my friend.” Song of Songs 5:16

My friend Sheila Wray Gregoire writes a marvelous blog primarily directed toward women, though I have steered many a husband her way. I’m delighted that she has released an online video course that will help wives who want practical advice for boosting their libido. Sheila has been talking and writing about this for years, and her husband is a doctor. She mixes the medical with the practical in a fun and inspiring way. Talks are already underway about Sheila and I touring together, speaking about sexual intimacy in marriage—that’s the confidence I have in her, her marriage, and the content of her message.

Here’s Sheila’s story, and what she’s offering:

Are you Settling for Something that God Never Meant for You to Settle for?

Sheila Gregoire

Every night when I was a little girl, I would drift off to sleep dreaming of one day being married to a man who would make me feel safe. An only child of an amazing single mother, I still desperately needed to know that I was loved and that my life wouldn’t be uprooted again.

I wanted stability. I wanted, in Gary’s words, to be cherished.

I’ve been married for twenty-five years now, and I can attest with every fiber of my being that I am, indeed, very safe.

But I’ve also learned that safe isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The reason that I’m happy with my husband today is not because I’m safe; the reason I’m happy with my husband is that together, we’re living an adventure.

Sometimes in our quest for safe we forget to live. We’re trying so hard to avoid anything bad that we forget to let the good in, too.

We know there’s such a thing as holy contentment–the sentiment that the Apostle Paul conveyed in Philippians 4:12:

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

I believe, though, that there’s also a thing called holy discontentment, even in our marriage. It doesn’t mean that we’re unhappy with our mate. It’s that we feel that we’re missing something important that God had for us. We know that He created us for more, and we’ve been settling. And we have a thirst for God’s passion to be more real in our lives, so that we stop playing it safe and start really living.

Nowhere do I see this as much in women’s experiences as in the area of sexual intimacy. Many of us are content to put sex on the back burner, every now and then consenting in order to give our husbands a break, but not truly experiencing passion ourselves. Maybe we figure we weren’t made for it. Maybe we figure it will never feel that good anyway. Maybe we figure we have too many other things on our minds and it’s too much work to make sex feel awesome.

Now, I know many of you are throwing yourselves into anything but sex because you’re the one with the higher sex drive. In 30% of marriages, it is the woman who wants sex more, not the husband, and your biggest question is why doesn’t your husband want to make love? Others have been so wounded because of your husband’s pornography use that sex has become ugly. For you, I am sincerely sorry, and I pray that you will be able to get others around you to hold him accountable and to help you both restore what has been broken.

But for those of us who have just given up, let me ask this Valentine’s season–are you settling for something that God never meant for you to settle for? Are you giving up too easily, and losing out on the life that God meant for you?

Before I got married I dreamt about sex. A LOT. I pictured us spending Saturday mornings in bed every week, just enjoying each other. But then we got married and I realized that sex was work. It didn’t always feel that great. I was often so tired. And for me to be able to enjoy it, I had to be able to concentrate (no one ever tells us women that!). If I had a headache, or was worried about something, or had too much on my to do list, then sex flew out the window.

Somewhere along the line, though, passion did, too. Our lives became work and housework and shuttling the kids to music lessons and to church clubs and to sitting down at night to watch Netflix and to knit my eighth pair of socks this year. Not that there’s anything wrong with knitting socks, mind you. But life became a routine.

The more content we get with normal, the less we yearn to be part of the big passion story that God is writing in our world. God is a passionate God. He’s creative to the extreme. He’s jealous. He gets angry, but also rejoices over us with singing. He is the furthest thing from mediocre or boring. As C.S. Lewis said, “He’s not a tame Lion, you know.”

When we settle for tame in our marriage we often tame God, too. Our sexuality and our spirituality are linked, because they get to the core of who we are. We have been created to know so intimately and to be known so intensely. God chose to use sex as the metaphor and vehicle by which we would partly understand His passion for us. The sexual imagery in the Bible is awfully blatant.

During those years in my marriage when I put sex on the backburner, then, it’s hardly surprising that I often ended up putting God there, too. When I couldn’t be carried away and a little out of control with Keith, it was hard to let God take control and to be overcome with His goodness, too.

Passion is of God. And passion is expressed in so many ways–in worship; in our heart for the world; in our love for our kids. But also, most definitely, in the bedroom. And when we let passion die in one area, it often dies in all.

Perhaps this Valentine’s Day it’s time to awaken passion. I’ve created a “Boost Your Libido” course for women like me who have been living very safe lives, and want more.  Maybe God isn’t just calling you to more passion with Him, but also to more passion with your husband. That part of you can be reawakened, and when it is, it’s amazing to see what God can do with the rest of our lives, too!

Boost Your Libido is a super practical 10-module online course (with video!) that will help women understand what libido is, the roles our brains and bodies play in libido, and how to escape from a boring sexual rut in our marriages. The modules build on each other step-by-step, so you can start seeing immediate results! We don’t need to settle for safe.

Sheila Wray Gregoire has been married for 25 years and happily married for 20. The author of nine books, including The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex, she blogs almost everyday at To Love, Honor and Vacuum!