Saturday, March 10, 2012

Sex and the Gospel, Part 2

So I'm continuing to procede carefully with this topic. I think I'll start with one very "mundane" way I've found that lies about sex have affected my life. It may not seem as gory or grossly fascinating as one might expect when reading about the fallout of something like "sexual brokenness," but it's real. And it's important to realize that sexuality doesn't fit neatly in a box that we can put on a shelf or under the bed- it's part of who we are as persons and so it affects areas of our lives that we think may be completely separate from it. It also is important to realize just how far-reaching the lies of enemy are, and conversely how far-reaching the truth of God is; when the gospel takes root in our hearts, it changes everything. That includes things we didn't even know needed changing! 

In my last post, I said my "variegated" past influenced how I thought about sex and also how I thought about myself as a woman. That's where I'm starting. The phrases, attitudes, and images presented to me in formative years taught me to believe that women are objects. Ie. they are supposed to look a certain way and act a certain way in order to be "performing up to snuff" for men. In my specific context, that "certain way" included adjectives like: pretty, thin, tan, (yes, tan!) sexy, cool, laid-back, fun, etc. Then, there were adjectives even more unspoken but equally assumed, such as: unintelligent, bad drivers, bad at math, overly emotional, irresponsible, incapable of making difficult decisions, etc. I say "in my specific context" because that was my unique experience. Maybe for you growing up, there was a different set of adjectives that women (or men!) were expected to fit. 

So how did this play out in my life? I thought of myself as a (predominantly sexual) object and so I acted like it. I thought it was more important for me to be skinny than to be smart, for example. And even though I felt smart and enjoyed thinking, I was incredibly insecure about it because I also believed women just weren't that smart. My job was to be pretty and fun, not serious and deep-thinking. Those qualities (when I dared reveal them) were made fun of, rebuked, or bemoaned. So, I believed what would win me love and affection and loyalty from a man was much more dependent on being skinny and good-looking and fun than my being smart or morally excellent or prayerful. So I cultivated what I thought were the "more important" qualities for a woman and therefore attracted the men who were looking for those qualities. (Imagine the paranoia I felt when good, godly men did take an interest in me, for reasons other than my being thin or sexy. I thought they wanted "one thing", because I couldn't imagine why else they'd want to have a relationship with me!) 

So, moving on. The sad reality is that for many women, these values are relatively achievable. A combination of the right genetics, diet, exercise routine, and hygiene can produce relatively satisfactory results. If women are objects, just be a darn good one, right? Well at some point I found that I wasn't as good at being said object as some other girls in my school. I didn't want to wear make-up every day. I was tragically bad at fixing my hair. I liked wearing clothes that were comfortable and didn't take twenty minutes to assemble in the morning. I enjoyed eating. So, what did I do? I decided to "bow out" of the competition. Rather than compete and come up short, I just started making fun of it all- including myself. "You think I care enough to take a shower in the morning?" "I'm the worst girl ever. I don't even know how to do my hair." "Shopping is so boring, who could enjoy that?" I said all these with the air of humor but they revealed a deep insecurity in me. If I couldn't be as good of an object (which, again, had very specific adjectives for me) then I would just go ahead and make fun of myself about it-- and act like I don't care-- before someone else does. 

The point I'm trying to make is not that doing hair or make-up (or the lack of it) is a problem; the point is that I attributed these things to my identity. I had a very small box in which I was supposed to fit, and I either found confidence when I did fit (ie. because I did happen to be thin) or felt worthless when I didn't (ie. because no amount of tanning salons can make this Irish skin bronze!) Ironically, I fled to both extremes for comfort. Fitting the mold and making fun of it. 

In Christ, my identity is far deeper than the style of my hair or color of my skin. My worth is much less temporal than the size of my waist or even my I.Q. In Christ, I'm appreciated-- and even delighted in-- for so many of the qualities I resented about myself growing up. My thoughts and emotions matter to Him-- He doesn't laugh at them or write off my opinions saying, "of course a woman would think that." In Christ, my physical qualities are enjoyed without defining me. They're a part of who I am, but not all of who I am-- because I'm a person, not a body. In Christ, I can admit that I need help learning how to do my hair without feeling like a failure. I can also admit that I don't like wearing make-up all the time, and that that's okay. 

What lies have you believed about what you're supposed to be as a man or woman? How has that influenced the way you relate to those of the same gender or opposite gender? What does God say about who you are and how He thinks of you? 

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