It’s been six months since our child was born and my husband and I have been intimate exactly 2.5 times since her birth. Can I just tell you how my heart breaks as I write that sentence?
It screams of my brokenness. It tells me that I am not healed as I once believed. Memories of horrific events in my younger years scream at me with accusations that I am not whole. I am not enough. I can’t even give of myself to the person I love most. Why am I paralyzed? Why do I struggle with condemnation?
I didn’t grow up with a religious upbringing. I had no one hammering the words purity and abstinence into my mind.
I carried no guilt in the number of individuals I had sex with. There was no moral compass telling me that I was off course. I took part in physical relationships with whomever I pleased whenever I pleased. Twice, I didn’t give anything — rather something was taken from me. Once I ended up pregnant.
My physical body was fine — no scars, no diseases, no outward signs of abuse. But I felt broken.
In a desperate attempt to feel whole, at twenty-one years of age I decided to stop having sex. I had recently found a church, the Lord, and several friends who talked about a second virginity. The concept sounded great.
Surely a vow of abstinence would be the final cleansing; maybe then I would feel clean and whole. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
A year later I met and married my husband and everything was not all better. It took me the better part of eight years to finally understand what I was missing. The emphasis on a second virginity and vow to abstinence only focused upon the physicality of sex. “Do not have intercourse,” was the mantra of the movement. But what of the other parts of me? While I doubt the concept of purity intended to separate the physical from other aspects of spirituality, I had to believe there was something more.
After one incredibly difficult night with my husband, I woke up the next day to find answers. I scoured the Scriptures, looking at all the passages on sex, purity, lust, and marriage.
What the Lord showed me was mind-blowing. He showed me the biblical definition of intimacy.
In Luke 10:27, Jesus teaches straight from the Shema (Deuteronomy 6.4) and says: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, your soul, your strength, and your mind. And love your neighbor as yourself.”
Heart + Soul + Strength + Mind = All of me.
Jesus knows. He knows we can’t separate our bodies from our emotions. We can’t separate our emotions from our will. We can’t separate our will from our thoughts. Jesus understands intimacy — with Himself and with each other. I realized that day that God wanted all of me. I can love others with all of me. And I can love all of myself which was created to work together in this amazing concept of holistic intimacy.
A New Way
For years, I had viewed my body as exhausted. I had mistreated my sexuality. I carried with me horrific memories of horrific acts in horrific places. In order to survive, I tried to separate my mind from my body which rendered me a corpse in the bedroom. Resentment and anger would take the place of love and generosity. Detachment. Separation. Compartmentalization. These were roadblocks to intimacy.
I had once believed I needed to reclaim purity — a nearly impossible feat of human effort. I now realized I needed to understand this concept of biblical intimacy.
It took a lot of mental and emotional work, most of which occurred through writing. Our fifth child was conceived during a time when mind, heart, soul, and strength were all in sync with each other and surrendered to God. Awareness of the issue was part of my battle and my husband and I experienced a sweet season of intimacy in our marriage for over a year. I thought I was healed. I thought the disconnect was over. I thought the state of engaged intimacy was permanent.
But something happened during that time of post-partum healing and six weeks of medically induced abstinence. The connection between mind and body severed. Here I am, acting broken again. I am ashamed to have lost the freedom found in surrendering all of myself to marital intimacy.
Just this morning we were talking through our frustrations and he says what he always says to me, “I love being close to you. Feeling totally connected.” And for a moment I’m jealous. What does that feel like? Why can’t I remember that feeling of total connection and surrender? What do I need to do?
I need to embrace grace. I have to remind myself that I practiced disconnecting for years.
My husband jokes that we should just practice connecting for equal number of years and then some. “Nightly practice,” he says with a boy grin and a hug.
A New Way of Teaching
For several years I taught my children abstinence from all things that fall under Christian taboo (sex, drugs, and alcohol) for fear that they will experience what I experienced. Fear based purity doesn’t sound incredibly contagious.
When I realized what I was doing, I shifted my focus and began to teach intimacy instead.
We have discussed the erotic and anticipatory speeches in the Song of Solomon. I have directed them to the garden and God’s involvement in the sexuality of humanity (see the first covenant between Adam and Eve). We talk about the four elements of intimacy and how they relate to our relationship with God and others. And yes, we still talk about purity, but now it is part of a holistic theology on biblical intimacy.
What if my kids have sex before marriage? As heart-broken as I would be, there will be no shaming in our home, but rather a reclaiming as I walk them through the journey of loving God, loving others, but also loving self.
For purity is not perfection. If it was, what need would there be for a Savior? Rather purity is a surrender — an admission that God can be trusted with the most intimate areas of our life.
Editor’s note: We’ve teamed up with a group of women today to bring grace and truth to the conversation about purity. You can find links to their stories and thoughts at “Pure Hope: Bringing Grace and Hope to the Conversation About Purity.” For more from Marian Green on this topic, find out about her project, “Bad Girl’s Guide to Intimacy,” and read a sample here.
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What Women Are Saying
-- Sarah Martin, author of Stress Point: Thriving Through Your Twenties in a Decade of Drama
"Real life is not always pleasant. Every marriage experiences disappointments, misunderstandings, sickness and financial crisis. Ashleigh doesn’t camouflage the pain in her own marriage, and offers practical ideas on how to walk through the difficulties and find intimacy on the journey. If you are anything like me, I predict that as you read, you too will find yourself laughing, wiping tears, and saying 'Oh, yes.'"
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