I remember hearing at youth conference that if we “touched ourselves” we were going straight to hell. That we were unclean and unworthy. Here we were, pimple-faced middle school students crammed in a tent in the middle of a college campus for a Holy revival. That “sermon” and the bus ride home is really all I remember from that event.
I thought of it later in college when I learned more about the woman at the well, and about this King called David, and I wondered how it all fit together. It seemed like it never did fit together. I would listen to girls on the dorm room floor who were there for their “MRS degree” chatter about how they were going to fulfill all of their husbands’ needs. I would listen and snicker inside thinking Oh girls, you have no clue.
It started a questioning that led to more doubt. The teaching of any sexuality was skewed and didn’t fit into a box. You were damned if you did and damned if you didn’t. So either way I was screwed.
Here I was, now married, and sitting knee-to-knee before one of my dearest friends. The tea had been made and she was ready to hear. I sat on her couch and poured out my most shameful secret. She received it with grace overflowing. She didn’t cry for me, she cried with me. Hearing me and being present was all I needed that day. I didn’t need her to offer advice or give me The Five Love Languages book (I would have told her where to shove it). I didn’t need a Christian author who had been a Christian since the age of eight telling me what a healthy marriage looked like. I needed someone to meet me at the well and stay with me there. I needed someone to admit and show their own brokenness and not stand behind the pride of the pulpit.
I began to explain to her that I didn’t like to be touched. That when I was touched, I felt like I was being used. That I was nothing but a vehicle for an act. That any sort of attention only meant, once again, I wasn’t loved. Because if someone truly loved me, they wouldn’t want anything from me. Right? My brain had made the connection that sex was dirty and evil. That if you had sex and enjoyed it would mean that you didn’t love Jesus? That you were a harlot? I knew this mindset was tainted and not what God intended, but this is was what my frame of mind had become.
Sex =shame and sin. Jesus= purity and wholeness. I didn’t understand how you could have both.
I believe that when we talk about sex in the church (which we should be talking about) we shouldn’t just talk about the shame-filled parts without explaining the hows, whys, and the positive side. Why, as a seeker, would I want to sit in a service and hear all about how horrible porn is to a marriage – without a counterbalance of grace? Why am I not hearing that Christ led with grace? He does. He meets you where you’re at and then quietly reveals things in your life which need to change. And if we are going to talk about porn, let’s talk about sex trafficking, prostitution, affairs, child sexual abuse, and rape. Let’s be real about who and what walks into the bedroom, and not shroud the bedroom in shame and throw a self-help book at it before sin even enters in.
I think, Church, we need to teach our youth about grace starting very young. What grace looks like. I think we need to stop having the “purity” talks and start having the YOU ARE WORTHY talks! I think we need to stop kicking girls who get pregnant out of Christian schools, and actually step up and be the Church to them. Because from what I remember, Jesus actually WENT to the women at the well – he didn’t remove her or shun her.
I think, Church, we need to start walking into the strip clubs and talking to the men and women there, instead of diverting our judgmental eyes as we pass by. We look with judgment, all the while pretending that we don’t struggle with porn ourselves. I think we need to stop giving marriage advice and always talk about the sins and never mentioning healing. Church, this world needs us to be raising Hoseas (who rescue and redeem) – not Davids (who take and use). Because more times than not, the person we marry will have years of shame built up, and it needs to be washed away. Church, we can do better. We can decide that our children deserve a better version of the sex talk – they deserve to know about healthy sex. And that starts with healing, not humiliation.
As a woman who has struggled her whole life being filled with shame, I would like to know that the church is where I can find respite. Yet, unfortunately, pastors and elders are not trained sufficiently on how to deal with “damaged goods.”
I met with an amazing friend and pastor recently to share my story of abuse and promiscuity. How I brought a U-Haul of lovers with me when I entered marriage. And because I was taught that it was so shameful, I never wanted to have sex again. I had Jesus now. The two, in my mind, could not coincide. I told this pastor about PTSD, and what that can do to the mind, and the divide it puts in a marriage. I told him that my husband has been so patient with me as we navigate this healing. I shared with him resources I have found to be helpful and healing. I also pointed out that as much as I needed my team behind me of grace-filled friends and therapists, my husband also needed men. Men who would support him and teach him how to love me through this. To keep him from becoming bitter and resentful, and to see that God placed us together so that he could be a part of my healing process. That he and I could rewrite the script that we’d been handed. That we can teach our children a different “sermon.”
Thankfully, my friend was beyond receptive to this ongoing conversation, and has taken steps to change the way things are handled in our church.
I am blessed to be married to a man who is patient and gentle with me. It wasn’t always this way. It took many arguments to figure out where we were both coming from. We had to throw out all of those perfect-Christian-marriage-books and deal with TRUTH. Our truth. We had to meet with couples who had walked a similar road, and were so honest and raw with us. We had to (and still do) surround ourselves with authentic friendships who build us up and don’t try to make us fit into the cookie-cutter mold. We try to be real with our brokenness and own up to it.
Some days it takes more work than others, but I want nothing more than to heal beside the man I call my husband.
Let’s teach that story to our kids.
Sheli Massie is a writer with Redbud Writers Guild. She lives with her husband of sixteen years and her five children outside of Chicago. She writes about her truth and the redemption that has set her free on her blog: www.shelimassie.com