"What if we simply prepared and taught our kids how to be emotionally healthy, ready for intimacy, respectful of their own bodies and of others?"
So said a wise commenter here a few days ago.
I think this is exactly right, profoundly healing, and incredibly challenging.
When I hear
- emotionally healthy
- ready for intimacy
- respectful of their own bodies and others
the word that comes to my mind immediately is BOUNDARIES.
Here is my six-sentence dissertation on boundaries and sexuality.
- I have received my life as a gift from God.
- I have the stewardship of this life, and I'm accountable for how I use it, which requires boundaries.
- The parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) is pretty clear that just phoning it in, because I'm too scared to make a choice, is really not adequate.
- I am here for a reason, and my physical, sexual body is the most basic and intimate expression of myself.
- My sexuality is part of the stewardship of my life.
- I can't just phone it in--not in any way, including my sexuality.
If we are emotionally healthy people with good boundaries in general, we'll be able to look around and decide what's healthy for us in all areas of life, including sex.
If we would like to be emotionally healthy people with good boundaries in general, we'll be required to look around and decide what's healthy for us in all areas of life, including sex.
That's really challenging.
Owning all those decisions about our selves is an enormous responsibility to bear.
A lot of times, pain comes with responsibility.
When I lay hold of my freedom, when I differentiate myself from others and make a choice, that's risky. What if? What if other people don't like it? What if I fail? What if I ask for what I need, and they say no? What if?
For a lot of years, I found it easier to phone it in.
I didn't want to take responsibility. It was simpler to live in a system with a bunch of rules to follow. Men, here are the rules for you. Women, here are the rules for you. If everybody follows the rules, we all stay safe.
The problem with all the rules was, nobody could really be themselves. The best we could do was pretend. Pretend to be The Submissive Woman. Pretend to be The Spiritual Leader. Pretend to be The Perfect Child. We had a whole pretend life, nobody had the stewardship of it, and there was no intimacy in it.
Eventually, we found our way out of the pretend-mess like this: we each have to be our own true selves. That means we each have our own boundaries about who we are: how we feel, what we want, what we can give.
We each take seriously the responsibility to steward our own lives, and our sexuality is an integrated part of that whole stewardship picture.
And then we each bring our own true selves into a relationship together, and we try to make that relationship as true as it can be.
This is a bit of a mess, honestly. It's scary and it hurts and I get mad and sometimes I'm tempted to write a bunch of new rules to make all the mess and responsibility go away.
But in my saner moments, I know this: I will choose freedom, and an honest mess that hurts, over the painless perfection of pretend, every time.
Here's what makes the stewardship of my life possible for me:
Telling the truth.
- The straight-up truth about how I feel and what I want.
- The straight-up truth about what has happened, the choices I and others made.
Feeling the feelings.
- Being willing to feel sad, mad, scared, disappointed, jealous, abandoned, neglected, overlooked. Just sit there and feel.
- Stop trying to make other people make me feel better.
Receiving and giving grace.
- Receiving God's grace for myself, right now, right in the mess.
- Extend God's grace to others, accepting their boundaries, even when I don't like them.
Being strong and courageous.
- I have to keep pursuing truth, feeling my feelings, and receiving grace, even when I don't get what I want today.
- I have to keep being the steward of my life, even when other people don't like it.
I know somebody will read this and think that it's selfish, to spend all this time thinking about what I feel and what I want. But what I've found is this.
When I am first very clear and honest about what I feel and what I want, I can make a choice that is not exactly what I want, out of sacrificial love for another person.
It's just a gift to that person, no strings attached.
When I am not clear and honest about what I feel and what I want, then I will spend a whole lot of my time giving other people what I think they want, hoping that they will in return be spending an equal amount of energy giving me what I want.
That's a "sacrifice" for the purpose of manipulation.
And here's the thing. It is true that I do make choices based on what I feel and what I want, and it's not always what the other person wants. There are times when I just have to say no. That's hard, and I have had to learn to trust that the other person will be okay, even if I disappoint them. God is their God, not me. The way I respect the other person in that situation is by letting them feel how they feel.
At the end of the day, I have the stewardship of my life, and they have the stewardship of theirs.
Ready for intimacy.
Respectful of myself and others.
Yes, yes, yes. A million times yes.
This is a joyous and life-giving way to exist in every area of life, including our sexuality.
And also: it is messy and painful and challenging.