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Tuesday, October 18, 2011
This is what I call truth in tension. You can read the introduction to the series here.
This first topic in this series comes in response to a recent question I received on my sexual surrender series.
How do I surrender to my spouse without losing myself?
When I talk about surrender in marriage and the accompanying focus on selfless giving and laying down your rights, some wrongly conclude that there is an implied loss of self. While I can see why some jump to that conclusion, it’s not at all the intent of a Surrendered Marriage.
I define Surrendered Marriage as one in which both husband and wife bring the fullness of who they are (spirit, soul and body) to their marriage, applying their true selves in a way that honors, blesses and builds each other up. Intimacy reaches its deepest and most intense level when both of you are willing to be totally naked with each other in every sense (physically, emotionally, spiritually) but without any sense of shame or fear. That’s how God meant it to be. That’s how it was in the Garden
Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed
It’s not easy. As broken humans we are full of shame and fear when it comes to who we see ourselves to be. Shame and fear make us want to hide from one another. How quick we are to don the fig leaves of pretense and falsehood, as we try to cover over our perceived weakness. But there is no place for fig leaves in a Surrendered Marriage.
Giving Your True Self
When a wife surrenders her self to her husband she is not giving up her self, but rather giving of herself to him; her real self; her full self. Though her surrender takes the form of living in submission to her husband, he receives the gift of her submission not so that he can selfishly change or manipulate her for his own gain, not to extract from her what he wants and not so that he can control her. Rather, he cherishes her for who she is, he loves her as she is, unconditionally. His desire is to see her thrive and reach her fullest potential; to become all God created her to be.
Likewise a husband who surrenders himself to his wife is not giving up himself, but rather giving himself to her; his real self; his full self. His surrender takes the form of servant hearted leadership that does not seek to control or dominate, but rather to lead and love with strength and goodness. She does not take advantage of his goodness and desire to serve her by trying to manipulate or change him or to get him simply to meet all her own needs. Rather, she loves him unconditionally by showing honor and respect for the person he is, weaknesses and all. Her desire is to see him thrive and reach his fullest potential; to become all God created him to be.
What Does Surrender Look Like?
Let’s try to clarify how this aspect of a Surrendered Marriage works with an example scenario involving sexual surrender, since that's the context in which the question was posed.
Michael and Dianne have been married three years. Sex has been a source of increasing struggle in the past year. Michael is constantly badgering Dianne to have sex, and it makes her feel demeaned, objectified and inadequate. Dianne’s constant refusal, on the other hand, makes Michael feel unloved and leaves him constantly frustrated and discouraged. There seems to be no solution. Who surrenders to whom?
The “loss of self” type of surrender might have Dianne giving in more often with pity or duty sex. But that is only going to make her feel less desire for sex and reinforce her feeling objectified by her husband. Michael could give up on his desire for more sex and just try to grin and bear it. He could see this as “laying down his life” for Dianne by denying his own sexual self. He could “take care of himself” when frustration gets unbearable and try to redirect his sexual energies into other things. It won’t work, of course, and his frustration level, admitted or not, will only grow. The marriage will eventually face peril.
There is no chance for deeper intimacy in either of these “loss of self” scenarios. But let’s look at what a “fullness of self” Surrendered Marriage solution might look like.
What Michael needs is not to surrender his sexual desires, but to stop making Dianne feel like less of a woman for not being more sexually responsive. Loving her unconditionally means loving her as if she were after him all the time for sex (if that was his wish) and then gently leading her toward becoming more fully aware of her own sexual self. Cherish who and how she is in the present, and nurture her toward discovering the mutual joy of sexual intimacy. He can fully embrace his own sexual desire, but learn to express his desire for her in ways that affirm her as a woman and a wife.
Dianne’s surrender, in this case, has nothing to do with reluctantly having sex with Michael more often or even faking her way through sexual encounters. In response to Michael’s loving affirmation, she can learn to surrender her sexual inhibition, her shame, her fear or whatever it is that is keeping her from embracing her own sexuality and keeping them from enjoying the fruit of deeper sexual intimacy in their marriage. She can accept the fact that as a woman her sexual wiring is always going to be rather different than Michael’s, but she can also learn to delight in delighting her husband and bringing him pleasure while at the same time learning to give voice to her own sexual needs and desires.
You might look at my prescription for Michael and Dianne and protest that it was Dianne who had to do most of the giving and changing. You might even say that Michael “won.” But if you think I’m just describing a scenario in which Michael gets more sex then you’ve totally missed the heart behind the surrender.
The goal for Michael and Dianne, as it is for every marriage, is for their marriage to thrive and for both individuals to thrive. Clearly that was not the case before. God wants every marriage to enjoy the kind of incredible intimacy that only sex can bring. The goal is for Michael to see that sex is more than a biological urge and for Dianne to see it as more than a wifely duty. The goal is for them both to see sex as the glue that holds their marriage together for the long haul, as something that can energize them both as individuals, and for them to realize that sex is an arena where giving your body to your spouse for their pleasure is truly a delightful and unique privilege of married life.
Keeping your self does not mean refusing to grow and change in ways that benefit your marriage, your spouse and your self. Maybe what I’m trying to get at is more accurately described as “holding onto your self” through the process of becoming all you can be.
In answer to the headline question, no, surrender does not mean losing your self. In some cases it may actually mean finding your self.
What do you think of my Surrendered Marriage scenario for Michael and Dianne?
Next up is a closely related truth in tension: how can two people become one and yet maintain their individuality.
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