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Thursday, December 30, 2010
This is part 4 in a series on the negative effects of shame on marital intimacy. Go back here  to start at the beginning of the series.

Today I’m going to cover another significant shame issue that is at least somewhat related to the previous post in which I discussed how shame over physical appearance can inhibit physical and sexual intimacy.

Today’s topic is sexual shame.

Sexual shame comes in many forms and from many sources. I only have space to touch on a few of the more common ones.

"Sex is Evil" Mindset

To many it may seem ridiculous to even address such a ludicrous source of sexual shame, but sadly I think there are still many who suffer from the notion that sexual desire is evil and to be avoided.

I have seen this especially as a problem for Christian newlyweds who got it drummed into them repeatedly by well-meaning pastors who warned repeatedly about the evils of premarital sex. Now don’t misunderstand me. I strongly believe that sex is only intended for marriage. Unfortunately, however, rather than teaching that sex is amazing and wonderful and holy but only within the context of marriage, many take the “sex is evil” approach in order to ward off premarital sexual involvement. We can make such an idol out of purity so as to create all kinds of sexual issues for newlywed couples. It is as if suddenly, as the result of a ceremony and a ring, young adults are supposed to change their mindset from “sex is bad” to “sex is wonderful.”

Another source of “sex is evil” shame is the many negative ways in which Satan has so perverted and distorted what God created as beautiful. That is, because there is so much negative use of sexuality in the world around us (pornography, prostitution, sexual abuse, rape, extramarital affairs, teen pregnancy, etc.) some would throw the baby out with the bathwater, failing to distinguish between God’s original intent for the pleasures of martial sex and the way society has corrupted it.

The way to get past this kind of sexual shame is to understand that God created us for sexual pleasure. He made our bodies so that we would enjoy sex. He wired us emotionally and physically to desire it. He intends sexual intimacy between husband and wife to be a picture of spiritual intimacy between us and God – the ultimate in intimacy. Sex is beautiful and holy, with amazing physical, emotional and spiritual implications. When God had created us, male and female, including the specific method by which we were to be fruitful and multiply, he said “it was very good.” Believe it. God is VERY sex positive.

Sexual Sin or Sexual Abuse

For some reason we tend to attribute greater weight to sins of a sexual nature. The truth is that sin is sin, and while sexual sin can bring with it significant consequences in the natural (unwanted pregnancies, abortion, and disease among them) God’s grace does not fall short when it comes to sexual sin. His forgiveness in not limited to certain more acceptable forms of sin. “As far as the east is from the west is how far are sins are taken from us” as a result of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Sexual sin can lead to emotional scars that need to be dealt with, sometimes through professional counseling, but the truth is that while we may have a hard time getting past these things, God doesn’t. He sees you as perfect and holy because of what Jesus did for us. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Sometimes this seems just to good to be true. But it is true.

Sometimes the roots of sexual shame can be traced back to some past sexual abuse. There may be shame associated with not having spoken up about the abuse or shame from having exposed the abuser. There may be shame from having ignorantly enjoyed the attention or the physical pleasure or shameful memories that keep sex locked in painful association with any form of sexual contact, including from a spouse.

While God can provide healing and wholeness from these horrid past experiences, you may need the help of a good Christian counselor or some serious inner healing prayer ministry to get past your shame so that you can experience fullness and freedom in your married sex life. That is God’s true desire for you.

Reclaiming Sexual Intimacy

Whether from a wrong mind-set, sin or some form of abuse the end effect is that something God intended to be beautiful and holy has been turned into something much less, possibly even something emotionally painful and difficult. So how can you reclaim the sexual territory that you are otherwise not experiencing in fullness?

Though the roots of sexual shame often run deep, restoration begins with changing how you think. Whether you appreciate the fact or not, sexual intimacy is an important aspect of your marriage relationship. Some call it the glue that holds a marriage together. Set it in your mind that you won’t settle for less than a fully satisfying sex life with your spouse and do whatever it takes to restore sexual intimacy.

Whatever the source, strive to set aside the sexual shame that has kept you trapped. Refuse to let shame come between you and your spouse. Let him or her help you find fullness in this important part of your marriage. If necessary get professional or pastoral help.

It is worth doing whatever it takes to overcome sexual shame so that you can experience a whole, healthy and deeply satisfying sex life.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010
This is part 3 in a series on the negative effects of shame on marital intimacy. The bottom line is that shame and intimacy simply do not coexist well together.  For the rest of the series, start here.

There are an infinite number of possible things that can cause you shame before your spouse. I’m starting off with an area that applies mostly to women, but which is certainly not exclusively a female-only issue.

That issue is shame over your appearance.

I have posted about this issue before (see my take on the body image battle that many women face ). However, I have not dealt directly with the issue of the shame that comes with a negative body image.

Who Me? Shame?

I recently had a thorough physical. Since I turned 50 this year, I am thankful that I passed every test with flying colors. Every test, that is, except one. I need to lose about 15-20 pounds to be in what is considered a “healthy” weight range.

I’ve always been aware that my weight has been creeping slowly upward every year, but I won’t kid you, the directive from the doctor to lose weight did a number on my head. I’ve never been one to be pre-occupied by my physical appearance. I’ve mostly blown off the graying and receding of my hair and the wrinkles that are sprouting up – thinking them just a natural part of the aging process. But suddenly I see myself differently. Suddenly I feel fat. All because someone told me I need to lose some weight.

Perhaps for the first time in my life I have a genuine sense of shame about my appearance.

The Fruit of Shame

Now as never before, when I stand in front of a mirror my eyes go straight to the extra inches around my waist. I feel unattractive. Other flaws that I’ve mostly ignored come suddenly into sharp focus. I have a harder time believing Jenni is attracted to me, and I’m less comfortable being undressed around her. Even during times of physical intimacy my mind has been poisoned with nagging doubts about my appearance. These are all new experiences and emotions for me, and all of them have a negative effect on intimacy between Jenni and I.

While I am resolved to lose weight by eating better and getting more exercise in the coming months, I am also resolved not to continue letting these few extra pounds take a toll on our intimacy.

As I reflected on the shame that was stirred up in me by a single conversation with my doctor, I realized that women, and men to a lesser extent, are receiving negative body image messages almost daily. Everywhere they turn (TV, movies, magazines, friends, and especially advertisements) they are being told their appearance is unacceptable in one way or another. It is a relentless torrent of accusation.

Sadly, the resulting negative self-image about your appearance will hinder intimacy with your spouse in many ways. You won’t be able to receive their affection as easily, perhaps even doubt their love altogether. You won’t be as bold sexually, and it will likely negatively impact your interest level in sex and physical intimacy. In some extreme cases, it may cause you to feel hopeless and give up caring about your appearance altogether, further exacerbating the problem.

The Truth About Your Appearance

The truth is that attractiveness and so-called sex appeal are 90% attitude and only 10% actual appearance. Confidence, a positive outlook and a healthy sense of self-worth can easily overshadow any perceived physical flaws you may have. Remind yourself about your best features and the things your spouse most admires. Choose to focus on these things. Believe in your inherent beauty as a person. Accept at face value the praises and admiration of your spouse when they are offered and don’t argue back or reject compliments about your physical attributes.

That’s not to say that the ten percent appearance part doesn’t matter. Of course you should learn what colors and styles you look best in and how to accentuate your positive features. Pick clothes (and for women, lingerie) you know your spouse finds attractive and make you feel good. Invest in a good hair cut (and for women, decent skin care and makeup). But don’t get your identity from them. Rather, allow these things to reinforce the true beauty you inherently possess.

Think Differently

As with all issues of shame, getting past your disdain over your physical appearance is largely a matter of taking on a new mindset. Begin to think of yourself as a glorious creation, uniquely crafted by God. Go beyond merely accepting that your spouse finds you attractive, and actually believe yourself to be beautiful/handsome and worthy of desire and affection. Go beyond merely getting comfortable with your naked form, and begin to show off your charms for your spouse. Find joy in being naked without shame. Sure, do what you can to be fit and healthy, but refuse let your sensuality go up and down according to a number on the scale.

As you work to shift your own thinking, so also be diligent in helping your wife or husband think of themselves differently. Affirm her looks. Admire his body. Overtly state your desire and admiration in very specific terms. Use touch to reinforce your words. These words may be the key to overturning your spouse’s sense of shame about their appearance.

All this is much easier said than done. I understand that. But keep in mind that the goal of overcoming shame is increased intimacy. If you want to fan the flames of sexual intimacy, think of yourself as the hot woman or man you want to be and act as if you are. You will be amazed at the difference it will make.

Remember that your principle sex organ is your brain, and learn to think yourself into sexy.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

I hope by now you’ve had a chance to listen to the great video by Dr. Brene Brown that I posted a few days ago.

One of the interesting conclusions she uncovered from her clinical qualitative research is that shame is essentially the fear of disconnection caused by a sense of unworthiness (“I am not ______ enough”). She further concludes that this fear creates in us unwillingness to be vulnerable, which meansbeing who we genuinely are, in an effort to gain acceptance. So we numb ourselves against vulnerability using a variety of anesthetics such as money, food, alcohol, promiscuity and other forms of “medication.” Further we act in ways that keep vulnerability and intimacy at a safe distance through blame, perfectionism, an pretense. But as we mute fear and shame with these things, we also mute joy, creativity and happiness. We kill any chance for genuine intimacy.

In the end shame, which is driven by our fear of disconnection, prevents us from experiencing the very intimacy we fear losing (or not getting in the first place). Shame is a dead end, guaranteed to leave you trapped in loneliness, without the genuine connection you long for. The ultimate conclusion I draw from this is that shame and intimacy simply cannot coexist.

For the most part I agree with her take on things; that is until it comes to her prescription. What she suggests is a humanistic solution: just believe in yourself and your own worth and muster the courage to be vulnerable and genuine. I suppose there are those who can overcome shame this way, but I believe there is a better way. It’s the way of encountering divine love and acceptance in God.

An Encounter with Love

Sadly, there are many who would resist this line of thinking, because unfortunately the church has often been one of the biggest purveyors of shame and fear. This wrong theology has promulgated a view of God as mostly mad, sad and frustrated instead of loving, passionate and full of zeal for us. The latter is the truth. The former is the deceit and accusation of the enemy.

I believe quite strongly that overcoming the shame that is blocking intimacy in your marriage needs to start with a revelation of the love of God for you (and consequently for your spouse). What I’m talking about goes way beyond a vague “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so” kind of understanding. I’m talking about a personal and powerful revelation of just how deeply and endlessly Jesus loves you .

The apostle Paul, in Ephesians 3, explains that our journey into discovering “the length, height, width and depth” of the love of Christ is the key to a life of fullness. I agree! Get to know this unknowable love. Feeling the embrace of Jesus, his total acceptance of you, just as you are, is the beginning of overcoming shame and discovering the glory that you were made for.

Banishing Shame from Your Marriage

With a firm foundation of shame-free living before God, you can then turn toward your spouse and boldly be who you are, without shame and fear. This is what Dr. Brown calls being wholehearted, living with courage and compassion. It means being willing to love unconditionally, even without the guarantee of receiving the same kind of love and acceptance in return.

I know at least for me, this is the kind of love that I must first receive from God in order for me to give it to my wife.

I know getting past shame is a process and a life-long pursuit. We will fail and fall back into shame from time to time, both with God and with our spouses. Shame-free living doesn’t mean being perfect, it just means being willing to be real and honest with your mistakes, embracing forgiveness and being willing to stay vulnerable in the process. It means not disconnecting yourself from your spouse. It means being willing to admit that there are things you still need to work on, but not letting your imperfection keep you from intimacy.

In the next few posts I’m going to talk about some of the major sources of shame and discuss things couples can do to deal with them. Just know that in all of this the starting point in your battle with shame is a genuine revelation of the love and acceptance that is yours in Christ. If that isn’t something you feel you have a good handle on, I suggest you begin that journey first and pray for divine revelation in this realm. It is life changing!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

You may recall that I did a post on shame as part of my recent intimacy series. Later I came across this video over at Anonymous8. It’s a short (20 minute) talk by Dr. Brene Brown that deals with the topic of shame both from a clinical research and a personal standpoint. Have a listen:

If you can’t see the video above, click here.

Now Dr. Brown doesn’t share her findings and insights from a biblical point of view (I don’t have any idea what her belief system is). However, I am always fascinated and slightly amused when secular researchers dig deep into something and come up with what is essentially a biblical truth.

I see tons of stuff in this video that points toward biblical principles, though I think without God in the picture the humanistic solutions she offers fall short. I’ll get to sharing some of those “near misses” in my next few posts. In the mean time I’ll leave you with this thought.

I love the scripture depicted in this picutre:

Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame – Psalm 34:5
When we focus inwardly on our own weaknesses, failings and physical flaws, shame fueled by fear will quickly overtake us. But when we look into the face love and see the unrelenting passion in the eyes of our Bridegroom, Jesus, we can indeed feel radiant, even beautiful, because we know that's how he sees us.

This verse reminds me of the story told in Song of Solomon of the young Shulamite woman who is wooed and won by a loving and valiant king who refuses to let her hide in her shame. For more of my thoughts on Song, check out my "Dark But Lovely" post here.

What has been your own experience with shame? Do you have a story to share in which overcoming shame allowed you to find the connectedness (intimacy) you so desired?<

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See the left side bar under "Notable Series" for links to the entire Shame and Intimacy series.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Well the Top Ten Marriage Blog votes are in and Journey to Surrender didn’t make the list. No surprise and no hard feelings. (Check the Top Ten List here) There are some tremendous blogs out there with a much bigger following than mine. There are some other blogs that didn’t make the list either, but which I think are fabulous resources for married Christians.

It’s been too long since I've added to my blog roll, so I am pledging to do a better job of giving recognition to some of my unsung favorites.

One of those is One Flesh Marriage, which is fairly new to the marriage blogging community and which I just recently discovered. Ever since reading their first post, I realized quickly that Kate and Brad Aldrich are kindred spirits. Their blog is unabashedly Christian and biblically based, something I find very refreshing. It is also encouraging to me to see others willing to take a stand for biblical marriage.  At the same time their blog is very real and they are honest about where their marriage has been and what the paradigm of working toward being one flesh (per the biblical mandate) has meant to their marriage. I also really like that Brad and Kate take turns posting, so you get a balance between the male and female perspectives.(Note to self:  have my lovely wife post here once in a while.)

I strongly recommend you click over the One Flesh Marriage and subscribe to their blog, You will be glad you did!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

I am a big fan of The Song of Solomon, that little book somewhere in the middle of the Bible that many people tend to ignore, either because it’s too strangely metaphoric or too sensual for their tastes.

There are many ways that people interpret Song. Some view it simply as a love story, or more accurately probably a musical of sorts, that tells of the redeeming love between a good king and a lowly villager. Some consider it an allegorical story of God’s love for Israel, and for others the story of Jesus’ love relationship with the church. Others use it to gain insight into the emotions of God, more particularly the heart of our Bridegroom Jesus toward us, individually and personally, as his bride. The story also provides some important perspectives on marital love.

They all work for me. I think anyone who claims that they have the sole “right” revelation on Song of Solomon are missing out on God’s amazing ability to impart multiple revelations within one set of scriptures. But enough theology.

Today I want to focus on one tiny verse in this tiny book. Actually, it is just one phrase from that verse, yet it has incredible significance for marriage.

A Story of Unrelenting Love

For those of you unfamiliar with the story, it is a passionate tale of love between a good and powerful king and a lowly Shulamite woman who works in the family vineyards. When they first meet, she sees herself as unworthy of the king’s attention and affection. She proclaims:
I am dark but lovely… Song of Solomon 1:5a

Her darkness is a literal reference to her skin, which has become darkened from working out in the vineyards, but it’s is also a statement of the condition of her soul.

To me, the whole rest of the book unpacks and unfolds this “dark but lovely” paradox. The king, in extolling her physical beauty and proclaiming his passionate and steadfast love for her, wins her to himself by redeeming her “darkness” and convincing her that she is indeed “lovely.” Even in her doubt and weakness, her lack of trust in him, and her hesitation to follow him, he remains unfaltering in his love and in his praises of her virtues.

He looks past the dark and into the lovely. And it transforms her life.

The truth is that we are all dark but lovely.

Where do you see your darkness? Is it in your physical appearance or body image? Is it selfishness or fits of anger? Are there parts of your soul (thought life, negative emotions, or self-centered agenda) or body (physical appearance, unkind words or unloving actions) that keep you trapped, feeling unworthy of love, affection and desire?

We all have our stuff. We all have some darkness. You do, and so does your spouse. And for most of us, it doesn’t take much to convince us of our darkness. Even though the story doesn’t end there, the problem is that the lovely part can be much harder for us to see, both in ourselves and in our spouses.

The reason I love the Song of Solomon is the way it so clearly portrays the transformational power of unconditional and unrelenting love. It is also the kind of power that can transform your marriage.

The Shulamite woman is transformed out of her sense of worthlessness and into the sure knowledge of the love and desire of her bridegroom king. She finds herself delivered from shame and embraces glory in the courts of her king.

There are clear spiritual implications of this paradox, but as important as that is, I really want to focus on your marriage here.

Lessons for Your Marriage

Husbands, do you see yourself in the role of the unrelenting lover king found in this story? Can you see past your wife’s darkness and into her loveliness? In the words of Ephesians 5, do you see her “without spot or blemish.” Can you love her beyond her weaknesses and imperfections, affirming her, nurturing her, adoring her, loving her “as if?” Further, are you able to shift her own eyes off of her darkness and onto her loveliness and beauty? Such is the power of your unconditional love for your wife.

Wives, this paradox cuts both ways. Maybe it helps you to think in terms of “dark but handsome” instead of “dark but lovely.” Either way, your unrelenting love, shown largely in the form of unconditional respect and words of affirmation, can have the same kind of transformative effect on your husband. Can you see in him the kind of man he was created to be, in spite of his shortcomings and mistakes? Can you believe the best of him and believe in his love for you, even when his words and actions sometimes speak otherwise? Can you love him “as if?” Further, can you help him see the best in himself?

Lastly, realize that in the story of the king and the Shulamite woman, the power lies in the unrelenting words of affection, affirmation and desire that flow freely to one another out of the hearts overflowing with love. In this little book there are more than a hundred such unabashed statements of affection.

It is not enough to love unconditionally; it must show up in your words and actions. A lot.

Take a lesson from this obscure and often overlooked book of the Bible. The next time your spouse blows it, remember the phrase “dark but lovely.”

Monday, December 6, 2010

As I do periodically, this morning I popped open the tool I use to report visits to my blog. I was surprised to see that of the morning’s last 15 visitors, 9 were from outside the US! (In case you care, the hits came from Australia, Botswana, Haiti, Russia, Kenya, UK, South Africa, and Canada.) Here is a snapshot of other recent global visitors to Journey to Surrender:

I’ve been doing the blog thing for almost a year now (see my last post for some reflections on my 100th post), yet the global reach of the web and the ease with which we can be a part of lives half a world away still always amazes me.

What also struck me this morning was the universality of marriage and the innate human desire to build stronger, more intimate relationships with our life mates. Sure, I realize that marriage traditions, customs and societal views vary greatly around the world, but I believe God wired us with an innate desire for intimacy that transcends borders and cultures.

God placed the human desire for intimacy in us first and foremost to draw us into relationship with himself. It is astounding that the almighty God of the universe wants me and wants to be in intimate relationship with me, but the more I discover about the nature of God the more I realize it is true. He made us in his image: we seek intimacy because God does too. Amazing!

Then, in order to make sure we got it, he created marriage. But he didn’t create marriage just so we could “be fruitful and multiply.” There are any number of ways he could have chosen to populate the earth. Procreation is just a byproduct of marriage, not its purpose. Its purpose is to give us a glimpse into the heart of God toward us.

Then, just in case we were a little slow on the uptake of this idea, he even stepped out of heaven and took on flesh, coming to earth as our bridegroom redeemer, Jesus, in order to win us for himself as an eternal bride.

So, no matter what country you are from, the next time you are surfing the web in search of ways to grow your marriage and increase intimacy, remember the source of your desire for intimacy. Pause to consider and respond to the invitation from God to be more intimate with him.

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