My husband and I LOVE watching movies together. We started dating when we were both attending the same college, which happened to be located in a very small town. This meant that there was never much to do, except “get into trouble”…or watch movies. Brent was one of the lucky students on campus who owned a car (which, of course, was an added bonus for me!) When the papers were written (or not) and we were ready for an academic mental break (or just wanted to spend every waking moment together – because that’s what you do when you first start dating, right?), we would drive in to the nearest town and see a ridiculously cheap movie at the theater, or grab a Tim’s and walk across the parking lot to browse the never-ending, wall-to-wall shelves lined with VHS’s and DVD’s at Blockbuster – the movie rental store.
That was part of the movie-watching experience 10+ years ago, wasn’t it? Sometimes, in the bigger cities, Blockbuster even offered you snack-sized bags of popcorn that you could munch on while you slowly meandered through each aisle, tilting your head every so often to read a title, stopping to pick one up, read the plot summary on the back of the case, just to set it back on the shelf and continue the process. I find it incredibly sad that some of my younger friends will never have that experience – but, I digress.
Movie-watching, together, became a favorite past-time for us, and it still is one of our favorite “together” activities today. Don’t get me wrong – occasionally we do go out for dinner, talk to each other, visit with friends, or play the odd game of seriously competitive mini-golf, but if we can’t find a babysitter to incorporate the theater experience on our date night, we stay in, and rent a newer release online. So it comes as no surprise that we’re already thinking about upcoming film releases for this winter/spring, which of them are top priority, and which ones we should add to our “rent it later” list. (I’m already freaking out about the new Beauty & the Beast – what?!?!) But one that has been on my mind a lot lately is the upcoming Fifty Shades Darker. You saw that one coming from the title, didn’t you? 😉
I have to admit, I started reading the first book after hearing so much hype (when it first came out) and I hated it. But not all of it. I didn’t hate the story-line. I did, however, detest the writing. When the movie came out, there was even more hype – SO much hype! I normally like to let social excitement die down before jumping into whatever it is that people seem to find so enticing, so I didn’t go see it in the theater. Bu-ut, when the film became available to rent, we did. I was curious! Honest moment: Loved it. And I’m ashamed of that fact…now. I actually loved it so much, I purchased it. I know, I know. But just wait.
As someone who has to analyze everything (and everyone) in life, I couldn’t wrap my brain around WHY I fell in love with the story. I think the idea of the film played into a lot of what (most?) women, to some extent, fantasize about. Now, those fantasies probably don’t include an abusive aspect, but I do think that on a deeper level, they do include: a longing – to trust another person completely, dare I say, even submissively. Let’s get real for a moment: What woman does not fantasize about having 5 minutes in her day where she could actually take a break from the overload of her brain? I’m talking about a woman’s brain that, oftentimes, is in constant overdrive. It simply never stops.
For example: It’s 10 p.m. I need to go pack my child’s lunch for school tomorrow. I decide to do that. I go, open the door of the fridge, grab the jam and then you see it – the container of rotten left-overs from two weeks ago. You’ve been telling yourself for weeks that you need to empty that. So you grab it. You might as well since it’s right there (and you simply can’t stand seeing it anymore). You are about to empty the rotting food into the garbage can, BUT, the garbage can is overflowing. You meant to take that out two days ago. You grab the nearest paper towel and using it as a buffer between your hand and the top of the smelly, rotting pile of goodness knows what, you push the garbage in the can down (again), scrape the rotting food onto the heap – but, oh…oh that stench is sickening! You go to throw the containers into the dishwasher quickly to avoid contaminating your small amount of kitchen air with the stench, BUT, your eye catches the sink filled with dirty dishes and you realize that the dishwasher is filled with clean ones. You meant to empty THAT this morning. You quickly grab the dishsoap, squirt it in the rotten-food container to ease the stench, fill it with hot water, and that extra drop from the tap was just enough to make the tower of dirty dishes crash down, sideways in the sink. The dirty water from the soaking tower even had the audacity to splash upwards, all over your last pair of clean PJ’s. And it doesn’t take long before you remember the massive pile of laundry, still sitting in the hallway, that you also meant to do…yesterday. And at the end of all that, you still don’t have your child’s lunch made for school the next day.
Sound familiar? Or am I actually just THAT crazy? I can’t imagine that all of that only happens to me! But maybe it just has to do with my ADHD brain and if that’s the case, you can stop reading this right now. This post isn’t aimed toward to you. 🙂 But for women who experience something similar to the above example, I strongly feel that the underlying theme of 50 Shades of Grey provides just that – a mental break, whether that was its intent or not, because it’s just that – a fantasy.
While discussing my rambling thoughts with my massage therapist one day, she agreed adamantly (and maybe that’s just because she was providing a service and wanted a tip…but…) with, “No kidding! What girl wouldn’t want a mental break? Wouldn’t it be nice to actually have a man take care of your health needs instead of the other way around? Make YOU a doctor’s appointment! Make YOU a healthy breakfast and force you to take the time to eat it!? Sounds lovely.” (These are some things that the main character does in the story.)
Beyond that, what’s so enticing? First, it’s a captivating story-line in the sense that it consistently leaves the reader or viewer with the “what happens next?” mentality, so you tune out real life, (or at least I do with any good page-turner…maybe that’s why I’ve stopped reading books…) That, in and of itself, provides a mental break because you are so captivated with another (un)reality. There are lots of novels that provide this – 50 Shades is just one. But the second reason I find it to be popular is because it provides not only a real mental break, but also a fantasy-related mental break. Again, it may have nothing to do with the sex or abuse (or numerous other issues we could delve into), but rather, in relating to the main female character, we (I, certainly) can desire that break – to give up ALL control in any current situation, even to the point of being required to “not think”, or plan, or control, or micro-manage. It’s a break that (all?) women, to some extent, desire – because it so rarely happens in real life.
So, is 50 Shades…wrong? Other than the obvious pornographic nature of the story, how does it REALLY affect me? As a woman? As a wife? As a mother? As a Christ-follower?
About a year ago I stumbled across a Bible study…on sex; but it was a study just for women. A rare find, I had to go through it. To say it was incredibly enlightening, would be a severe injustice. Focusing on the Song of Solomon, the study scrutinized sex, within marriage, the way God had originally intended it to be. It was honest. Raw. Real. (I like those things. 🙂 ) It talked about things that the church does not normally talk about, even in closer circles of trusted friends. One of the topics discussed was 50 Shades of Grey. To be fair, the speakers for this study never said not to read the book (or watch the film). They did, however, ask some tough questions. Questions that forced me to be honest with myself about my real reasons I was so strongly drawn to the 50 Shades fantasy. Questions that demanded analysis – on the effects it was having on me, my relationship with Jesus, on my husband, in our marriage, and indirectly…even on our children.
Some of the effects I noticed (and I’m sure there are many I am completely oblivious to) were my thoughts, resulting in unintentional action. The word “fantasy” has many definitions, some of which, I found to be most enlightening.
“Fantasy” – obsolete: hallucination; the free play of creative imagination; the power or process of creating especially unrealistic or improbable mental images in response to psychological need.
Whoa! That last one though! I became captivated with the film (since I loathed the book), and found myself thinking (fantasizing?) about the story-line (too) often. When something, even if “innocent”, captivates and fills your mind that you start to lose touch with reality, is that healthy? Is it God-honoring? I like the Amplified Bible’s version of this verse:
Finally, believers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable and worthy of respect, whatever is right and confirmed by God’s Word, whatever is pure and wholesome, whatever is lovely and brings peace, whatever is admirable and of good repute; if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think continually on these things [center your mind on them, and implant them in your heart].
When I am filling my mind with something that is anything but God-honoring, it changes my relationship with Jesus, my husband, and my children – they learn by watching their parents, right? When you are in fantasy-land, your focus is on yourself. What do I want? What should I get? How can I better feel that way? How can I get that mental break that I so desperately long for? When you are obsessed, fantasizing – wishing we had something other than what is right in front of us – we, in a way, slap Christ’s nail-pierced hand. Where is the thankfulness for the here and now, for the precious gifts He has already given us? For that husband who loves you dearly and would even die for you? For those children who ask incessant questions because they are curious about the world around them?
When I finally snap out of it, I realize that all of my fantasizing, even if only for a mental break, has actually provided the exact opposite. I’m exhausted! It’s exhausting to be obsessed with something (take it from someone who has OCD). It’s exhausting to constantly wish for more or want for, what we think might be, “better”. It’s exhausting to choose greed instead of thankfulness. It’s exhausting to consistently justify sinful actions. That last one may seem a bit strong, but it’s something we do so often, isn’t it? We tell ourselves, It’s not really THAT bad, or It’s not REALLY affecting me. But for a believer, desiring to follow God whole-heartedly, the end result tends to be the same: on our knees, in soulful repentance. SO, is 50 Shades really wrong? Is watching it or reading the book really…sin?!? For me? Yes. From The Message:
In fact, if you know the right thing to do and don’t do it, that, for you, is evil.
Harsh, James! Harsh!
Dr. Juli Slattery, co-founder of Authentic Intimacy, summarizes my closing thoughts best:
“How ironic that the title of this new movie (and the corresponding book) is Fifty Shades Darker. John wrote, “If we say we have fellowship with Him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” I care so deeply about your sex life because I care so deeply about your relationship with God.”
I am completely aware that my experiences, brutal honesty with myself, and even life-challenges will be very different than your own. You may disagree with me completely and that’s OK, because these are my experiences, realizations, and short-comings, and over-comings. It was only a year ago that February 2017 (second film release) could not arrive soon enough. Now that it’s almost here? I think I’ll see what other movies are playing. Maybe an indoor game of competitive mini-golf will be in order. Who knows? I’m fully prepared that when I see the poster ad’s going up, I’ll want to go see the film…a lot. But I also know that the pull I feel towards that film, is not and will not be founded in anything “light”. So I’ll pass by it and smile. Because I will remember that I have chosen to “walk in the light, as He is in the light”. And if I need to make it even better, that knowledge serves as a reminder that my control, my need to micro-manage, my “needs” so-to-speak, have already been relinquished. And in that, there is complete and total rest…even for my over-driven brain.
Chances are, if you are a female who was born and raised in Canada after 1985, you’ve probably read, watched, or at the very least are familiar with with the series, Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan. For those who have not yet enjoyed the privilege of experiencing her work, the story is about a widower farmer, along with his two young children, living in the U.S. Midwest. He writes an advertisement requesting a mail-order bride to assist with the daily challenges of farming, parenting, and his desire for companionship. Sarah, an ocean-loving woman from Maine, feeling like a burden to her brother and his new wife, answers the ad and travels to the hot, dusty farming plains to meet Jacob, Anna, and Caleb to see if she can help. In the end, as all good love stories go, Sarah and Jacob do fall in love and marry.
But there is always one part in the second film (because I don’t enjoy reading) that tends to cause a lump in my throat and I find myself fighting back unwanted tears. As Sarah starts settling into married life and learning the new “ropes” of farming, a severe drought begins. The wells dry up and long-time generational farming families start leaving all they have known, due to the severity. Sarah struggles to make sense of the desperation and eventual choice of some of the farmers to leave their homes and land. Jacob had stated in past conversation that the Wittings (his family) would never leave. “We were born here. Our names are written in this land.” And so, when the barn catches on fire, Jacob chooses to remain at the farm – his home – and forces Sarah and the children to return to Maine for a visit.
After arrival in Maine, the children’s eyes grow wide when they see the ocean for the first time, and when Sarah steps near the cliff edge of her aunts’ home, the ocean comes into full view. In that moment, a knowing smile comes across Sarah’s face – this is home. After some time passes, rain does come and Jacob embarks on the journey to Maine to surprise Sarah and the children. As they return to the prairies, they all take in the beautiful sites of the farm, the new barn, some of the animals that Sarah had named and turned into pets, the blue skies, and the miles of wheat fields that surrounded them. After the others turn to chores and unpacking, Sarah breaths deep, slowly surveying all she has come to know, picks up a long stick, and leaning ever so delicately, she inscribes her name in the dirt.
“Home” was with Jacob and the children.
Insert ugly cry. Every. Single. Time.
When I moved from the Maritimes to the middle of Canada over 12 years ago, I never dreamed that these flat, seemingly endless fields, would be the place I would one day call “home”. I originally came to Saskatchewan to complete a 4-year degree. One week after graduation, Brent and I were married. He was still attending school here and following our academic careers, we moved to the first place that offered a job – the middle-of-nowhere, northern Saskatchewan. Needless to say, although we firmly believe God called us there for that time, it was far from anything we had expected, and one year later we moved to Saskatoon – one of the two major cities in Saskatchewan. Saskatoon does have the Saskatchewan river that runs directly through the center of it, similar to the St. John river in Fredericton, NB. I found it incredibly helpful to find a similar “home” away from my hometown, as I was beginning to miss New Brunswick immensely, but Saskatoon was (is) still in Saskatchewan. And if you are as terrible at geography as I am, I’ll share this tidbit of information with you: there are no oceans anywhere near this province. Surprise!
But “home” is so much more than location, isn’t it? Home is where the heart is. Home is where the people you love, the people you have known all of your life and who have known you, reside. Home is your family, your friends, your culture. Home is what you have known most of your life. So how do you learn to be home when all you have known – location, family, friends, culture – is nowhere to be seen, even if you do search for it past miles of open wheat fields?
You stop. You observe your surroundings. You study the new family, friends, location, and culture in your midst. You ponder. You reflect. You realize that you want to return to what you know. And when you realize that you and your spouse apply for numerous job postings that are ANYWHERE near what you consider to be home. You receive no reply, no interviews, no call-backs, and ultimately, you start to lose hope.
After doing this for a few years, you then realize that perhaps the feeling of lost hope may not actually be due to a lack of qualifications or even available jobs within the entire East Coast of Canada, but rather, something more. Something higher. Perhaps it is a way that is not your way. Perhaps there are thoughts in play that are not your thoughts. Perhaps, just perhaps, there is a plan; one that is vastly different from any plan you could ever have imagined.
And perhaps to be fully happy, fully content, and fully at peace, at home, you choose to stop fighting, and instead to willingly embrace God’s ultimate will for your life. And that is probably the most difficult thing you will ever do – willingly let go of all you have known and all you have so deeply, achingly desired, to be where God wants to you be and to do what God wants you to do.
As difficult and tough and long as the fight is, letting go completely, fully, and submissively of whatever it is that you hold onto so dearly, results ultimately in a peace that transcends all understanding. (Phil. 4:7) You may, at this moment, experience a waterfall of tears. I mean the doubled-over, your-stomach-aches-in-places-you-didn’t-even-know-existed, sickening-kind-of-sobs-along-with-hyperventilating, kind of tears. But they are not a result of your decision to do God’s will and be where He wants you to be. They are from grief over the loss of something you never really had, but thought you did. Grief over the loss of control over your life, which you thought you had, but never really did. Grief over the unknown, the what-could-have-been, the never-will-have, the distance from your dream, and what you think God’s plan for your life should be.
For Brent and I, this realization came over the last 6 months-ish. After applying (again) for numerous jobs that we were qualified (and even over-qualified) for, with no response, we chose to believe that God was asking us to stay in Saskatchewan…for good. After trying (unsuccessfully) to sell our house over the past two years, even lowering the price numerous times, having offers – only to have them fall through at the last minute, God miraculously sold our house with a possession date of less than 1 month! We knew that the next house we would purchase would be our long-term home. The house that was absolutely perfect for us, in a neighborhood that we could not have afforded less than a year ago, only came on the market in July – following after the decision we made to not only listen, but to embrace God’s will for our lives.
After being in our new home for less than 2 weeks, our family spent some time in beautiful British Columbia to celebrate my father-in-law’s 60th birthday. The 45 minute drive from the airport to our resort was completely parallel to the waterside. Homesickness immediately took over. But God in His wonderful mercy, made my phone ring twice and that entire drive was spent with our children sleeping in the back seat, while I answered questions and assisted my temporary replacement from work. (Oh, did I not mention that on top of God asking me to give up “home”, He also asked me to give up my job simultaneously? Perhaps we’ll review that topic another day.) Otherwise, the entire trip would have been a sob-fest. But God IS merciful. From our private patio at the resort, you could see the waterfront and even hear the waves. Just steps away from our room door, was the beach. To be blunt? It hurt. A lot. But instead of seeing what I missed, what I thought “home” should look like, I saw God, mercifully granting me a precious gift just weeks after choosing to follow His will.
Upon returning back to Saskatchewan a week later, after delayed flights, missed connections, exhausted children, and missing family from our vacation already, we had a very uncanny sense that we had returned “home”, really for the first time since returning from any vacation in our married lives.
Along this journey I have come to realize that for a follower of Jesus, there can only ever be 2 homes in your lifetime. The first home is here on earth. Regardless of location, our true, earthly home is in the will of God. Even if the ocean was within my sight for the rest of my life, I wouldn’t be happy, nor would I possess peace. Because that is not where God has asked me to be. For this time, God has placed us in a very small town, with little considerable amenities, in the beautiful province of Saskatchewan. There may be things, people, views, and even cultures that I miss from time to time, but here, there is peace.
The only other “home” for a Christ-follower, is heaven. Last week as I sat in my happy place at the end of a pier, watching the boats bob in the waves nearby, and hearing the seagulls call, I had to wonder if my next home might possess something similar. I imagine seeing the reddest leaves in Fall, the clearest, crystal water, and the sounds of birds calling, perhaps even species I have yet to view, surrounded by family, dear friends, and the most wonderful friend of all – Jesus. Now that is a home worth waiting for.
Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.
– Colossians 3:2
For today? Brent and I share a dream to one day retire on Grand Manan Island in NB. But that is all it will remain – a dream. I will not fight my way there. If God wills it, then you’ll know where to find us – just look for the old couple, coffee cups in one hand while we use our free ones to hold each other’s, sitting on a two-person bench, toes dug into the sand, watching the waves roll in.
But if that is not what God wills, you’ll find the same thing, in Saskatchewan, on the edge of wheat fields, watching the combines during the harvest season. Or maybe God will have a completely different plan by then and we will be in the slums of India, or my most-undesired place to be – Istanbul – or maybe God will have taken one of us to our heavenly home before we had the chance to experience old age, but we will be happy…and peaceful – because, regardless of sights, regardless of location, regardless of the people that surround us, we will be in His will, and not one place else.
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.
Have you ever heard it said, “Life is hard and then you die”? I have…a lot! And although there have certainly been times where I have believed that to be true, I’ve also wondered if it really is.
My life has been considered to be a “hard life” at times by previous counselors and psychiatrists, but I don’t see it that way. Have I had challenges? Absolutely. But who hasn’t? We all have something that we struggle with, sometimes on a daily basis. Life IS hard. It’s true. But your attitude towards it can make monumental impacts on you, on how you want your life to “turn out”, and even on other’s lives. You have the power to choose to see the joy, even gifts, in each and every day. You! But are you strong enough to actually do it? Are you capable to seeing past all of the “negatives” that fill your mind? This may be cliché but it’s true: If I could do it, you definitely can too.
For those that don’t know me well, I was diagnosed with ADHD and OCD and Anxiety Disorder – all within this past year. And although that may be surprising to some, it actually came as a blessing and relief to our family. It’s been a very difficult journey in our home and on my immediate family. Even close friends and family are unaware of the turmoil I have placed on my husband, children, and even myself. But I don’t end there. That is NOT my story. Because it’s when you remember who you truly are, before all of the psychological labeling, that really matters. Me? I’m a daughter of the one High King of heaven. I’m made in His image and He calls me His child! So although the life I may have has been “hard”, it’s also been an opportunity. To learn. To grow. To see and to feel things I never thought possible. To become more and more like Him – each and every day – regardless of my circumstances.
I recently watched a movie scene where a leader took his self-help group out into the middle of a busy street (imagine New York), and they just stood there. Every person in that group got very tense. Horns were honking, people were shouting rude expletives, and motioning the same with their hands. The group wanted out. They felt stuck, in the way, the problem, and in a way, they were. But then the leader took them to the tallest building running along the same street, where they proceeded to the roof. They looked over the skyline and were amazed by the views. Their reactions changed. They were no longer scared, stressed, anxious, or tense. They were relaxed. The relief was evident on their faces and in their entire posture. Then they looked down to the very spot they had been standing only minutes prior and it seemed significantly different. They felt as if they had some control, they were no longer in the chaos. Although nothing had really changed on the ground level – cars were still honking, people were still shouting, and there were more people running through traffic – they now had a different view of the situation.
And that’s how it is with God and being His child. Your life may be incredibly stressful and chaotic, but He can help you see past some of those things and live life to the fullest, regardless of your current life events. Trust me, I know some of the feelings of stress and chaos. For some very strange reason, God thought it would be good, beneficial, and even wise for me, somebody with Entomophobia (fear of insects/bugs) to not only live with a variety of bugs and spiders, but also mice, bats, and (what we thought were) bedbugs – BUT – God is merciful, and they were “only” batbugs). But the fears, stresses, phobias, anxiety, and panic attacks that ensued from those things certainly can cloud one’s view. When you are in the middle of it, you can’t see above it. And with my ADHD brain, I can’t even begin the process of trying to see above it, to choose to be thankful – in EVERYTHING?!?! (1 Thessalonians 5:18 – “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”)
That’s where the even harsher reality sets in. Not only are disciples of Jesus asked to rejoice ALWAYS and to give thanks in ALL circumstances, He also asks us to be content. WHAT?!?! (Hebrews 13:5a – “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have…”) Oh, that is so, so hard to do – if we only see things from our current view.
So how do we see things from a different view? From God’s view? From an eternal view? (Colossians 3:2 – “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”) I think the answer is somewhat cyclical; it’s in the previous verses – rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks all the time. Scripture says in Psalm 37:4 to “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” This does NOT mean that He will deliver you from your current situation or that He will hand over to you what you want. Because to truly delight in the Lord means to find your entire peace and fulfillment in Him alone. And when you do that, you leave no room for the desire of extra. There’s a reason Jesus also said in Luke 10:27, “Love the Lord your God with ALL your heart and with ALL your soul and with ALL your strength and with ALL your mind.”
I would add to those the verses from childhood:
Philippians 4:13 – I can do ALL things through Christ which gives me strength.
Proverbs 3:5-6 – TRUST in the Lord with ALL your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him and He will make your paths straight.
It comes down to a choice, a decision, to wake up each day (or go to bed each night – even if you have to take medication to help you sleep) and trust in Him…even in the right now. 1 Timothy 6:6 – “But godliness with contentment is great gain.”
Sitting at a Wal-Mart McDonald’s this evening after a particularly difficult few days with my daughter, setting straight some behavioral issues, and contemplating on whether or not my responses have been the right ones (and dealing with the oh-so-continuous guilt that comes with not being the best/perfect mom), she looked up at me and asked if I could wipe the Ketchup off of her arm. As I did the “mom routine” once again, she looked up at me, smiled, and said, “Thanks, mom. You’re always there when I need you.” Apart from having my emotions ripped out of my chest in public, 🙂 I realized just how profound that statement was. (My daughter teaches me theology every day – and I’m so grateful for it!) Because the second part of Hebrews 13:5 is what makes the change of view possible. “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,
“Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”