When Church Hurts. And When It Heals.

Church hurts. There, I said it…although I hate that. I was reminded today, at church, just how much church hurt is in my past, and I’d like to share some of my thoughts regarding church hurt…and also, how the church can help heal those hurts.

I’ll be clear: It is not my intention to speak negatively against any specific people, to drag names through the mud, or to, God-forbid, cause anyone else hurt. In fact, I have chosen against sharing openly about my thoughts on this topic, until now, solely for that reason. But some time has passed and part of how I heal is through writing. So here we are. My intention in sharing my story is not ill-willed. My intention in sharing the following is for this very purpose: to give hope to hearts that have been wounded by people in the church. That is all.

Back to today. The leader at our current church asked a question to our group about our experiences in our church – specifically relating to the topic of dress attire – from the churches of our childhood. Quietly, I glanced over at my husband, and we just shared a knowing look and a small, albeit sad smile. I waited until the others in the group shared their experiences and I debated, and prayed about, whether or not I should say anything. But after some silence, I felt peace to share what was expected in my childhood church regarding attire. Women were to wear dresses or skirts (below the knee) and head coverings. I am not suggesting that is wrong, it was just my experience. I also shared two memories from that church with regards to the topic of attire. 1. I remember when an elder stood up and read aloud an actual dress code that was to be adhered to amongst the congregants, and 2. When, after wearing dress pants to church one Sunday (years later), I was pulled aside and informed, not kindly, that if I chose to wear pants (instead of a dress) to church again, I would no longer be allowed to teach Sunday School. I’m aware that’s referred to as legalism. But I truly believe that those same people who did those things would most likely regret some of their actions today. I believe we all make mistakes, and I also believe that, by the grace of God, we can learn from them and grow.

And then he asked me, “Did those actions ever affect how you viewed God?” No hesitation. Absolutely, they did. “How?” For me, it made me believe, in a very skewed way, that God somehow expected perfection from me, along with certain behaviour I was to maintain, and that I was not worthy to receive His love if I didn’t act, behave, …dress… a certain way. I have forgiven those people who enforced their own personal convictions onto me…and our entire church, but as I shared those memories in our church group, I was surprised to find that I became emotional. My whole body was shaking and I fought back tears as I answered those questions. Sometimes, we don’t realize to what extent certain actions and behaviours hurt us until we are forced to think about them…and the consequences of them.

I have been blessed to know a few women who are wives of pastors, and let me tell you – they know church pain more than anyone else. The countless stories I’ve heard from them would shock most people. (I have permission to share the following.) One pastor’s wife shared with me how her husband would wear shorts to church, not out of disrespect, but due to significant discomfort. A member of their church didn’t like it, so she thought it would be acceptable to walk up to him after each service and pull his leg hair and then walk away. Pause. Consider that. If you aren’t outraged by that behaviour, you should be. That’s assault. And that type of behaviour and attitude has no place amongst God’s people. Another pastor’s wife recounted, “We were both serving in ministry together in a para-church organization when we got married. Shortly after we we were married, the directors suddenly left the ministry, leaving the entire weight of the ministry on our 5-month-married shoulders. The strain that abandonment had on our marriage was quite huge at the time.” Church hurt is isolating. I could go on with so many other stories from my friends who are pastor’s wives, but just trust me on this: there is behaviour in churches that would shock you, anger you, and grieve you. And it should. Because that’s not what God’s people are supposed to be like.

On a personal level, I know church hurt also, although differently from pastor’s wives. However, before I share, I want to restate the purpose of why I’m sharing this experience, and I ask that you remember it as you read. The purpose of this is intended only: to give hope to hearts that have been wounded by people in the church. It is not to cause more pain. I also want to make it clear that I harbour no bitterness or resentment to anybody in the churches referred to, and I have forgiven these hurts long ago.

Our family stopped attending church for 2.5 years because of significant pain caused by people in a previous church we attended. We just figured that the more you get involved in a church, the more you know, and when you know things, for us anyway, we felt it was important to stand up for what we felt was right and to stand against what we felt was wrong. When nothing we tried seemed to work, we relinquished our efforts, and chose to remain in that church for the sake of our pastors. My husband and I have developed a deep love and care over the years for those in pastoral ministry and we felt our calling, at that time, was to remain in our church to continue to love and support our pastors how we could. We tried to do just that. But for approximately 2 years, we hated going to church. It was exhausting. Draining. And it was evident we were no longer wanted there by some people. And yes, someone even said, “Well, there’s the door.” But, it seemed to us that we were just causing problems. The only reason we stayed for the time we did, was out of obedience.

After some time, my husband and I both felt peace about leaving. We met with our pastors and reminded them of our love and appreciation for them and expressed our desire, should they wish it, to continue a friendship with them. We sincerely desired and wished the best for that church (and we still do), but we could no longer attend. It was just too painful. Partly due to the Covid-19 pandemic, our church attendance…to anywhere…just dropped off. We were reminded often by friends of the importance to attend church during that time. I also remember telling one friend that if it weren’t for my kids, I’d never join another church again. Not because I didn’t want to. Not because I didn’t miss worshipping with other believers. But because the idea of joining another church and putting myself into another situation to be hurt was just too much. What’s the definition of “crazy”? Isn’t it doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result? No thanks.

There’s nothing quite like church hurt. Perhaps it’s because as Christians we expect other people in the church to behave…like Christians. Crazy, I know. But that idea IS kind of is crazy when you think about it. The church is made up of people. Sinners. And, if you are someone who has been hurt by the church, and you’ve been told this cliché before, don’t close your browser just yet. Hear me out, please. I used to hear people say that when they had been hurt by the church, they gave up on attending entirely. And, out of my ignorance in not knowing what church hurt can really do to a person, I would simply respond with that old adage that has been said to me: The church is made up of imperfect people. Yes, I know. Funny thing though: Hurt people already know that and hearing it doesn’t actually make the hurt feel any less or go away. But, there is a nugget of truth to that thought. I read the other day that churches don’t hurt people; People in churches hurt people. And that is where, I believe, the key to changing our perspective of church hurt lies. We weren’t hurt by our entire church. We were hurt by a few members in the church. Not the whole congregation. Not the pastor. And recognizing that truth was freeing for me.

We knew that we “should” have been attending church every Sunday for the 2.5 years that followed after leaving that church. But every time we would force ourselves to attend church “for the sake of our kids”, it was traumatizing. Yes, traumatizing. I would get fidgety and very uncomfortable and pray the singing and the sermon would just end! I wanted to claw my way out of the sanctuary. It was awful. And I hated it. The people in the new churches we “tried out” were friendly. There was nothing wrong with the sermons or the people, but I just couldn’t be there. And then a friend asked me one day if I had considered, given my reaction to attending any new church since our previous experience, that I may be having a trauma response. And just like that, it all clicked. It made total sense. I just didn’t know what to do with that knowledge. I was associating any “organized church” experience with previous hurt and pain, and I couldn’t shake it.

But, God is faithful.

My husband had been suggesting to me that we should try going to a small house church in the city. I was very hesitant, for many reasons. But we went. And for the first time in years, I exited church on Sunday morning with a feeling that was utterly indescribable. We were loved. We were cared for. We were prayed over. We were encouraged. We were wanted. And we had the opportunity to be and do those things for the others there. For the first time in years, I left church feeling refreshed instead of drained, exhausted, and depleted. We witnessed what church was meant to be: people searching the Scriptures with one another, praying for one another, and caring deeply for one another. And it was incredible. It was clear that this was where God had called us. Our house church has been a place of deep healing for us.

But I’m not stupid. Growing up, my mother would often say, “You’ll never find the perfect church, and if you do, don’t join it, because you’ll ruin it.” How right she was. I have no doubt that we also caused hurt in that same church, and we’ve owned that. Causing hurt was the last thing we ever wanted to do, but I know it happened. The church is made up of people…who are imperfect, yes. But, the church of God is also made up of people who don’t hurt too. It’s made up of healers and helpers.

For our family, for this moment in time, in order to learn how to heal and trust again, God has provided a small group of people who love us…even with our imperfections. In the only way I’m capable of right now, God has met me and has provided an opportunity to still worship Him in a corporate setting. Just a much smaller one, without any resemblance of “organized church”. And I am immensely grateful for that.

I don’t know where God will meet you in your journey of healing, but I beg of you to remember this:

God is faithful.

His people are imperfect. (Including you.)

But God’s love for you is perfect.

And if you ask Him, (although it may take time) He will answer you and meet you where you are. Be patient in that process. Imperfect people will always hurt you. And you will hurt other people too, even if that’s not what you’re intending. But recognize that it is not the whole church of God that has hurt you. It may have been people in a church or it may have been certain beliefs a church holds or it may even be the structure of a church. But it wasn’t the whole church of God.

No church is perfect. The real church of God is humble. And it recognizes when it hasn’t been humble. The real church of God loves people well and it doesn’t cast people out. The real church of God is one that brings healing to wounded hearts and souls.

The only way the church can be real is to love God more than anything else. The only way a church can help heal your wounds is if you allow them to. And I know that can be a very difficult thing to do. But search your heart. If you wish to be part of a church that heals others, you must, as I have learned in this process, also learn to: Practice humility. Love Jesus. Read His Word. Obey His commandments. Set aside your pride and even the identity you have assumed from being wounded by the church and slowly, allow Jesus to bring healing to you – through His Word, through His presence, and through His imperfect church. If you give up on the church entirely, because you’ve only seen the ugly, it means you also give up seeing the beauty that’s there as well. It might be more hidden – because yes, it’s made up of sinners – but beauty IS there. Seek it. And when you find it, grasp onto it and never let it go. Because in it, there is a family that is waiting to embrace you with open arms, to love you, to pray for you, to care for and encourage you. And it’s worth every bit of hurt you experience in the process and every bit of searching you do. Choose to become a part of that healing for others. Choose to become what God intended His church to be – His beautiful bride. And from that, you will reap abundant blessings and indescribable joy.

Side note: When you do find that church family, remember to love your pastor and his wife well. And be their friend.

Tribute to a Godly Woman. A Personal Memoire.

I was given the opportunity to share at my Nanny’s funeral today and the following is my testimony to her life – and a life well-lived, it was indeed.

As a child, I had the unique opportunity to come to Ottawa and live with Nanny, Poppy, and Shirley for a significant portion of each summer. As a result, I had the privilege of spending countless hours with Nanny, and I’d like to take the next few moments to share with you some of my fondest memories and personal observations of her character.

First off, Nanny was resilient. She encountered any obstacle that came her way with dignity and with grace. I remember asking her (I was very young at the time) why it was that she had dentures. She told me it was because she was so poor growing up that she and her siblings had only one toothbrush to share so she didn’t get to use one very often. There was no bitterness in her tone when she told me that. It was just the way it was. She accepted that.

Second, Nanny was courageous and brave! She somehow managed to stay at home with four young children while her husband was serving in Israel as a peacekeeper. She made nutritious meals on an incredibly low budget, managed her home, still attended church services every Sunday (with her and her daughters in matching dresses, which she sewed herself), and still found time to teach her children about the love of Jesus.

Nanny. Was. Frugal! Honestly, she could make many meals off a dime (or from all the food she kept in her multiple deep-freezes or cold room storage of canned goods…which she did all herself). I still remember newspapers spread across her kitchen table with the coupon sections cut out. One fond memory that still makes me chuckle is the time she came home from work at lunch and stated that she didn’t feel like cooking – a first for her! She informed me that she had some coupons for Burger King and asked if I would like to go there for lunch together. This was a BIG DEAL. Not only was Nanny willing to eat at a fast-food establishment, but she was also willing to pay to eat there. I remember being in utter shock at her suggestion, but excited, I quickly corrected my eyes which were wide in disbelief and said, “Yes!” What’s even more amazing about this story is that this happened the next day AND the next! By Day 3 I didn’t know what had happened to Nanny or who this woman even was. But I enjoyed those Burger King lunches, dodging Ottawa traffic each day to get there, and after one of those visits, going with her to the park, just walking around, and taking in the sights of the Rideau Canal, hand in hand.

Nanny was a hard worker. I still shake my head in disbelief when I think of how hard she worked, for so many years. I honestly don’t know how she managed to do it all. She cooked three meals a day, found the time and energy to grow and tend a large garden, can all the produce from the garden, hang the laundry on the line to dry, sew dresses and matching outfits, sew on buttons and hem items for her grandkids, work outside the home part-time, still manage to run home on her lunch break to make and serve lunch to Poppy before going back to work in the afternoon, pay the bills, mow the lawn, plant flower beds, and knit a plethora of items, just to spend every second Saturday at CARP – Ottawa’s farmer’s market – to sell her hand-knit creations. I enjoyed spending those mornings with her at the market. Sometimes, she would open her cash box and give me a bit of change to go buy snacks at another vendor’s booth. She may have been frugal – but she was also very generous. Not only with her money, but also with her time. I remember waking up one night just before midnight and, noticing the kitchen light still on, I made my way out to the kitchen just to find her sitting at the table, knitting a dishcloth – a common occurrence. Instead of being bothered by the fact that I was out of bed in the middle of the night, she just asked me if I was hungry and promptly made me a peanut butter and jam sandwich. I ate it while I watched her knit quietly. I asked if she’d be going to bed anytime soon since it was late, and she casually replied that she had about another 10 dishcloths to knit before market the next morning…so she’d be awhile yet. I just assumed that adults didn’t need sleep after that.

Finally, Nanny loved Jesus. And she made Jesus known. She taught Christ and His love to her children and to those around her. This is evident in the lives of her descendants and in the way she treated others. I remember vaguely her expressing frustration one day because a patient she had been assigned to sit with wasn’t receiving the level of care she felt her patient needed or deserved. To Nanny, the situation was unfair and unjust, and she was going to make her thoughts known to whoever it was that was in charge. She gracefully fought for justice when she could. She aimed to show Christ’s love and character to everyone. I distinctly remember seeing her Bible open on the kitchen table (amidst all the coupons) so very often. Before tucking me in at night, she would kneel beside the bed, gently brush her fingertips over my eyelids to help me sleep and would pray with and for me. I’ve never forgotten how loved that simple action made me feel. She was a very good Nanny to me. With fond remembrance, at times I still glide my hands over other sleepy, little eyelids, and I have to say, that trick still seems to work.

Nanny was by no means perfect. She had her faults. But I will always be grateful for the gentle and loving manner in which she treated me. I am forever thankful for the legacy she has left. She loved Jesus. And, if you knew her at all, then you know her life was evident of that.

To God Be The Glory…

My head is beyond full of frustration. Anger. A total jumble of words that are exploding. And yet…I can’t seem to type any of it just yet. Listening to music that gives God glory and praises Him is keeping me from spewing my frustration all over this blog. I’m angry. I’d possibly consider it to be righteous anger, except for the very unrighteous words that want to scream from my lips. But for the sake of my point here, I’ll reign in that frustration. Right now, I’m angry at Christians. Specifically, people who call themselves by that name, yet defame Christ behind (and some not behind) the protection of their keyboard.

I do not claim to be guiltless of this sin. Not at all. Let’s just be clear on that right from the start.

It’s one thing to have disagreement. It’s another thing to have disagreement when it’s not face-to-face. It’s another thing altogether when Christians behave in any manner BUT Christ-likeness when they disagree, in public, in private, and online.

Conflict is NOT bad. Did you know that conflict can actually be healthy?! I’m serious! But fighting, discord, and dissension…that’s different. And that’s why I’m typing faster than my head can even think.

When we call ourselves Christians, do we know what that means? It means we represent Christ. In our actions, in our behaviors (both public and private), and even in our attitudes! No, it doesn’t mean perfection. We are still sinners (and always will be, this side of heaven). BUT, we are called to a life of holiness and Christ-likeness!

“Be holy, because I am holy.”

– 1 Peter 1:16

Newsflash: This does not mean it’s OK to rip people apart, tear them down, or speak unkindly or disrespectfully to them – on any platform.

When we do this, our true colors show vibrantly. When we do this, the bottom line is: We lack humility, grace, and the ability to “count others more significant than ourselves”. (Philippians 2:3)

It is absolutely impossible, however, to behave in a way that represents Christ when we are so filled with self-righteousness. Colossians 3 is very clear on the matter of “putting off” our old self and what it looks like to the world when we “put on” Christ.

“PUT TO DEATH therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry…But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth…

PUT ON then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these PUT ON LOVE, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the PEACE OF CHRIST rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do EVERYTHING in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Colossians 3:5-8, 12-17

In the book/movie, Sense and Sensibility, the character of Marianne Dashwood is immature and cares nothing about what others think, until near the end of the story (after she’s been humiliated and forced to grow up) her sister asks of her, “Do you compare your conduct with his?”, referring to an equally selfish and immature individual. Marianne astonishes the reader audience by her maturity when she responds, “No. I compare it with what it ought to have been; I compare it with yours.”

We cannot compare our sinful attitudes and behaviors to others. We must compare it to Christ’s.

Why is it so difficult for us to truly love others as Christ does? Easy answer? Because we lack holiness and humility in our lives. We get so hung up on being right and trying to make people see our perspective that we actually lose focus on the perspective we need to be having. The perspective of Christ’s.

When we stir up dissension or call people out, thinking we are being Christ’s warriors (regardless of the platform or circumstance), are we doing it out of a heart and attitude of love? I know I’ve been guilty of calling people out, not out of love, but rather frustration, hurt, and anger over what I have believed to be injustice. But we must remember that “Controversy for the sake of controversy is sin.” – Walter Martin

When we choose to be “keyboard warriors” (regardless of where we are and who we are speaking to), remember your audience and onlookers, for Christ’s holy sake. Think of what you are showcasing. Are you radiating the goodness, the kindness, and the character of Christ in your words and attitudes, or are you defaming His name and His grace for the sake of pride?

“If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.”

1 Timothy 6:3-5

“Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.  There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?”

James 4:11-12

Friends, let’s showcase Christ. Let’s let His grace and mercy and humility radiate from our lives, our lips, and our fingertips. It’s OK to disagree with one another! It’s NOT OK to slander or showcase hostility towards one another. As a friend shared with me recently, “Disagreement turns into dissension when we lose sight of our respect and love for the other person and their perspective. Is the point of your disagreement worth sinning for?”

When in doubt, pray. Hard! Seek the Lord. Ask Him to make you aware of your own sin…and repent of it before you dish out any kind of rebuke on somebody else. A prayer that I have been repeating daily as of late has been: Oh, God, show me more of Your holiness. Show me more of my sinfulness. Help me to hate sin and to love righteousness as You do. Grant me a deeper conviction of sin and a more thorough spririt of repentance. And make me holy as You are holy. (Holiness by Nancy Leigh DeMoss)

There is nothing wrong with disagreement. But there is evil in slander and dissension.

Are you filled with pride or humility? Are you truly seeking to bring the opposing person to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ? Are you giving God the glory in this situation? Or are you simply trying to win the argument?

 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”

1 John 3:18

In the words of Tim Neufeld’s song, Benediction, “To God be the glory, forever and ever. To God be the praise of all men. To God be the glory, forever and ever. To God be the glory, Amen.”

Fifty Shades Lighter

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:

Philippians 4:8
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:

James 4:17
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.