Why I Couldn’t Get Undressed on My Wedding Night (Emily T. Wierenga)

I met Emily when I was co-hosting The Drew Marshall Show in July. She was speaking on the hang-ups that we, as women, have with our bodies, and I found her insight both powerful and freeing. Our conversation at dinner later that night only reinforced my impression that she is truly an amazing woman with a much needed ministry. I hope you enjoy her post.

We arrived late with a bottle of wine and I stepped on the back of my wedding dress as we crossed the threshold.

I didn’t see anything but the bed, with its nicely folded corners and my new husband already in his boxers and grabbing us glasses from the kitchen cupboard.

I leaned against the wall, drinking the white, in white, and we were 23-year-old virgins who’d never seen each other naked, had only felt each other’s skin and I couldn’t unzip my dress.

I stalled, pulling out my bobby pins and he helped me, and we made a nice little pile of pins and then he asked if he could help me with my zipper.

And I asked him if he wanted another glass of wine.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want to make love with him.

It’s that I didn’t want him to see me. All of me.

Not because I didn’t trust him, but because I didn’t like myself.

I didn’t like my skin and I thought maybe if we got the room dark enough first and we could do that every night, till death do us part, and he’d never see my flat chest or my wide hips or my pear shaped body.

I ended up slipping the dress around my ankles and then quickly sliding beneath the sheet and it’s taken me 10 years to learn how to walk into the bedroom naked, with the lights on. To look my husband in the eye, standing there in all of my skin, my stomach stretched with marks from two sons and my chest even flatter than it was before.

I am not beautiful because of my skin, nor because of my husband, nor because of my children, but because of my heritage as Abba’s creation.

But even though I was raised in the church, as a pastor’s daughter, who was baptized by the age of eight and went to youth group and memorized Scripture, I didn’t know that womanhood was something to be embraced. I didn’t know there were two different kinds of pride—a hubris kind of pride, which is a lifting up of the soul in defiance of God—and then, the other. The good kind of pride. The kind that Isak Dinesen defines in her book, Out of Africa:

Pride is faith in the idea that God had when he made us. A proud man is conscious of the idea, and aspires to realize it. He does not strive towards a happiness, or comfort, which may be irrelevant to God’s idea of him. His success is the idea of God, successfully carried through, and he is in love with his destiny.

I thought I was supposed to feel ashamed of my female curves. Of my body.

My mum was insecure and my dad, emotionally absent, so as children, we all battled low self-esteem. We weren’t allowed to watch The Little Mermaid because she had a bare stomach and Mum would get embarrassed if Dad caught her changing. I would be mortified if Dad saw my bra hanging on the clothesline. We thought we needed to be hidden away. Fig leaves, and such.

But Jesus came to change all that.

Jesus came so that shame would go. Jesus came, so that we could know, again, the full idea God had for us when he created us.

I am learning what it means to be a woman —

What it means to embrace all of my femininity and to see it as a loving calling. To know the difference between love of self, and loving myself, and to treat myself as tenderly as I would a friend.

My friend, Celeste Steele-Perez, puts it this way: “As I meditate on what it means to be a woman, I marvel. I feel strong… I celebrate every curvy nuance of the feminine mystique. The memory of birthing makes my blood rush with the knowledge that … I, too, am made in God’s image!”

About the Guest Author:
Emily T. Wierenga is an award-winning journalist, artist, and the author of four books.

She is a columnist for the Christian Courier and Prodigal Magazine, and a paid contributor to The High Calling. In addition to being associate editor, ghostwriter, copy editor, and staff writer, Wierenga has written for Christianity Today (Kyria), Christian Week, Faith Today, Adbusters, Geez, The Anglican Planet, Focus on the Family, Christian Courier, and In Touch. Emily speaks regularly across the continent at women’s retreats, universities, churches and conferences, about her journey with anorexia nervosa.

For more info, please visit Find her on Twitter or Facebook.

What You Can Learn from a One-Night Stand

One of the reoccurring complaints that I hear in my coaching practice is that clients (men and women alike) are discontent with the sex they are having with their spouses. As I probe to find out why they are unhappy, I often discover the core problem is that they struggle to communicate their sexual needs and wishes clearly. They are afraid of being open and vulnerable because they fear they will be rejected, shamed or misunderstood. The irony, of course, is that in refusing to reveal themselves fully, they simply end up feeling empty and alone because their spouses have no clue what they want, much less how to meet those needs. As it turns out, no matter how well we think we know each other, we really aren’t mind readers.

So, when I ran across Jazmine Hughes’ article, My One Night Stand Became My Long-Term Boyfriend, I thought I would share it with you. Let me be clear – I am not advocating one-night stands, but I think she makes a great point about the openness needed to cultivate truly good sex – something that we should all strive for in marriage. Here is a blurb from the post:

[During a one-night stand] you’re also totally open about yourself sexually. Again, it’s not someone you like or that you’re really invested in, so you’re not afraid to ask for exactly what you want: harder, slower, on top of the covers with the lights off and no talking. You’re more likely to suggest something new if you’re not worried about him thinking that it’s weird, because you don’t think you’ll ever see him again.

Of course, saying what we want doesn’t guarantee that our partners will agree to give it to us. But we stand a much better chance than if we remain silent. Overall, learning to speak up and say what we really want leads to much richer sex lives…even when it’s with someone you will see again.

Are They Flirting…or Just Being Friendly?

Here is my radio interview with Susan Knight of Calgary’s up!97.7 FM this week:

Laura Fernee made international news when she quit her job because she was too pretty to work. Evidently, she used to work in the sciences (she’s even got a PhD) but her male colleagues flirted with her so continuously that she began to feel traumatized. Her solution? Leave work and live off mom and dad.

This got Susan thinking about flirting and so in our radio segment, we chat about chemistry, flirting in the workplace, recognizing the signs, and whether it is good or bad.

What do you think? Can flirting in the workplace be a good thing, as long as it doesn’t cross inappropriate boundaries? Or is it always a bad idea?

I Want to See You Be Brave

I don’t have anything smooth and polished to give you this week. It’s been a bit crazy at work and quite frankly, I can echo the words of Bilbo Baggins when he told Frodo, “I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.”

Busyness isn’t enough to make me feel stretched. I have just seen an inordinate amount of pain in past weeks, and it is weighing heavily on me. I spoke about it in my last post – the loneliness, the sadness. There are a lot of sad people in my world right now. But in the midst of this sadness, I have seen small acts of courage.

The man who is no longer in love with his wife but is willing to try again said, “I will stay with you even though I am almost out of hope.”

The woman who is trying to survive the turbulence of her husband’s mid-life crisis said, “I am confused and hurting too, but I am here for you. I’m not giving up.”

The woman who decided to be open and vulnerable with her new love rather than stony and closed took the risk to say, “I love you even if you don’t love me.”

The man at the end of his rope finally decided to say, “I can’t keep my nose above water anymore, please help.”

These small steps – to connect rather than withdraw and isolate – these take courage. Make no mistake, the risk is huge. I can’t predict what will happen in the lives of these people. They could be crushed for their vulnerability. Or they could find more intimacy than they ever thought possible.

As I was musing about these things this week, a music video dropped into my inbox – Sara Bareilles’ Brave. The sheer lack of perfection, the awkwardness, and the unbridled joy of this video utterly delight me. And, in my personal opinion, the best lines of the song are:

Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live

Maybe one of these days you can let the light in

Show me how big your brave is

So, to all the sad people in my life – I see you. I care. I know it’s tough. I’m in your corner. Be brave.

PS – Dude in the library, I want to give you a huge hug. You are my favourite part of this video!

Lonely in Marriage? You’re Not Alone

Charlotte Brontë once said, “The trouble is not that I am single and likely to stay single, but that I am lonely and likely to stay lonely.” And that is how we too often mis-label loneliness. Loneliness exists in our collective unconscious as this unquenchable fire that burns through our happiness and rages behind unassailable walls that surround our hearts. It evokes images of pitiful solitude in black and white, and most affects those whose days are spent alone.

But what I am seeing more and more in my practice, is a crippling loneliness that affects men and women within the bonds of marriage. An insidious loneliness that walks hand-in-hand with shame and holds you hostage – bound and gagged so that you cannot speak though you are surrounded by ears longing to hear. We have confused loneliness with being alone, and the two are not always connected. For many, it is less like Brontë imagined and more like Haruki Murakami quipped, “Sometimes I get real lonely sleeping with you.”

Last week, I received a letter from a lady who had met me at one of my seminars. The form she had filled out on my website dropped into my inbox innocuously enough. But as I opened the email, I was completely unprepared for the depth of her vulnerability. Without any background information or details, she said, “I’m so lonely for him that I can’t open up anymore. I bury a ton of pain and cannot share. Is there any hope?”

Her words moved me deeply, not only because she was in so much pain, but also because I have been seeing a growing trend of lonely people in my coaching. Obviously, people come chat with me when there is something they want to discuss about their sex lives. But more and more people are identifying the core reason for bad or non-existent sex as deep loneliness. They feel cut off from their spouses, and this isolation translates into distance in their sex lives.

When I asked one woman, whose husband frequently leaves town to hang out with his buddies, if she could ask him to stay at home more often, she burst into tears. “I am afraid. I think I want to be with him more than he wants to be with me. What if I tell him that I miss him, and he confirms my suspicions that he just doesn’t care?” A man who had come to me for sexual dysfunction looked at me at the end of one of our sessions and said, “How come I can tell you how I feel about my wife, but I can’t tell her?”

Too many people long to connect with their spouses, but cannot find the words to express this desire. Their loneliness runs so deep that it shuts their mouths and cripples their relationships. The fear of rejection they feel extinguishes any whisper of courage to speak up. To the world around them, they may look like perfect couples, but behind the scenes they are slowly dying inside.

In a recent post on Red Letter Christians, Micah Bales made a significant comment about loneliness, “In a society where so often we are judged by our résumés, productivity, and reputation, unconditional love is unspeakably precious.” There is no doubt that we live in a culture wherein success – even the illusion of success – is the ultimate goal. We fear that if people took a peak behind the masks we wear and saw the truth of who we are, (which is probably not as successful as what we portray on Facebook, around the office or when chatting with the moms at school pick-up) they would not want us anymore. If they saw who we really are, we would no longer be worthy of their time, attention, smiles and laughter.

But no matter what we project to the world around us, our homes should be the place where this precious unconditional love thrives. This is the place where we should truly be able to be ourselves…all of us. They should be the safe places to let our guard down, to take off our masks and just be real.

But this comes at a cost. This requires us to have the courage to speak with our whole hearts. We must be willing to let our partners hold our hearts and trust them to bear the weight. This is scary, particularly when they have not been gentle with our hearts in the past, or when we are afraid that the weight will be too heavy for them to bear.

The book of John assures us that “Perfect love casts out all fear.” But sometimes our deepest fear is that our love isn’t perfect. And when that fear takes root and we become afraid to speak about how intensely we love, want and need each other, what we are left with isn’t really love at all. It’s just a pale shadow of what could be.

Loneliness abates when it is met with connection and community. It eases when we hear, “You are not alone. I want you. I need you. I love you. We can walk this road together. We won’t always walk it perfectly – sometimes we will be stumbling more than walking – but I will be with you.”

So maybe, just maybe, choosing to admit that we’re lonely  taking that first trembling step of courage is the best place to start.

What Mom Taught Me About Relationships

Mother’s Day is always bitter-sweet for me. Before I lost Mom to cancer, it was just sweet. We moved all the time and so she was truly my closest friend. She knew all my dreams and hopes, she gave me space to be myself even when it was awkward and stilted, and she derived great delight in watching me become the person that God had intended. She had a saying, “Find your children fascinating, and they will always be so.”

She was dying when I left for law school overseas. People had tried to talk me out of going – they knew it would be the last time I saw her even if I was in complete denial about it – but she was furious at any hint that I might be dissuaded from my dreams. Shortly before I was due to go, she called me into her room and told me in no uncertain terms that I was to get my butt on that plane to Scotland. My last memory of her is her standing, looking very small and frail, at the door waving as we drove off to the airport. I am told that once we were out of sight, she collapsed and had to be helped back to bed. “They don’t make movies this sad,” she told her best friend.

There were many motivating factors for Mom to make sure that I made it on that plane. She believed that I had worked hard for many years with law school as my goal, and she didn’t want to be the one to get in the way of those dreams. She also knew that I was slowly withering away in Texas, and I had to get out. My years in Texas gave me some tremendous gifts for which I am thankful, but I always felt like a fish out of water there. Going to Scotland gave me the chance to breathe again, and Mom recognized this as the necessary next step in my development.

But she was also concerned about the relationship I was in at the time. I was dating a guy (let’s call him Alex) who, in her mind, wasn’t the right fit for me. Going to school meant that I was moving 3,000 miles away before the relationship got too serious. At the time, I couldn’t understand this – Alex was amazing! And he truly was a great guy. But she asked me once, “Can you talk to him…I mean, really talk to him?”

In retrospect, I believe her inquiry was borne of painful insight that she had into her own marriage. My dad was a wonderful man in a lot of ways, but she often felt lonely with him. He was a pastor, so he worked a lot. My parents were great spouses and parents, but I don’t know if they were great friends. I don’t think she felt that she could really talk to him.

This shaped the way she taught me about dating relationships. Sex was a very open topic in our household, and I was fortunate enough to escape the whole “you are damaged goods if you sleep around” dogma. Sex was clearly taught as something to be saved for marriage, but my mother spent far more time talking to me about what type of man I wanted to spend my life with rather than simply what I would do once I found that man.

Texas was a great place for learning about different types of men. When I was a teenager, we didn’t do the whole courting thing. Every girl started to “car date” (the guy would pick you up in his car after meeting your dad…who was usually cleaning his shotgun) around the age of 15, and it was expected that you would date numerous people before you got married. While it scared the living daylights out of me at the time, I wouldn’t trade those experiences for the world. I got to meet a wide variety of guys with different personalities and temperaments to see who fit me best. To this day, I don’t ascribe to the belief that there is one person out there for you, but I do believe that there are certain personality types that will suit you better and make marriage less tumultuous. Dating was my opportunity to find out what type of guy I was looking for as a life partner.

Over the years, my mother offered her input and guidance. Of one boyfriend, she said, “He doesn’t light up when you walk into the room. You deserve that.” Of another, she said “He didn’t open the car door for you. Chivalry is important.“ She did love one guy but unfortunately I didn’t, so that was the end of that relationship. And so when she asked me whether I could really talk to Alex, I took her seriously. Yes, he had great character. Yes, he was good looking. Yes, we had similar goals in life. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that there were things I just couldn’t share with him. I kept far too much of who I really was hidden from his view.

We did date long-distance, and it took time for me to break up with him. But when I met Eric, the first thing that jumped out at me was that we could talk. We actually started out by arguing, but we talked for hours and hours and we haven’t stopped. (Well, except for the few times during our dating years when I kicked him to the curb.) When the passion ebbs in our relationship, when we are stressed by the circumstances of life, and when we don’t agree on various points of view, we still have enormous respect for each other…respect is grounded in our deep friendship. Turns out, Mom was right.

Now, I am a mom. After enduring the bitter years of being both motherless and childless, I now have the sweetness of raising my own daughter, Riley. She has already had her first crush. We have had the first of many sex talks (in age appropriate terms, of course). Her body is beginning to change, and I already recognize the signs of hormonal fluctuations. Before I know it, she will begin on the path of looking for her life partner. Without a doubt, I will have challenging decisions to make about balancing the concepts of purity and sexual responsibility. I hope that I will do so with wisdom and grace.

But as I guide my daughter, I will do so with Mom’s model in mind. I will watch her with fascination to see who she is growing to be. As I learn to understand her better, I will have conversations with her about what type of guy will fit with her personality. I will support her as she goes through the difficult and yet giddy period of dating. I will speak honestly into her life about her choices and hope that she will listen…if not in the moment, at least when it comes to making the final decision. Most importantly, I will do my best to help her understand the importance of friendship and communication as a basis for marriage so she can choose wisely.

And I will do all of this with that an ever-present hollow place in my own heart…the one that represents how much I miss Mom; how I wish she had been here to meet the man I finally did choose, to see her granddaughter be born, and her daughter become a mom. It’s a scar that reminds me of how much I needed Mom and how hard it is to do this without her. But it also serves as a daily prompt for me to think back on all the things she did teach me, and how important it is that I never forget. Because of it, I pray every day that I am half the mother to Riley that Mom was to me.

Mother’s Day will always be bitter-sweet for me. I can’t make it through without thinking of what I’ve lost, but neither can I get through it without being in awe of all I have.

“My Virginity Mistake”

A friend sent me a link to “My Virginity Mistake,” written by Jessica Ciencin Henriquez who explains her belief that making a purity pledge and remaining a virgin until she got married led to the ultimate demise of her marriage. The article evoked a whole range of emotions in me – sadness, pain, empathy, but also frustration, rage and indignation. It wasn’t that I was surprised by her revelations or perspective; it was that I have heard her story so many times before within the privacy of my coaching sessions.

A large number of my clients are church leaders who were given the purity talks as teenagers and skidded into marriage having pushed the line as far as they could go while still remaining “technical virgins” (no penis-in-vagina action, but various levels of everything else). Keep in mind, they are in the minority – 88% of people who take purity pledges end up having intercourse before marriage.

These people are therefore part of the dwindling 12% who “made it” to marriage, but instead of the bliss that they were promised, they battle with disappointment, resentment and drudgery in their sex lives. However, unlike Henriquez, they are committed to their marriages and desperately seeking places of refuge and help.

To me, this article was just another reminder that in the Church we have dropped the ball on how we handle sexuality. We screw it up from the cradle to the grave. We have covered genitals with special names because we cannot bear the medically correct terms. We have disciplined our toddlers when their hands stray into their pants and linger there too long. We have implicitly at best (explicitly at worst) told our teenagers they are trash if they get hot and heavy before they get married. We have dodged anything beyond the bare-bones basics of sexuality in our pre-marital courses. We don’t provide a safe place for newlyweds to even admit they are facing problems with intimacy, causing them to suffer through confusion, loneliness and isolation. We have acquiesced to the ethos of silent tolerance of women who are disinterested in sex and men who turn to porn for the thrill their marriage does not provide. We have actively participated in a culture that shuts down, shames and eviscerates people who fall sexually and need our help. We have turned a blind eye to the hurting in our churches, choosing instead to focus on programs that are less controversial and easier to justify to the board of elders. Instead admitting our own imperfections and inviting others into the safety of that communion, we have presented a portrait of a God who freely forgives (or at least overlooks) the sins we are comfortable with, but harshly judges the sins we find personally disturbing.

In doing so we have lost sight of what we are called to do. We have stopped being the salt of the earth and started rubbing it in people’s wounds. This is our sin.

And yet, this is also our opportunity. People desperately want health and wholeness. Parents want to have guidance on how to talk to their kids about masturbation, oral sex, condoms, porn and STIs. Young people need to know that if they stumble and fall before marriage, they are still valued in the eyes of God…that the blood of Jesus is more than a cheap laundry detergent that gets out the smell but not the stain of our sin. Newlyweds need to have a place to acknowledge that they couldn’t even have sex on their honeymoon because it just didn’t work. They must be provided with the freedom to talk to people who will not flinch at words like clitoris, penis, orgasm and semen. Couples deserve marriages where sex is more than just a duty – it is pleasurable, frequent and sought after. They need to have the freedom to struggle with something in their marriage – smack dab in the middle of imperfection – while still working toward the goal of holiness and restoration.

This is why I love the Church. The Church is uniquely positioned (and called) to be what these people so desperately need. We have the community buildings. We have the small groups. We have the mentorship programs. We have the childcare. We have the pastors who are on call night and day for people who need them. We have volunteers who can facilitate teaching sessions. We have the very words of Jesus. And we have the God who actually came up with this whole idea of sex, put the proper plumbing in place and hard-wired it into our DNA.

But do we have the courage?

Will we step up to the plate; take a long, hard look at our faux-sacred status quo; and be willing to admit (and change) what honestly is not working? Can we repent of our institutionalized sin and break free of our bondage to it? Can we lay aside our ignorance, our shame and our fear when people like Henriquez need us?

The Church must come to the table as a faith community, regardless of our specific denominational segregations, to share best practices – ideas that actually work and have higher success rates than 12%. And I believe we can do it.

But we have to remember that while Jesus loves us, He came to seek and save that which was lost. He didn’t come to “put a ring on it.”


Bedwork 10: Find Your Attractive Self

Here is my radio interview with Susan Knight of Calgary’s up!97.7 FM this week:

For years, I have been a fashion disaster. Any sense of style that I now possess is a direct result of the blood, sweat and tears of more savvy girlfriends helping me over the years. But despite their valiant attempts, I still feel like a dud. Accessories? They don’t even remotely hit my GAF (Give a Flip) Metre. I have a few sentimental pieces that I wear all the time. A diversity of colour? No thanks. I would rather throw on a white top (or grey in the winter) and call it good. Shoes? Ok. I really like heels. I had a horrendously broken bone this past year and couldn’t wear heels for months. I was seriously unhappy.

But in an attempt to figure this whole fashion thing out, I have been reading a book called “I Have Nothing to Wear.” Even the idea of picking up a fashion book made my skin crawl but my sister swore it would change my life, and I agreed to read it out of love for her. Looks like it was written for me because it talks about the utter frustration of jumping from style to style, trying to keep up with the latest trends. When I read that part, I was hooked. I don’t have a clue what the latest trends are and I struggle with a lot of guilt because I secretly don’t care. (We’re back to the GAF Metre.)

In this book, the authors outline 6 different “styles” to which women gravitate. They are: Classic Girl, Preppy Girl, Fashionista Girl, Soccer Mom, Bohemian Girl and Surfer Chick. The idea is to identify and own your own style so that you feel most comfortable in your own skin every time you step out the house. Turns out, I have been getting advice from Fashionistas and Bohemians for years, when I am a Classic Girl. This was an ah-ha moment for me. I felt normal for the first time in my life.

And that is where my bumblings in the world of fashion intersected with my professional life. For years, I have seen that there is a direct correlation between a woman who feels good within her own skin and her confidence as a lover. She doesn’t shrink into herself as often. She isn’t as concerned about how she looks. She is kinder with herself about her flaws. She isn’t as hesitant about getting naked. She knows who she is.

To be clear, this doesn’t mean that these women fit into some crazy cultural standard of what “looking good” entails. They aren’t all size 0s. They don’t all wear makeup. They don’t all look like they stepped out of a magazine. And they certainly don’t like all the parts of their bodies.

I met a woman once who was teeny-tiny and she asked me, “Do women struggle with body image in the bedroom? I weigh the same as I did in high school, but everything has shifted.” After I worked through my own fit of jealously about her weight, I was deeply moved by her vulnerability. Even the women who look spectacular on the outside carry their own shame.

Women who feel comfortable in their own skin have not escaped body image issues completely, and they don’t fit some cultural stereotype. They are just real women who have learned what works for them. Through trial and error over the years, they have found their attractive selves. They have come to accept parts of their bodies that have shifted with age, they have made the changes that were possible to make, and they have found what makes them feel like a “10.” They like themselves, and their husbands have a deep appreciation for them as well. Because this kind of confidence isn’t limited to picking out clothes in the mall. It extends all the way to the bedroom.

Here’s your Bedwork for the week: Find one outfit (in your closet OR use this as an excuse to go shopping) that makes you feel like a “10.” Wear it this week and then jot down in a journal how you felt. Make note of what it was about the outfit that made you feel like a “10” so that you can duplicate this experience. Need a bit of help in the fashion department? I highly recommend “I Have Nothing to Wear.”

Want more Bedwork? Check out my book The Essential Elements of Sex: 9 Secrets to a Lifetime of Intimacy.

Questioning Country Club Christianity

One of my greatest struggles is balancing my public and personal personas. On one hand, I am an expert in the field of intimacy, and on the other, I am just a girl. One moment I am dispensing advice on the radio, TV or to a live audience, and the next I am making lunches, helping with homework and chatting with a friend. I have worked very hard to develop both my career and my relationships, but some days, especially when I feel like I am screwing up more than usual, the dichotomy between the two worlds becomes very painful. Who am I to speak about being kind to one another when I want to stuff those horrible words I uttered back in my mouth? Who am I to talk about balance when I can’t hear what my daughter is telling me because I am too absorbed with work? Who am I to talk about the wonders of marriage when Eric and I just had a knock-down drag out…on the way to the marriage conference?

In those moments of feeling like a complete fraud and failure, I realize that I am not alone. I remember the pastor’s wife who felt like she would get kicked out of the church if anyone found out that she loved Harlequin romances, the Marriage Ministry pastor who hated sex and lived like roommates with her husband, the youth leader who felt forever tainted because of a little action in the back seat of a car when she was a teenager, the elder who struggled daily with a porn addiction, and the pastor’s wife who was in love with another woman. There are other people who struggle with their public and personal realities as well. We all just do it in secret.

Sometime over the past 2000+ years, we have drifted into a country club type of Christianity. We have to show up perfectly polished and radiant. We have to look good. We have to be successful. We have to be winning the battle. Sin? Sure, that’s something that I deal with…but not often…and I gain victory over it quickly. Church is very rarely a place where you can be anything other than the public persona. Did you just find out that your husband has been cheating on you? Did you just get let go from work? Did you scream at your kids on the drive? Then put happy smiles on your faces as you walk through the door because you are going to worship Jesus.

And yet, the Jesus I read about hung out with the tainted, the screw-ups, the outsiders, and the unwanted. He had endless compassion for the people who came to him with the realization that they didn’t have it all together. In fact, the only people who pissed him off were the religious folks who, well, refused to acknowledge anything but their public personas. So why do we work so diligently to hide our sin when the church should be a place of refuge for all of us who realize how deeply broken we really are? Why do we feel the need – in our ministries and public lives – to have everything figured out, all the time?

I don’t have it together all the time. In fact, probably not even most of the time. But I also have a deeply held belief that I cannot lead other people places I myself fear to tread. If I refuse to acknowledge or examine the difficult, the scary, the thorny, the inconvenient, the ugly, and the broken parts of myself, and I am the “expert,” then what hope can I offer to the “broken” people who show up in my office?

The simple and tidy answer that the “Christian expert” would offer is, of course, I offer the hope of Jesus. And while there is truth to that – I grew up an evangelical, singing the lines, Jesus is the answer for the world today – I know that life is rarely simple and tidy. I think it’s disingenuous of us to offer up the trite “Jesus is the answer” when Jesus rarely answered questions directly when he was walking on the earth. He liked to remain silent, to tell stories or to respond with a question.

Somewhere along the line, we became afraid of questions and started worshiping the answers. Jesus camped out in the questions. I believe we will still find him there today. Because when we walk naked into the questions, we have stripped away our façade, our arrogance and our pretense, and have become those whom Jesus said he was sent to. “It is not the healthy who need a physician but the sick. But go and learn what this means, ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

So after all the training, all the studying, and all the years of “becoming an expert,” what I can offer is exactly what I need myself: compassion, empathy and understanding. It is from this place that Jesus still works miracles.

Bedwork 9: Change up the Routine

Here is my radio interview with Susan Knight of Calgary’s up!97.7 FM this week:

Recently, I have been prepping for a TV interview on the topic of infidelity. In the process of my research, I came across a slightly alarming statistic. Of the men and women who confessed to having an affair, 71% of the men and 49% of the women said they did so because they were sexually bored. In fact, the boredom reason far out-paced other justifications such as business trips, high sex drive, close friendships with others and rekindling romance with an old flame. Boredom is a subtle threat that can lead a marriage into very turbulent waters.

For those of us who are in long-term relationships, it is very easy to get stuck in a rut. Sometimes routine is a wonderful thing – everyone gets his/her needs met with a minimum amount of effort. However, sometimes this rut creates a deep sense of dissatisfaction. In order to last the decades together, we need to become experts at recognizing 1) when we are in a rut and 2) how to get out of it.

Here is one rut I notice couples fall into frequently: the time they choose to have sex. They always have it on Sunday night after Game of Thrones (I mean, seriously, that show is hot!) or maybe they have a quickie after date night. Sometimes sex is reserved only for special occasions. It is the same, all the time.

So this week, your Bedwork is to change things up a bit by changing your regular routine for sex. Instead of having it at night, set your alarm clock for half an hour earlier in the morning. Perhaps you can kidnap your spouse at lunch and sneak away to a hotel. Perhaps if you wake up in the middle of the night, you can wake your spouse up too. Whatever you do, just do something different and breathe a bit of life into your routine.

Want more Bedwork? Check out my book The Essential Elements of Sex: 9 Secrets to a Lifetime of Intimacy.