I have misunderstood and misused my sexuality and my femininity. I’ve had sex before marriage, been involved in a lesbian relationship, and struggled with emotional dependency on both men and women. I certainly did not see myself as a gift, freely offered for the benefit of another. I didn’t see men as gifts either. There was too much damage, too much confusion to believe that any of it was good.
My first models of man and woman, my dad and mom, were very broken. They did the best they knew but related to one another poorly. My mom bent into my dad, and he wasn’t there for her. He wasn’t there for me either. He stopped coming home during my adolescence and was unfaithful to my mother. I felt his absence acutely. He wasn’t around to protect me from my brother’s physical violence or his sexually abusive comments and touches. Finding my father’s pornography only added to my feelings of powerlessness, confusion and distrust.
I needed my dad’s love and affirmation to tell me I was a good gift, a beautiful girl who was worthy of love and affection. I didn’t get it from him, so I went looking for it in relationships with men. There was a lot of ambivalence deep down toward men: I needed to be loved by them and yet felt very unsafe with them. Over a period of about five years in high school and college I was involved in three emotionally dependent, sexual relationships with men. I was desperate for security and a sense of identity, and I expected them to give it to me. Andrew writes: “Lust objectifies and fragments the other; both parties reduce the other to his/her wounded need, be it for security or significance” (Andrew, Chap. 16, p. 4). I made each man an idol. As I gave myself away sexually and emotionally, I was left empty and disillusioned.
In my search for love and security, I became involved in a lesbian relationship. It lasted only a short while, but that break-up was the catalyst for me to cry out to God. He broke through my selfish, distorted way of living and said, “I have a better way for you.” I had no idea what that meant, but I knew I needed to pay attention. I found Living Waters about two years after becoming a Christian.
That first year in Living Waters I found a safe place to be real about my sexual struggles and brokenness. I began to understand the impact of the messages I picked up from my family about men, women and marriage. I realized that I hated men. I believed that they were passive, stupid and perverted. These judgments fueled a lot of anger and ambivalence toward men in my life. I knew that I had to confess and renounce these judgments in order to grow in my ability to relate well to men, and I learned to do that in Living Waters.
Andrew writes in chapter 16, “The cross means above all else that we stop looking to the creature to do what only the Creator can do” Living Waters provided the space to open my heart to God, with all the pain, shame and confusion. He was able to Father me there. He was able to confirm and affirm me as His beloved daughter. He did this through the worship, the listening prayer and, later, through the male leaders on the team who would pray for me.
These positive experiences laid a solid foundation upon which to build healthy relationships with the other sex, both friendships and dating relationships. One romantic relationship lasted about three years off and on. Even though it didn’t work out, it was healing for me in many ways. My boyfriend treated me with respect and set good boundaries sexually, i.e., we’re not having sex until we get married! This was new to me, since I equated sex with love. He helped reestablish my self-worth in upholding my dignity as a daughter of the Most High King.
I met my husband, Garry, at a Living Waters national training. No sparks flew that first week, but I remember being able to talk to him easily. About eight months later we saw each other at another conference, and Garry made it clear that he wanted to pursue a relationship. It was so refreshing to have him initiate and make his intentions known. In the past, I would have pursued a relationship in my own strength and in an attempt to remain in control.
While we were dating, Garry and I had some major conflicts, which was to be expected, but it was scary. During one of the biggest fights, he actually considered breaking off the relationship. However, when we were able to talk it through and pray together, it was so intimate! I remember thinking to myself, “No one has ever touched me that deeply.”
At the same time, because I had let him in emotionally, he began to trigger me. During some of our interactions, I would feel shame, as if he was implying that I was stupid, silly or irresponsible (this was especially true regarding money). My initial reaction to feeling shame is anger. I would get really angry at him and say something hurtful, or withdraw and shut down. That’s my defensive position. I’d love to be able to say that after five years of marriage (and two kids) that this is no longer the case, but I’d be lying. It is better in some ways, but old habits die hard!
Garry has always been more graceful than me in pursuing reconciliation when we have conflicts like the one I described above. In this way, he embodies the good of the masculine, seeking to protect and cover me when I want to cover myself and hide. In those moments I have a choice to let him in or not. It is a risk to let him in, but one worth taking!
When I am able to receive the gift of my husband’s love and truth, and respond to him, our intimacy deepens. In the same way, I’ve come to realize that when I am open emotionally, it draws Garry into relationship. He’s often said that I offer him a home for his heart to rest from all the striving and doing that living in this broken world requires!
With all my imperfections, I believe in my heart that I am a good gift to my husband. And I receive Garry as God’s gift to me. Our Heavenly Father is so good to restore and rebuild what was lost and torn down. He has shown me the fullness of a heterosexual relationship where both people are submitted to His will. It’s hard, but wonderful. There’s no place I’d rather be.