On Mondays, we pray and fast in the freedom of Christ. We pray and fast for three main reasons: that God would raise up men to walk in to relationships, that God would soften our hearts as women, and to give the gift of marriage for those who desire it.
I was going to write on a completely different topic today, but then, when I was walking through the church parking lot on my way to the service this morning, I saw a faded bumper sticker.
ABSTINENCE = TOTAL FREEDOM
Unwanted Pregnancy Prevention
I stopped and stared awkwardly at the bumper of car until the very nice Christian family came to crank up the car to go Panera Bread. I scratched that creepy, 1984-esque adhesion right off their automobile and then, proceeded to read aloud from Amy’s post from a few weeks ago about the awkward underlying assumptions of the True Love Waits movement.
Or, at least I would have if the service hadn’t been about to start.
Maybe, you’ve been heard that message before, if you just stop, halt, or repress your sex drive to a low simmer that never reaches the catastrophic, kitchen-ruining boil over that you will be free from sexual temptation, free from unwanted pregnancy, and more holy, to boot.
Yes, technically, not having sex is the only sure-fire way not to get pregnant, and I’m not saying that having sex outside of marriage equals total freedom either, but there is a shallowness that is pervasive in our dialog about human sexuality and marriage, especially in the Protestant church.
The bumper sticker and the attached well-meaning driver probably feels like they are contributing something valuable, but sadly it presents a flattened, unhelpful message to Christian singles who are trying to navigate living fully while being celibate. The message shouting at us in all caps, Arial Black is essentially: God made sex and sexuality for married people; you’re not married and shouldn’t be sexual. Just don’t have sex.
To keep me from getting out a Swiss Army knife and permanently damaging a car bumper, I just have to add a few things for the record.
You are human. You are inherently sexual. God made humans as men and women, male and female. You cannot be separated from your body, and so, regardless of whether or not you should have sex, you are sexual. It’s a part of being a human, created in the image of God for relationship with Him and for communicating His creativity to the universe. You cannot abstain from being female, from having female anatomy or biological responses. You are called to holiness, but you are not called to androgyny. You are half of humanity, and your femaleness is a built-in picture for our need for community with God and with people.
Celibacy and marriage redeem sex. This bumper sticker theology implies that marriage is gaining something of elemental value and that celibacy is refraining from something of innate worth (with the side benefit of not having an unexpected pregnancy or an STD). Christopher West explains this faulting thinking this way:
Hey, marriage is the only ‘legitimate’ chance you Christians get to indulge your lusts…You [are] condemning yourself to a life of hopeless repression.
West counters that prevailing view that exists both inside and outside the church.
The difference between marriage and celibacy must never be understood as the difference between having a ‘legitimate’ outlet for sexual lust on the one hand and having to repress it on the other. Christ calls everyone—no matter his or her [marital status]—to experience redemption from the domination of lust. Only from this perspective [can Christian] celibacy and marriage make any sense. Both vocations—if they are to be lived as Christ intends—flow from the same experience of the redemption of sexual desire…
The point is that our sexuality calls us to give ourselves away in life-giving love. The celibate person doesn’t reject [or abstain from] this call. He just lives it in a different way.
You are, by your created design, sexual. You have the desire for earthly marriage and family. But, God hasn’t provided that for you at this point. God doesn’t say abstain from being a woman; hold back on living, and turn off that stove. Instead, He is with you in your sacrifice and desire to be holy, inviting you to redeem sexual desire by living fruitfully and passionately today—making use of your desire to mother, to nurture, to give of yourself.
I’m just glad that I didn’t have a pocketknife with me. A viral Instagram or YouTube link of a crazed, single woman defacing a car in a church parking lot doesn’t really have a nice ring to it.
Blessings on you as you pray, fast, and redeem sexual desire this week.