Abstinence = Total Freedom

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.

We have been called to an abundant, joyfully sacrificial life—not one easily explained in three words and a symbol on a piece of sticky plastic.

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.

Anna

 

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21 Responses to Abstinence = Total Freedom

  1. Helen says:

    Thank you for a very insightful article and for all the gut-level honest replies from the readers. Glossing over, and or minimizing the difficulty of dealing with sexual desires is counter-productive and blatantly dishonest. I praise God that I am fearfully and wonderfully made and that means embracing my sexuality as an essential part of my humanity. Seeking God for grace to deal with my sexuality in ways that honor Him is tantamount. As we go about trying to deal with our issues on a daily basis…one word of advice/admonishment…let the word of God counter every argument the flesh brings up as an answer to the issue. In 1 Cor. 2:5 we are reminded that our ” Faith should not be in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” As we learn to submit ourselves to a sovereign God, and our heavenly Father, we can learn to live our lives deeply, and fully whether we are blessed with the gift of marriage or not.

  2. Desmond says:

    Dear Anna, I refer to your comments above about thinking of our desires as repressed or repurposed.

    While I would like to think of my unmet sexual desires as being repurposed, and we can talk about it in that way, I don’t see how they are in practice being channelled or used in other ways.

    Can you please share more on how they are “repurposed” in practice?

    Desmond

  3. Heather Cordasco says:

    Anna, I appreciate your message I do, I have incredible respect for what you are saying that it is a heart issue. I however remain a very practical woman, and have just finished two books that have impacted my perspective- Unhooked, How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love and End Up Losing at Both and Unprotected, In my opinion, they both illustrate the bondage that women in our culture are in because of the fundamental decisions they make. In that context, abstinence does equal freedom,

    • fast. pray. says:

      I agree with your message. I just have an issue with the semantics of abstinence (meaning refraining from acting) being freedom. I’d rather think of celibacy in active terms–rather than in prohibitive terms.

      The end result– not having sex– is the same, but my heart attitude is much better when I think about what I am doing (living fully now, using my passion drive and energy for other things) vs. what I’m not doing.

      Thanks for the comment!

  4. Trying to get this... says:

    Anna, I am not getting this either. So my sexual energy needs to somehow get thrown into my spiritual blender and come out as a desire to serve others? Huh? And somehow that’s supposed to take care of my “unmet sexual desire?” So are you saying that if I were Mother Theresa I would have no issues with sexual desire because I would be serving others all day long? Maybe you could write about this more in the future?

    • fast. pray. says:

      Yeah, I obviously am not super good at explaining some of the things I’m learning from other Christian traditions. It’s not that you won’t have “issues with sexual desire” instead a theology of the body perspective puts our “issues with sexual desire” in a broader context of what it means to be human.

      I don’t know about you, but I get absolutely nothing out of the “just don’t lust” “just have more self-control” “just wait a little longer” verbiage that I hear as typical advice to Christian singles in the Protestant tradition.

      The Catholic perspective on sex and the body leaves a lot of room for dealing with the issues of unmet sexual longing. I’d encourage people not to take my word for it, but to pick up a copy of Christopher West’s book Theology of the Body for Beginners and read the chapter on celibacy.

      His main point is the one that I made here that the Bible doesn’t just tell people don’t have sex outside of marriage– it actually tells a story of redemption and communion and is a physical sign of deep mystery of the Trinity and Christ’s relationship with the church.

      I’m not trying over spiritualize or minimize anyone’s struggle with unmet desire (or my own struggle with not being married and wanting to have tons of children), but for me– it helps me to put my desire for sex in the greater context of how God has designed the body, how man-woman marriage is a picture of God’s relationship with Himself, and how my story as a single person longing for marriage shows a different facet of the story.

      Believe me, I’m not like Mother Teresa, but it helps me to put my struggles in a context larger than my own story, for me to believe that God can use my desire for marriage, intimacy, and children in ways that honor Him and are fulfilling now–even while I pray, fast, and hope that God will answer my prayer for earthly marriage.

      • Shi Hui says:

        Ever considered that maybe in a fallen world the Christians who don’t get married will just have to suffer with the unmet sexual desires till they reach heaven and thats just it? Just like we will never be able to find the kind of emotional intimacy that married people have with their spouses.

        To have to refer to the theology of the body to explain how to deal with what we’re experiencing is, I feel going over the top and a bit ridiculous, to be honest.

        Of course married people struggle with sexual and emotional issues as well (as you indicated below) but its totally not the same as what single people experience and I think raising such an argument in this context is unnecessary because we ALL know marriage is not going to solve all our problems. But it will solve the “problem” at hand – which is singleness.

        • fast. pray. says:

          Good point. I do think in a fallen world people will suffer with unmet sexual desires/longing. I’m just saying that it helps me to put my suffering in a larger context. The Theology of the Body is a series of 132 sermons by Pope John Paul II meant to address some of the deep questions of spiritual/physical longing as it relates to being human. I honestly don’t know that much about it. I’m just learning about it for the first time and it’s not taking away my desire, but it’s helping me process it.

          Thanks for dialoging with us!

  5. Neelam says:

    love this post, anna. and the humor behind it is soooo refreshing!

    thank you!

  6. Shi Hui says:

    “… 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.”

    Sorry, I don’t see how this “redeems” sexual desire (what do you even mean by that?) and how it addresses unmet sexual desires.

    • fast. pray. says:

      That’s a great question. It will be hard to fully answer in a web comment, but I’ve found a lot of encouragement out of studying the theology of the body–specifically Christopher West’s book, Theology of the Body for Beginners, which explains some of John Paul II’s theological treatment of marriage, sex, and our bodies in ways I’ve never heard articulated in all my years in Protestant congregations.

      My simplest analogy that I can think of off the top of my head is that if sexual desire is like an open flame on a gas stove– that flame can be used in different ways to cook different things–channeling the energy in a myriad of ways.

      Check out West’s book. It’s been unbelievably encouraging to me. If I could loan you the copy on my desk, I would. http://www.amazon.com/Theology-Body-Beginners-Introduction-Revolution/dp/1934217859/ref=pd_sim_b_2?ie=UTF8refRID=0N2GTYVTBG9JG9DTWQB9

      –Anna

      • Ophelia says:

        Sorry, still don’t see how you can alleviate sexual frustration by channelling it into “cooking” other things.

        Different desires have different needs. Just like the desire for human relationship can’t be fulfilled by eating a tub of Ben and Jerry’s or volunteering.

        • fast. pray. says:

          I’m not saying that sexual frustration will vanish by channeling your passion and drive into other things, but for me, it helps me to put my struggle in perspective. God hasn’t abandoned me to a permanently “frustrated” place–even if He never brings a husband into my life, and even if He does, there’s not a guarantee that I will feel 100% satisfied in that arena.

          From my perspective, my options for living a chaste life (while praying for marriage) are thinking that my desire for intimacy is either “repressed” or “re-purposed.” It’s most helpful for me to see that desire as re-purposed and talk about it in that.way. That perspective may not jive with everyone though, and I realize that.

          Blessings,
          Anna

  7. Jessie says:

    This post came at a time when I’m really struggling with my sexual desires (dare I say that?) and the frustrations that come with it.

    So its nice to know I’m not alone, but I still don’t know how to deal with it practically.

    Until I find a husband I will never have a God-honouring outlet to release these desires. Will my sexual urges one day disappear if I never marry? (In the same light, will my desire for marriage, and with that love, companionship and intimacy one day disappear if I never marry?)

    Or are we just called to suffer in all these regards, just like people who have terminal illnesses have no choice but to suffer and still proclaim that God loves them?

    • fast. pray. says:

      You are not alone in your struggle! It’s so hard to deal with it practically and figure out how to channel that energy. I have to be very careful about what I read, watch, and listen to. And, the more disciplined I am with exercise and sleep, the easier it is to deal with the frustration that inevitably comes.

      Something Amy and I talk about quite a lot is that marriage won’t solve that frustration. Yes, you will have sex if you are married, but it doesn’t satisfy that holy, misplaced longing that we feel.

      By meeting our frustrations with mental/spiritual/physical weight training, we are doing the necessary work that we would have to keep doing even if we were married.

      One of our former FP writers, Rachel talked about this discontented, frustrated feeling (sexual or emotional) that she would get when single that she still experienced when she was married. Check out her reflections. https://fastpray.wordpress.com/about/marriage-reflections/married-reflections-the-feeling/

      God is with us as we long for intimacy–whether or not we are married here and now. The Gospel Coalition had a great piece on this a few months ago that explains it so much better than I do. http://thegospelcoalition.org/article/should-i-be-content-with-my-singleness

      Anna

  8. annaimagines says:

    Awesome post Anna! Thank you for this. I’m still confused though how single Christians are to express their sexuality if we’re not to repress ourselves….

    • fast. pray. says:

      I think it’s a confusing concept. The world sees sexual expression as a way of getting something you need from someone else. The Scriptural view of sexual expression is one of self-denial and self-giving–giving yourself up.

      Yes, we cannot have sex and grasp what we want, but if you look at sexual expression as sacrifice and self-giving, then celibate people can see their unmet sexual desire as a form of holy sacrifice in a way similar to married couples giving of themselves to serve their spouse– both bodily and with the whole of their lives.

      I don’t know if that makes sense, but that’s sort of the way I process it.

      Anna

      • Ophelia says:

        How is it a sacrifice if its not given up willingly and we’re praying for a husband? I would rather be married than celibate if I had the choice.

        • fast. pray. says:

          That’s a good question. I’ve written about the sex as sacrifice perspective on Single Matters. I believe that believers can see sex as a sacrifice whether or not you are married.

          Thanks for asking good questions!
          Anna

          Here’s a snippet from one of my articles on sex and sacrifice:

          Sex and Sacrifice –Sexual liberation and fulfillment are the false testimony of our era. Cosmo, Seventeen, Glamour, and Maxim are four pillars of the sexual fulfillment gospel. If you’re not getting any, or not getting any in a way that suits your fancy, you are entitled to leave for greener pastures.

          For obvious reasons, the Word of God and the church at-large do not condone this perspective, but it has seeped in, in subtle ways. Instead of allowing couples to split over sexual “differences,” the church has elevated sex to “reward” status. Godly, good-times martial bliss is yours if you can you get to the altar without completely consummating. I respect the True Love Waits movement for their goal of encouraging teenage abstinence, but it isn’t the full picture of sexuality from Scripture. True love does wait, but more importantly, true love sacrifices.

          The church needs sermons on sexual self-control, but many of those sermons are incomplete in their breadth and depth. Calling some to a lifetime of sexual denial rings hollow when sex is seen as a reward for good behavior. Sex as reward or personal fulfillment leaves single adults on the sidelines and gives them an excuse to tune out. Instead, the sex-as-sacrifice perspective is something every believer should be living. If you’re married, your marital relationship with your spouse is to be one of submission and sacrifice. And, if you’re not married, your chaste “sex life” is to be one of submission and sacrifice.

          http://www.singlematters.com/can-the-church-redeem-sex/

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