Tuesday, November 11, 2008

biblical womanhood (5a) purity and lust

A few years ago, I was in a remote part of the world, alone with the owner of an idyllic island. As the days went by, he became more attentive and more attractive. It was an extremely pleasant sensation. I was enjoying myself greatly. My work required me to be there and my head insisted that I was above temptation. But I'm not. The Bible tells me so.

Consequently I knew I must leave urgently. I did. By the grace of God, I didn't commit adultery. Not then and not yet. But, it's there in my heart biding its time. Jesus said that makes me as bad as the worst offender. Happily, because I have always been taught that I am capable of adultery, I've always been on my guard against it. After all, it doesn't start when you jump into bed with your lover, but months, years earlier, when you tell yourself that your friend understands you better than your spouse. (story retold in Carolyn Mahaney's Feminine Appeal, p.87)

When I was 6, I fell in love for the first time, with a lion, Aslan. When I was 8, I fell in love with a horse, the Silver Brumby. When I was 10, I fell in love with a human, Aragorn. In each case, there was a worshipful inner homage to their nobility, courage and gentleness, which I recall with great clarity. When I was 13, with the first stirrings of puberty, I fell in love with Tom Burlinson in The Man From Snowy River: a less spiritual, more visceral attraction.

And there, in miniature, were the seeds of female lust: 90% personality and 10% physicality (no doubt the proportion is reversed for many men). Which of us hasn't read a book, followed a TV series, or watched a movie, and felt our heart beat faster at the sight of a Mr. Darcy or a Mr. Knightly? (I know, I'm going a bit Jane Austen here, but we all understand the pull of the costume drama.) It requires no great level of physical attractiveness: give us a man with strength, sensitivity and good dress sense (ok, now I'm being silly - aren't I??) and we are lost.

We may not think of this as "lust", because it doesn't fit the male stereotype. But to allow our emotions to be drawn to a strong, sensitive character in a TV show, and our minds to play with the idea of a man who would understand and care for us, is no less lustful than a man desiring a woman's body. And, of course, the unstated implication is always there (for those of us who are married) - surely this man would listen to me, sympathise with me, and love me better than my husband.

Women's thoughts also often fit more recognisably into the category of "lust". Women, not just men, watch pornography, fantasise about sex scenes, and admire the bodies of those they're not married to. In these days of equality, advertising images play lingeringly over the male as well as the female form: women are being trained in the school of lust.

I think it's time women stopped talking as if impure thoughts are a "male" problem. The result of this is that women become too embarrassed to talk about their struggles openly, because they expect others to be shocked and horrified, so they never seek help and counsel from other women. They feel completely alone, struggling with a problem that no other woman - surely! - has ever struggled with, instead of a temptation which is "common to [wo]man" (1 Cor. 10:13). Unadvised and uncounselled, women fall ripe from the tree into the open hands of lust.

Let's borrow a few weapons from the male armoury. I asked my husband how he counsels guys who are struggling with these issues, and here's some of his suggestions:

  • Be accountable to someone you trust (guys often use Covenant Eyes). A godly older woman is likely to be completely unshocked when you tell her about your problem.

  • Pray for the person you're attracted to. This will help you think of them as a real person in need of God's grace, not an object of desire.

  • Replace impure thoughts with God's word (nothing like a Bible passage repeated in the head to drive unhelpful thoughts far away!).

  • Fight tough and smart. Flee temptation. Avoid situations, books and shows which you find tempting (Matt. 5:27-30).

  • If you're married, learn to be satisfied with your partner (Prov. 5:19). Work on those tender thoughts we talked about recently.

  • Be wise. Being alone in a room with a man who's not your husband, even if it's for something "spiritual" like prayer or counsel, is likely to damage your reputation, and lead you both into danger.

  • Don't think you're above temptation. The women whose story heads this post is an absolute inspiration: she admitted adultery was possible for any of us, and ran away as fast as she could.

  • Be ruthless. Don't entertain those intruding thoughts for a second, however pleasurable they might be. Be holy, as God is holy (1 Pet. 1:16).

  • Realise that emotional closeness, especially for women, is the first step to physical closeness. Don't commit emotional adultery. Avoid intimate conversation with a man you think is a "good listener". Reserve your closest friendship for your husband.

  • Don't flirt. It's easy to do this in subtle ways: through immodest dress, intimate conversation, and inviting smiles. Be aware of the impact of your behaviour on yourself and others.

  • Help your husband with his own temptations. Pray for his purity. Dress attractively, organise nights away, be physically affectionate: these things help him to see you as a sexual person, not just a "wife" or "mum", and help his thoughts not to stray to others. Forgive him when he fails, remembering that you are also guilty of sexual sin.

  • If you're married, keep each other satisfied sexually (more about that later this week).

I'd love to hear from anyone who has some other good ideas about how to battle lust, both for single and married people.

some images are from stock.xchng


The Idle Introvert said...

Thanks Jean.
Your husband's suggestions are really good, and certainly help us to see that this is a problem for both genders.

I was especially challenged by your statement about emotional adultery. As a single-person, I need to be just as careful as 'guarding my heart' against emotional intimacy as physical.

mattnbec said...

Sometimes it's worth calling a spade a spade: chick-flix and chick-lit are often girl porn! I find just thinking like that helps me to remember to watch myself on the occasions that I watch or read such things.

Thanks for calling a spade a spade and reminding us of 'emotional adultery'.


Jess Green said...

Hi Jean,
I've been so enticed by all the good things you have to say about 'Feminine Appeal' that I just borrowed it from Em to read over the summer. Hopefully I can chat to some of my friends that are in your Scots group about it too when I'm in Melbourne soon.
Thanks for all your wise words. They encourage me and entertain me.

Luke Gilkerson said...

BRAVO! Well done!

TruthMatters said...

Dear Jean,

I have found that the best way to battle lust is to see it for the enemy that it is. Until we see it for what it is and therefore hate it, it will always have an allure.

With all do respect, behavior modification, accountability, and avoidance have no lasting and life changing effects. The only thing that does is the transforming and renewing of our heart, soul and mind.

It is hard to be tempted by something that you have learned to hate. It is hard to desire something that you know is evil and distructive and deadly.

One is not tempted to eat a piece of chocolate cake when they know it's been laced with arsenic.

Just another point of view.

P.S. John Owens: "Temptation Resisted and Repulsed" might be the best teaching on the subject you will ever find.

God did not create us as weak, helpless creatures. I know some atheists who are not sexually immoral because they have too much respect for other people to use them sexually.

Jean said...

Dear TruthMatters,

I agree with all that you said. I think I was probably (unhelpfully!) assuming what you say as a starting-point. I am a great one for heart-work first of all, although this obviously didn't come across in my post! Thanks for the reminder that all change starts with the heart.


Donners said...

Hi Jean, thanks for all those thoughts and advice.

One thing that I do when I feel a closeness/attraction to a man that's not my husband ( and you're right, it's 90% personality) is tell my husband about it!

Not every woman should do this, I imagine, as it may crush some men or be unhelpful, but my husband finds my accountability to him help him to know that I am trustworthy.

I also find it extremely helpful as I realise what a ridiculous thing it is when I am tempted to cherish "moments" or dream unhelpfully about someone other than my husband. because if I were to tell my husband, it would be exposed as the stupid idea it is!

I find finding the "stoppping place" where I can catch myself and never going further is the only way to not let this sin develop. being honest with myself about this is essential and being accountable to my husband gives a weight to any sin, no matter how embryonic.

Jean said...

That's an excellent suggestion, Amy, when it works well within a particular relationship. As you say, it depends on the husband and wife! Sometimes accountability to someone else can also help, if a husband and wife agree on this.

Mutahi said...

it looks like the fight against lust. is it really possible to remain holy? there seems always to be something sexually attractive the catches my attention even when am not looking for it.the Bible says ".....their rigteousness is of me, says the Lord" Lets not walk around feeling dirty coz of those circumstances but beleive God to help us day by day.

Jean said...

Hi Mutahi! Yes, it's not noticing something sexually attractive that's the problem (that just shows we're human, and shouldn't make us feel dirty) but whether we entertain these thoughts and attractions in our minds. And I agree: it's God who changes us. So we keep going to him for grace to forgive and grace to change, we refuse Satan's accusations because we are clean in Christ, we keep fighting against sin in the strength God's Spirit gives us, and we trust that God is changing us into the likeness of his Son. Jean.