This post is part of a synchroblog to promote (and celebrate!) Addie Zierman's new book When We Were On Fire. Check out this link to read the other, more intelligent entries. Funny enough, I kinda sorta wrote something earlier about this topic, which can be found here.
On a side note, I had the immense pleasure of meeting Addie IRL (as the kids on Twitter say) last year in Chicago. She's an amazing wife and mom with two insanely cute kids, and I can state with no hesitation that she is one of the most genuine, beautiful souls I will ever encounter this side of Paradise.
It was never a question of the fire we had as it related to our zeal for the Lord.
It was the fire in our loins.
I always hated it when our youth group would have the inevitable "boy/girl split" nights. This meant that for a few weeks, we were going to be talking less about the Bible and more about biology. Having been raised in - and all but raised BY - the church, Sunday mornings, Wednesday nights, and the occasional "Discipleship Now!" weekends, retreats, and youth camps were safe, comfortable nests for me. I could spend hours regurgitating neat, easy, fill-in-the-blank answers to questions posed about the Bible. We rarely if ever spent time interpreting what it meant for application into our lives or who we were growing into. Basically, we were taught that if you come across any blanks in life you couldn't fill in, just mentally scribble down "Jesus," and all will be well.
The problem is "Jesus" is a five letter word, "life" has four letters, and "sex" has three. What we were taught simply didn't fit in the blank neatly in a lot of ways.
I have numerous female friends who passionately write about the dangers and deceitfulness of Purity Culture and Modesty Culture, having been scarred by them both in their spiritual - and physical - development. For the most part, guys were never similarly warned that our bodies could or would produce sexual thoughts in the eyes of those who saw us. And I always thought - based on my absence of a dating life in high school - girls more often looked at my body as one might view a lump of clay than as an object of desire. (Parenthetically, EVERYTHING we were taught about sex or desire in church was from a heterosexual norm, so that's the perspective I'm writing from; the only difference is, now I know better.)
What we were taught - not so much directly in words as in attitude - was that we as men were drooling, hormonal savages, lacking in the basic ability to control our thoughts or groins. Women were beautiful, delicate, and weaker, both physically and spiritually. And while we were taught, appropriately enough, that it was our responsibility to not act improperly on our impulses or force women to act or dress differently in our presence, we were repeatedly bludgeoned over the head with one term that fell squarely on our shoulders as our unique cross to bear: lust.
We, as men, were slaves to lust. We were slaves to our desires. As such, any time we looked upon a woman (in other words, pretty much any time a teenage boy sees a girl) and found her attractive, we were either committing a sin or about to commit a sin by lusting after her.
So we needed to neuter ourselves emotionally and biologically. Pluck out an eye, cut off a hand. Do whatever was necessary. All the feelings or stirrings we felt were bad, bad, bad. All because we clearly could not control ourselves.
So I began to feel an immediate gut reaction of guilt every time I felt something for a girl.
Is she cute? Yes. LUST. STOP.
Does she make my heart race when she smiles? Yes. LUST. STOP.
Would I like to kiss - LUST. STOP.
I think I like her. YOU HAVE LOOKED ON HER WITH LUST IN YOUR HEART. STOP.
I was left confused. Screwed up. Because, while we were told how bad our thoughts about boobs might be, we were never taught that they were also okay. That it was okay to be attracted to someone. We were never taught or told healthy, appropriate ways to respond or react to our completely natural and normal hormones - only that we needed to not respond or react. And if we did respond or react, we were in sin. That these urges were evil. And by default, so were we.
Therefore, when I went to college and girls actually noticed me and thought I was cute? I had no clue what the hell to do. I was so deeply cocooned in the "friendship bubble" that I seriously actually never considered the possibility of being in a relationship with someone. And when my repressed sexuality suddenly found itself free from the confines of oppression? It scared me. Terrified me.
And it continued hammering home the guilt.
I was unprepared emotionally for what dating and a physical relationship entailed. I was racked with guilt every time I kissed or made out with someone. And this isn't the standard run of the mill church-based sex-angst-regret usually brought on by crossing a boundary, rounding a base, or mastering the engineering skills required to unhook a bra with one hand. It was a complex, textured soul-crushing guilt which combined the pain of thinking I was betraying myself and my faith for giving (or getting) a hickie, feeling good about kissing or making out, feeling guilty about feeling good over kissing or making out, and worry that, by virtue of being "controlled by" and acting out on my lust nee hormones, I was spiritually decimating the person I was attracted to and tongue wrestling with.
I wound up unintentionally hurting a lot of people. Mostly because the "beautiful, delicate, weaker" women I dated were light years ahead of me in maturity, and were far stronger emotionally.
Although I have grown past some of my insecurities regarding sex and my own body, there remain nagging little voices I gave way too much value to during my formative years which are still at the back of my head and heart and continue to make me uneasy. Even though I'm married and have two kids (concrete evidence that I'm moderately more comfortable with making out), there are times when my biology and sex drive scare me. I question is it okay for me to feel the way I do about my wife. My mind worries if the desires I have are rooted in love and trust between two consenting adults in a committed relationship, or if I'm letting lust rule me. Again. And if so, I should stop.
I have to fight the conditioning to hold myself back. I have to fight to give myself the freedom to give myself fully to her.
And that's just freaking stupid.
When we - pastors, youth ministers, parents, adults - talk of this particular fire, impose laws upon it that we have written to control and dominate it, or perpetuate a culture rooted in fear without speaking to the beauty, right-ness, and normalcy of it all, we in many ways burn the very people we think we're helping.
Because the idea of combining sex with a burning sensation always works out great.