Sunday, April 13, 2014

What Do I Do With These Sexual Desires? – Part 2

I can’t believe it’s been a year since I posted the original “What Do I Do With These Sexual Desires?”  Honestly, I was really hoping I’d be married by now and receiving the answer to that question.  But, alas, I am not, and on the anniversary of that post I’m still struggling with… guessed it….sexual desires. 

This is Issue Number One for me because if there is a gift of singleness, a supernatural Holy Spirit enabling that allows a person to be completely normal and yet not the least bit concerned about never enjoying sexual fulfillment with a spouse, then I can say, without a doubt, I do not have it.  More to the point, I absolutely do not want it.  I would just as soon pray to receive festering boils on the top of my head.  Now, please don’t misunderstand.  I have a great admiration for those who have reportedly used this gift in the fullest expression of unfettered devotion to the Lord; godly saints like the Apostle Paul, Ana in the Gospel of Luke, the prophet Jeremiah, John the Baptist, Amy Carmichael, Lottie Moon, Helen Roseveare, and Mary Slessor to name a few.  But as much as I revere these singles, I can’t relate to their ability to be sexless and satisfied.

As I write this post, I’m over 40, never-married, sexless, and unsatisfied…..and, honestly, it’s driving me crazy.  I no longer derive much encouragement from the typical pastor’s advice to “Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait…..”  Equally unhelpful is the suggestion that if I just abstain from sexual relations now, marital sex will be mind-blowingly wonderful when I finally wed at 82.  And besides, at my age, I am no longer abstaining, really.  An idealistic twenty-two-year-old with an engagement ring on her finger is abstaining.  I am just flat-out, depressingly, unwillingly, and perpetually celibate.  Perhaps the most irritating advice you get as a single is that if you don’t have the gift of singleness, according to 1 Corinthians 7:9 you should get married “for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.”  But, as Boromir of The Lord of the Rings would say, “One does not simply get married”.  With no boyfriend, no ex-boyfriend, and no prospective boyfriend anywhere in sight I am about as far from marriage as I can be.  If marriage was Tampa, Florida I’d be on the outskirts of Langdon, North Dakota in a Vespa right now.

This unenviable predicament is made all the more challenging by the sex sermon.  I don’t need to tell you veteran singles how difficult it is to listen to the sex sermon.  I’d rather sit through five back-to-back speeches on tithing.  Several weeks ago, our pastor preached one such sermon on Proverbs 5:15-23.  He kicked off the message by declaring God created sex in marriage for two reasons:  “procreation and recreation.”  In vain I hoped that he would expand on the procreation purposes of sex, but, of course, he did not.  Nobody ever talks about the boring procreation part, and besides, that’s not what that passage is about.  No, pastor spent the rest of the evening rhapsodizing enthusiastically about the recreational purposes of sex – the thrilling, fulfilling, exciting, exhilarating, intoxicating, invigorating, energizing, revitalizing, pulsating, paralyzing, titillating, tantalizing, stimulating, satisfying purposes of sex.  And as I was sitting there listening to the sermon, wanting desperately for someone to stick a pitchfork prong in my ear, I couldn’t help but to think there had to be a way to preach a biblical sermon on money without bragging about how much you had in the bank.

Me.....after pastor's sex sermon

As a longtime, never-desired-to-be single, I am faced with following unavoidable truths:

1.      God created sex for marriage only.
2.      I have a God-given desire for sex.
3.      I am not married.
4.      As a Christian, I must honor God and submit to His commands.

As I look at this list, I find myself caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place.  It was easier when I was younger, when I knew marriage had to be just around the corner, when it was just a matter of holding on until…..but as I slowly come to realize there likely won’t be an “until”, I start asking questions I never dreamed I’d ask this side of conversion:  

“Is this the jumping-off point for me?  Will I finish the race like the Apostle Paul said he did in 2 Timothy 4:7?  Or will the cost of discipleship that Jesus spoke of in Luke 14 prove to be too high of a price for me?”

If you, too, fear that lifelong chastity for Christ is too high of a price and you’re at the teetering point, ready to chuck this Christianity thing right out the window, let’s walk through this process together.  You are not alone, single sister, in your struggles.  I believe there is hope for us.  Certainly there will be no change in numbers 1 and 4 from the above list, and I see no change in number 3 in my life in the foreseeable future but there is wiggle room, according to the Scriptures, in number two.  It involves taking Paul’s advice in 1 Corinthians 7:9 and reversing it:  “If they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry” so if I cannot marry, I must exercise self-control.  There is no way around it.  I must have complete control of my sexual desires.  It is the only way I will survive and thrive as a single Christian.

But how exactly is this done?  How do I gain sufficient control over my sexual desires so that I don’t burn with envy towards those around me who are married, so I don’t look to a future of indefinite singleness with sadness and despair, so I don’t want to commit hari-kari after my pastor’s sex sermons, so that I can fully embrace and enjoy my unique testimony as an unmarried follower of Christ?   The following are three critical things I have found I must do as a single Christian to be satisfied with the life God has given me.

I Must Renew My Mind

Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind”.  This is especially true when it comes to how I think about sex because I have found the world has influenced my thinking on sex more than I realized.

This is a hard truth for me to accept, but true nonetheless – the problem I have with unfulfilled sexual desires is not my lack of a spouse and I mustn’t become angry with God for not providing a husband.   As Job so rightly said, our God gives and He takes away (Job 1:21).  He has every right to bless and to withhold blessings at His discretion.  The real problem is the corruption of my thoughts regarding sexual desire by the ungodly world in which I live.  All the television shows, radio tunes, movies, Cosmo articles, and romance novels I thought were harmless have gradually and imperceptibly poisoned my mind, making it harder to live a single, celibate life for ChristI must then “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5), confront wrong thinking with God’s true Word.

Our society worships sex and considers it a requirement for personal happiness, wholeness, and fulfillment.  To this end, it has plucked sex out of its rightful place in marriage and redefined it as the absolute right of every human being in whatever context they choose to enjoy it.  To our culture it is such a human necessity to express sexual desire that it insists on sex being as unrestrained as possible, even to the point of aborting precious babies that are a consequenceWhen I’m angry with God for not providing a spouse or when I’m envious of others around me who are married, that’s an indication I have adopted the world’s belief that sexual expression is a right owed to me.  That was never God’s intention for sexual desire though.  He did not create sex for the individual, for personal expression or enjoyment.  He created it for His glory, for mutual enjoyment between a husband and wife, and to express the mystery of marriage (1 Corinthians 7:3-4; Ephesians 5:31-32).   It was His kind and generous gift created to make marriage a one-flesh relationship, demonstrating the love that Christ has for the church, making marriage unique among all human relationships.

In a section called “The Theology of Sex” in the book Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, Michael Lawrence explained it this way: 

“…the intimacy and pleasure of sex is not the reward we receive for getting married.  That would be like saying baptism is the reward we receive for becoming a Christian.  No, sex is the sign of the marriage covenant itself.  And to engage in sex is to call God as witness to hold us accountable for our covenantal commitment.  So regardless of whether it makes sense to our culture or to our bodies to reserve sex for marriage….as Christians we must realize that having sex outside of marriage makes a mockery of the covenant God instituted and to which he is witness.”

Having a correct, godly mindset on sex keeps me from feeling that God is denying me something that I need in life.  I may very much want to have sex….it is perfectly natural to have sexual desires….but as a single woman I do not need to have sex because sex is needed only for marriage.

Sex is God's beautiful gift for marriage glorify Him and express the mystery of marriage.

I Must Stop Sinning Sexually

Sexual sin, which includes not only sex outside of marriage but also sexual fantasies, lust, masturbation, and viewing pornography, is a difficult sin to overcome.  First because it is pleasurable but secondly because we often feel as singles we are entitled to these “indiscretions”.  We like to believe that God looks the other way when we sin sexually because we feel sorry for ourselves.  And we can be very reluctant to turn away from these sins because we think, “Lust is all I have.  Those married ladies have their husbands to enjoy but all I have is my fantasy man.  If I give him up I won’t have anything.  No pleasure.  No joy in life.”

But the exact opposite is actually true.  Sexual sin does not make it easier to live the single life, but much harder.  True lasting joy comes from Christ and engaging in sexual sin makes it impossible for us to enjoy a close relationship with Christ and be truly happy as singles.  How right the Apostle Paul was when he said in 1 Corinthians 6:18, “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.”  We sin against ourselves when we sin sexually which complicates the process of disentangling ourselves from the sin.  No matter how much we want to get away from it, sexual immorality sticks to us like glue.

If you want to enjoy your single life in Christ, if you truly want to glorify Him and be a light to others around you, and if you want to overcome feelings of sadness and depression over not having sex, rid yourself of sexual sin.   Cease and desist any sexual activity outside of marriage.  If you are currently in a sexual relationship, end it.  If night has become a time of lustful fantasies and masturbation, listen to the Bible or Christian music on a portable media player until you drift off to sleep.  If you are viewing online pornography put a porn filter program on your computer.  Ask a trusted Christian sister to pray with you and hold you accountable.  Taking these steps is just the beginning of the process, however.  We cannot rid ourselves of sin without the help of the Holy Spirit.  1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 says, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification:  that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God.”  We are not like the world that has no control over its passions and lusts.  We have the Holy Spirit within us who gives us the ability to have self control over our bodies, desires, and impulses (Galatians 5:16-24; Romans 6:12-14).

Flee sexual sin.  It does not help but hinder your single Christian walk.

Repent of your sexual sins to God – not in nebulous, vague language (“Lord, forgive me for sinning against you”) – be specific.   Admit in detail to Him what your sins are.  He already knows what they are so don’t attempt to hide from Him and don’t hide from yourself.  God promises that “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).  I believe God will honor our desire to honor the marriage bed and keep it undefiled (Hebrews 13:4).  God is no prude when it comes to sex – He created it and delights and rejoices in it in marriage.  As God’s child, I must join Him in honoring sex in marriage.

I Must Fill Up on Christ

When you redirect your thinking on sex and steer clear of sexual immorality, don’t just leave yourself empty.  Fill yourself with the knowledge of Christ.  Feast on His Word, sing praises to Him, dwell on the truths of Scripture, memorize verses, and busy yourself with godly work like discipleship, Bible study, benevolence, and evangelism.  Psalm 81:10 says, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.  Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.”  It is God who fills us up, who gives us fulfillment and satisfaction in life, not sex.  I know this truth in my head but often don’t believe it in my heart.  As a result, I don’t throw myself into God’s Word but instead hold on to the idol of sex and its empty promise to give me fulfillment in life.

Why is it that I find this so hard to believe?  Why do I not take God at His Word and trust Him with my life?  Because I haven’t yet experienced that joy.   At the beginning of this post, I mentioned a list of godly saints, satisfied singles who had given up marriage and the joys of sex in order to know God more intimately.  I casually said they had used the gift of singleness to do this but if you look more closely at the lives of these saints, you’ll find there’s really no evidence they had a “gift of celibacy”.  It is believed that the Apostle Paul was probably married at some point because he was a Pharisee (a group that saw marriage as the righteous state of every adult man) and he was a member of the Sanhedrin (which required marriage).  He was likely a widower.  Ana had once been married but was a widow for over 80 years and Jeremiah was commanded by God not to marry because of the distressing times in which he prophesied.  At a point in her ministry, Helen Roseveare pursued marriage aggressively believing she needed a husband to serve God more fully, but eventually gave up when she saw God had closed the door to matrimony.  Lottie Moon and Mary Slessor were both engaged to be married and both eventually broke off their engagements – Lottie Moon because she had concerns about her prospective husband’s religious beliefs and Mary Slessor, with great sadness, because her fiancé could not join her on the mission field.  None of these singles appears to have been immune from the desire to wed.  But the Lord captured their special attention.  He overwhelmed their desires.  I think if I immerse myself in Him as they did, He will have the same effect on me – gift or no gift.

At a singles conference, C.J. Mahaney said, “…it’s critical that you do the hard work necessary to study the Scriptures and develop a theology of singleness.  It isn’t sufficient to attend a conference; it isn’t sufficient to be a part of a local church where there is sound doctrine being communicated. You must search the Scriptures for yourself so the Spirit of God can speak to you and you can develop a theology of singleness. Because until you understand singleness from a biblical perspective, you won’t view your present state accurately, you will not take advantage of it, and, most seriously, you will not be pleasing God.”

How I feel sometimes....

C.J. nailed it here; what he says is so true.  Christianity requires work.  Not work in earning your salvation – we cannot earn that.  Christ earned it for us on the cross by taking the punishment for our sins.  But the Bible says we must work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12).  This is the work of sanctification and it is required by all Christians.  It is also the reason why when you go to your pastor and ask him how to cope with unfulfilled sexual desires, he probably won’t have a satisfying answer for you.  Everything he says to you will sound like empty platitudes.  Why is this?  It’s not because your pastor doesn’t care or isn’t knowledgeable, but this particular assignment, the one of being celibate for the glory of God despite wanting marriage, is the work God has given to you, not your pastor.  God expects you to do the hard work required, searching the Scriptures to figure out how to respond rightly to this situation.  Once you do the work to develop a proper theology of unwanted singleness and celibacy, you may even be able to school your own pastor on what God has to teach us through singleness.

I’m right there with you, walking this same difficult road.  And I am certain Christ will not disappoint us.

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