The Love & Making It guest essays are rocking my world. These women have written from their guts, helping us all ask hard questions and enjoy our sexuality with more honesty.  Have you read them all yet? Go here!

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Today’s guest, Tara Owens, is an expert in spiritual direction, sexuality and God.  She lives in the professional and spiritual halls I want to roam.  Her words are smart and insightful. THIS IS HOW YOU MAKE SEX MATTER IN THE BIGGEST WAYS. Beware, you will read them and not realize how deeply they hook into your psyche.  But, do not fear, Tara leads by going first.  

If you want your sex life to be more Godly, let Tara’s words guide you there today.

Love and Making It is a series all about sex and sensuality.  Join us in finding the way back to confident joy in our bodies and in our bedrooms. 

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The Crowd In The Bedroom

By Tara Owens

 

Here’s what I’d been telling myself: I’ve already done this work.

I’d gotten up early, picked up a few friends, and driven two hours north for a day-long workshop on sexuality and desire led by Dr. Dan Allender, a Christian therapist and author. It’s a topic I care deeply about, one I teach and speak about, one I write about often.

And slowly, quietly, I’d gotten more than a little self-righteous about it.

Oh, not publicly. Not in talking with and sitting with those whose stories I tend. Not as I taught, not as I read or wrote.

No, it was worse. I’d been slowly getting more and more self-righteous in my marriage, in my own bedroom.

If you’ve never heard Dan Allender speak or read any of his books, let me compare his workshops to being in the presence of John the Baptist, without the hair shirt. He is intense and brilliant, bent on redemption but unwilling to flinch away from sin, kind and fiery all at the same time, unapologetic in pointing not to himself but to Christ. I’ll be sitting with many things from that workshop for a very long time, statements and questions like:

 

“Dogmatism is the comfortable intellectual framework of self-righteousness.”

“You have to grapple with how stunningly beautiful you are.”

“What do you do to escape the passions of desire God has put in you?”

 “God’s design is for us to be worlds more playful with desire.”

“The result of male and female engaging is art. What is the art that has come of your relationship?”

“Most people’s definition of faithfulness is just boredom.”

 

And that was just the morning session.

It was affirming for me, I’ll admit, to sit and listen to someone who teaches, thinks, counsels in this area. I’ve worked hard to reclaim my own sexual story from the ways the world and the church have both sought to define and name me, claiming my past either as a place of false empowerment or false shame.

Coming to Christ as an adult, I lived out the narratives of my culture that sex was powerful, a means of control or connection. My sexual encounters were attempts at both, and the stories that I’d learned and taught myself about the worth of my body (an object to be used for power and pleasure) drove my actions. Once converted, though, the church’s narratives seemed no less about connection and control than the world’s—my sexual history was something to repent of (hide from) and speak of only with shame.

Thankfully, those narratives satisfied for only a short period of time before I began to question and reject them. Instead, God lead me both gently and intentionally through a process of revealing my own search for Him in my sexual story—those nights with boyfriends (I was a serial monogamist, if nothing else) couldn’t be reduced to “sin”, named as encounters to be ashamed of, they were shot through with a redemptive reaching toward communion, toward intimacy, toward God. As I sought Christ more deeply, I saw in my own story the ways I’d been seeking Him in my sexuality, naming and blessing my desires (both physical and emotional) as good and holy, even if I was reaching into places that could never meet those desires.

My husband and I talked a lot about our sexuality before we married. We spoke candidly about what had worked and what hadn’t in both cultural and church narratives in our lives. We chose for desire over control, for union as a path to holiness, and—as is the way of the Kingdom—it actually worked.

But here’s what happens if you camp only on what’s worked before in a living relationship, without following those quiet (and, let’s face it, easy to ignore) urgings to keep reaching for more redemption. What happened to me was a slow shift from redemption to rules, from vulnerability to certainty, from gratitude to entitlement, from union to selfish isolation. I could be talking about what happens in the sanctuary or what happens during sex, and maybe I’m talking about both.

 

“Self-righteousness is more decadent than the worst sexual sin.”

When Allender said it, I went cold, remembering my self-satisfied thoughts earlier that morning. I’ve already done this work.

Maybe I had.

But I wasn’t doing it any more, and I’d been robbing both my husband and my Jesus because of my own entitlement.

Hear me rightly—I haven’t been cold in the bedroom, nor have I been performing just to make our sexual relationship work. What I haven’t been doing is digging into my own desire for more in my sexual relationship with my husband. I haven’t been asking the questions that lead to hope and healing. I’ve been content with what is, instead of asking what else can been restored and redeemed.

And there’s a lot of what else.

Why? Because there’s still a crowd in our bedroom.

Without leading you down the circuitous road that got me there (that would take another 1,000 words or more), one of the things I realized after spending the day thinking about my own sexual story is that I haven’t really left my mother and father. Neither of us have. Genesis 2:24 gets quoted in some form or fashion during most wedding ceremonies: “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” It’s the leave and cleave passage. We nod, we smile, we bless this new union.

But leaving isn’t that easy—and most of us, myself included, haven’t really done it. Not relationally, not emotionally, sometimes even not financially—but most perniciously and most destructively, not sexually.

And I’m excited. Not because I’m suddenly aware of these influences my parents still have on my sexuality and sexual intimacy with my husband, but because seeing them means that both he and I can begin to reach for more. We can ask each other questions about how our parents’ lived sexuality (not their words, we’ve talked endlessly about that) affect our hearts and our bodies even now. What kinds of physical touch (or the lack thereof) sent messages about intimacy and how it was to be expressed? How did our mother’s sexuality (or hatred of it) form us? How was each of our innocence shaped by the way our fathers related physically to our mothers and to other women?

These are the questions of my story, of our story, that tumbled out as I saw the ugliness of my own certainty, my own belief that I knew what the story of my sexuality was got exposed. Stripped of my self-righteousness, I could have pointed and blamed, and boy, was I tempted. But I’d much rather come to my marriage naked, broken, hopeful and reaching than covered, certain, entitled and isolated. I’d much rather reach and wrestle together than grow silent and still.

When I returned home, my husband and I talked over a bottle of wine, and I cried a little. We held hands in the middle of the messiness and risk of it all.

It wasn’t perfect, but it was process, and together we’re naming what went wrong, naming it without shame or hiding, and turning toward the redemptive, playful, glorious hope that in sex and in the Kingdom there will always, always be more for us. More healing, more joy, more play, more desire, more life.

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Tara Owens

 

Tara Owens, CSD, is a spiritual director, author and speaker. She accompanies people in their journey with God through Anam Cara Ministries. She’s the Senior Editor of Conversations Journal, a spiritual formation journal founded by Larry Crabb, David Benner and Gary Moon. She’s written a book on spirituality and the body that will be published by InterVarsity Press in late 2014 or early 2015, and she lives in Colorado with her incredible husband, and their rescue dog Hullabaloo. She’s a step-mom and a grandma, a Dr. Who fan, and she would love it if you dropped her an email, tweeted or Facebooked her.