A fresh perspective…
Tobi Layton Since we began writing this column, my mom and I have covered almost every topic pertaining to marriage--from housework to kids to romance. However, one subject has remained taboo: sex. Considering that my mom edits each column before it goes to press, I've not been keen on sharing the most intimate details of my marriage. Plus, I edit her perspective on the same topic, which, in this case would be her sex life…with my dad! Awkward! However, a recent six-week series on sex at our church (yes, six weeks…about sex…at church!) has given me a new perspective on the topic, and thus, newfound bravery.
When I first learned that our pastor would be preaching six sermons on the delicate subject, I first wondered how he could possibly compose so many messages that would be appropriate for a weekend crowd of almost a thousand. Then I wondered how embarrassing the services would be. You see, my husband and I have recently started taking a homebound gentleman and his elderly mother with us to church. However, like many in the congregation, I was intrigued.
The sanctuary was a little more crowded than normal for the series opener. I'm sure I saw several red faces when the readers quoted from the Song of Solomon, but Pastor Ron broke the ice with his opening joke--tasteful, yet on topic. Then, he proceeded to address what I know so many were wondering--why talk about sex in church? In a sex-saturated culture, he contended, where better to learn about God's gift to married couples? We have been so surrounded by the world's twisted version of intimacy, that often, we think the act itself is somehow unspeakable, sometimes even between husband and wife. To be sure, we need to respect the privacy of our bedroom, but what takes place there should not be a taboo subject for the inhabitants of that bedroom. Communication is a crucial aspect in all areas of a marriage, and sex is no exception.
Over the next month and a half, our congregation was presented with many valuable lessons. And much that we learned could apply in more areas than the bedroom. Here is what I learned:
No part of your life is more important than your relationship with God. Get that right by serving Him and other areas will follow. A similar truth can be found in marriage. Sex is a very important component of marriage, and while it may be able to break a relationship, it cannot make it. Live unselfishly, serving your spouse, and your sex life will reflect those intentions. You'll both reap the rewards.
Men and women are different. Rather than trying to change your mate, seek to understand them and the way they are wired. Then, take advantage of it! Also, try not to be offended if your mate doesn't "get" you all the time, especially if you're the wife. Women are much more complicated to "learn" than our husbands are! Practice good communication and understanding.
Keep your marriage pure. In such a filthy culture, we must constantly guard the sanctity of our marriage. Don't even get close to the edge of purity.
If you or your spouse have made mistakes in the past, God will forgive and wash those sins away. Let Him! And enjoy the freedom grace brings!
I am happy to announce that six weeks later, I was neither disappointed nor mortified by the messages, even with our older guests in tow. And, without providing too much personal information (motherly eyes are reading, you know), the discussions that were sparked by the series also fanned a few flames elsewhere in our marriage.
A seasoned perspective…
Tobi sent me her column weeks ago, and yes, I've been busy with a book deadline, but the truer reason for the delay is that I'm just now getting up the courage to write the "seasoned perspective" on this touchy topic. (Daughterly eyes are reading, you know.)
In our almost thirty-three years of marriage, marital intimacy has hit every point along a continuum--from pure joy to abject misery. And without fail, the reasons for the latter were our failure to heed the points Ryan and Tobi's pastor so wisely made. Whenever we've struggled in this area of our marriage, it has nearly always been because we gave sex a skewed role in our marriage—placing either too much or too little importance on its role in the whole of our lives together. Problems have arisen when we were selfish rather than loving and giving, when we didn't bother to understand each other's needs for intimacy and how it should be expressed, and when we didn't take time to communicate about this vital aspect of a loving marriage.
Sex is the one (and some would argue, the only) expression of love that we share with no one else…solely with each other. That should tell us something about the weight we ought to give it in the whole scheme of things. And yet, a good sex life is not the be-all and end-all litmus test of a happy marriage. As in so many other areas of marriage, balance is the key.
Probably the most practical lesson I've learned along the way is that no matter his age, a man wants to be wanted…often and enthusiastically. And Ken has learned that sometimes the sexiest thing a man can do for his wife is…the dishes. If you don't believe that, just ask your wife!
Over the decades, as I'm sure God intended, making love--the physical expression of our love--has provided comfort, joy, security, reassurance, emotional healing, and more than a little hilarity. (Maybe someday I'll tell about the night we set the pillow on fire.)
Most importantly--and lest we forget a very important reason for God's gift of sex--through our love and our physical union, God created four of the most wonderful human beings we're privileged to know.
But I'm glad it doesn't end there. Without providing too much personal information (as Tobi so gracefully put it) I will say this: Sex has only improved with age. It continues to be a gift we treasure highly, and it has become, even more than when we were younger, I think, a most beautiful expression of the love God gave us for each other, the one thing I share only with this man I love more than anyone else in the world; the one thing he shares only with me.
Year after year, Ken and I agree that sex truly is one of God's very best ideas.
Read Ephesians 5:31-32 and 1 Corinthians 7:4-5.
Genesis, Matthew, Mark and Ephesians all have strikingly similar references to a man leaving his father and mother and uniting to his wife, becoming one flesh. In the passage in Ephesians, Paul calls the one-flesh union of man and wife a "profound mystery" and compares it to Christ's love and sacrifice for the church. Have you thought about this analogy in relation to your own marriage? If not, how might it change your attitude toward sex and toward your spouse if you were to do so?
The Bible speaks surprisingly frankly about sex, especially in Song of Solomon. Are you surprised to find such vivid images and such explicit instructions to believers about this aspect of marriage? Why or why not? What do you think this says about God's view of sex?
1 Corinthians 7:4 and 5 speak of the husband's body not belonging to him alone, but also to his wife, and the wife's body not belonging to her alone, but also to her husband. Have you viewed ownership of your body in that way?
These same verses also admonish husbands and wives not to deprive each other of the privilege of intimacy, except for a time of prayer; but then to come back together, lest either of you be tempted. Have you put into practice the generous giving of your bodies to one another? What about times of refraining from intimacy so that you may devote yourselves to prayer? (Remember, the Bible says this is to be by mutual consent.)
What are some ways you and your spouse have struggled with intimacy in your marriage? Are you able to talk openly about those problems? If not, have you sought help through some of the many Christian books available, or perhaps through the advice of your pastor, another Christian couple, or a professional counselor?
Deborah Raney is at work on her nineteenth novel. Her first novel, A Vow to Cherish, inspired the World Wide Pictures film of the same title. Her books have won the National Readers' Choice Award, Silver Angel for Excellence in Media, and have twice been Christy Award finalists. Her newest series, the Hanover Falls Novels, will release from Howard/Simon & Schuster. She and her husband, Ken Raney, have been married for 35 years. They have four children, two little grandsons, and enjoy small- town life in Kansas. Visit Deborah's website at http://www.deborahraney.com/.
Tobi Layton is a fifth grade teacher and freelance writer in southeast Missouri. Tobi has been married for eight years to Ryan Layton, a high school biology teacher. Tobi and Ryan are involved with the high school and junior high youth groups at their church in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. The Laytons have two sons.