Shades of Grey
By Dr. Juli Slattery
Are you tired of hearing about Fifty Shades of Grey? First the books, then the movie!
The good news is that soon, no one will be talking about Fifty Shades of Grey. We will have moved onto another cultural fad and be debating another social controversy. The issues that have brought Fifty Shades of Grey to the attention of millions of women, however, will still be alive and well long after the hype has faded.
Rather than write another article analyzing the content of Fifty Shades of Grey, let’s dive into why we want to read it (or see it). Whether you have jumped onto the Fifty Shades bandwagon or you are curiously on the sidelines, we all have to acknowledge what its success says about the spiritual, emotional, and sexual state of women. The tidal wave of women celebrating “mommy porn” says more about the “mommy” than it says about the porn.
Here’s the bottom line: women are desperate for intimacy and they don’t know where to find it. Young and old, married and single, Christian and atheist, women feel bored, lonely, and frustrated.
It would be tragic for us to allow the Fifty Shades frenzy to pass without taking note of what women long for, both within the church and outside of its walls. Jesus not only knows our intimate needs, He offers to meet us in them. We run to the world when we don’t know or understand the beauty and victory of pursuing God with our longings. I’m not talking about the quick fix presented by the prosperity Gospel. Make no mistake… trusting the Lord is the narrow road and few will choose to embrace it. Yet it also represents life… a life that will not disappoint.
We are lonely… Jesus offers intimacy.
We are witnessing a vast increase in women who are drawn to internet porn, erotica, and sexual chat rooms. Counselors and pastors scratch their heads thinking, “This used to be a man’s problem. What’s happened?”
Women aren’t just looking for sex… they are longing for intimacy.
While we have hormones and sexual longings, they are not nearly as powerful as our drive for intimacy–to be known and embraced in vulnerability. The physical act of sex, while beautiful as an expression of intimacy is a cheap replacement for it. Unfortunately, many women are sexual without realizing that they lack intimacy. We live in a world that sabotages intimacy at every step while promoting sex as an adequate substitute. No amount of sex (real or imagined) can compensate for a lack of intimacy.
The other day, I noticed an “unsung heroine” among the women of the Bible. Her name was Anna. We don’t know much about her, but here is her testimony recorded in Luke 2:36-38:
Anna, a prophetess, was also there in the Temple that day (when Mary and Joseph brought baby Jesus to the Temple). She was the daughter of Phanuel, of the Jewish tribe of Asher, and was very old, for she had been a widow for eighty-four years following seven years of marriage. She never left the Temple but stayed there night and day, worshiping God by praying and often fasting.
She came along just as Simeon was talking with Mary and Joseph, and she also began thanking God and telling everyone in Jerusalem who had been awaiting the coming of the Savior that the Messiah had finally arrived.
Here was a widow who knew marital and sexual intimacy as a young woman. When she was widowed, she didn’t search for intimacy in another man, but by seeking the Lord long after she was 84 years old. Her constant pursuit was rewarded with the presence of the living Messiah!
Does this mean that we should all become nuns and be “married to Christ”? No. As Paul taught in I Cor. 7, we each have different callings. Many of us serve the Lord as wives and moms. However, there is true intimacy to be found in worship and obedience to the Lord. You may sing about it every Sunday, but have you experienced it? Do you know what it is to cry out as David did, “…my heart and my flesh cry out for You, the Living God” (Ps. 84:2)? God will answer. Christian Grey will not.
We are sexually broken…. God is the Healer.
I have rarely met a woman who is not, in some way, sexually broken. For some, their wounds are obvious. They pour out the shame of sexual trauma or the guilt of addictions, abortions, and promiscuity. But other women aren’t even aware of their wounds. Their symptoms are considered “normal,” represented by statements like these:
- I don’t understand why my husband always wants sex. It feels like a chore.
- I just feel guilty for enjoying sex as much as I do.
- I can’t seem to get sexually aroused unless I fantasize about someone other than my husband. Is that wrong?
- I used to believe that sex should be reserved for marriage. But I’m 35. That morality just doesn’t work in today’s day and age.
Most women have learned about their sexuality as a compartmentalized part of who they are. They are wife, mom, sister, daughter, disciple of God and then… oh yes, there is the sexual part of them. As singles, they are told to ignore it and it will go away. As married women, they are encouraged to meet their husband’s need and maybe enjoy it… perhaps a little bit. Underlying all of these messages is this one: Your spiritual life and your sexuality have nothing to do with each other.
It seems as if God doesn’t care about their sex life, so why not learn from the world? Confusion and pain reign. Women have specific questions about sexuality and they have no idea who to ask.
This thinking may be what Christians believe, but it certainly isn’t biblical. While the church may be silent on the topic, the Bible has a lot to say. Sexuality and spirituality, according to God’s Word, are absolutely inseparable. God cares deeply about a woman’s sexuality and has every intention of healing her in the most intimate manner.
Have you ever noticed how many of the women Jesus interacted with came with sexual and relational pain? He healed their invisible wounds of shame, guilt, and violation. Why are we not proclaiming to each other and then to the world that God is the Healer? There is no wound so deep, no sin so disgusting that His love cannot forgive and redeem! This isn’t just a nice thought. I have the joy of seeing the reality of God’s power in women’s lives daily.
We are bored…God invites us into His work.
“The harvest is great, but the laborers are few.” Do you really believe this? In our distracted existence of Pinterest and Facebook, it’s easy to forget that we literally live on a battlefield. Everywhere around us is invisible spiritual combat for the souls of people… our husbands, our neighbors, our leaders. There is so much work to be done, yet we are bored!
I think one of the main draws of books like Fifty Shades of Grey is that they make us temporarily feel alive. My sister, you don’t need fantasy to make life exciting. Yes, I know what it’s like to wake up to dirty diapers and a pile of laundry wondering when life will begin. Yet when God opens our eyes to the spiritual reality around us, every day can be filled with purpose.
God sees the faithfulness in the smallest acts of obedience and love. Even offering a cold cup of water can be a spiritual act of significance that in God’s economy makes an eternal difference. Turn off The Bachelor, take a break from Facebook, and ask the Lord to open your eyes.
We lack discernment…. God’s Word can equip us.
“I don’t see what’s wrong with Fifty Shades of Grey. Lighten up! It’s just a book!” I have heard this from scores of Christian women, some who pass the book around in Bible studies as a way to “spice up marriage.” On the tails of this comment comes, “Who are you to judge?”
You are right. I’m no one to judge. But what I can do… what we must do… is challenge each other to “walk in a manner worthy of the gospel.” God’s Word is the standard by which every woman who claims to follow Christ must examine her choices.
There are women who love God, yet justify erotica because they don’t know God’s Word. When we allow God to speak for Himself, His Spirit teaches, encourages, and convicts.
The writer of Hebrews challenged Christians of his day to feast on the “meat of God’s Word,” not just to snack on milk: Solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil (Heb. 5:14).
Oh, how we need God’s unchanging truth to change us. If you wonder what is wrong with books like Fifty Shades, open your Bible and read Ephesians 5:1-17.
We are playing defense… God calls us to revival.
Revival. It sounds like an old-fashioned word, doesn’t it? Revival is when God’s Spirit is poured out on His people and lives are changed. It happens when we commit ourselves to earnestly seek the Lord and obey Him 100 percent. Revival is what happens when God’s people stop playing only defense and determine to play offense–to take ground back from the enemy.
If you look at the spiritual battlefield of sexuality, you will notice that Christians have largely resigned themselves to playing defense. We pray and work so that things don’t get any worse. In this arena, we seem to have forgotten that our God is able to do more than fend off defeat–He is a God of victory.
Yes, there is a need to talk about how terrible pornography is. But we should be teaching more boldly the power of God’s truth in every corner of our lives – including sexuality. While the world talks endlessly about sex, God’s Word proclaims sexuality as a holy and powerful metaphor to be protected and celebrated.
I don’t just look at Fifty Shades of Grey as a terrible commentary on sexual ethics. I see it as a call to revival, and any revival starts with us. As believers, we cannot tell the world of an intimate Savior if we, ourselves are not sustained by His Living Water.
Dr. Juli Slattery is a widely known clinical psychologist, author, speaker, and broadcast media professional. She’s the president and co-founder of Authentic Intimacy. Juli’s books include Passion Pursuit, Finding the Hero in Your Husband, and many more. She and her husband have three children. You can contact Julie at authenticintimacy.com.