A foot massage is never just a foot massage

I think part of the reason that we don’t often have more “programs” in Circle of Hope is because the thing we do is relational, it’s incarnational, it’s based on dialogue.

I’m afraid the body of Christ hasn’t functioned this way all of the time. I think we think that rules and policy, not dialogue, is what tidies us up.

But when we don’t created common agreements based on mutual understanding, we create rules, which can be rebelled against in a nonpersonal way. But if we were to create an agreement that we mutually agree upon in a specific relationship, we only then rebel against each other—which I think is personal.

The bona fide example of this is perhaps the rule about fornication. People who grew up in a Christian household are probably familiar with this phrase: don’t have sex until you’re married.

I think that’s a good rule. But I think it has several problems.

1) It speaks to a negative. It doesn’t tell you what to do, it tells you what you can’t do.

2) It doesn’t really offer a “why.” From the moment a child learns about the word “why,” it seems like he or sure is constantly asking that question. Adults do it moreso and for good reason.

3) It lacks definition. So it’s up to the interpreter to wade through the emotionally complex issue, and often times we don’t create a safe place to talk about it before we get into serious relationships.

In Mark 10, Jesus is asked “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife? (verse 2)” He uses the question to make several points.

1)    Both men and women can suffer from sexual immorality. This is applicable to our cultura because we certainly think of men who have  a lot of sex with many partners differently than we do women who are doing the same thing. And so for the sake of mutual respect, we must make sure that we are not “objectively” viewing the issue—sex is about more than just sex, right? There is a difference between a handshake and sex.

2)    Sex unites you. Jesus lays out the framework that becomes the root of the rule in question. The man and woman came from one flesh, and in sex, they become one flesh again.

3)    Marriage is eternal. The act of sexual oneness is enforced by the idea of marriage—there are all sorts ways that people have culturally gotten married—but they involve to a degree a detachment from the family of original and starting a new house and family. This partnership that’s formed is eternal.

The basic framework that Jesus is working with is that sex is uniting and marriage is forever.

Jesus is saying the emotional connection that we have with someone with whom we have sex is incredibly meaningful. Perhaps, it is helpful for couples who are in a serious relationship, who are also having sex, to just know that they are married and to declare it. It’s good to call it what it is. Let’s not mince words because we’re afraid of a commitment or afraid of admitting we’re having sex. Let’s try to work it out with Jesus.

With that as the basics of our framework, the question of when sex is sex is more complex. You might have wondered “how far” you can go with your partner.

I don’t think creating a new set of rules to combat the one that might make you feel guilty now is appropriate, but I think it’s appropriate to have some sort of a reality check.

It’s interesting because people who are “guilty” of having sex before they are married, and people who free to have sex within their marriage seem to trend toward defining things differently.

On one hand, if “it just goes in” and that’s it, and you’re trying not to have sex—a weight of guilt might be placed upon you because you think you definitely just had sex. On the other hand, if you are married, and “it goes in,” well I’m not sure if you’d call that sex, almost ever.

Of course, other kinds of stimulation that cause orgasms that two people are engaging in is may not seen as sex. But if that kind of stuff is happening in a marriage regularly, it’s doubtful that the couple would declare that they are not having sex.

And so, we connect back to Jesus’ point, sex isn’t just sex. Sex isn’t just about penetration, it’s not just about orgasms, it’s about an intimate and emotional connection. A foot massage is never just a foot massage. It means something.

Sex is not just a physical exchange of fluids. It’s more than that. It has meaning. Your desire to do it, is indicative of that. It’s natural, it’s human, but it’s also emotional and spiritual. That’s what Jesus is talking about.

So, when we know that, we might realize that the reasons we want to have sex are bigger than just physical gratification. It is so often about love and intimacy and connection. So before you have sex to try and solve your loneliness and your lack of connection—make real connections with Jesus, your community, and with real people. Relate to God and have a fulfillment rooted in him. Express it in community.

The boundaries you set with your girlfriend or boyfriend or whomever else should span across sex and into things like sharing money together, sleeping over, cohabitating, and even relating emotionally and spiritually. Especially if you aren’t sure that marriage is inevitable for you, it makes sense for some boundaries to be respected—rather than pushed.

The thing we can probably agree on is that people are having sex before they really know what they are getting into. At the same time, people who are virtually married, aren’t sure how to navigate their sexual relationship without also shelling out the big bucks for the wedding and the ring. So be self-aware and mindful of what you can handle, and if you’re married, get married!

4 Replies to “A foot massage is never just a foot massage

  1. I also think that Jesus was responding to a legal question in Mark 10. The Pharisees were asking about divorce and what the legality of it is. Legal standing = standing with God and God’s people under the Mosaic law, so it was a very loaded question. Jesus’ answer takes divorce to a whole ‘nother level than just a legal/moral one, he tells them divorce works against God’s ongoing unifying work among married couples. And to his disciples he equates divorce with adultery. I don’t think Jesus was just saying “it’s real bad, don’t do it or you’ll be in deep trouble with God” (see John 8 for how he feels about that) I think he was putting everyone’s sexual/marriage relationship problems in the same grace-and-mercy-needing boat- both with those that were seen as legally acceptable (like divorcees), and those that were seen as legally criminal and worthy of the death penalty (like adulterers). ALL people are in need of God’s unifying presence in their lives and in their intimate/marriage relationship struggles. God is at work building healthy love relationships, that’s always Jesus’ assumption.

  2. This is super cute. I mean using the example of a committed couple who respect each other by not having sex with each other; what a sterling example of love overcoming “christian guilt”. It’s such a sterling example that I think it casts that “christian guilt” back on those who haven’t had a similar experience. I understand that the sterling couple does exist, and I don’t mean to make fun of them, but they are extremely lucky to have found a committed partner that respects their decisions. There are those in our community who aren’t as lucky: divorcees, people who have been sexually assaulted or raped, and even just the single among us.

    Please don’t tell me I’m supposed to go to my community when I’m feeling amorus. Sure one or two in my cell may know my want for a physical relationship, but there isn’t really a substitute for wanting to be touched. I get that we should seek others when we are lonely, but loneliness and wanting physical gratification are very different.

    I appreciate that we are starting to dip our toes into the ocean of romantic and sexual relations. I also agree with working out with Jesus our reasons of why we have or want to have sex. But if we are trying to quell the fears of a few who are not getting married for financial or other reasons why don’t we come together and rethink what a wedding is or offer options that will save money (like the Maxwell wedding at BW)? I understand that you were trying to encourage these couples to marry so they don’t have to worry about having sex anyway, but I don’t find this article to be very realistic nor the right reason to post an article like this. Sex isn’t the reason to get married, I also don’t think it’s the way to lure couples into marriage. Weddings can be a scary thing. There are many examples off marriages not working out. There are different expectations people have about what it means to be married, and the church hasn’t been too helpful either with its promotion of gender stereotypes. Why would a woman want to marry under the old view of marriage? Oh wait, it’s because it’s our duty as lesser beings to serve, that’s right. But seriously, can we start talking about marital fears instead of using sex like the carrot on the stick?

    I don’t think your intention was quite what I saw in this article, but I wanted to voice my perspective since I know there my be others with a similar perspective who don’t know you, or us.

    1. Thanks, Elizabeth. The main point that I want us to take home is this. Sex means something. When you have it with someone, you grow more intimate with them–the verb I used is “marry.” If you are having sex with someone that you live with and you want to be with that person forever, let’s just call it what it is. And if you don’t, I hope that we know that the sex wasn’t meaningless and the bond nonexistent. I certainly don’t think we should get married to have sex, nor do I think we should marry everyone that we have sex with, but it’s important to acknowledge that sex does make it one flesh. We can “divorce” that flesh, and someone it makes most sense too–but we should know that’s what we’re doing.

      I agree marriage is scary and serious too–many don’t work out. I think it’s important to know that before getting into it. I think we should also exercise that caution when having sex. Too many people are having sex, not being serious about it, and really dulling their emotions regarding it, and I think damaging their souls too. Sometimes acknowledging its seriousness helps heal us.

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