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3 Ways That Loving Your Body Builds Intimacy in Marriage
As I stood in front of the mirror, I counted the number of scars displayed across my stomach, splattered across my belly like a toddler with a crayon. How could I ever feel beautiful again, let alone sexy? My thoughts were interrupted as my husband came up behind me and put his arms around my body. He whispered in my ear, “You, my Joy, are so beautiful.” (Presione aquí para leer en español) In the span of three months, I had three surgeries and many procedures, turning my stomach into a landmine of imperfections. Yet, through it all, my husband has loved me in ways that have helped me to confidently give my body, heart, and soul to him.  My value as God's child is not dependent on how my stomach looks, or any other insecurity I may have. The same is true for you. To begin to heal, I first had to discover the lies I believed about myself and begin to see myself how God sees me. Through counseling, I discovered that I believed the lie that my physical worth was dependent on what my body looked like, not my identity in Christ. Believing my worth was found in my appearance turned out to be my greatest source of insecurity—and it was hurting the intimacy in my marriage. But as I began to find my source of security in God, not in what I look like, I also grew in intimacy with my husband.   Intimacy grows through addressing the source of our insecurity. After all of the medical trauma I had walked through, I knew I needed to go back to my counselor. My trauma brought up new insecurities that actually pointed to deeply rooted lies that I believed. My new scars led me to believe I was no longer beautiful or worthy of love, reinforcing the lie that appearance matters most. As I’m learning to address this lie, I’m discovering that intimacy grows as I name my insecurities and find scriptural truths to counter them. For example, when I doubt my value, I meditate on Galatians 4:7, “So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.” My value as God's child is not dependent on how my stomach looks, or any other insecurity I may have. The same is true for you. Part of “feeling beautiful” includes giving myself a pep talk and believing this truth. Every day when I wake up and look in the bathroom mirror, I see a sticker that says, “This is a good body.” I need this reminder because I often feel like my body has betrayed me. Because of my health issues, my body can feel like my enemy. But I must remind myself: my body is good. God formed me and knit me together perfectly in my mother’s womb, and He says, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14).  As you begin to feel safe revealing your insecurities to God, then you might begin to feel safer sharing them with your spouse.   Intimacy grows through encouraging one another. You don’t have to look perfect to have great intimacy with your spouse. In fact, as you age, your body begins to change and will never look like it did when you first fell in love with your partner. If you’ve experienced changes in your body, true intimacy can be nurtured through encouraging one another, working through your insecurities, and praying with your spouse. For as long as I can remember, I struggled with confidence about my body. My stomach was too big, my leg hair grew too fast (I’m Italian), and my nose always felt just a little too big. Yet, since I met my hubby Zack, it was as if when he looked at me he saw a completely different person than the one I saw in the mirror.  We’ve been married for about 5 years, and I’ve grown in confidence about my body. Now, even with the imperfections and scars, I’ve become confident in who God created me to be through meditating on scripture and believing the words of my husband. My husband helps me see a glimpse of this truth in real life. The more he uplifts me with his words, the more beautiful I feel. I’m able to feel sexy because of his love and words that continue to lift me up.  My husband’s encouragement has grown my body confidence, which has deepened our intimacy. This reassurance takes place not just in the bedroom, but during regular day-to-day moments. He cheers me in the mornings while I’m still in my pj’s, hair up in a bun, and pouring my coffee. He encourages me as I’m in work clothes, right before an important Zoom call. The more we encourage one another during normal aspects of life, not just in intimate moments, the more we will believe it.  It’s not enough to simply hear our spouse’s encouraging words, we have to BELIEVE them. Sometimes, we want to deny our husband’s compliments. (I know I’ve done this.) We might respond with, “No, I’m not beautiful,” or “Really, you like this dress? I was thinking of getting rid of it.” Instead, we have to believe the encouraging words we receive and also encourage our spouses in the things they may feel insecure about. I try to encourage my husband, Zack, by praising him for a job well done at work, complimenting him on his physical appearance, or thanking him when he serves our family.   Intimacy grows through praying with your spouse. Since we were first married, my husband and I shower together every night (that’s a different blog!) and pray together every night. No matter what happened that day, even if we ended the day in conflict, we hold hands across the bed and pray. We’ve discovered it is hard to stay mad at someone for too long if you know you’re going to pray together before going to sleep.  Forming healthy patterns and habits like praying together can grow your intimacy. If you struggle with body image issues that impact your intimacy in marriage, here are some things you can begin to pray for together: Pray for your sex life. Pray that you will be able to love and value your body. Pray for God to reveal the deeper lies that could be the source of your insecurities. Pray and thank God for the body He has given you. As I grow in intimacy with my spouse, I also learn to trust him more. I believe him when he compliments and encourages me. The same is true with God. Building intimacy in spite of bodily imperfections boils down to this question, “Do I really trust God with all that He allows to happen in my life and to my body?” Even though I don’t understand why things happen, I can trust God that His plans are perfect, and I can have confidence in this verse: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). If you struggle with loving your body because of imperfections, be encouraged! You can grow and deepen intimacy with your spouse by addressing the root of insecurity, encouraging one another, and with prayer. You can get to the point where you are thankful for your body, even with its imperfections. I don’t think I will ever look at my scar-covered stomach and think, “Wow! That is attractive,” but I do look at it and believe, “This is a good body!”   Come back next week for a special guest blog from Joy's better half, Zack! In the meantime, learn more about a healthy body image with these resources: Java #402: If God Made My Body "Good," Why Does It Cause So Much Pain? Being Sexy Has Nothing to Do With Your Body (Juli's blog) Java #381: "Show It Off" or "Cover It Up": Messages That Shape Our Body Image   Image by Canva    
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"God Doesn't Care" and 3 Other Lies You Might Believe About Sex
I’ll never be able to kick porn for good! I hate sex. I’ll never be able to enjoy it with my husband. I’m damaged beyond repair. I can’t have a great sex life if I don’t have a beautiful body.  Have thoughts like these ever crossed your mind? If so, where do you think they come from?  Sex is a spiritual battleground. We can see obvious ways that the devil is at work through evils like sex trafficking and sexual abuse, but many of his most effective schemes are more subtle (like the examples above). In fact, you may be in the middle of a spiritual battle and not even know it.  Jesus said that Satan is a liar and that his native language is to lie to us. One way to discern the nature of the spiritual battle in our lives is to identify his lies. Think of it this way: When you look at the strongholds in your life, you will always find Satan’s “calling card” of lies.  Underlying Satan’s more subtle deception are a few foundational lies that impact how we think about God and sex. Below, I want to share with you four of these lies that often represent a stronghold in our lives and marriages.   Lie #1: God doesn’t care about sexuality.  Over the past several decades, we have witnessed a change in attitude about sex and sexuality. Rather than viewing sex as something that is tied to marriage and procreation, we treat it as simply a form of recreation and self expression. Rather than gender being rooted in a biological reality, it is now often considered a subjective experience.  Even many Christians think about their sexuality as a personal category of life that God doesn’t have much to say about. Christian singles have sex with little thought of God, and married Christians assume that as long as they are not having an affair, God has little to say about what sex should look like between them.  Having studied this topic for a decade, I can say without any hesitation that God cares deeply about your sexuality. In the Garden of Eden, when Eve interacted with the serpent, he asked her the question, “Did God really say…?” You may be falling for that same strategy. Yes, God really did say that sexuality is sacred and that He has a will for your sex life.   Lie #2: God’s design for sex isn’t for your good.  You may not wrestle with the truth of God as much as you question the goodness of God. Why would a loving God: Give me a desire and then say I can’t act on it? Tell me that I can’t marry the person I love? Want me to stay married to someone I don’t love? The God of the Bible just seems cruel if He limits sexual expression to a man and a woman in a lifelong, committed relationship. Just think of all the people this excludes! The crafty serpent in the Garden of Eden also used this ploy. He tempted Eve by causing her to doubt the goodness of God’s command. “God is holding out on you!” I once heard a pastor say, “There is nothing good outside of God’s will for you.” Do you believe that?  Taking a step back, we need to understand that romantic love and sexual expression have been elevated in our modern culture from good things to absolute essential elements of a fulfilled life. God seems cruel only if sex and romance are crucial to happiness. You will not understand God’s goodness in His design for sex if you don’t understand the goodness of God’s design for humanity.  God did not create you for sex, for self-actualization, or even for marriage. He created you for intimate fellowship with Himself. The greatest thrill of your life is not meant to be your wedding day (or night), but the daily journey of knowing that your life matters because you are connected to the eternal God of the universe. You were created to be a world-changer! Only when we see the bigger story of life can we appreciate the goodness of sex, but also accept that we can live fulfilling lives without it.   Tweet: God did not create you for sex, for self-actualization, or even for marriage. He created you for intimate fellowship with Himself. The greatest thrill of your life is not meant to be your wedding day (or night), but the daily journey of knowing that your life matters because you are connected to the eternal God of the universe. @drjulislattery   Lie #3: God won’t forgive sexual sin.  During temptation, the devil works to convince you that sexual sin is no big deal. After you’ve sinned, he will work just as rigorously to convince you that you must now live in perpetual shame. Russell Moore observed, “The devil works in two ways: by deception, ‘You will not surely die’ (Genesis 3:4), and by accusation, ‘who accuses them day and night before our God’ (Revelation 12:10) ... No one is more pro-choice than the devil on the way to the abortion clinic and no one is more pro-life than the devil on the way out of the abortion clinic.”1 Yes, sexual sin is serious. It often has significant physical, emotional, and spiritual consequences—never take these lightly.  Likewise, don’t fall for the concept that Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace.” In other words, don’t step into sin with the safety net of knowing that God will forgive you. That is an affront to Christ’s sacrifice! However, if you have confessed and turned from your sin, God’s will is that you walk in freedom. Not only freedom from your sin, but freedom from the shame and condemnation of your past.  Do you believe that God has separated your sexual sin from you as far as the East is from the West? That He does not hold it against you? That you are “cleansed from all unrighteousness”?   Lie #4: I’ll only be safe if I hold onto my anger. God hates bitterness as much as He hates sexual sin. Your spouse may have been the one to look at pornography, but you have responded by developing a critical and resentful heart over time. Paul tells us that Satan wins when our righteous anger sours into bitterness and unforgiveness. While it is sometimes very appropriate to feel angry, you also have to be careful that it doesn’t harden your heart. “'In your anger do not sin': Don’t let the sun go down on your anger” (Ephesians 4:4). Anger is like milk. It has a shelf life before it spoils into something quite rotten.  Recovering from infidelity and other forms of betrayal is a long, arduous journey. Marriage experts estimate that it takes most couples between two and five years to fully recover (many never do). Whether or not there is reconciliation in a relationship, it is essential for your own spiritual health that you release your anger. That may not (and probably should not) happen right away. But we often end up hanging onto anger because it becomes our form of protection.  You may believe that anger and bitterness are the only barriers that will keep people away from that tender wound in your heart. You become convinced that holding the grudge will keep you safe. Neither of those things are true. You can set up necessary boundaries without nurturing your anger when you trust the Lord to be the God who sees all, who cares deeply for you, and who repays according to His justice.  David was deeply wounded and betrayed by friends and even his own son. Yet, he continually chose to find protection and shelter in God. “In you, O Lord, I have taken refuge” (Psalm 31:1).   Friend, we need to recognize that lies can feel a lot more powerful (even more true!) than the truth. Your heart is a great spiritual battleground. Are you aware of the lies that keep you from experiencing the freedom that God offers you in every area of your life, including sexuality?  Authentic Intimacy exists to help you understand God’s truth about sex so that you can identify and fight against the lies that keep you stuck. If you are ready to take the next step, here are a few helpful resources: Why God Cares About Your Sexuality video series (exclusive content) Not a member? Get the first video free. Passion Pursuit - join an online book study today! What's the Purpose of Your Sexuality, Really? (Juli's blog) Three Things To Remember About Sexual Sin & Grace (Joy's blog)   1 Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel by Russell Moore Photo by Canva
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6 Thoughts To Help You Discern Truth and Give Grace
Over the past several months, many of you have messaged our team here at Authentic Intimacy asking for my opinion on a recent book or controversy within the Christian community. Most recently, people want my opinion on the new film adaptation of Redeeming Love. You may have noticed that I’m not quick to write reviews of Christian books or media. Yes, I have opinions, but often they are nothing more than that… my opinions.  I can remember the days when Christians argued about the evils of Harry Potter and whether or not The Shack was heretical. Today, it’s Jesus and John Wayne, "The Rise & Fall of Mars Hill," and The Making of Biblical Womanhood. Next year, there will assuredly be another round of books and podcasts that stir conversation and debate.  Rather than share my opinions, I am far more passionate about helping you develop a God-honoring framework through which you can evaluate and understand what’s happening around us.  When I consider how God wants us to approach whatever new debate pops into our social media feed, I think of two qualities: discernment and grace. These are absolutely essential character traits to be growing in as we mature in the Christian faith. Grace without discernment leaves us vulnerable to becoming rudderless Christians, “tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful schemes” (Ephesians 4:14 NIV). Discernment without grace will turn us into the “clanging gong” Paul described in I Corinthians 13—an annoying sound no one wants to listen to.  Discernment and grace are not qualities we are born with or that magically appear when we become Christians. They are meant to be cultivated on the journey of becoming like Jesus. Paul prayed for the Philippians, “that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best…” (Philippians 1:9-10 NIV).   Growing in Discernment I had a college professor who was a professional orange juice taster. I always think of him whenever I hear the word “discernment.” His palette was so discerning that he literally got paid to sip orange juice.  When we read a book, listen to a podcast, or watch a film, we want to be like that: to have such a discerning spiritual palette that we can taste the difference between pure truth and a message that is just a little bit off.  Everything you hear or read from a human being (including me) will fail the test of “pure truth.” Even with the best intentions, we are still imperfect with a limited perspective of the world. My experiences, personality, and worldview flavor everything I say, write, or read. That means that you can’t just sit back and consume without engaging and asking good questions. You will never read an author or listen to a teacher who is always one hundred percent spot on.  Discernment is crucial, so how do you get it?  1. Listen more than you speak.  “Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry” (James 1:19 NIV). Just as my professor swished orange juice around in his mouth to fully taste it, we need to be quiet and thoughtful about what we consume.  We live in a soundbite culture. We are prone to take one sentence or one episode in a person’s life and rush to judgment. If you want to be discerning, do your homework. Don’t react to one paragraph someone posts from a book. Consider the larger work and then pause.  You will never meet a discerning person who is impulsive or always in a hurry. Nor do we become more discerning while we are talking. Discernment requires the time and stillness to listen.  2. Study the Bible. The author of Hebrews wrote, “You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:12-14 NIV). Let’s unpack this metaphor. Milk is predigested food. A mother eats food and then her body digests the nutrients and transforms the food into milk, a substance a baby’s digestive system can handle. When you are a new Christian, you often need God’s Word digested for you. An author or teacher wrestles with the Scripture and puts it in a framework you can understand. As you grow in your faith, you too need to learn to do the reading and wrestling. This is how you grow in discernment.  As helpful as you may find devotionals and podcasts, never let them become a substitute for reading the Bible for yourself.  3. Pray for discernment. Sometimes, we reject the truth because it doesn't feel right and we embrace wrong ideas because they align with what we want to believe. Only the Holy Spirit gives us discernment to see truth beyond what we feel. This discernment is the wisdom God promises to give us when we ask for it.  Before checking in with your favorite teacher or podcaster on a particular topic, do you ask God to guide you and give you wisdom? Honestly, I often fail to do this. I become more interested in a person’s opinion than I am in hearing from the Lord.  I need to always pray, Lord, search my heart. Guide me in truth. Teach me wisdom in the innermost parts of my heart.   Growing in Grace Who is the most gracious person you know? What actions communicate grace? I think of a person who is grateful for any kind gesture. Give her a Dollar Store mug for a Christmas gift—a gracious person is moved by the fact that you thought of her at all. Gracious people are unassuming and always looking for the good in others.  The trait of discernment can sometimes make us critical. We walk away from every book and sermon with a glaring awareness of what was lacking. “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think on these things” (Philippians 4:8). My mentor Linda Dillow once pointed out to me that this verse says if anything, not if everything.  A gracious heart comes alongside discernment, tempering our response to what is lacking. Here are a few ways you can grow in grace.  1. Assign the best motives. I am blessed to know a lot of people in ministry. I know authors, speakers, and high-profile Christian leaders. While none of them are perfect, they minister with a sincere heart to honor God and help people.  I often read books by fellow Christians and find things I don’t agree with. Discernment helps me press into these questions and debates, but grace reminds me that these are my brothers and sisters. “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10). Paul wrote this in the context of the early church, in which there was disagreement about a lot of things. 2. Remember human frailty. It encourages me deeply to read about Moses’ insecurity, Elijah’s fearful flight from Jezebel, and John the Baptist’s doubts about Jesus. Why? Because I’m reminded that there is no such thing as a spiritual superhero.  Studying church history will readily reveal the flaws of Martin Luther, Augustine, and Billy Graham. Jesus said, “Don’t let anyone call you ‘Rabbi’ (or teacher), for you have one Teacher” (Matthew 23:8 NLT). Even very devoted and godly people are going to get some things wrong. Don’t put them on pedestals. God has given us a body of teachers, evangelists, counselors, and shepherds across the world who together help us grow. Be wary of becoming overly reliant on one person’s opinion. This will help you approach leaders with grace rather than unrealistic expectations.  3. Confront with love and humility. Paul, who wrote so much about Christian unity, also reminded us that there are times to confront. Paul modeled this in his letters to the Corinthians as well as in his disagreement with Peter about the Jewish Christians.  Part of Christian love is calling out bad teaching and ungodly behavior,  sometimes with strong words of rebuke when warranted. When we do this, we are reminded by Jesus to first prayerfully examine our own hearts. Only when God has humbled us can we confront someone else with the right spirit. “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently (emphasis mine). But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted”(Galatians 6:1 NIV). Regrettably, much Christian confrontation in 2022 is far from prayerful and gracious. We publicly spew opinions about people we’ve never met and judge from a heart of arrogance. While calling out sin or bad teaching, we ourselves fall into the sins of slander and self-righteousness.    Imagine how the world would be different if God’s people were known for their discernment and grace. Revival of that sort can actually happen, and it could begin with you.  I’m so glad that you trust Authentic Intimacy to help you grow in your Christian walk. May we grow in discernment and grace together!