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The Busy Season?

There was a time in my life when being busy was the “in” thing for me and other Christians around me. It was cool to be busy going to Bible study groups, worship practise, church, family functions, work and/or studying hard and basically not having a moment to spare. I guess I looked at it as being productive for God…or something.

Nowadays, I hate saying “I’m busy.” But I have felt fairly busy and stressed since arriving back from my wedding and honeymoon in Hawaii 3.5 weeks ago. There is just so much to do at Christmas time – right?! I’ve been Christmas shopping and spent an entire day online designing and ordering a bunch of Christmas presents. JD & I have looked around at Christmas lights in the nearby suburbs and the lights Spectacular at Imagine Nations Church. We’ve been to family, work and neighbourhood Christmas parties, caught up with friends and even watched a few Christmas movies.

Then there’s the less Christmassy, more regular busyness. I’ve had 10 working days in the last 3 weeks before finishing up teaching for summer holidays, but before even arriving back from Hawaii, summer school began and I commenced two 14-week subjects that I’m trying to cram into 9 weeks – that’s about 25-30 hours of study per week.

And then there are all the things my heart really wants to get done this summer that I’m concerned I may not have time for, like reading an ordinary novel, compiling, editing and elaborating on the book I’ve been writing this year, setting goals for my writing next year and getting the ball rolling on those. I miss writing…

I want to read the entire Bible in Greek (before I die), but so far I’ve only read about 4 chapters in 3 weeks. I want to clean my apartment so that JD and I have more space, but at the moment it’s full of Christmas presents, Hawaiian souvenirs and piles of mail or other documents that need sorting out.

I hate this feeling that I don’t have enough time. It’s been on my mind all year because frankly it has been the busiest year that I’ve had since the days of being “busy for God.” I want to trust God that he has given me all the time I need and that if I actually slow down, prioritise and even spend a little time with him, the world isn’t going to fall off its axis. Everything will be okay.

I mean, it’s Christmas in two days for heaven’s sake! Every year we blink and another Christmas comes and goes, and some years it doesn’t even feel like we had a Christmas because there’s just. So. Much. To do…

So I’m opening my heart right now and I’m saying, I don’t want to forget about Jesus this Christmas. It doesn’t have to be “The Busy Season” but it IS the Christ-mas season. Christ-mass. Mass in the Catholic Church means partaking of the body and blood of Jesus: The Lord’s supper / Communion / Eucharist. So Christmas is a celebration of both the life and the death of Jesus. It celebrates our common-union (communion) with Christ.

God became human. What better way for God to heal us from the disease of sin and resurrect our decaying bodies from the dead than by becoming one of us?! Then, because we were first created IN him (think of it as being in the womb of God), what happens to his humanity happens to ours. He was resurrected and recreated and all of humanity with him.

I want to slow down this Christmas and this summer and spend some time communing with Jesus. I want to let go of my frenzy to get everything done “in time,” and remember that I am secure in the love of God. He is able to make all grace abound to me (2 Cor 9:8) and I believe this includes an abundance of time. I’m not “running out of time.” I don’t have to be busy! Have you ever noticed that you are often more productive when you feel relaxed and are working at your own pace, than when you rush and push yourself? I am determined to retrain my brain in this area and to trust God with my time.

I don’t want to blink and miss out on my very first Christmas as a married woman with my husband in the same country! I want to breathe deep and listen to my heart where Jesus abides and shares his love with me … and with my husband … and with our family and friends … and with the whole human race.

Happy Christmas Everyone.

<3 <3 <3

Soul Ties

I’ve had 90 people fill in my sex survey this year and one of the 21 questions I asked was: “Do you believe in soul ties?” I had a varied response.
Just less than 1 in 5 people said “no” &
Just over 1 in 5 said “yes”
So combining these, 40% of the answers were definite yes/no answers.
Another 33.3% (or 1/3) of the answers were a little less dogmatic:
1 in 15 said “probably”
1 in 18 said “probably not”
Just over 1 in 15 said “maybe” or “I don’t know”
And 2 in 15 said “sometimes”
A lot of the people who said “sometimes” indicated that sex creates a soul tie if there is a pre-existing relationship–particularly one of love–with the person. They generally agreed that a one-night stand does not create a soul tie.

So just over 75% of the answers were a mixture of yes, no, “yes & no” (2%), probably, probably not, I don’t know, maybe, and some of the time.

The other almost 25% gave these sorts of responses:
Nearly 8% said that if you believe sex creates a soul tie then it creates one in your mind
Almost 4.5% talked about vulnerability, giving part of yourself away, and sex changing you as a person.
2% did not answer.
The other 10% either replaced the word “soul tie” with the word “connection” or said that having sex creates a bond.

Truthfully, I don’t know if sex creates a soul tie. I also can’t really describe what a soul tie is. I was taught about soul ties in church and told that every sexual partner creates a soul tie, including rapists or abusers, one night stands and ex-spouses. I was told that all of these kinds of soul ties need to be broken by prayer so that we can create healthy soul ties with our spouse without being hindered by other soul ties. It was said that soul ties are like pieces of person’s soul that unite with your soul or vice versa. It was also, therefore, indicated that the more people a person has sex with, the more their soul is spread thin because they keep giving pieces of themselves away.

However, as one survey said, the words soul & tie do not appear together in the Bible. What the Bible does say is “the two become one flesh” and “what God has joined let no man separate.” Let’s be honest: both of these verses sound more like they are talking about the body than the soul.

One of the survey answers that stood out to me, said that every soul is tied with every other soul. This idea suggests that we do not create or sever soul ties with anyone. It is only that when we engage in sexual activities or blood rituals or vows / promises / covenants etc., that bonds perhaps become even stronger. I like this idea because if I were to truly believe in soul ties, I would say that at the very least I have soul ties with all the members of my family. The experience of grieving my mother’s death was like the temporary (until the afterlife) severing of a deep bond or soul tie with her that took a long time for me to re-contextualise.

As a Universalist-Christian I believe that all human beings are family and even though I may not grieve over every death the way I grieved for my mother, I have this expectancy in my soul that I will only ever be truly happy, when every human being who ever existed is united in love eternally in the afterlife. I guess you could say that I agree with the opinion that all souls are tied.

So then it makes sense to me that when we have sex we are not so much creating a soul tie, as deepening a pre-existing bond. It also makes sense that this would only happen some of the time. A one night stand would be more easily forgotten than someone you are married to for 15-30 years.

I think that sex is meant to nurture the relational bond between partners. I also think it is difficult to let go of previous sexual partners and even sexual abuse without a period of proper grief and detachment. Relational bonds grow stronger or weaker with different people all the time. There are lost friendships I still grieve over even more than I grieve for men I’ve engaged in sexual activities with. Perhaps in that sense I agree that the bond really is in the mind. We attach meaning to our relationships all the time, and so we can grieve differently for one than for another.

I enjoyed reading the varied responses I received to this question. I would still love to have at least 10 more people complete the survey before I publish my book–hopefully by the end of February 2016. And I would love to hear your opinion on soul ties so that we can learn and grow from each other. Contact me at:

www.elissaanne.com
elissaanne.author@gmail.com

Perfectly Imperfect

Planning a wedding can be stressful. Sometimes the bride doesn’t think of every little thing she is going to need until a couple of weeks before the ceremony and she ends up running around frantically trying to find wedding bonbonnieres / favours, and organising to have her leg hairs waxed, hair dyed and nails done before flying out of the country for a destination wedding ceremony. Or, at least, that’s my experience. I’ve been rather anxious the last couple of weeks preparing for my celebration wedding this month.

My perfectionism got the best of me a few nights ago and I cried because I realised that my wedding is not going to be “perfect.” In fact nothing in life is truly “perfect” in my mind. I’ve ordered flowers, makeup and cake, from a distance and will not see them until the big day. My shoes make me at least 2 inches taller than my husband–not exactly ideal. The photo slide show has photos of photos–they look less than perfect. The wedding music will be playing from an iPhone speaker. My mother (RIP) will miss our wedding by 4 years and 6 months…

My husband held me and said that our celebration wedding will be “Perfectly imperfect.” He loves that phrase and I’m starting to love it too.

The truth is, we will have been married for exactly 9 months on our wedding day. We have organised a celebration-wedding in Hawaii so that our families, coming from Australia and America, can meet in person, watch me walk down a sandy aisle in a traditional, white, wedding gown, exchange vows with my husband a second time, take photographs and have our reception dinner on the beach. We called our marriage in February an elopement day although it wasn’t actually a secret. We went to the court house in Parramatta, exchanged vows in front of our parents, two of whom were skyped in, and signed our marriage certificate. We will celebrate our wedding anniversary on February 20th because it’s not only when we legally married, but also the day we “became one flesh,” to use a biblical term, and it just so happens that we first met–through facebook–on February 21st 2013. But no doubt we will remember November 20th as well.

Our elopement day was another perfectly-imperfect day. We forgot our wedding rings and had to drive back home after the signing to get them. We did not have all our family members there to celebrate with us, just as we won’t have a lot of extended family in Hawaii and those were difficult decisions to make and somewhat sad. Definitely not “perfect.”

My husband and I were intercourse-virgins on our wedding night. I was 32 and my husband, 30, when we got married. Most people in general have experienced sex long before age 30-32 and if you think about the body of a teenager or adult in their twenties, they are generally a lot more flexible than adults in their thirties. They can also adapt to different positions and strenuous activities more quickly and easily than older adults. My husband and I have both experienced exhaustion before reaching climax, back pain and even leg muscle spasms during orgasm! Suffice-it to say, our sex life is also perfectly-imperfect.

Abstaining from sex for so many years not only affected our ability to perform sexually, but resulted in both of us placing some unrealistic expectations on our sex-life. When my husband and I had sex for the first time on our elopement night, I expected that I would feel a spiritual bond being solidified between me and my husband, a sense of awe and wonder, of unity and passion, of love and nurture. To my surprise, I didn’t feel any different after sex than I had before sex. I hadn’t changed. I was waiting for something to change, something magical to happen–no, something supernatural–but it didn’t feel supernatural to me.

I broached the subject with my husband a day or two later and he also agreed that sex felt surprisingly natural. It was a relief to know that he felt the same, but I was much more baffled by it than he was. It took me months to accept that sex was not a supernaturally mind-blowing, spiritually climactic, soul-tying experience for the two of us. I have struggled to orgasm (more than I expected to struggle) because of the expectations I placed on sex and how disappointed I felt in those early months of married life.

More recently I’ve let go of my disappointment and come to see sex being natural as a positive thing. As a survivor of sexual abuse, I would have to say that it was, in some respects, a relief that sex felt very natural and normal. If I had felt the supernatural feelings I was expecting, it might have scared me. I may have gone back to feeling insecure about whether what we were doing was wrong or right and I may have felt guilty and dirty. I’m glad it felt natural, I was simply surprised it didn’t feel more bonding, instantaneously.

However, over time (albeit we’ve only been married for 8 and a half months) I have observed that my bond with my husband has deepened, and I do believe this is linked to sex. My experience–and I can only speak for myself–is that when I first married my husband, he was my best friend, we had a lot in common, he ticked all my boxes, so I loved him and I chose him to be my partner in life. Now, I feel more of a family bond. He belongs in my life and nothing can ever replace him. It’s almost as though we’ve always known each other, always been together and will always be together, spiritually if not in body. Perhaps this is a soul-tie or perhaps this is a result of oxytocin, or both, but it’s a beautiful feeling of safety, security, love and family.

Before marriage, I did not feel safe to orgasm in front of any man. For me personally, I wanted to know that I was loved and felt secure before my body would even relax enough to experience an orgasm. For all the fooling around I did for four years leading up to marriage, I never orgasmed in the presence of any man other than my husband. For me, this is one of the beautiful things about sex inside of marriage, or a relationship in which you feel loved and secure. It creates an environment of security in which one can fully express oneself.

Within this context, we are creating a perfectly-imperfect sex-life that works for us. Not every position is going to work. We’ve never made love all night long or even achieved having sex more than four times in twenty-four hours. I read an excellent book before I got married called “Sexual Intelligence,” by Marty Klein. This book talks about re-inventing your sex life at any age or stage in life. It throws out rules like “I have to orgasm in order to enjoy sex,” or “Sex has to be spontaneous not planned” and suggests we have sex without so many rules and expectations. In fact we need to accept the things we can’t do, the expectations or circumstances that aren’t met, and we need to find out what works for us where we are at.

My sex-life is never going to be perfect or ideal in every way. Nor is my celebration-wedding when it happens later this month. But I am determined to love and enjoy them for what they are. There is something freeing about acceptance. Acceptance lets go of judgement, expectation, disappointment, idealism and perfectionism, and creates something realistically beautiful in its place. That’s why my husband and I use the term “perfectly-imperfect.” It may not be ideal or the way you thought you wanted things to be, but it can still be amazing and special and have its own kind of perfection (i.e. perfect for us / perfect in these circumstances) in its reality.

What is Lust?

The general idea of lust that was presented to me as a child growing up in a Christian family and environment, was that every sexual thought about any and every person you are not married to, is lust.

Because of my extreme perfectionist inclinations as a child, I came to believe that people are lusting all the time, especially me. I believed that watching movies that sexually aroused me was lustful. That masturbation was lustful because, while doing it, I was focused on satisfying myself sexually. That thinking about different men I liked while masturbating, was lustful. That being sexually attracted to someone was lusting after them. That premarital sex was lust. That divorce and remarriage were lust. That watching pornography was lust. That extramarital sex was lust. That polygamy was lust. Sometimes, I even thought that marriages–perhaps all or most marriages–were built on lust.

I also came to believe that human beings are not really capable of love at all. I believed that God’s love is unconditional, all-inclusive and selfless, and as far as I was concerned I did not know any human beings who were capable of that kind of love. So I concluded that most of what we produce that we call “love” is really lust, and that when we marry, we are only trying to learn how to love and none of us achieve real love every moment of every day.

That was my pessimistic, somewhat-judgemental, perfectionistic, melancholy perception of lust versus love.

To be honest, I can’t say that I’ve actually broken away from this perception. I still tend to think that our attempts at love in this life are “filthy rags” in comparison to God’s amazing love. And I also tend to think that sin is so ingrained in us, that we wouldn’t necessarily recognise lust in the very thick of it.

Interestingly, over time, this perception has decreased my inclination to be critical of other people’s sexuality and increased my grace and acceptance of people’s sexuality. I judged myself the most harshly, and because I was taught that all sins were equal, I absolutely believed that my own sexual arousal watching a movie, was no better (or worse) than friends and family who had premarital sex, or decided to get a divorce, or looked at pornography etc.

When I was 17, a 20 year old male friend admitted to me that he masturbated after dates with his girlfriend and he asked me if I thought it was a sin. If memory serves, I said something along these lines: “I don’t know if it is a sin, but I do know that God loves you just as much when you masturbate as any other time, and if it is a sin, you are forgiven.”
I emphasised the love and forgiveness of God toward other people because it was what I longed for myself. I was a terribly guilt-ridden teenager and I am incredibly lucky that despite being taught that so many things were wrong, bad and evil, it was just as much emphasised to me that God is love and he loves us unconditionally all the time, no matter what we have done, are doing or will do. My brother Michael tells a similar story of being raised to believe that basically everything in life was sin, but that God’s love was somehow amazingly greater than sin.

Suffice it to say, God’s love is much more powerful than human lust. Regardless of whether we take the critical approach of believing that everything is lust, or the liberal approach that nothing is lust, we can rest assured that we are always loved and accepted by God, and therefore “There is now no condemnation,” or guilt, or shame around our sexuality, see Romans 8:1.

From this place of security within the love of God, I still want to explore what lust is and what I believe keeps us trapped in a cycle of lust, as well what we can do to start reversing that cycle.

I started a discussion on facebook recently asking: What is lust? One of the answers I liked was that lust is about getting and love is about giving. Another was that lust is wanting something that belongs to someone else. Other words that stood out to me were “lack,” “uncontrollable urge,” “never fulfilled,” “consumed by,” and “addiction.”
In the Bible there appears to be a link between lust and adultery.

Matthew 5:28 “Anyone who looks at a women lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

Proverbs 6:24-25 “Keeping you away from your neighbour’s wife, from the smooth talk of a wayward woman. Do not lust in your heart after her beauty or let her captivate you with her eyes.”

There were far more consequences after King David had sex with Bathsheba–a married woman–than there seem to have been regarding his other sexual partners, 2 Samuel 11-12. Yet David had more than 8 wives and many concubines as we see from 2 Samuel 3:2-5 & 5:13.

The Ten Commandments don’t actually list fornication as wrong, but include adultery twice in commandments 7 and 10!
Deuteronomy 5:18 “You shall not commit adultery.”
Deuteronomy 5:21 “You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife.”

I did a search on Bible Gateway and the amount of times that the word lust is connected with the word adultery is astounding. Most of the time it seems to be talking about Israel’s adultery against God in turning to other idols and gods and “lusting” after them.

Before you assume that I’m limiting lust to people who have extramarital sex, remember that Jesus talked about lust starting in the heart. I still believe that pretty much all people have experienced and do experience lust. I do not believe that lust is simply thinking about or acting on having sex with someone who is not your spouse. I think that lust is entwined in obsession. In fact what I gathered from my prayer and study about lust over the past couple of weeks, is that it seems to be connected to an obsessive desire to possess something that we feel we lack.

This may be as simple as an obsession with controlling other people’s sex lives because we are scared to really analyse our own sexuality. I have seen this within the church time and time again: misdirected lust twisted into the condemnation and judgement of other people’s sex lives.

Yes, I can be critical of the body of Christ / the church (which I am still part of), but just as Paul claims to be the worst sinner of all in 1 Timothy 1:15, I can admit that I am the biggest lust-bucket of all. In my twenties I had a 6 year obsession with the same man who never loved me, never claimed to love me, but whom I “thought” God had told me I was going to marry. In my limited observation, this is not uncommon amongst sexual abuse victims. My own experience tells me that the confusion caused by sexual abuse can easily lead survivors down a path of unhealthy obsession. I later came to conclude that my obsession with this man masked my obsession with sex and marriage.

Obsession turns sexual attraction into lust or love … or, in my opinion, usually both. I still believe that we confuse lust and love all the time, but I think that some lust and obsession is unhealthier than others–like my 6 year obsession with one man who didn’t reciprocate. I will go into much more detail about healing from sexual abuse and overcoming the type of obsession that stems from abuse in my book: “Grace for Sexual Shame: The Abused.”

But there is some lust-obsession in all of us and that is what this blog which is part of my book, “Grace for the Sexual Shame: The Obsessed,” is all about. I brought it up in my first two blogs: “Why is the church obsessed about sex,” and “Why I am obsessed about sex.” Now I wish to bring the discussion full circle and talk about how we can start to move from this state of lust-obsession to one of love.

Lust-obsession is fear based. When I was obsessed about the same man for 6 years I was afraid that I was never going to get married, that no one was ever going to love me and that I was never going to have sex. I was desperately clinging to the hope that I might just get what I want from this man, because I was terrified that my desires would not be fulfilled elsewhere.

When we become afraid that our needs and wants are not going to be met, we become obsessive and lustful. But, instead of being honest about it, human beings have a tendency to go into hiding. We go into hiding because we do not want to be judged for our perception of our needs and desires. We go into hiding because we are afraid of what people would think of us if they really knew our desires. We cover up our lust-obsession with secrets, lies, deception, dishonesty and facades. These are the enemies of love that feed our lust-obsession.

So then, the obvious solution, is honesty. Again, this ties in with the blogs I wrote 9 months ago. The only way we can even attempt to overcome our obsession with sex which is basically the same as lust is to talk about it. To be honest about where we are at. To admit the things we have done in the past. To admit what we fantasise about doing in the future. To be real, authentic and honest about our sexuality.

When an alcoholic goes to alcoholics anonymous, the first step is honesty: “Hi my name is such and such and I’m an alcoholic.” When we admit our secrets we start to break free from those secrets. I think this is why the Bible says:

James 5:16 “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”

Honesty is the enemy of lust, because when we start being honest about what we want, we stop being quite so afraid that we are not going to get it. We start to believe that we can actually have what we want. And sometimes, we come to realise that it’s not what we wanted at all, it is only a surface level desire. As we unload our honesty about what we think we want, we start getting to the heart of what we really want.

As cliché as it sounds, we all want to be loved. And that includes sexual love. I’m not saying that we are all going to resolve our lust by realising that we really just want to give and receive love, but I do believe this recognition is a healthy step. It is a step toward the love we want, need and actually have.

God is love, and by extension, so are we.

To be truly ourselves is to be loved, love and loving. When we see ourselves as trapped in an obsessive lust cycle, we are not being our- true and authentic -selves. We are living from a place of fear. Afraid we are not going to get the love that we need. Denying that we already are loved, love and loving.

If you feel that you are trapped in lust right now, please know that I am not judging you. Not only have I been in unhealthy lust places in the past, but I believe that I will always be tainted by lust until the day I die and God sets me completely and finally free from all sin.

For example, as a newly-wed I have wrestled over my decision to remain a virgin until I was married. When I am honest and authentic, I am unsure whether I feel like sex was worth waiting 32 years for with all the anxiety, fear and lust-obsession that I experienced prior to marriage. Sex became so much bigger in my mind than it actually is and during this first year of marriage sex has felt like a deflating balloon for me. But I don’t know whether having sex before marriage would have made life any better. It would just be a different story. A different experience. I would have learned other lessons instead of the ones I’m learning through my own choices and experiences.

Because I believe so much in honesty, my husband has had to listen to me deflate my sex balloon all year. We’ve talked about disappointed expectations and disillusionment etc. Being honest with my husband has only made our marriage deeper. When we let our thoughts out their power tends to evaporate over time.

The way I see it, there are two options. We can be honest about our lust-obsessions and/or we can act on our lust-obsessions. But both of these things will lead us back to the same conclusion eventually. And that conclusion is our eventual freedom or salvation from the lust that entangles, to being the love that we were created to be.
If you don’t believe me, check out what the Bible has to say about it:

Romans 1:26 “Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator–who is forever praised. Amen. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts …”

The result:
Romans 11:25-26 “Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in and in this manner all Israel will be saved.”
Romans 11:32 “For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all!”

Similarly:
1 Corinthians 5:1&5 “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you … a man is sleeping with his father’s wife … Hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh [lust], so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.”

Lust is destroyed and the person remains saved. So even when we give into lust, we will learn from our decisions, reap the consequences, and remain saved.

God will use any means to bring us back to the same conclusion: love. Love is the answer. Love is the way. The more we focus our attention on love, the more our lust-obsession will likely decrease. As we become who we truly are, we are less inclined to act according to our sinful nature–our lust-obsession–which is who we are not.

1 John 4:16-18 “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgement: In this world we are like Jesus [we are love]. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

Be honest about where you are at. Then focus your attention on love because that is who you truly are.

For an excellent and challenging book on honesty I recommend “Radical Honesty” by Brad Blanton http://www.amazon.com/Radical-Honesty-Transform-Telling-Truth/dp/0970693842

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