Isn’t it odd when you meet a person, but don’t really get to know them till after they move away? Well, that’s the case with Abbie and me. We both went through the same grad program, but our paths did not often cross before Abbie finished her degree and moved away. Fast forward to last year, when I began to write. Around the same time, Abbie had her book “Celibate Sex” published, which follows her ponderings on singleness, God, and sexuality. I ended up winning a copy of the book and we began chatting. As one who was exploring her own journey of singleness and beginning to write about her experiences, Abbie’s book was such a gift. She brings both depth of knowledge and personal experience to the table, as she explores what it means to be “loved, single, twisted, and holy.”
She has been such a huge support for me as I step into writing and it is such a huge honor to have her writing for the blog.
And on top of writing today’s piece, she also has graciously donated a copy of her book “Celibate Sex” to give away. See the end of the piece for details on how to enter for a chance at winning this book.
“I have a question for you. I don’t really know you and I was wondering if it would be okay with you if I told you what happened? Would it be weird if I just emailed you the thing I don’t want to tell anyone?”
Since the release of a book last year called “Celibate Sex,” I’ve received a number of such sentences.
Every time I’ve been humbled to be invited into this sacred part of someone’s story. And every time “the thing” has involved shame surrounding one’s sexuality or a sexual memory.
The fabric on the couch was crinkled when I first shared my dirty little secret. Shame had hidden it for me since I was six. I was shaking and nauseous and felt like there was a good chance the counselor would kick me out of his office to the tone of, “You’re a disgusting pervert!” Surely I was a sex addict, I thought, or something deeply removed from a normal human being.
My cousin and I kissed and touched each other in the tent in the first room after you went up the tattered carpet staircase. The wall paneling was brown and the room smelled of moth balls. It was quiet and I could hear my breath and pounding heart, loud, like when you go underwater. He lifted my t-shirt and touched my chest. It tickled and felt good. The whole scene was like playing house, and haphazardly finding ourselves in a locked room we weren’t supposed to be in. I wanted to stay and explore. Later that summer at a family reunion I wondered if we could explore again. I remember the bizarre feeling of power as a little girl, able to entice a little boy, to something beyond me, but also very much a part of me. I liked the funny feeling of electricity in my body. And gentle sensation of my lips touching another’s. That same reunion weekend, perched under a bed while playing hide-and-seek, my uncle came into the room to undress. Petrified of being caught, I stayed silent. All I saw were his bare calves and khaki pants hitting the talkative hard-wood floor, but the experience paralyzed me. A word was never spoken about any of this, not to my cousin, or my uncle, or my trustworthy diary that had a lock on it. It was all too risky for anyone to know.
Two decades later, I told a counselor with trepidation. He listened tenderly, normalizing what I shared as a healthy part of maturation. It would be more weird, he explained, for a child not to have similar sorts of sexual memories, or fantasies, or curiosities. But sadly, they typically get buried deep in the sheets of shame for one reason or another.
What I’ve come to learn in the years since is that sexuality is a significant, God-given part of our human make-up. Explorations of what it means to be male, and to be female, both made in the image of God, is a healthy part of growing-up, and growing into our complex temples (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). As is learning that we are sexual beings from the womb, not just when pimples and pubic hairs start freakishly popping-out, or our first sensation of arousal hits.
I’m eight months pregnant writing this and remember reading my little one’s online update at nine weeks: “Your babies external sex organs have arrived”…then at thirteen: “If you’re having a girl, she now has more than two million eggs in her ovaries.” People, are you reading what I’m reading? TWO MILLION! “What’s wrong with me to produce such a horny little newborn?” Essentially I was shocked to remember afresh that sexuality starts at the beginning, unbeknownst to us and thoughtfully known to God. But the shadow of shame positions itself to rarely be far behind.
In the beginning “the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:25, ESV). Seven sentences later, shame seduced the scene. “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths” (Genesis 3:7, ESV).
shame : a feeling of guilt, regret, or sadness that you have because you know you have done something wrong; ability to feel guilt, regret, or embarrassment; dishonor or disgrace (Merriam-Webster dictionary)
Shame can wreak palpable havoc on every cell of our bodies. In Christ though, and His oneness with the Father and Holy Spirit, we are always invited to a gospel of better news – Good News. In Christ, we are always shown an alternative way out.
Jesus, the Savior we proclaim, was a human being and thus a sexual being, stewarding a sexuality throughout his toddler, child, adolescent and adult years, just like us. One of his friends explained our invitation like this: “Little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming” (1 John 2:28, ESV). Maybe a modern read of that would sounded something like: “Now, children, stay with Christ. Live deeply in Christ. Then we’ll be ready for him when he appears, ready to receive him with open arms, with no cause for red-faced guilt or lame excuses when he arrives” (1 John 2:28, MSG).
Sometimes I practice letting God look at me. On days when I feel pretty and skinny and steady and patient and secure, this practice is like being a little girl, twirling around my living room to the sparkle of my daddies adoring gaze. But most days I don’t like it. Most days I’m embarrassed for Him to look into my eyes. Or see the naked body I cursed while getting dressed this morning. Most days I’m afraid He might see my soul.
Shame tells me a lullaby of not having to. He tells me to stay the less vulnerable way, that showing my soul will only breed hurt. He says he’ll help me find places to hide, and even hide me when I’m too worn myself.
I’ve tried these paths though, and they don’t work. They lead me into hiding for days and years and decades. They choke me enough to sustain life, but life as a lie, not life lived alive.
Part of humility and a healthy understanding of our humanity is knowing we have weaknesses and we have strengths; we have bruised parts of our pasts and we have memorable ones. No part defines us though and all parts contribute to our glorious whole. Your humanity, and in this conversation, your sexuality, are part of you and part of the story Christ is writing and revealing and redeeming over your days.
Shame’s promise to keep you hidden will likely come true, but it will also rob the liberating freedom awaiting you in Christ.
Your story will be different than mine. And mind you, what I’ve shared here is but one snippet of one memory of one summer in my life. There have been many more, and I daresay will continue to be many more. Healing happens in steps, not one colossal marathon. Maybe your story will relate more to feeling obsessively sexual, or obsessively curious about sexual things. Or maybe you battle shame for not feeling sexual. Maybe you’re carrying a memory of sexual abuse, or pornography, or rape, or masturbation, or relations with your same gender. Regardless, you have permission to let go.
Nothing can outdo or undue the Cross. Jesus’ brother encourages us to, “confess our sins to one another and pray for one another, that we may be healed” (James 5:16, ESV). What feels dark to you is not dark to your Maker, and before a word is on your tongue, He knows it (Psalm 139:12, 4). So let this God who sees you (Genesis 16:7-16), and who knows you more than you know yourself, gaze with healing affection upon your wounds.
Don’t run from it, dear one; enter it. Dispel its shame and step toward freedom. Tell someone safe that thing you don’t want to tell anyone.
Abbie is the author of “Celibate Sex: Musings on Being Loved, Single, Twisted, and Holy”. She lives in inner-city Savannah, Georgia and as for today, likes flannel, tea and the color gray. For more on Abbie, visit her facebook page or blog.
Want to win a free copy of Abbie’s book? Share this post on your Facebook by March 31, using the hashtag #expandwhm, and a winner will be picked at random. Winner will be notified via Facebook messaging.