So this post is a result of recently watching half of the movie “Bridesmaids”, reading a powerful blog post “The Sexy Wife I Can’t Be”, and thinking about the parable of the man who hired laborers for his vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16). You don’t have to have seen the movie—I’ll explain the scene I’m thinking of—but reading that blog post and that parable might be helpful. In short, “The Sexy Wife I Can’t Be” is about a marriage conference at her church and how she, as a woman who has suffered sexual abuse, responds. The parable is the one where the owner of the vineyard hires workers at the start of the day and agrees on the standard day’s wages for them. Then he goes out several more times throughout the day to hire more people, and tells them that he will pay them whatever is right. When he pays everyone at the end of the day, he pays the ones who were hired last and who worked the shortest amount of time, first, and he pays them the standard day’s wages. When he gets to paying those who worked first and the entire day, they thought they were going to get more, but they get paid the standard day’s wages. They start to grumble, and the owner says, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius [a day’s wage]? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?”
Our expectations stem from what we believe that we are owed. What am I owed?
When it comes to sex, what am I owed? Our culture teaches that sex is about self-fulfillment. Culture’s expectation is that your partner must meet your needs. There is a scene in “Bridesmaids” where the main characters are on a plane to Las Vegas. Rita, a bawdy discontented wife, is talking with Becca, a soft spoken conservative wife, and is aghast at finding out that Becca’s only sexual experience has been with her husband. The scene is presented such that not knowing “what you want” is so foreign as to be comedic.
In contrast, the church teaches abstinence and emphasizes purity. And I agree with this approach to sexuality. But purity can be preached to the exclusion of grace. The message that sex is worth the wait can be hounded so as to produce a response of fear, shame, and hopelessness. A moment of weakness from which you can never recover. Or the choice was taken from you in an abuse that you had no power to stop. (Another good blog post is “The Day I Turned in My V-Card”.)
I’m guessing that both sides set up false expectations. They both place the focus on self and what the self can either get out of it or what the self must do. Culture’s expectation is that you are owed “the best” and it is your right to search until you find it. This unfortunately dooms you to forever searching. The church’s expectation, whether intended or not, is that if like in the parable you bear the heat of the day and remain sexually pure, it will be worth the wait and your efforts will be rewarded with fabulous married sex. This unfortunately sets up a culture of fear and shame, and a rude awakening that healthy sexuality—within marriage—will still take work.
The proper place for sex is inside the marriage covenant. Marriage is a picture of Christ and the Church—and is a great mystery (Ephesians 5:31-32). Do you know that God made about 350,000 species of beetles? And no snowflake is or will ever be copied? Think about how each of our finger prints of the current 7 billion living humans is different. That’s 70 billion different combinations of loops, whorls, and arches! If God is that into uniqueness and creativity, why do we think that we could have correct expectations or predictions about the consummation of the deepest human covenant? God is the giver of all good gifts. Gift cards and form letters aren’t good gifts! And that's what expectations are--generic gift cards and form letters. Good gifts keep the person receiving the gift in mind and they are unique to that person.
Don’t put expectations of any kind on people—but especially of sex. So if you're teaching, be mindful that there is probably diversity in your audience. On an individual level, don’t listen to culture’s demands that you explore and experiment to find the perfect partner who will always satisfy your desires. You don't know what they are! Trust your Creator to give you a good gift. Also, don’t take up the shame that if you didn’t wait until marriage for sex or if that choice was taken from you, what was worth the wait will never be. You can never go where Grace will not reach and heal you.
Part of a good gift is the mystery of it. The union between man and wife in marriage is a mystery and a gift. Your Father knows how to give good gifts. Trust Him.
Don’t pick up expectations. Put down the ones you have. I have to and have been putting down dread. What do you have to put down? Any married folk want to offer insight or maybe correct me? :o)