Keeping a Healthy View of Romance in a Sensually-Saturated World
By THE SET APART GIRL TEAM
A Note From Leslie Ludy:
Romance novels, chick-flicks, sensual magazines, and more — everywhere we look there are land mines of relational compromise awaiting us. As Christians, it’s easy to turn to the “tamer” versions of these things to fulfill our desire to fantasize about our own personal fairy tale and imagine the charming prince of our childhood dreams coming to sweep us off our feet. But whether married, single, or in a serious relationship, God asks us to keep a guarded mind and not allow the culture’s sensuality to taint our perspective on purity, honor, and Christ-centered romance. In this encouraging article, several set apart young women share practical ways God has taught them to keep a guarded mind in the midst of our romantically and sensually charged culture. I pray these words will strengthen and encourage you! Remember, cultural trends may come and go, but God’s tried-and-true ways are always perfect!
A Married Perspective
Heather Cofer says:
In my senior year of high school I was lent the first of a Christian book series by some friends. From the first page it was extremely captivating … especially the romantic aspect. The Lord had been previously convicting me of my intake of anything that would “awaken love before its time,” (Song 2:7), particularly books. And I knew, even though I desperately wanted to finish the book, the Lord was asking me to put it aside. So, feeling a bit sheepish, I returned it and explained to my friends why I couldn’t borrow the others. Looking back, I can see that it wasn’t just for the sake of maintaining purity of mind and heart when I wasn’t yet married, but also to set a precedent for guarding my mind and heart in marriage.
It could be easy to give in to the mindset that once you’re married, it’s not as big of a deal to read romance novels or watch movies that have explicit content because, well, you’re married. But this isn’t the case. God created romance to be a reflection of His love, purity, and holiness, and it is to be exclusive between a husband and wife — the exclusivity that portrays Christ’s love for His Bride, the Church. If I, as a wife, am not guarded in what I watch and read, it can open me up to many areas of compromise, especially if these are not from a Christian perspective. Here are two examples:
If I am reading or watching an idealized or non-Christian version of romance, and see an area of my marriage that doesn’t “live up” to it, then it could be very easy for discontentment to take root. I may begin to criticize my husband for ways he is not displaying these things, which can lead to wishing things were different, and possibly even to seeking romantic fulfillment in the wrong places. This is not to say that reading love stories, watching godly relationships, or admiring virtuous romance is wrong. But we must be very careful that we are not allowing anything to cause discontentment with the unique gift God has given us in marriage.
God is very clear in His Word that marriage is to be held in honor (see Hebrews 13:4), and part of that is keeping intimate moments just between a husband and wife. Even if it’s “just fiction” I have to ask myself if I am in any way invading that sacred space that a husband and wife are only supposed to share with one another. Intimacy within marriage is beautiful and precious, and it is our responsibility to both protect our own marriages in this way, as well as others. Just as I want others to be honoring to my marriage, so I must be helping to uphold and honor the way God intends romance and marriage to be treated.
Contrary to what some may think, choosing to not engage in certain romantic books or movies does not make romance more dull — it makes it more beautiful! It is simply a deliberate choice to protect it and keep it sacred in the context in which God created it to be fully enjoyed.
Jess Schwartz says:
“You should really read this book!” a friend told me one day, “It’s a love story, but there really isn’t anything inappropriate in it.”
She was right, for a non-Christian book there was nothing to shake your head about … or was there? I realized a few things in the weeks after reading the story. Even though there wasn’t anything graphically “bad” in the story, neither was there anything productively good. It didn’t cause me to love Christ more, didn’t encourage me to serve those around me in a more selfless fashion, and it didn’t lead me to find greater satisfaction in the singleness God had given me during that season. To put it bluntly, it was a distraction. While reading the story, I found myself willingly sucked into the realm of daydreaming. It was easy to imagine myself in the same situation as the heroine and to pine away for my own charming gentleman to sweep me away for a romantic horseback ride. Even worse, it became far too easy to ponder if the guy friends I had would ever be “that sort of fellow.” Gah! I think you can see the danger here!
Proverbs 4:23 provides some good words on this topic, “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.” After recognizing how easy it was for me to dive headlong into la-la land, I decided that from that point forward I would be much more guarded in what I allowed my mind to ingest via movies and books. I realized that it was dangerous territory to be so quickly letting something have influence in my life that tempted me towards fruitless (if not outright sinful) daydreaming.
All this took place a number of years ago, but now that I’m engaged (and will be married when this issue is released!) I’ve come to realize that the need to be guarded in this area still applies, perhaps even more than before! In light of this, I’ve realized that “keeping my heart” requires more than just cutting things out. It is also necessary to put the right things in. We’ve probably all heard the popular illustration, “all right, don’t think about a pink elephant for the next 30 seconds.” As soon as “pink elephant” is mentioned, an image pops into our minds of, you guessed it, a large pink creature with big floppy ears, a trunk, and an elephant-shaped body. This serves as a reminder to me that if I simply try to not think about something, it won’t work. Instead I need to be actively thinking about something else. Philippians 4:8 tells us clearly what we are to be filling our minds with:
“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.”
Wow, what a power-packed list! I love the grand vision this passage casts on what we are to be filling our minds with. Can you imagine the outward-focused actions that will flow out of such a mindset? Rather than filling our minds with the romantic wishful thinking that causes the daydream world to seem more appealing than the real one, let’s actually live a life that reflects that our thoughts are focused entirely on what is truly noble, pure, and virtuous! As you do so, you will find a fresh sparkle in the life Christ has given you today — whether that be single, engaged, or married.
A Single Perspective
Sarah Guthrie says:
This is a topic that makes many a single girl squirm in her seat! I don’t know about you, but as a woman in my mid-to-late twenties, racy romance novels or movies that glorify blatantly immoral values have never been a temptation. Rather, it was “off-white” entertainment like period dramas reminiscent of Jane Austen — but tinged ever-so-slightly with sin. Hallmark-esque films were innocent (and corny!) enough — but laced with sufficient pull to get my eyes off Christ and onto the things of this world.
The times I have defaulted to the world’s version of love via almost-innocent content (such as movies or books) tempted me to wallow in singleness rather than be enraptured with my Savior.
The after-effects of an hour worth of “mindless” entertainment can create discontentment with the season that is so clearly God’s current will for my life. This leads to disillusionment with the Father of every good gift who knows the desires of my heart, and doubting His steadfast promises. Sisters, something so small as a cleaned-up chick flick still has the ability to mar our vision of the One who is fairer than ten thousand!
The Song of Solomon warns us of, “The little foxes that spoil the vines…” (Song 2:15), and it is oh-so-true! I would encourage you to prayerfully evaluate your media intake to see if there’s anything spoiling your walk with Christ. Is the slightest distraction keeping you from the simplicity of devotion to Christ alone? (See 1 Corinthians 7:34-35 and 2 Corinthians 11:3.) These “little foxes” cannot coexist with a passionate, undivided, focused relationship with Jesus Christ. May we press deeper into Him to find the satisfaction our romantic sensibilities are longing for!
A Married Perspective
Jasmin Howell says:
When I graduated from high school, my church’s youth pastor and his wife had some of the youth group graduates to their house for a night of fun, games, and treats. Later in the evening they put on a well-known romantic comedy — and though it was harmless enough, I remember my youth pastor’s wife pointing to the TV and sighing while she said, “Oh look, isn’t (famous actor’s name) soooo gorgeous!” Her husband laughed along, and in the next scene said, “And there’s (famous actress’ name). What a hottie!” They laughed together as if this was something that they regularly discussed in their marriage — but I was horrified! How could this be good for their marriage? I imagined my future husband expressing his attraction for another woman, and it grieved me. I would be mortified.
It might seem to go without saying, but protecting your heart once you get married is just as important — if not more so — than before you are married! Once you marry that amazing man you’ve been praying for — and life together gains a certain rhythm — it can be easy to become complacent. Watching romantic shows and movies, or diving into the romantic novels (yes, even of the Christian variety) can bring a certain discontent into a marriage and can be a means of escape, especially for women. And this can be particularly enticing if you are in the midst of a challenging season with a spouse, experiencing a difference of opinion, struggling with family dynamics, etc.
Nobody — man or woman — wants to be compared to another individual, either in looks, romantic quotient, or any other quality! But nothing sets the stage for this kind of comparison more than romantic movies, books, etc. I have heard married people say, “I wish my husband would be as romantic as (movie character’s name). He never thinks to do things like (insert idealized romantic gesture)! I wish he was more romantic!” You can see how damaging this could be to a marriage, when suddenly your flesh-and-blood husband is the object of comparison to a fictional character in the fictional world of an idealized romance! These types of thoughts plant seeds of discontentment that, unchecked, can grow into weeds large enough to choke the life (not to mention the romance) out of a marriage. Even following a friend on Instagram or Facebook can breed discontent when you see that a friend’s husband has done such-and-such amazing things for his wife! This can also apply to a friend who is in a dating relationship or engaged. Do not give in to the temptation to grow discontent or covet what is not yours!
To covet means to “lust, desire after,” etc. But because lust is so often an issue attributed to guys — Christian girls can be under the notion that lust is a problem only men will struggle with. Lust is just as common to women as to men, and even a romantic ideal can become an object of lust for a woman, something that she secretly covets. God’s Word says, “You shall not covet … anything…” — this commandment from Exodus 20:17 (emphasis added) is not gender specific. It simply says “you” — referring to men or women. So yes ladies, we must guard our hearts from coveting, desiring, or lusting after any romantic ideal, whether single, dating, engaged, or married. At whatever stage of our lives, we must be on guard toward the kinds of thoughts that often come along with indulging in seemingly innocent romantic shows and books.
A Single Perspective
Mandy Saeler says:
In the warm summer months, when the sun has set and the day is done, I love opening my windows to welcome the late night air inside. As the refreshing nighttime breeze wafts in, I hear the rhythmic sound of trains rolling through town just a block away, the swishing sound of the occasional car passing by on Main Street, and the charming clip-clop of horse-drawn carriages strolling along.
Despite the charming notions of what I’ve just described, I had a realization one night. The sounds that were reminiscent of horse-drawn carriages — actually turned out to be teenagers skateboarding down the sidewalks in the late night hours. To my amusement, I had sorely misinterpreted the clip-clopping sound outside! But from the humorous crumbling of that midsummer night’s dream of horse-drawn carriages, I want to draw a parallel for you…
Especially in the areas of love and romance, many girls and women have been swooned by the world’s renditions as depicted in sweep-me-away novels, romantic comedy flicks and TV series, and racy ads and magazines.
The world expertly paints whimsical romances from the mild sweetness of white picket fences, to the dangerous and twisted erotica that has slimed the silver screens. Being encircled by these messages built by the culture (even if we are guarded in what we partake of), it can be very easy to begin having romanticized, Hollywood-ized ideals in our real relationships without even realizing it. Adopting these ideals will lead us into dangerous discontentment, impatience, impurity, and more. When we build our hopes and dreams on fictitious, worldly ideals — we will be lead to the heartbreaking discovery that the sound outside our window is not Mr. Handsome riding up in his horse-drawn carriage to take us away — but a brood of teenagers on skateboards. That’s the parallel — the world’s ways simply cannot yield heaven’s results — try as they may! They never have, and they never will.
As women who have given our lives to Jesus Christ, we must bear a stance against the worldly mentalities so prevalent in our day, and instead, be purposeful to build a healthy and godly view of love and romance. Something that has greatly shaped my perspective towards love and romance has been witnessing both unfolding love stories and marriages of the believers around me. Godly love and romance is a truly beautiful thing! And as I’ve seen new love bud, and blossomed love hold fast — I am continually reminded of the blessing and beauty of embracing God’s ways over the world’s, and am given a life-giving and godly vision for the future! If we will be faithful to keep our eyes on Christ and hold our perspective to His standard of purity and truth — we will know the loving lead of our heavenly Father and the beautiful gift that He intended love and romance to be.
If you’re looking to gain a vision for God-honoring romance in book form, Marriage to a Difficult Man: The Uncommon Union of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards by Elizabeth Dodds details Jonathan and Sarah’s marriage and ministry. Elisabeth Elliot’s book Let Me Be a Woman paints a clear picture of what it looks like to be a godly woman and wife, and Passion and Purity and Quest for Love are additional Elisabeth Elliot titles that can help shape your perspective towards love and romance in a healthy way. Beloved Bride chronicles wholesome, Christ-focused letters from Stonewall Jackson to his wife when he was out on the battlefield. Eric and Leslie Ludy’s novel-style book of their unfolding love story, When Dreams Come True, as well as their principle-based book, When God Writes Your Love Story, are also helpful in shaping a godly perspective in this area!