Sex Culture, Christians, and a Call for a New Conversation

THE WRONG CONVERSATION
Recent discussions sparked by John Crist’s public confession have led me into a strange land, one where I spend a lot of time thinking about the generational differences of sexual behavior, beliefs, and norms. What I’m realizing, now more than ever, is that the western evangelical Church (the Christian subculture I am a part of) is woefully ignorant about what is actually happening in the sexual culture of today’s teens and young adults. This is especially apparent when sexual sin and misconduct within the Church become the topic of public debate.

Photo by Alejandra Quiroz on Unsplash

After the story of John Crist broke, many prominent Christian voices asked, not for the first time, how we can best address and care for those who “fall” into temptation, commit “sexual sin,” and experience “moral failure.” Usually, by the time the Church starts to engage in a conversation publicly, individual churches are already engaging in similar conversations. Individual churches are talking about sexual temptation, sin, and moral failure – from the pulpit, in our small groups, at youth group. There’s no shortage of books, studies, or sermons on sex, sexual sin, and how to avoid it. Our problem isn’t that we’re not having the conversation – our problem is that we’re having the wrong conversation.

Most people who are familiar with the sexual culture of today were not surprised by John Crist’s confession, his behavior, or the behavior of the women who willingly engaged in sexual activity with him. (For the purposes of this post, I am only referring to Crist’s confessed behavior and not the allegations made against him.) Crist’s behavior is well within the norm of sexual behavior today. He is not unique, unusual, or an outlier among single Christian men. His actions are, sadly, typical. And that is why the Church’s conversation about sexual sin and moral failures misses the mark: it assumes a collective moral standard, namely that sexual activity (intercourse, oral sex, sexting, etc.) outside of marriage is wrong, is a sin in the eyes of God. But what if there is no collective moral standard?

If that’s the case, and I humbly suggest it is, then we need to stop, back up, and begin a new conversation. A conversation about what we really believe about sex. Not just what we say we believe but what we actually do, how we act, how we live, how we treat ourselves and other people with our bodies, minds, hearts, and souls.

This post is just my small way of opening up that new conversation. Of bringing to light what hides in the shadows. I know this post is ridiculously long but only because there is a TON of information, provided not only by me but by unnamed collaborators who also believe it’s important for you to read this. You may think you can’t afford to spend time reading it, but we think you can’t afford not to.

An Unlikely Divide
I think it’s safe to assume that most church leadership is over the age of 35, consisting largely of Baby Boomers and to a lesser degree, GenXers like me (there are simply fewer Xers in the world). Admittedly, we’re not exactly poster children for sexual restraint. Boomers led the free-love sexual revolution, and Xers carried on the practice, albeit minus the free-love ideology. At first glance, one might think that makes Boomers and Xers less likely to experience a wide ideological gap between them and the next generations. However, in some ways, I think it has blinded them.

Personally, I viewed my pre-Jesus self and my generation as widely accepting of sexual activity outside of marriage. The generations that came after us, Millennials and iGens (or GenZ), didn’t seem all that different. As a result, I assumed that I understood, at least on a basic level, the sexual landscape of younger generations. I was wrong.

Entering the Christian subculture as a young adult blinded me in other ways. For example, when I became a believer, I came to understand that sex outside of marriage was wrong. Not just because someone said so, but because I experienced its emotional and spiritual consequences. I was, as we say in Christian circles, convicted. Therefore, I assumed that most other people must experience these same consequences, and if they just took a moment to examine themselves, they would ultimately experience the same conviction. Again, I was wrong.


GENERATIONAL DIFFERENCES
So what’s so different about this generation of teens and young adults? I mean sex is sex, right? Ummm sure…but sex culture changes. And wow, how things have changed. Over the years, I have had the privilege of getting to know some of these teens and young adults. What a gift they are! And how honored I am that they have given me a glimpse of what it’s like inside their universe, including the sexual atmosphere of their generation. In turn, I’ve shared with them about the sexual behaviors, beliefs, and norms of my generation. It has been more than an education – it has been a re-education – for all of us.

Look, for some of you, this next section may be a little uncomfortable, shocking, even painful. The truth hurts sometimes. But it’s necessary. However unlikely the sexual culture generation gap may be, it’s real. And it’s significant. And until we understand the differences, we, the Church, can’t have an honest or effective conversation about the issues of sex and morality.

A few notes before you continue:
1. My “Back in My Day” personal experiences and observations below are that of a white, female teenager from a non-religious, non-traditional, non-affluent family, growing up in a predominantly white, affluent, New England suburb in the late 80’s and early 90’s.
2. Those of younger generations from whom I’ve learned are mostly, but not exclusively, Christian females growing up in families of varying socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds in New England.
3. I can only address the differences between Christian and non-religious sex culture (if and when such differences exist) when commenting on current culture; this is because I was not familiar with the Christian subculture as a teen or young adult. 
4. What follows is explicit because it has to be. Proceed at your own risk. 

{ 1 } The Bases
I start with The Bases because this is often a teen/tween’s first introduction to the sexual norms and expectations of their day. They are a crude and immature measurement of sexual behavior, because they are created by and for immature individuals. 

Back in My Day:

  • 1st Kissing
  • 2nd Male touching a female’s breasts
  • 3rd Male touching a female’s vaginal area
  • Home/4th Sexual intercourse
  • Of note:
    • Oral sex, anal sex, and females touching males were not included in The Bases. They were not exactly anomalies, but they were not the norm.
    • Language surrounding The Bases was primarily about how far males advanced with females. One commonly asked males, “How far did you get with her?” and one commonly asked females, “How far did you let him go with you?”
    • Heterosexual sex was considered the cultural norm and the bases reflected this.

Today:

  • 1st Kissing and any above the belt touching by/of either person
  • 2nd One person touching the genitals of the other person
  • 3rd Oral sex performed by/for either person
  • Home/4th Sexual intercourse
  • Grand Slam/5th Anal Sex
  • Of note:
    • Oral sex is on The Bases and expected before sexual intercourse.
    • Anal sex makes a bonus appearance. Perhaps not quite a norm but more normalized than generations prior.
    • Both males and females touching each other are included and assumed in The Bases.
    • Sexual relations can include a variety of gender combinations.

{ 2 } Oral Sex

Back in My Day:

  • As seen above, oral sex was far enough outside the norm that it was not even on The Bases.
  • My peers and I did not talk openly about oral sex often. It seemed there was still something a bit taboo about it.
  • Personally, I believed that oral sex was far more intimate than intercourse. When I told someone of today’s generation that, while I was sexually active before marriage, I had never performed oral sex on any of those partners, they were jaw-drop stunned.

Today:

  • Unquestionably considered the norm
  • Males expect oral sex very early in a relationship. So much so that males (Christian and non-Christian) are known to ask for oral sex moments after a first kiss. Imagine a man, on a first date, after some kissing, unzipping his pants and pointing to his penis while looking at his date with expectant demand. This is the real world.
  • Within Christian teen culture, oral sex is viewed as the way to have sex without “losing your virginity.”

{ 3 } Photos and Videos of a Sexual Nature, Sexting

Back in My Day:

  • Any personal photos or videos of a sexual nature were considered borderline pornography. (Pornography was not widely accepted nor easily available.)
  • People who participated in sexual or nude photos/videos could face ostracization by their peers, and painful, demeaning labels.
  • Of note:
    • At that time, photos and videos were much more difficult to obtain. One had to take a photo on a camera with film; bring the film to a developer (ensuring that at least one person would see the photos); then pay for and pick up the photos when they were completed.
    • Personal video cameras were rare.
    • Videos and photos existed in hardcopy and, if lying around, could be found by anyone.

Today:

  • Sexting, digital photos and videos of a sexual nature sent to others via text and phone apps, are the norm. These photos and videos can range from flirty to suggestive to nudes to recorded masturbation.
  • Photographing and recording sexual activity between two or more people is also more common.
  • It is not uncommon for individuals to send nude photos of themselves to one another before ever meeting in person.
  • Of note:
    • Sexting, short for “sex texting”, is a direct result of advances in handheld digital technology such as the camera phone.
    • The social lives of most tweens and teens today are inextricably linked to handheld digital technology. So it makes sense that all of their social interests, including their sexual interests, would find expression in digital technology.
    • One young individual points to a “culture of secrecy” that has developed around sexting, which may help fuel its prevalence. Secret messaging apps, photo hiding apps, and apps like Snapchat with disappearing messages, allow teens to not only avoid getting caught by attentive parents, but also to experience the thrill of “getting away” with something.
    • While some parents are ignorant of what their children may be doing on their phones, many are not. However, even the most conscientious parent will have a difficult time keeping up with the technological savvy of today’s teen. For this reason, more restrictions are rarely successful in curbing such behavior. Various sources agree that open communication about sexting is the key to parents even having an opportunity to address these issues with their children.

{ 4 } Online Dating and Hook-Up Apps

Back in My Day:

  • We had no internet.
  • Personal ads for relationships existed but they cost money and were inconvenient; few people used them.

Today:

  • A plethora of apps range from things like Christian Mingle to Tinder.
  • Hook-up apps are used to find a sexual partner, often for just one encounter.
  • Before agreeing to meet in person, people often exchange nude photos to determine whether or not they want to have sex with that person. (Apparently on hook-up apps penis size really does matter – too big or too small can both be deal breakers.)
  • Of note:
    • One night stands via online dating and hook-up apps are not just for the younger generations. This practice is seeping into older generations. I was recently told about a divorced middle-aged man looking for a new, long-term relationship who was shocked by how many women his age were only interested in one night stands.

{ 5 } Sex, Love & Exclusivity

Back in My Day:

  • While sex outside of marriage was morally acceptable, sex was still considered a big deal.
  • Sexual intercourse, even outside of marriage, was expected to take place within a loving relationship.
  • Teachers and other adults warned us about the emotional consequences of sexual intercourse, and urged us to only have sex within a mutually loving relationship.
  • Exclusivity – only engaging in sexual activity with one partner over a period of mutually agreed upon time – was expected. People who did not honor exclusivity often faced negative social consequences from their peers such as anger, rejection, demeaning labels, etc.

Today:

  • The prevailing cultural message is that sex is not a big deal.
  • Sex has, in many ways, been reduced to a simple exchange of services.
  • One does not have to be “in love” or even in a romantic relationship with another person to engage in sexual activity with them.
  • Exclusivity is not expected. People may have multiple sexual partners in one day, or at one party, without facing negative social consequences from their peers.
  • Of note
    • While sex is, in theory, reduced to an exchange of services, many individuals still experience emotional consequences when engaging in sexual activity with others.
    • Individuals of the Christian subculture appear to be more likely to save sex for a loving relationship and to expect exclusivity, even if they aren’t waiting for marriage.

{ 6 } Virginity, and When to Lose It

Back in My Day:

  • Expectations: While people were generally not expected to remain virgins until they were married, when and how one lost one’s virginity mattered.
  • In practice: Most of my peers did not wait until marriage to lose their virginity.
  • A female losing her virginity was significant. She often wanted to wait for the “right person” which usually implied being “in love” with that person.
  • When a female lost her virginity, especially if she lost it earlier than many of her peers, her peers would consider it news and spread said news among their social circles.
  • Males were expected to lose their virginity as teens and when they did, it was often seen by their peers as an accomplishment. Conversely, if a male remained a virgin longer than most of his peers, he could be labled as weak, unmanly, defective, or gay.

Today:

  • Expectations:
    • Secular culture: people are not expected to remain virgins until marriage.
    • Christian subculture: individuals are taught that sex outside of marriage is a sin, and not part of God’s best plan for humanity, because it has signficiant physical, emotional, social, and spiritual consequences.
  • In Practice:
    • In both secular and Christian culture, the majority of people do not wait until marriage to have sex.
  • Many individuals now see losing their virginity in terms of “I just want to get it over with”, and it is spoken about very cavalierly both before and after. Some individuals schedule their first act of sexual intercourse with a friend or acquaintance as if it were as simple as meeting for a cup of coffee.
  • Though they do not always, Christians who have sex before marriage seem more inclined to wait for the “right person”, someone they love, and/or the person they want to eventually marry.
  • Of note:
    • A variety of surveys and polls have confirmed that there is very little difference between the sexual practices of Christians and non-Christians today.
    • One can’t ignore the fact that men and women are getting married later and later in life. In 1960 the median age at first marriage was 23 for men and 20 for women; but by 2018 the median age at first marriage had increased to 30 for men and 28 for women! Those who are saving sex for marriage are waiting a long time.

{ 7 } Reputations

Back in My Day:

  • The number of sexual partners one had mattered. The more partners you had the more your reputation diminished. Women were generally expected to have fewer than men. (Where all my math people at?)
  • “Slut-shaming” was so common and accepted that the term “slut-shaming” did not even exist.
  • Females who had engaged in sexual activity early and/or with multiple partners were particularly vulnerable to being judged, picked on, ostracized, and labeled.
  • A teenage female I knew was institutionalized for having sex with, what was considered at the time, too many partners.
  • Males were rarely slut-shamed in the same way that women were.
  • However, males known to have many sexual partners outside of committed relationships, or who did not honor exclusivity when in a relationship, or who dumped females shortly after having sex, were often accused of “using women” and might be called a “male slut”, “man whore,” or “womanizer”.

Today:

  • The number of sexual partners one has does not have the same effect on a person’s reputation as it once did. This will differ in the Christian subculture; to what degree can depend on that person’s family and individual church.
  • “Slut-shaming” is no longer considered acceptable.
  • Of note:
    • This change is due not only to the normalization of sexual activity outside of marriage, but also to the growing awareness of and refusal to perpetuate gender bias in all areas, including sexuality. For example, why would a woman who has five partners be a slut and a man who has five partners be a stud? People today are pushing back against these stereotypes.
    • You can see the cultural shift in reputations related to sex if you watch old episodes of Friends where the characters ask one another how many partners they’ve each had. Rachel and Monica, both in their mid-twenties, each only report a handful of partners. They are reluctant to share and express their fear of being judged or shamed. Compare that to shows today in which even prostitution by teens and young adults is being normalized as “sex work” when that money helps pay the bills.

{ 8 } Contraception

Back in My Day:

  • We had condoms, birth control and surgical abortion readily available.
  • The rise of AIDS factored significantly in our decisions about whether or not to use condoms.

Today:

  • In addition to condoms, birth control, and surgical abortion, young women today have access to chemical abortions (the abortion pill RU-486) and Plan B, often called the “morning after pill”, which can prevent pregnancy if taken shortly after sex.

MALE/FEMALE DIFFERENCES
There is just so much here to talk about, I honestly think I could devote an entire post to it, so I’ll just point out a couple things:

  • If nothing else, women appear to have more agency, and equality today. For example, Back in My Day, The Bases gave women little agency as they all measured when something was done to her. Today, The Bases more clearly indicate that she is an active participant who both acts and is acted upon. Additionally, there is less of a double-standard when it comes to sexual activity and one’s reputation.
  • The converse of this is that the pressure has increased for women to engage in sex with a partner before they are ready. Because more women are willing to have sex outside of marriage or meaningful relationships, men have more options and less incentive to wait for a woman who isn’t ready or is waiting for marriage.

DIFFERENCES IN CHRISTIAN CULTURE
Again, too much to cover so I’ll just point out a couple things:

  • Not so different after all:
    • The majority of unmarried evangelical Christians engage in premarital sex. As mentioned previously, study after study has shown very little difference between the sexual behavior of evangelical Christians and their non-religious peers.
    • Christians use dating and hook-up apps to arrange sexual encounters.
    • Christians, especially teens and young adults, sext. A lot. They sext their partners, peers, friends, and acquaintances.
  • Within their culture, Christian women are still more likely than non-religious women to face a double-standard when it comes to sex. For example:
    • Christian women who have sex young, outside of marriage, or with multiple partners, are more likely to face judgement by their peers than young Christian men who engage in the same behavior.
    • Young Christian women are also more likely to face pressure, judgement, and even punishment from Christian authority figures (parents, teachers, pastors) for “inappropriate behavior” (ranging from clothing choices to hand-holding to sex) than are young Christian men who engage in similar behavior.
    • At the same time, Christians who don’t engage in premarital sex are often viewed as odd or unusual by many of their peers. It is a no-win situation, especially for girls.
  • In recent years, many young adult Christians have shared how the evangelical Christian purity teachings of the late 20th and early 21st century (sometimes called the “sex prosperity gospel”) negatively impacted their view of sex, themselves, Christianity, and God. There were many things wrong with this teaching, which focused heavily on works and shame, running contrary to and often entirely missing the gospel of Jesus Christ. If you care about teens and young adults at all, I recommend you find out more about this.

WHY IT MATTERS FOR THE CHURCH
Well, if you’re still with me, I’m impressed. That was a lot of information. Even if you don’t read another word, I will feel that I’ve accomplished my main goal today – which is to inform people of the gap that exists between generations when it comes to sexuality.

For those of you who want to stick around, I just have a few more things to say about why this matters.

This is the New Norm
Like I said before, John Crist’s confession did not surprise me at all. I am (reluctantly) aware of (too many) young men who practice this same behavior – many of whom receive positions, awards, and honors for their Christian “leadership” and “integrity”.

As I read the original article by Charismanews.com, I noticed that several of the young women interviewed (and even the author) did not seem overly concerned about Crist’s choice to engage in sexual activity outside of marriage. Rather the emotional energy seemed focused on the fact that he was in relationships with multiple women at once. Indeed, it seemed that some of the women would have been fine with Crist engaging in sexual activity (sexting, sex, etc.) outside of marriage just so long as he was doing those things with them, and only them. (This was not true of all women interviewed, and again does not pertain to the allegations of sexual harassment.)

Most single Christian teens and young adults aren’t getting caught up in the moment and “going too far”. They aren’t battling their urges and giving into temptation once in a while. They are consistently engaging in sexual activity outside of marriage. It is the norm.

That said, this doesn’t mean all single Christians are participating in sexual activity outside of marriage. Some are waiting for marriage. Some are participating in certain kinds of sexual activities and abstaining from others. Some who previously engaged in sexual activity felt it was a mistake and are now practicing abstinence.

This also doesn’t mean that all sexually active single Christians believe sex outside of marriage is morally acceptable or without consequence. Some believe it’s wrong but have a difficult time waiting. Some wonder if biblical teachings about sex are still relevant today. Some think it’s ok to have sex with a person they love or intend to marry. Some don’t know what to think.

So even though we acknowledge that sexual activity outside of marriage may be typical for single teens and young adults, we don’t want to assume we can predict the behavior of every teen, young adult, or single Christian. And we don’t want to assume that people who engage in sexual activity outside of marriage have no concern for the morality or consequences of sex. It’s likely that they are thinking about it. They do care. But they are also trying to navigate a highly sexualized culture at a time in life when their brains and bodies are screaming for sex. It’s tough to think straight when your brain is sloshing around in a soup of testosterone.

I guess the bottom line is that issues surrounding sex and healthy sexuality are extremely complex.

The Church is Having the Wrong Conversation
And yet, the Church’s response to Crist’s confession has been overly simplistic, focusing on “moral failings”, “warnings for leaders”, and “sexual addiction” (which may be a valid issue but doesn’t excuse bad behavior). As mentioned previously, the problem is that most of these articles, and many of the conversations we’re having in our local churches, assume a collective moral standard that sexual activity (sexting, oral sex, intercourse) outside of marriage is a sin. Yet, if the majority of single Christians do not adhere to this moral standard, if they aren’t convinced that sexual activity outside of marriage is wrong, if sex outside of marriage has become the norm, then there is no “failure” to speak of and the entire conversation is built on sinking sand.

It’s time for a new conversation.

A New Conversation
So what does a new conversation look like? I think it looks like starting over. I think it looks like clearing all the cards off the table and taking a brutally honest look at our cultural landscape. I think it looks like asking questions. Listening to the answers. And giving everyone an equal voice.

Photo by Korney Violin on Unsplash

Maybe we could start with questions like: “When you were growing up, what were you taught about modesty? Dating? Sex? How does that affect how you see yourself? How you see others? How you see God?”

I can’t be the only one who wants to know more about how decades of shame-inducing purity teaching has shaped generations. I mean seriously….Do you know that some girls have been told that once they have sex they’re like a dirty sock and no one wants a dirty sock? Or they’re a stick of gum and after sex it’s like they’ve been chewed up and spit out and no one wants used gum? Where’s the hope in that? Where’s the gospel in that? I don’t remember Jesus telling the adulterous woman that she was a dirty sock or chewed up gum.

I want to know our mistakes so we can learn from them. Are there things the Church is doing today that might be harmful? What can we do better? And, perhaps above all, are we fostering a gospel-centered culture? Even a gospel-centered sexual culture? Those are the conversations I want to have. Those are the conversations we need to have.


WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? 
I wish I could offer you more direction but I’m no expert and I’m new at this, too. My gifting is more in the realm of prophet which means I’m pretty good at “speaking truth” about a problem but not so fond of creating a five-point plan to address the problem. That said, I really don’t want to leave you feeling discouraged or frustrated. So with the help of some friends, I am offering a few ideas about how we can move this new conversation forward.

  1. Learn. Read a book or some articles about cultural trends in sexuality, the effects of purity teaching, the impact of digital media on relationships and mental health, and how these things are shaping lives. Here are just a few suggestions:
    1. Sexting the Night Away, youth and youth ministers respond to the prevalence of sexting among teens
    2. Sex and the iWorld, by Dale S. Kuehne
    3. Pure, by Linda Kay Klein
    4. Sex, Jesus, and the Conversations the Church Forgot, by Mo Isom
  2. Consider those in your life with whom you could have open, honest conversations about these issues. There is great value in talking with people who are different than you and who don’t necessarily agree with you. In these conversations, remember to listen well, build relationships, and be respectful of one another, even when you disagree.
  3. Whether you’re a leader, parent, volunteer, young adult, or teenager, think and pray about how you can encourage your church leadership to have more informed and honest dialogue about sexuality.
  4. I invite you to add your own ideas in the comments section. For those who would rather not respond publicly, I’ve created an online form where you can respond anonymously with your story, feedback, and ideas. I’d love to hear from you.

FINAL THOUGHTS
Well, it’s FINALLY time to wrap up this beast of a post, which is unlike anything I’ve ever written before. Thank you to my collaborators, editors, and readers for taking this wild ride with me.

I hope and pray that in some small way our time here together will help spark a new conversation. One that looks like more than just starting over and talking openly.

What else does it look like? I think it looks like judgment-free space and building trust, freedom to ask hard questions, and courage to give honest answers. I think it looks like disrupting false peace, like flipping tables in the marketplace of our own ideas, so in the face of reality we can know true peace. I think it looks like the gospel. I think it looks like drawing a line in the sand and refusing to throw the first stone, or the second, or any stone at all. I think it looks like remembering the Bible is a love story to redeem and not condemn. I think it looks like hope. I think it looks like Jesus.

© Nichole Q Perreault

All the King’s Horses

Grief does strange things to a person
I think it’s the sense of being untethered
Unmoored
Like you’ve lost your anchor

I don’t blame her
That woman from the Wild book
Who lost her mom and then lost herself
Left everything behind
And went a little crazy

Grief sets a person adrift
The scenery changes, boundary lines shift
Nothing looks the same
Nothing is the same
Including yourself

So much of who we are is defined
By our surroundings – people and places
They shift, we shift
They move, we move
Lose them and we are lost
At least for a little while

Continue reading

Yes, God Will Let You Down

The song starts off well-enough:

…let the King of my heart
Be the wind inside my sails
The anchor in the waves
Oh He is my song”

Photo by Hugo Kerr on Unsplash

The achingly beautiful melody sucks me in and I sing along. Until the chorus hits me. Like a brick.

“You’re never gonna let
Never gonna let me down”

Wait. What?

“You’re never gonna let
Never gonna let me down”

Excuse me…um…can we talk about this for a minute?

One night, while enduring said chorus from a church lobby, a young woman said to me, “What about all those people in there who feel like God has let them down?” I responded with something equivalent to, “Preach it, sister.”

Then, because it was, after all, a worship song, we had to suffer through about 5,763 more rounds of the chorus….which was long enough for me to compose most of this blog post in my head.

It starts off like this: The song is crap.

Continue reading

Shattered Illusions | Throwing Dishes at God, Part 2

Photo by Nichole Q Perreault

Read Throwing Dishes at God Part 1here. 

How long can one throw dishes at God?

Well, longer than you might think. Just ask Job. Or Peter. (FYI: This post is going to make a lot more sense if you read Part 1.) I guess the simplest answer would be: as long as it takes. Because He isn’t going anywhere.

To be honest, though, I didn’t know that at the time. Whenever I was in a full-blooded rage, I kept one eye on the sky for incoming bolts of lightning and the other on the earth lest it swallow this foul-mouthed, ungrateful child whole.

Yet, because of His great mercy and love, none of that happened.

He never swallowed me up or struck me down. He never shut me up or shut me down. Rather, He let me stay in the fight. And He stayed in the fight with me. The brokenness and depravity of the human heart does not and cannot shock God. He’s seen it all. And He loves us anyway.

Flickers of Light

Often times, during this season, opening my Bible felt like trying to lift Thor’s hammer. When I did muster the strength, the verses, once as refreshing as a cool drink of water, became like dry sand in my mouth. But by God’s grace, I would occasionally stumble on scriptures that glowed like a balefire of hope. Continue reading

Throwing Dishes at God | Part 1

Photo by N. Perreault | CC CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

Two years ago, on a misty morning beneath a wooden cross, God spoke to me. He said, “Don’t crucify me again, Nichole. Don’t remake me in the image of your pain.”

How thin the line, if there is one, between warning and prophecy.

At the time, I was in awe, and grateful for a God who knew my tendency would be to run, to divide myself from Him, to define His boundaries according to the edges of my agony.

I thought, What mercy! Thank you for reminding me that when I deny who you are, I harm myself. Surely, now, I will do no such thing!

I recalled the story where Jesus warned Peter, “Before the rooster crows, three times you will deny me.” Peter insisted, “I will never deny you!” and yet Peter denied Him indeed. How relieved I was that God had protected me from such a fate…that He had revealed the traps ahead and that I had responded with a humble heart. 

Are you laughing? I am. At least, when I’m not crying.

Continue reading

When Thanksgiving is More Than Sacrifice

When I wrote this post last November, I was deep in the throes of grief, mourning the loss of my youngest brother. Over the next year, I would find that, sometimes, God’s on a roll. It wasn’t enough for Him to shatter my physical family…He shattered my spiritual family, too.

This year, offering thanksgiving is more than a sacrifice. Offering thanksgiving terrifies me.  

You can’t know all He’s taken this past year because I can’t tell you. But know this…even a young, bright, blossoming tree may be, just under the surface, experiencing the ravages of an unwanted enemy…and if you could open up that tree and look inside, you would find a hollow, empty space that once was full of life and liquid sunshine.

He gives and takes away.

This summer, I was in a meeting where each person was asked to share something for which we were thankful. I figured that if I couldn’t thank God for the crap (Don’t like that word? Here are few alternatives. Feel free to mentally censor.) happening in our lives, I could at least thank Him for food, shelter and, well, air conditioning. So I did. Three days later, our air conditioner died. It’s like He was mocking me.

Thanksgiving doesn’t just hurt. Thanksgiving scares me.

He gives and takes away. And we are left to suffer.

Who is this God I worship? The One who asks for our gratitude and then snatches away the very things we thank Him for? The One who inflicts pain then wants to comfort us for the very pain He’s inflicted? That sounds like abuse, not love.

I can hear my pastor now: “No! God’s not abusive!” (Because he literally preached that last Sunday. I recommend a listen. Especially if reading about my experience is difficult for you or leaves you asking a lot of questions.)

Still I can’t help but ask: What happens when all around you God’s promises go unfulfilled?

We are not the only ones. I watch as friends and family cry out to Him for help, for intervention, for hope, and He is silent. I watch as they ask for bread, but He gives them a stone; as they ask for fish, but He sends the serpent.

Unfortunately, in these trials, even the most well-meaning people place the burden on the broken. “Do this. Say that. Pray more. Worry less. And you’ll see…God will work it out.”  We like that logic because, however subtle, that logic implies we have the power to fix the problem. And if we have the power to fix it, then we are in control. We so desperately want to be in control, that we fool ourselves into imagining God’s omnipotence is subject to our actions. 

I’ve had a lot of time to think about that this year. Now, when someone tells me “Do this. Say that. Pray more. Worry Less.” here’s how I respond:

Anytime God wants to show up, He can. We have prayed. We have begged and pleaded and wept and wailed. We have followed His systems. Trusted His people. Waited on Him to work. And everything He’s provided arrived tainted. Sure, He gave us bread…with stones baked into the dough. Yes, there were fish…stonefish laced with venom. We have asked. And He has answered as He has pleased. We’re waiting. Anytime He wants to restore what’s been plundered, He can. He’s God. It’s on Him.

He can mock me if He wants. Or He can bless me. He can withhold His promises. Or He can fulfill them. He can hand me a fish and watch as the poison leaches into my blood. Or He can bring us living water and food fit for a King. He’s God. He can do whatever He wants. And He will.

That is the black, breath-sucking, untethered truth: He gives and takes away. He is not tame. He is not safe. This is the God we struggle to face. All-powerful and unpredictable. He will not stay inside the lines. He answers to no one.

Last year, I could offer thanksgiving even though every blessing was tinged with pain. This year, I am simply too afraid.

I am no longer the “wounded, angry child” who climbs into her Father’s lap.

I am become the battered, fearful one who hides behind the couch, monitoring her Father’s every move. How can she trust the Father who helped others by causing harm to those she loves? No, she won’t hold out her hand for the gift of shiny gold because she fears the razor blades that lurk beneath the glittering paper.

Don’t judge her too harshly. She fought. A long time. Because she understands her heart…how quickly it slams shut when threatened. So with trembling arms and locked knees and feet slipping, she held back the massive door as it bore down on her. She battled longer than even she thought possible. But it’s a heavy door. And she is so very tired.

Before you blame her, or shame her, or think you know better, remember, He gives and He takes away. He is not tame. He is not safe. But they tell her He is good. And she is waiting.

© Nichole Q Perreault

In the Rubble of Broken Hearts

Photo by Frank L. Ludwig | CCC BY-ND 2.0Photo by Frank L. Ludwig | CCC BY-ND 2.0

Even writing hurts. This thing I sometimes love more than life…hurts.

I want to stop. To put it off. To wait until I can write about things that sparkle and bring light to your eyes. I want to wait until I can make you smile, make you laugh, make you remember why we’re even friends.

I don’t want to hurt. And I don’t want to be the girl who’s always hurting. And I don’t want to be the girl you roll your eyes at because she just. Won’t. Stop. Complaining.

I want God to give me shiny, happy words. Because I want to be shiny and happy.

But He’s called me to this: the right now…the ugly and real…the what-you-see-is-what-you-get.

And some days, I hate it. Today is one of those days…

In my last post, I referenced Isaiah 54:10:

“Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken, nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord who has compassion on you. (NIV)

That was just a few short weeks ago and even then, I couldn’t possibly imagine how much He’d be willing to shake, how much He’d be willing to remove.

My world’s a small world. And I have taken things like love and friendship and kindness and peace for granted.

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Part 2: I Hate God | An Ugly Truth

Photo by Unsplash | Public Domain CC0Photo by Unsplash | Public Domain CC0

I figured that some day I would write a follow-up to I Hate God | An Ugly Truth – you know, something to resolve the tension, whenever God revealed it to me. But, well, I’m beginning to think I may need more than one follow-up. Maybe a Part II and a Part III? So for now, here’s Part II:

Have you ever hated someone you love? Been so angry with them that you seethe with rage? No? Are you sure?

What about your spouse after a terrible fight? A boyfriend or girlfriend? A friend? No?

Well, what about your parents? Surely, there’s a time in your life that you can remember hating your parents. When you stormed into your bedroom, slammed the door, threw yourself face down onto your bed and screamed into the pillow, “I hate them! I hate them! I hate them!”

That’s what’s happening with God and me. I’m angry – albeit rip-roaring angry – like a child toward her parents.

It’s not that I don’t love Him. Though what is my love compared to His? Like a child, my love is a selfish love.

I love Him simply because He first loved me. First – as in once upon a time I was just an idea in His mind, a thought, a dream. I love Him because He is my Creator, because I need Him, because without Him I am nothing.

He is the artist that sketches and sculpts me. The One who’s coloring me in. I love. And I love Him. But it’s a pale, thin love. Like gold leaf, precious but weak.

So when I say I hate God, it’s not because I don’t love Him. And I don’t think it’s heresy either. It’s not false to confess that I hate God for what He’s allowed. It’s just the truth about my feelings. If anything, it’s an indictment against me, not God. An indictment against my frail, transparent, brittle love.

I take comfort in remembering that God is bigger – so much bigger – than my hatred. His love conquered the rebellion of the world on the cross. Surely, He can conquer me.

And that’s really what my hatred is about. It’s a war between the Lord and me. It’s the remnant of the most epic battle of all time: the battle between the Creator of the Universe and anything and anyone that opposes Him, the battle between good and evil. And every day, that battle rages in the universe, the world, between nations, between people, in my heart, my soul and in every single cell and atom of my body.

We are on the battlefield. And we are the battlefield.

My hatred for God may make you uncomfortable. Heck, it makes me uncomfortable. But war wounds a person. And some wounds fester. This place I’m in – of admitting to you and to me and to God that I hate Him – it’s the best thing I’ve done in years. Because I have finally opened a deadly, poisonous wound. Actually, I should say that I have finally let God open that wound, because He is the one who revealed the hatred. He is the one who exposed the condition of my heart. He’s known all along. I needed Him to show me.

And when I finally gave in to the fear and the denial and the rage, when I finally wailed and railed and beat my fists against His chest, He stood there. Steady. Unchanging. Unmovable. My hatred can’t move the unmovable Rock. My emotions, no matter how overwhelming, can’t shake the unshakable God.

Because He is Real. He is Reality itself.

And His love is Real. It isn’t pale or thin or fragile. His love, like Him, is solid, unshakable, unmovable.

If I want to enter into the Real, into the Reality that is His love, then I need to go through the painful process of letting God make me real. Like the Velveteen Rabbit, I’ve found myself worn and tattered and ugly and lacking. But I am becoming real. And someday, my love, like His, will be real too.

Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you. Isaiah 54:10

Read Part 3: I Hate God | An Ugly Truth

When (g)ods Say Nothing

My first ever “found” poem, written in response to Writing 201 | Poetry, Day 6: Faces, Found Poetry, Chiasmus. I “found” my poem on page 135 of ‘Til We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis, one of my favorite books. Judge for yourselves how well I met the requirements. I had fun doing this – though I think the design part of the process gave me an ocular migraine…seriously, though. Pic and text poem both below:

Photo © Nichole Q. Perreault

Photo © Nichole Q. Perreault

Say more than gods
When the moon’s full
The King himself sacrifices a man, the Word
Determined, He answered
What’s unsaid
In the valley, dark
When gods say nothing

© Nichole Q. Perreault

Crucify Me

Memories have been pecking away at me...creeping in, as real as yesterday. Not the good memories, but the bad – the foolish, humiliating memories, the devastating moments that I long to erase.

Without warning, they rush in like a tidal wave, mocking me, insulting me, threatening to dash me against the rocks, because there’s nowhere to run, no way to escape myself.

Suddenly, I hear my own sharp-edged voice:

I hate myself.

Sometimes it’s merely a thought. Other times, a whisper. Today, I spit the words out loud, just to make it stop. To halt the rising wave, to make the accusing voices Just. Shut. Up. To stop the harassment, the shame, the regret, the pain.

I hate myself. A truth that rises from the churning depths of me, like a bubble of air in thick molten lava…ugly, menacing, then empty…a hollow, shameful ache.

I hate myself. I hold fast to those three little words, with white knuckles and nails digging into flesh. 

I used to think it strange how others cut their flesh with razors or glass, but I…I cut with an invisible blade, carving, slicing, maiming this heart already thick with scars.

And I love the hating, the punishing.

Because if I can’t escape myself, I will hate myself. Consume myself. Destroy myself.

I will crucify myself.

I will take myself to the cross and begin the hammering, the nailing, the piercing. Dismissing His sacrifice and mercy, I try, in my own strength, to crush, to crucify, to bleed out my blood in payment for my failures and yet in this, too, I fail. This one arm is always free – and I can’t complete the job.

The crucified cannot be the crucifier.

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