'Fifty Shades of Grey'

It all began with Fifty Shades of Grey.

I should explain.  As many of you have kindly noted and inquired about, I haven’t written a blog for a long time.  Quite honestly, I didn’t have anything to say.  My own health struggles left me barely able to work and crawl home to sleep.  The heartache of my adult children — who I am powerless to help and who I am more in love with than ever — reminded me of my mistakes and longings for them that can’t be put into words.  And then my parents began to face the excruciating realities of my 81 year-old dad’s diagnosis of Stage 4 Cancer.  I didn’t have anything to say, and I know now that the tender heart of the Father toward those who know they cannot help themselves has been whispering, “Sharon, why don’t you just listen.”  Slowly, almost as if emerging from hibernation, I tentatively and fearfully began to have something to say.

And it all began with Fifty Shades of Grey.

When this book first made headlines, I read a few portions, wondering what 100 million people, in 52 countries were attracted to.  I knew it was not good writing or even believable characters.  It didn’t take me long to realize, though, that reading this book would make me feel much like I do when I go through the drive-thru to pick up “food porn” from Taco Bell.

The movie catapulted this book into the headlines again with over 1 million viewers during the first weekend it was in theatres.  On February 7, I headed to Orlando to teach at one of my favorite places, Reformed Theological Seminary; and at the last minute I was invited to be a part of a radio show — Steve Brown, Etc. — talking about this phenomenon.  The program aired on February 13, 2015 (you can go to www.keylife.org/programs/steve-brown-etc to listen to the podcast).  I prepared for the program wondering two things — what are the shades of grey, and why are so many people openly or secretly interested in this story with a language of seduction that no one I know has ever heard or will ever use, like: “I’m a very wealthy man, Miss Steele, and I have expensive hobbies . . .,” to which she replies, “No man has ever affected me the way Christian Grey has, and I cannot fathom why.  Is it his looks?  His civility? Wealth? Power?” (and then she faints and awakens to find her “inner Goddess” who wants to surrender to this man completely, no matter what he asks).

Following the radio interview is a season in which I am teaching about Sex & Sexuality  in the Master’s of Counseling program at RTS, I am also scheduled to:

*speak to over 300 adolescents about What is the Big Deal about Sex?

*to co-lead a class about sex for engaged couples

*to speak to three separate groups of parents about how they can talk to their children about sex.

I have never felt more deeply that I do not have anything to say about this subject.  The Enemy of Truth taunted me: “What do you – a divorced woman – have to say about a subject that you have not had personal experience with in over 17 years!”  Because it’s all about sex, isn’t it?

Shades of Grey

I didn’t really want to show up for these events speechless, and so I took the safest route to confirm what all these shades of gray are about by doing a little research.

In 2014:

*78.9 billion porn videos where viewed, that’s 11 videos viewed by every person on Earth, 2.1 million visits per hour; 35,000 visits per minute; and 5.8 thousand visits per second.

*A 2014 study analyzed this book and reported that, not only is it written porn, but every interaction between the two characters in the book is emotionally abusive.

*The theme of this phenomenon is BDSM – a relationship of bondage, discipline, sadomasochism.  I was quickly gathering enough statistics to prove that 50 Shades isn’t gray.  It’s dark.

Maybe we should boycott it, start a petition, and let everyone know how offended we are.  And then I discovered this final statistic:

*Last year over 1 million people commented on porn websites and the most common word in the comments was Love.

Love?  As Tina Turner crooned, from personal experience: “What’s love got to do with it? What’s love, but a second-hand emotion.  What’s love got to do with?  Who can feel loved when their already broken?”

In the midst of all those awful statistics, I still didn’t feel like I had anything to say — even if it is about love, that would be painful, because love is a painful subject to most of us.  It’s our experiences with love that force us to grapple with inexplicable issues that make us ask, “Where is/was God?” Who is He, anyway?  What is He really about?”  I can’t explain what happened while immersed in statistics about sex, but I began to remember — heart and soul — that the answer, and the only thing I have to say is Jesus.  Fifty 50 Shades of Grey and Jesus?  Thank goodness.

Sex and Jesus?

Contrary to a culture that has told us that sex is just about biology, I know that sex is not about what we do.  It is about who we are.  Sexuality, in and of itself, is the basis by which we have been made in the Image of God – “male and female He created them”(Genesis 1:27).  As I have listened to stories just this past year from teenagers about having sexual intercourse, with their pants pulled down around their ankles, and their private parts hurting and bleeding; about predators who often look like pastors, family members, and strangers – who threaten and demand silence that eats away at their victims from the inside out until they feel like an empty shell; about men and women seduced by something more than their spouse; and about lonely men and women believing they are unworthy of love; I know what they’re looking for is not found in a silly book or movie.

How do I know?  I’m just like those over 100 million readers.  I have looked for love in all the wrong places and ended up feeling loverless, rejected, and unworthy.  In thinking about what to say about this cultural runaway train, I knew I might not have gotten on the “train” at the 50 Shades stop, but I’ve gotten on at others — looking for love in a bottle; in another flawed, lonely person; in performance and people-pleasing; and I know where the trains ends — in shame and self-hatred, in hiding and trying to prove myself, until hibernating makes more sense than anything else.

50 Shades of Grey is just another story that lies about ourselves; that perpetuates the most insidious of all lies — that we will never be loved like we really desire and so we should harden our hearts and consider that the best “lover” we will ever get is some version of a Hollywood movie.  Quite simply we do not believe that our “private parts” are connected to our hearts, and when we engage in sex functionally — even within a marriage — our hearts are fused to another’s heart, and then when that physical reality is over, a piece of our hearts is torn asunder.  Fuse and tear.  Fuse and tear.  It’s just quite possible that when we believe that all those dark shades of gray are the best we can imagine, we rape our hearts over and over until they are numb — hidden in scars, independent, and alone.

Paul, the Apostle, writes that when, ” . . . two become one flesh, it is a profound mystery that refers to Jesus and our oneness with Him” (Ephesians 5:32).  Jesus is truly the Ultimate Man — the spotless, unconditional Lover.  And all those statistics reveal that we do long for Him, don’t we?  We long for Him to touch us in our places of shame . . . and yet our hearts are too frightened to believe it’s true and surrender.

Somebody is Knocking at the Door

It didn’t really all begin for me with 50 Shades of Grey.  During my “hibernation,” there was seldom a day that I did not know Jesus was standing at the door of my heart and knocking.  Occasionally I peaked through a crack at the door and slammed it shut.  “Where is this Lover in the midst of divorce, addiction, failed relationships, cancer, and bone-chilling loneliness?”

He never stopped knocking and waiting.  I wanted Him to either leave me alone or barge through the closed door and take me out of a world with so many dark shades of gray.  But He is a Lover that won’t dominate me, won’t violate me . . . and won’t leave me.  He just kept knocking . . . for 1,500 days of hibernating behind a closed door He waited, knocked, and kindly reminded me that He would wait for me until the end of the world.  Whatever shade of gray my unbelief took, He continued to say, “Sharon, I’d like to be your Lover.  I want us to be one.  I hung on a tree, stripped naked, bleeding for the Love of you.  You are bone of my bones.  Flesh of my flesh.  I will never be unfaithful to you.  I will never leave or forsake you.  I will descend into Hell itself to bring you Home.”

His message was not new to me.  I have heard it before.  I have spoken about it.  But I got tired of truths that still left me feeling loverless, empty, and alone.  And then along came 50 Shades of Grey and all this talk about sex.  We may think those 100 million readers are at least getting a good story about adventure, power, and sex; and after all, God has not sent down lightening bolts from Heaven to destroy the movie theaters, burn up the bookstores, or even dismantle the Internet. The humility of Jesus is that He will write Himself into all our stories, romance us through this world and even our bodies, so that we can feel all that we’re without and will invite Him into our emptiness.

A Larger Story

Thinking about this story reminds me of something my pastor said in the best sermon on marriage I have ever heard, “The marriage covenant and the intimacy in that covenant takes two different, incomplete, sinful people and binds them together in nakedness, despite the shame, as a picture of Jesus and His union with us.”  He longs to enter us, implant the Seed of His Word, so that we might bear the fruit of love, patience, joy, gentleness, hope . . .  (Galatians 5:22,23).  However, humanly most of us would agree that, in theory, it is sheer and absolute insanity to join ourselves to another needy, sinful person.  Nonetheless, we can become desperately willing to consider or enter into porn love — to make up for the inevitable unmet needs we all experience in human relationships.

While the books and theatre tickets are selling by the millions, Jesus waits for us – with the scars of all of our sin, woundedness, and confusion still on His hands and feet – so that we might know heart and soul, that there is only one shade of grace and it is blood red.  With body broken, and blood shed He invites us into the communion of His strength and mercy simply because He is madly in love with us and He is bound and determined to show it.

If you’re like me, and you get lost sometimes in all those shades of gray, open the door of your heart just a little, and look at Him.  If 50 Shades of Grey made you long for More, look at Him.  If your “sex life” is filled with brokenness and darkness, look at Him who for the love of you submitted to the dark dominance of those who wanted to kill Him; who was stripped naked and experienced a level of sadomasochism that left Him, alone, mocked, and even sweating blood from every cell in His body; so that we could surrender our nakedness, self-hatred, and loneliness to Him.

The real issue here is not a book or a movie.  The real issue is that we were made for Love, by Love and when we get lost along the way, God will use our heartache, our silence, and our schemes to find love in all the wrong places, so that eventually all we have is Jesus.  If that makes you mad or sounds like a platitude, that’s ok.  If you loved this book and can’t wait to see the movie, that’s ok.  Somewhere in all those shades of gray, I feel confident that you will hear a still, small knocking at the door of your heart.  If you are deeply offended by this book, that’s ok.  Because once we go the Cross and we really see that it was our sin, woundedness, and confusion that nailed the Son of God to that tree where He bore hell for us; once we’ve really seen that, it’s hard to be offended with someone else; but when we see Him, we will have something to say or rather Someone to say.  Jesus.

“So Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Do you want to leave me also?’ They answered Him, “Lord, to whom else shall we go?  You alone have the Words of Life” (John 6:68).