In the wake of yet another scandal we are discovering that all the ways that the Internet allows us to connect are also baffling, cunning, and insidious ways to disconnect. A website that “guarantees” you an affair if you can pay the price, leaves most of shaking our heads at who would think of such a thing, much less who would do something so outrageously wrong.  I may not have ever clicked on Ashley Madison, but when an email shows up in my inbox that says, “Someone has done a background check on you. You won’t believe what they have found!” – I’ve been tempted to pay the $1.95 to make sure my own scandals stay hidden. It seems instead of keeping us connected, the Internet has exposed us and the idols of our hearts that have far more to do with staying disconnected than risking the messy pain of real relationships.

Kale Salad

A few weeks ago I learned about another ingenious connection that can be downloaded in an App called Venmo.  Venmo is a free digital wallet that allows you to pay and request money from your friends. This Internet connection can allow me to go to lunch with a friend and she can pay since I seldom have cash (or credit), and I can then transfer my half of the bill from my Venmo account to her Venmo account. The really cool thing is that this is a social media app – that means it’s about connection, right? Once I sign up for Venmo, all of my friends who have this app show up as well. Just like the ancient, seldom-used by anyone but me, check, Venmo has a memo line that can allow all of us who are connected to see who we share lunch with or who we split the cost of a cab with, the restaurant where we split the bill, and even what we order from the menu. So when I see my friend’s husband paid another man for “kale salad,” I feel connected because I am privy to his dining habits. Only that’s not what “kale salad” means in Venmo language. It is a code alerting me that my friend just purchased some fine petchule (a word that I know because I live in Colorado where it is legal to buy marijuana and for friends to split the cost of a gram, quarter, or ounce.) Oh my! It sounds harmless – a fun way for adults to have a private laugh about their secret connections made possible by Venmo. 

The fun came to an abrupt end for my friend who learned that her husband had a Venmo account and not only documented purchasing “kale salad” but dutifully filled in the memo line with the secret code words for purchasing sex from a man who also enjoyed “kale salad.” As my friend’s world crashed before her eyes while viewing this social media app and she saw all of the connections that her husband had made, she didn’t just feel disconnected. She felt destroyed. I don’t think I’ll download this free digital wallet. But I have searched the Internet in days gone by looking for ways to purchase prescription drugs because I didn’t have time to see a doctor and didn’t want to be accountable for my habit of killing desire for honest, vulnerable, and intimate connections with dishonest, criminal, heart-numbing substances.


I can imagine my mother reading this right now and wondering, as she often has, “Sharon, why do you have to air all your dirty laundry?” It would be easier to be outraged by a Christian man who paid for a guaranteed affair or a guilty husband who medicated his intimacy disorder with “kale salad.” In fact, one response to the Ashley Madison scandal blamed Christian families who protect their daughters from the Internet and exhort them to kiss dating goodbye as they become “suitable helpers” to serve their husbands and stand by their man. This worthy author’s final sentence in her remarks about the scandal of the day went viral. She said, “Teach your daughters to breathe fire.” That sounded good to me. I “tagged” my own fire-breathing daughter who I so admire for speaking the truth – sometimes fiercely – with the fumes filling the room. I don’t disagree with this sentiment. I believe we should teach young women to use their voices, to stand up against injustice, and to never, never remain silent about relational violence. But I have discovered that breathing fire isn’t that hard. I can breathe fire about Internet darkness as quickly as I can spit flames at the driver who cuts me off in traffic. I have always loved the movie scenes when the mistreated woman finally stands up and breathes fire.

There’s an old television show that most people don’t remember or have never heard of because it was on before they were born. It was popular before there was Facebook or Snapchat or Venmo. The leading actor was a fire-breathing woman. The show I’m referring to is Designing Women and the show’s character, Julia Sugarbaker, had fiery dialogue in every episode. In one of my favorites she said: “In general it has been the men who have done the raping and the robbing and the killing and the war-mongering for the last 2,000 years. It has been the men who have done the pillaging and beheading and subjugating of whole races into slavery. It has been the men who have done the lawmaking and the moneymaking and most of the mischief-making! So if the world isn’t quite what you had in mind, you have only [the men] to blame!” Sometimes I wonder what Julia would have had to say about Ashley Madison, but every time I play that television clip when I speak at women’s retreats, the applause is deafening. Breathing fire sounds good! It feels good! And I don’t think that’s what we really need to teach our daughters. We come into this world knowing how to set others on fire. Even if we don’t do it with fiery speeches, most women I know can cross their arms – protecting themselves from the world – and simply say the favorite Christian woman’s “F” word – “Fine.” Translation: you may embarrass me or push me to do something I don’t want to do, but you won’t get to my heart.

That’s what all these connections that create distance, disconnection, and disaster have taught us. Close your heart tightly. Let the fire rage in your heart – which is the most damaging place for it to be sparked. And if you really want to throw caution to the wind, breathe fire against all that would betray you, humiliate you, and break you. C. S. Lewis describes the ruins of the fire-breathing heart: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one . . . . Lock it up safe in the casket of your own [fire breathing] . . . in that safe, dark, motionless, airless casket, it will not be broken. It will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”


That’s what we need to teach our daughters and our sons and ourselves. To be vulnerable, even when it feels like there are snipers on every rooftop just waiting to shoot you down, reject you again, break another promise, and forget your birthday. You see God foresaw all these disconnections that would come with cyber-connections and in His very first story about us He said, “It is not good for you to be alone.” He told single Adam, “I will make a suitable helper for you.” Before you start breathing fire about the woman being the helper to serve the man, take a sip of water and hear what God was really saying. The word “helper” in Hebrew is “ezer” – a word that is only used to refer to that match God made for Adam, and it is also used 21 times to refer to God, who in the midst of heart shattering times, promises to be our helper. And how does He help us? He could have and still could descend from heaven, clothed in the garments of a warrior (another definition for “ezer”) and shut down Ashley Madison, expose every kale salad eating impostor, conquer every sex addict, alcoholic, adulterous sinner, and reign as King from a throne of power and control.

But He became vulnerable. The warrior helper wore the shame of the man killing his desire for love by paying for an affair. This helper paid the debt for the woman searching for drugs on the Internet to numb her heart. Every bone in His body was broken so that He could heal our brokenness. He shed tears of blood to wash away our weary waywardness. He became the humiliated King. Why? Because His longing to be connected to me is so great that He faced the fires of hell to be a friend, lover, and savior of a woman who has looked for connection in all the wrong places. He breathes mercy, grace, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

Oh God, teach us to breathe love.

“Post this at all the intersections, dear friends: Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear. God’s righteousness doesn’t grow from human anger. So throw all spoiled virtue and cancerous evil in the garbage. In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation garden of your life.” James 1:19-21 The Message