Leslie Basham: Juli Slattery says all of us face some sort of sexual brokenness.
Juli Slattery: It’s crazy to think that I was a clinical psychologist, and I had sexual brokenness in my heart and marriage that I never even recognized! But as God began to show me a broader perspective of His design for sexuality, He invited me into healing that I didn’t even know that I needed!
Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Adorned, for April 3, 2019.
Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: If you’ve missed any of the last two days of conversation with Dr. Juli Slattery and Dannah Gresh, you’ll want to be sure and go to ReviveOurHearts.com and read through the transcript or listen to the audio—or both—because this has been some really important conversation. We’ve tried to lay a foundation for this whole subject of sexuality.
Juli, you’ve written a really important—and I think groundbreaking—book to add to the conversation. There’s a lot of conversation going on in the world today about sexuality, but not a whole lot (certainly not enough!) about seeing sexuality from God’s perspective.
You write about why it is a good gift and why it is a gift that, if abused or misused, is incredibly dangerous. So it’s the book Rethinking Sexuality: God’s Design and Why It Matters. We’re just touching on some of the themes that you’ve addressed in our conversation this week with Dannah Gresh at the table as well.
These are two of my favorite women, and women who spur me on to love and good deeds. We’ve walked with each other through some important and difficult parts of our own journeys. Juli, I remember a conversation with you years ago. We were at a conference, sitting in a hotel room just for hours! You were sharing a fresh work that God was doing in your own heart.
I left that conversation thinking, I want more of Jesus! I want to know Him better. I want to hunger for Him more. Both of you have had that impact in my life. Both of you have challenged me to think more deeply about what I believe on a lot issues . . . and why.
Both of you have helped me to be more fruitful here at Revive Our Hearts and in ministering through our ministry, but also just my personal life and in ministering to others. And both of you also, even though you probably don’t realize it, have spoken into my life in ways that are really helping in my young marriage to Robert.
Juli, you got to meet Robert last night. Tell our listeners what you think about Robert.
Juli: I did get to meet him. Oh, he’s such a gentleman! He has just such a sensitive spirit. I really loved meeting him!
Dannah Gresh: He has the “Juli stamp of approval!”
Juli: For sure, he does! He didn’t need it, but he has it.
Nancy: Well, he felt the same way about you. And, Dannah, he’s loved you for a long time. We’ve helped each other in our marriages. We’re all people on journey. We’re all people in process. I think sometimes when you listen to authors or speakers you think, Of course they can talk about that subject because they’ve got it all together. Their marriage is flawless!
I’ve watched both of you women minister out of brokenness, out of weakness. I’ve watched both of you use even past failure and current struggles to become part of your life message. I don’t think either of you could be ministering as deeply to women in the area of sexuality if you hadn’t been willing to grapple with and come into the light in relation to your own struggles.
Dannah, we’ve partnered in a lot of ministry together over the years. We’ve written together, we’ve spoken at events together.
Dannah: So fun . . . and so scary!
Nancy: We need the Lord! Right?
Dannah: We do! Always!
Nancy: We’re very excited about this new venture that we’re launching together, True Girl. It’s actually been going under a different title for many years.
Dannah: Fifteen years, yes.
Nancy: It’s a ministry God has really used, and it’s now going to be titled True Girl.
Dannah: It’s ministering to tween girls and bringing them closer to their mothers and—more importantly—bringing the mothers and their daughters closer to Christ!
Nancy: I love that! We’re excited about being able to join you in that mission. We have had True Woman for years, and we’re doing some ministry to teenage girls, but now pressing down deeper into the younger lives.
Dannah: Those little women, yes . . .
Nancy: So many of us, as older women, how we wish we could go back to when we were eight, nine, ten, eleven years of age and get a different construct, a different narrative . . .
Dannah: . . . a different foundation for truth. That’s what it’s about: building this foundation for truth. They may not understand everything we’re going to talk about on today’s program in terms of sexuality, but they’re building a foundation upon which they’re going to plant those things that they hear and then determining whether they’re true or not true.
Nancy: And speaking of truth, we’ve been talking about the foundation of God’s creation of sex—which, by the way, Scripture has a lot more to say about that than I think a lot of people realize. It’s something we ought to talk about. Jesus talked about it; the Scripture talks about it—Old and New Testaments.
But as I look around today, I think that two of the greatest challenges surrounding sexuality are convincing single Christians to abstain from sex prior to marriage and convincing married Christians to enjoy sex! Isn’t it interesting how the Enemy wants to make singles say, “Oh, you’ ve gotta have this, you’ve gotta have this!” They’re talking about it all the time.
Then once they’re married, it’s like, “Oh, you can’t talk about this,” and “You don’t want this.” He’s twisted and distorted the whole picture. And in both cases, he’s getting single and married believers—followers of Christ—to be confused and ashamed and feeling guilty.
Most of all, they’re not flourishing in the way God intended for them to flourish, and not being able to show to the world a picture of God’s covenant, redeeming love. And I think, Juli, this is what has really motivated you to take a deep dive and say, “We’ve got to address God’s thinking on these subjects.”
Juli: Yes, absolutely, Nancy! I think if you were to have asked me ten years ago why I may have thought that writing on sexuality was important, it was all about, “Well, I want to make marriages better. This is an important part of marriage.” And that’s true.
But I missed that bigger picture. It’s really only been within the last seven or eight years that God has unfolded that through His Word and through what I’ve seen in ministering (primarily to women) on sexual issues. That bigger picture that sexuality was created to be so much more than what we think of it.
We think of it as this physical exchange—something that maybe expresses love or expresses our identity or something that’s a moral construct (some things are good or bad sexually). But we don’t have the vision for why God created us as sexual people and why it so profoundly impacts who we are, based on our sexual experience and choices.
Dannah: Why did He create us as sexual, Dr. Juli? Why did He?
Juli: That’s the million dollar question! Well, I think some of it is in even taking a step back and saying, “Why does God create anything on earth? Why did God make trees, and why did He make water? Why did He create the earth the way He did?”
We’ve got to understand that that’s not random! God just didn’t take a paintbrush one day and say, “Oh, I think I’ll create this.” He had intention behind everything He created! And His ultimate intention is to reveal Himself to us through the physical world.
We see this all throughout Scripture, that the stars and the sky and the mountains, the wind, food, hunger, all these things are used as physical things that we understand, that can help us grasp spiritual things.
Dannah: “Even the rocks cry out!”
Juli: Yes. And so, if you start with that premise: “Okay, so why did God make us sexual people? Why did He make us male and female, why did He give us sexual organs, why do we have sexual desires that become awakened?”
I think because sexuality has led to so much pain for so many people, we can’t even think of the idea that God intentionally gave us sexual desire for a holy reason. As I dig into the Scripture, I believe that sexuality is important because it is a profound metaphor that’s a tangible way that teaches us about God’s covenant love!
Now, that right there is a big sentence to unpack! There’s a lot to unpack with it.
Dannah: Define “covenant love.”
Juli: That’s a good place to start. Covenant love is so different from what we normally think of as “love.” It’s not primarily based on a feeling, although it does have passion involved. It’s a love based on a promise—even in Scripture, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5). And so, our marriage vows reflect that: “Until death do us part.”
There’s a permanence; there’s a choice to it. “I’m moving toward you. I’m choosing to love you no matter what, based on a promise of My Word.” And so, that’s the most profound thing that God can communicate to us, is that He’s a God that pursues us with a covenant love! It’s not based on our beauty, not based on what we’ve done, but because He is love.
And so, marriage and sexuality are the things He chose to create in the physical world to help us understand the passion, the faithfulness . . .
Nancy: . . . the grace . . .
Juli: Exactly! That represents God’s covenant love to us.
Nancy: Yes. It infuses meaning and significance into the single who’s abstaining sexually—or not—before marriage. There’s significance there: “What does this say about the picture of God’s covenant love and what does single sexual desire say about how we were created?”
Well, we were created with longing for intimacy, with longing for oneness, and God has ordained how that is fulfilled within the covenant of marriage. And so, this whole thing which is very normalized among Christians, to be living together prior to marriage. There’s not a lot of sense about why that matters.
Nancy: What’s the problem with that? Is it just because it’s on somebody’s list of, “Don’t do that!” What does it say about the picture when singles are not dealing with those sexual desires in holy ways?
Juli: Yes, so even fleshing it out more with what you’re saying Nancy. First of all, recognizing that sexual desire is a thing that invites us into covenant relationship here on earth. If you have teenagers or young adults in your home (like I do), it’s a time of life where sexuality is awakened—even biologically.
And as a parent, you might think of that as a bad thing, because that leads to trouble, but it’s a very good thing! Because that’s the thing that causes a young man to put down the video game controller and a young woman to put down her books or whatever hobbies or vocations we’re pursuing, and to say, “I was not made to be alone! My body’s telling me I was not made to be alone!”
And for most of us, that will lead to a marriage covenant. But it’s sexual desire, it’s sexual attraction. It’s that longing to be with somebody.
Dannah: “My body is driving me towards intimacy.”
Juli: Yes! Towards covenant, though, towards a promise that now I have to walk out. And so that next step is that sexual intimacy is the celebration of that covenant promise. Timothy Keller calls it a “covenant renewal ceremony.” It’s almost like a sacrament.
Like in church, when we do certain physical things to remember spiritual truths, sexual intimacy between a husband and wife is God saying, “I want you to do something physical that’s very vulnerable, that’s very intimate—that is very passionate—to remember, to remind yourself, of the covenant promise you’ve made with your whole life!”
And so, sex within marriage takes on a new meaning, faithfulness in marriage takes on a new meaning. So this broader metaphor, this understanding of sexuality in the context of what God designed it to teach us, means that, “I want to fight for that in my life! I want God to redeem that in my life!”
Because, if not, it’s almost like He’s created this beautiful masterpiece and Satan has vandalized it. And maybe I’ve even participated in vandalizing it. I want God to redeem it! I want to see what it was originally meant to be—whether I’m single or married or divorced, no matter what your circumstances are.
Nancy: Dannah and Juli, you both talk with a lot of women. You have women write to you, come to you for counseling, send you emails and texts. I would just be curious, what is your experience about how Christian married women. . .where are they in relation to understanding and enjoying the gift of intimacy in marriage? Do they see this picture? Do they get this picture?
Dannah: “Enjoying,” yes, that’s the word that I’m passionate about women being discipled to understand better: “enjoying” this gift of marriage! Because I’m counseling woman all the time. I was overseas recently and a missionary said to me, “We’ve been on the mission field this many years (I think it was two decades). And, you know, there’s just not a lot of spark left in our love, but that’s okay, because we serve Jesus together.”
And I thought, It’s not okay! Because this is a picture of your love of Christ! Your covenant love with your husband is helping the world understand the covenant love of Christ.
Do we ever want to stop growing in passion for Christ? No! Then why would you want to stop growing in passion for your husband? This is a godly, godly woman. Have you, Juli, experienced women in leadership—women in ministry—women close to you that are not even aware that they’re a little bit sexually broken, because they’re not enjoying this gift inside of marriage?
Juli: Yeah! You’re asking me that question, looking at me, knowing that that’s part of my story, Dannah! Being not only a woman in ministry, in leadership, but being a clinical psychologist. You would think between the Bible and what I learned in school, that I should have all of this figured out. Well, I really didn’t!
I would say, again, up until maybe seven or eight years ago, I probably would have been that woman. You know, it was like, “We-e-ll, this isn’t great. I don’t really enjoy it, but that’s okay. I’m serving my husband, and I’m serving God.” It has taken me time to recognize that that’s not okay, because that has the fingerprints of Satan all over it.
Again, this is vandalizing a gift that God has given. Fighting for sexual wholeness is not just a psychological construct; it’s spiritual in saying, “I want the Lord to retake this ground!”
Dannah: Tell me: “Retake” what ground? How did that manifest in your marriage?
Nancy: I want to know, when you got married, did it surprise you? Because when people are single, that’s what they’re longing for, thinking, Then I can express this! You were a virgin when you got married, so what did you expect? Did you expect that physical intimacy would be wonderful? Did you have disappointment, unmet expectations?
Juli: Yes. I tell the story that people would always tell me is it would be like opening a gif.! And we opened the gift.
Nancy: And you had waited.
Juli: And I’m like, “Okay, like, where’s the gift receipt, because I want something else.”
Nancy: So that was a surprise to you.
Juli: It was!
Dannah: But did you do anything about it when that was your experience? Did you tell someone? Did you read a book? Did you talk to your doctor? “This just isn’t all the fun that I thought it was going to be.”
Juli: Yeah, a little bit. I wouldn’t say that I had somebody to share that with in detail, just not that kind of relationship, but I did talk to my doctor about it. Sex was physically painful. And it was that way for many, many, many years. I kept thinking it would get better. It didn’t.
And so, I think I just assumed, “Well, this is the way it is, and I’m glad it’s fun for my husband. A godly wife meets her husband’s needs,” and it really became about duty.
Nancy: And do you think, also, maybe one of the lies that women believe—or some women—about sexuality is, “This is for his pleasure. As a wife, I’m just responsible to give him pleasure.” But that’s not the full picture, is it?
Yeah, I believe that. I think that, at some level, I was sort of taught that in the church, because when sexuality was addressed in marriage, it was a lot about pleasing the husband.
Nancy: “This meets a need your husband has.”
Juli: Yes, I remember going to a Christian conference, and they had a women’s session on sexuality. The woman said something that really impacted me. At the time I thought it was positive. She said, “I want to be so attractive to my husband that he won’t look anywhere else!”
So as a young wife I took that on myself as, “I need to please my husband so much that he’s not attracted to other people or looking at pornography!” That was well-spirited, but wrong thinking!
Dannah: It was a lot of undue responsibility placed on your newly-married heart.
Juli: Not only that, but it was all about that! Like, you look at Song of Solomon, and you recognize that the wife in Song of Solomon is thinking about sex, enjoying sex, planning sex.
Dannah: Yes. She says, “Let him kiss me . . .” (Song 1:2). What? Yes!
Juli: Uh-huh. She’s initiating; she plans a rendezvous in a vineyard.
Nancy: And he finds pleasure in knowing that she is receiving pleasure, that this is part of what matters to her husband, is that she enjoys this, too.
Juli: And then you read in 1 Corinthians 7, which is often used as that wifely-duty passage—that the wife has a duty to her husband to fulfill him sexually. But before Paul mentions a wifely duty, he talks about a husbandly duty, that it’s the husband’s duty to please his wife sexually. And I think men have a much bigger task, when you unpack that!
Dannah: Oh, yes! Isn’t it in the Old Testament that men were supposed to take a year off of their duties to learn to please their wife!?
Juli: I think it takes more than a year, but that was a good head start! So, what happened in my marriage is—and I think this is true of many Christian marriages—the sexual relationship begins to revolve around the husband, because he can articulate his need.
Women are so much more complicated. We don’t even know what we want! So there’s a call for men to study their wives, to invite their wives into love, to invite their wives into sexual pleasure. And I had never heard that from a Christian perspective!
Nancy: And your husband didn’t have a biblical background. He didn’t come to know the Lord until he was a young adult, so he didn’t have that frame of reference coming into marriage.
Juli: Neither of us did. We read books on the topic. We tried to learn, but we never really got that message: First of all, to pursue passion in marriage is a God-honoring thing. It’s not optional! It’s reclaiming—it’s proclaiming—the Creator of intimacy and sexuality.
And second of all, the complexity of that journey: Where are the tools to work through the issues we were facing and the issues that many other marriages are facing? We just assume, “Hey! You guys are married, you’re Christians, you’re having fun. Go for it!” We’re not recognizing that most Christian couples have some profound boundaries related to sexual intimacy.
Dannah: Most! Yeah, I would say that I didn’t come into our marriage bed a virgin, sadly. I had sexual pain on my heart, and there were barriers in my marriage that were results of my sexual pain in my past. But I just kind of thought, Oh, I have to live with them. They’re my fault, this is my consequence. I didn’t know there could be freedom and healing!
Did you get to a place where you were like, “I want freedom and healing!” Or did it just magically happen? Tell us the hopeful part of your story!
Nancy: . . . in a minute!
Juli: Do I only have a minute?!
Nancy: We can pick it up tomorrow, but get us started on just how the turning point came.
Juli: Yes, I would say there were a couple turning points, but, yes, absolutely. One huge turning point for me was recognizing that as frustrated, as angry, as disgusted as I was at how Satan was perverting sexuality in the world, God started to show me that reclaiming sexuality was going to start in my own heart, in my own bedroom.
Juli: And that’s how revival always starts, so that was a big piece of it.
Nancy: And you were willing to say, “Yes, Lord!” to invite Him into that compartment of your life and to say, “It’s not going to be a compartment anymore! It’s going to be a part of my discipleship, part of my growth, my sanctification, my relationship with Him.”
I know that in that season, you loved God’s Word. You loved praying and reading your Bible. But there came a point when the Lord, by His Spirit, convicted your heart: “The way you love Me is by loving your husband well, and that includes your sexual relationship.”
Juli: Yes, I remember distinctly one time being just with the Lord in the evening, studying my Bible, pouring out my heart to God saying, “I want to serve you, God! I want to love You! How do I love you more?” And at the time we had three little boys, and sex was . . .
Nancy: . . . low on the list.
Juli: And God just was really, in my spirit, prompting me, “If you want to love me, go up and initiate sexually with your husband.” And me just having a battle with the Lord: “Why would You want me to do that!? Isn’t reading the Bible more important?”
But God began to convict me—and He’s done this many times—that for me, in my heart, that was an area of life that I gave myself permission to be selfish and guarded in. If I really meant it, that I wanted to love the Lord with everything, that was a tangible way of surrendering something to Him that I never thought to surrender before.
Nancy: Wow! I know there are a lot of people listening right now who are saying, “Juli just told my story!” Or they’re saying, “Dannah just told my story!” And I hope the message you’re getting is that you don’t have to stay there! There is redemption; there is wholeness, and your life can not only be whole—your life, your marriage, or your singleness.
Your life can be a picture of the gospel story, and it can be an instrument of grace and redemption in the lives of others. A really good book to help you get started on that journey is the one, Juli, you’ve just written called Rethinking Sexuality: God’s Design and Why It Matters.
I want to encourage you to get a copy of that book. We would be glad to send it to you as our way of saying “thank you” when you make a donation of any amount this week to Revive Our Hearts. Call us at 1–800–569–5959. Let us know that you’d like to send a gift to Revive Our Hearts. Ask us to send you Juli’s book on sexuality. Or you can visit us online and make your gift there: ReviveOurHearts.com.
Our prayer is that God is going to use even this conversation this week and this tool that Juli has written, Rethinking Sexuality, to send a revival, a renewal, a restoration to many, many hearts—maybe starting with yours.
We pray that He will use each of us as instruments to help reclaim other lives who desperately need God’s grace in this area of their lives!
Leslie: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth was joined on today’s program by Dannah Gresh and Dr. Juli Slattery. They’ve been helping us rethink the way we view sexuality. You can listen to previous programs in this series by going to ReviveOurHearts.com.
Do you ever get a sense that God is trying to take away all of your fun? Dannah Gresh and Juli Slattery say God’s boundaries for sexual pleasure aren’t designed to take away joy. Instead, His boundaries exist to help us experience genuine pleasure. We’ll talk about it tomorrow.
Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.
Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth cares about your marriage. It’s an outreach of Life Action Ministries.
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