God plants. Right in front of me, He puts in place things I need to see, consider, remember, pray about, learn from.
Within the past eighteen hours, He’s planted some seeds. I’m seeing two of them begin to grow. And I must say, I don’t like it much.
For a while now, I’ve been turning something over in my mind: What could my husband have done to intercept me on my path to sexual gate-keeping and refusing? I have a couple different perspectives on this. Sometimes, I can give a huge list of things that I wanted/needed/desired in my husband. I can point to moments—the moments that stand out in my memory, connected with a shift in my heart that I noticed at the time even though I didn’t understand it. At other times, I come up with absolutely nothing, sure in the knowledge that the gate-keeping and refusal are entirely on me and that my husband was almost irrelevant to my actions. Lately I’ve been thinking that the truth is probably somewhere in the middle—that while my husband did nothing intentionally to hurt me or disconnect from me, some moments were crossroads. He could have made different choices, used different words, embraced instead of spoken—just as I could have. This thinking is the soil in which God planted.
The First Seed
A sucker for anything Kindle and free, I downloaded Justin and Trisha Davis’s Beyond Ordinary: When a Good Marriage Just Isn’t Good Enough this weekend. Someone recommended the book because of the way the authors alternate and then fuse their voices throughout the book, making an interesting example of how to think about an issue or event through multiple lenses. As someone who likes to think about how to represent perspective in writing, I thought I’d take a look. Since the central struggle in their marriage seemed to be about an affair, I didn’t expect to get caught up in their story—but I did. For hours after my husband was asleep, I had to keep reading and find out what happened—not how it ended, but how the process of recovery unfolded. The book reminded me over and over that surface issues (an affair in their case, sexual refusal and gate-keeping in mine) are never the real problem in marriage. They are symptoms.
With seed #1 planted, I found myself wondering, again, what was at the root of my control over our sex life. One passage stood out for me. In Chapter 3, Trisha writes,
“I didn’t know it, but a piece of my heart grew as cold as the field I was standing on. I was resigned to the possibility that this new world was where I now lived. No longer would I allow my heart to love Justin intimately. Rather, I would hold him at arm’s length.”
Upon reading that, all the moments I’d been remembering—those moments when I knew my heart was shifting—came into my mind at once. And I knew that each of those moments had been a crossroads of resignation and a shutting off of a piece of my own heart.
Remembering those moments didn’t seem to be enough, though. I’d been remembering some of those moments for a couple decades. Thinking about how the real issue is never what is on the surface, I knew I needed to dig deeper. Then I managed to fall sound asleep.
The Second Seed
This morning, I woke up compelled to reread an online discussion from a few days ago about a woman who uses sexual gate-keeping as a means of power and control. And I found myself reacting: It isn’t about power. It’s about protection. I fired off a comment on that discussion, asking what this woman’s real fear was, what she was afraid of, what she was protecting herself against and why sexual gate-keeping provided a sense of this protection. As I was writing a response, I realized that my heart was racing and my breathing was rapid and shallow—kind of like I was having a mild panic attack. My response really made no sense in light of the other comments on that discussion. It certainly didn’t add anything to the discussion. But it was seed #2.
As I drove to work, I kept turning my response over in my mind. Why did I react so strongly? Why was I so sure that it was about protection and not power? Where did that come from in me? My own response troubled me. And I heard the words, “Dig deeper.” I said a prayer for help digging.
So I thought back. For each crossroads moment, what did I remember thinking or feeling at that time? For each feeling or thought, what moments from earlier in my life came to mind? As I drove, I dug, deeper and deeper.
Finding the Roots
As I dug deeper, I uncovered some things that I know I need to continue to sort out. What came to mind were moments and memories: feeling trapped, needing to escape, being told that my father’s friend didn’t mean anything by it, feeling unbelieved, being forgotten.
Help me, God. I don’t know what this is. And I heard, “I am here. I was there. It is okay.”
When I step outside my own memories and look at what I’ve written objectively, some of it looks like childhood sexual abuse. I heard God ask me if it matters if it was. I honestly don’t know. The childhood moments that were somehow precursors for my marriage crossroads moments were snippets of conversations and events. My father sometimes forgot to pick me up or take me home throughout my childhood, and I’ve known for a while that some of my issues with trust and being heard stem from this. The other memories? I don’t know what to make of them. I remember a man chasing me outside the house. I remember him tickling me. I remember clinging to my mother and being told that the man just didn’t know how to behave with children. I remember dreading his visits (only a handful of times throughout my childhood). I remember feeling relieved when he married.
What do I make of these memories? I suppose it is possible that something more than I actually remember happened. It also might be that I had always hated being tickled and I had been shy around adults I didn’t know well. It could be nothing much at all, or it could be a whole lot. I know that I didn’t like digging in and pulling these memories out. It isn’t that they’re horrible memories as much as that they bring to the surface old feelings that adult males controlled my life—and this was the root of it all.
I dug deeper, and now I know what I need to work through. The crossroads moments in our marriage were all times when it seemed that control over my life was being taken or that my experiences were not of value. Sexual gate-keeping and refusal weren’t about controlling my husband as much as they were about keeping a promise to my childhood self that I would never let a man take control of my life away from me, that I would never tolerate being forgotten or left behind.
Digging deeper is not fun, but the problems behind the problems in the marriage will lie in the soil until you dig them out.
I dug deeper, and I found it. And now, I can get to work.