Looking back on my journey of sexual transformation, I see things now that I couldn’t see in myself at the time. I changed behavior. I changed my words. I changed my attitude. I changed my heart. It sounds so dramatic when I put it that way. Sometimes, I think it sounds like it was a journey I began with a chosen destination—like I knew where I wanted to go, and I made the changes in order to get there.
I’m a very ordinary woman. There wasn’t one day when I made a dramatic change. I knew something needed to be different. I wasn’t always sure why, and I didn’t always know how. I just did a little bit, here and there, now and then, looking for opportunities in my day to use what I had to make a small difference. I was just a regular woman going about the business of living my life. I had no idea how any of these changes would turn out. I just took a stab at it to see what would happen.
Many times, I wanted to stop trying. It was hard. It was hard to force myself not to react when my husband approached me for sex. It was hard to let him see me naked. It was hard to force myself to follow through even when I didn’t want to. It was hard to relax when I worried about what messages my responses were sending. Many times, my husband would make a request or would touch me. I didn’t know what to do, so I just forced myself to not do whatever it was I usually did. I remember frequently thinking, I just need to screw up my courage and do this. And I would take a deep breath. I would do what was needed.
Why did I keep at it and find the courage for these moments? It was because I had come to believe it was the right thing to do. I didn’t like it. I felt like my husband was winning the war of sex between us. I felt like I was caving in. But somehow, after years of feeling the oppression and burden of knowing my husband was unhappy and realizing that I was as well, I had a sense that working on this sex thing was what I needed to do.
I was just a regular woman, trying to do what I thought I needed to do even when I didn’t know how or even why. Even now, as I continue this journey, I’m just a regular woman who’s trying to do better.
But perhaps I’m more, too.
The Courage of Jael
I love reading about women in the Bible. I always wonder about their thoughts and feelings–the things the Bible doesn’t tell us. One woman who captivates me is Jael. In Judges 4, we learn that Sisera, the commander of an army that had oppressed the Israelites, flees after his entire army has been killed. He seeks refuge in the tent of Jael. She invites him into her tent. She hides him. He asks for water; she gives him milk. He asks her to stand guard over him while he sleeps. Exhausted, he falls asleep. Jael takes a tent stake and hammer. (After all, women were the ones who set up the tents. these were just the tools of her ordinary life.) She places the stake against his head. Using the hammer, she drives the stake through his head and into the ground. He dies.
Modern judgment on Jael ranges from accusations of being a double-crosser and violator of a hospitality honor code to being praised as the only woman in the Bible besides Mary about whom it is said that she is “blessed among women.” I think about what it was like to be in her shoes.
I’ve often wondered at the conviction and courage it must’ve required to kill Sisera. If I were in danger, I think I might be able to kill a man—but I’m not sure. Jael was not in danger, as there was peace between her family and Sisera’s king. How did she know this man needed to be killed? What convicted her of the need to do this thing? How did she know to take the tools of her ordinary nomadic life and use them for God’s purpose?
Where does a woman find the courage to approach such a man, put herself within his arm’s reach, and conduct such an act? At any moment, he could have awakened, seen her with the tools of his destruction in her hands, and grabbed her. He could have raped her, killed her, tortured her, held her captive, or any of the other things men can do to women simply by nature of their strength. Surely she was very afraid. She believed that something else was more important than her fear, and courage moved her to act.
There is a saying that courage is not the absence of fear; it is pressing forward when you feel afraid because you believe in something that is more important than fear.
An Ordinary Woman
I wonder at Jael’s conviction and her courage, but I also find that I wonder about other things. Wasn’t she afraid to be alone with a man in her tent? Had they met before? Is it harder to kill a man you know? Did she hesitate, thinking about the mess? (“Oh, man, somebody is going to owe me big for getting the blood and brains out this blanket. Oh well, at least I’m a Bedouin and I can move the tent somewhere else so I don’t have to sleep on the mess tonight.”) At what point did she make the decision to kill Sisera, and what else was going through her mind with that decision? What did her husband say when he came home and learned what had happened?
Her ordinary life put her in a position of being able to act. Her ordinary life gave her the tools to make a difference. She believed she needed to do something, so she took what was at hand and worked with it.
I figure that like the rest of us, Jael was probably a regular woman. She wanted to do what was right, even though she and her husband didn’t agree on everything. She knew how to provide comfort. Whether by her intent or just the way things worked out, Sisera’s last moments of awareness were of comfort and care. And then, although afraid, she did what was needed, even though it was probably something she hadn’t done before and she didn’t know for sure how it would turn out.
Jael had a conviction of what she needed to do. Her regular, ordinary life gave her the tools and opportunity to do it. And when the time came, she found the courage to do what was needed. In this case, the outcome was rather immediate and dramatic—but it isn’t the outcome that makes Jael an extraordinary woman.
She was an extraordinary woman because she found the courage to use the tools and opportunities in her ordinary life to act in accordance with her conviction.
Is that any different from you and me?
We aren’t fighting the enemy of the Israelites, so our actions don’t have consequences for a large group of people. Our actions do have consequences, however, for our loved ones—for our children, our extended family, our friends who spend time with us, and others in our lives who are the indirect recipients of the stressors of our personal lives.
Many women write to me to say, “I know I need to do things differently. I’m not completely sure why, but I know I do. I just don’t know how.” They are convicted of the need to do something.
Do you have a conviction, a belief that you need to do something differently in your sexual relationship, even if you don’t understand why and you aren’t sure how?
We are living our regular, ordinary lives. Our tools are our words, our gestures, our bodies, and our responses. Like Jael, we can use those tools to make change.
Every day, you have opportunities to make choices and do things differently. When your husband says, “Can we have sex tonight?” you have the opportunity to not roll your eyes. You have the opportunity to take a deep breath and say “yes” rather than “no.” You have the opportunity to not tense your shoulders, to not brush his hand away. You have the opportunity to reach your hand out to your husband.
You have a conviction. You have tools and opportunities. Are you willing to have courage?
Courage is not the absence of fear; it is pressing forward when you feel afraid because you believe in something that is more important than fear.
Jael found courage to put herself within arm’s reach of a man who would have killed her had he known how she would use her ordinary tools? Can you find courage to put yourself within arm’s reach of a man who would love you for using your ordinary tools to make a positive change?
Are you willing to be an extraordinary woman?
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