I have shelves and shelves of bodice rippers—romance novels with steamy sex scenes. The men in these novels are perfect. Sure, they’re flawed, but they know how to acknowledge and express their feelings, they can set aside their own desires in order to meet a woman’s needs, and they always know exactly how to provide a woman with a mind-blowing orgasm.
What’s not to love? Answer: real life.
I used to read the books as escapism from the mundane realities of parenting, housework, career, my marriage. Now, there was nothing actually wrong with these areas of my life. It just wasn’t what I had always expected to it to be—especially when it came to marriage. I idolized the relationships in the books. I idolized the Hollywood version of what marriage should look like. I even idolized the marriages of my friends (because most marriages look better from the outside than from the inside).
The unreal marriages I thought I saw became an idol I worshipped at the expense of my real marriage. Compared to all that, my husband didn’t have a chance.
So many of us have idols in our marriages—the perfect life/house/spouse/weight/marriage bed/children/romance/etc. We focus on our idols at the expense of the marriage. Even when we are rightly focused on the relationship, we can make idols of a particular sex act, a desired frequency, a spouse’s response, a setting, a type of orgasm. We have idols that interfere with true and full intimacy in marriage.
Part of the work I am currently doing on myself is unpacking my baggage and digging into some of the root causes of things that ultimately led to my gate-keeping and refusal. When I was young and struggling with my sexual impurity, a friend encouraged me to read Hosea. “Even a whore,” she said, “found a husband.” Yeah, there’s an invitation you want to hear from a friend every day.
I read Hosea through the lenses of my life at that time. I saw a man who condescended to take a soiled woman, Gomer, as his wife. He married her out of duty rather than love; he saw her as a whore rather than the complement to his soul. She was an object, not a loved one. I found no hope in Hosea. If my sexual impurity made me a whore, then I could expect nothing more than duty and objectification.
I’ve read that the marriage between Hosea and Gomer is symbolic of the covenant relationship between God and His unfaithful people. But as a young woman who was seeking assurance that she could love and be loved, I saw Hosea and Gomer more clearly than I saw God and Israel.
The Book of Hosea tells us about God and Hosea and their actions. For years, I’ve seen Gomer as a recipient of the actions of others, a canvas on which the decisions of others were written. She was pursued, uncovered, paid, and punished. She wasn’t the agent of her own life. She conceived, birthed, and weaned–not something that was probably much of a choice in her day. Was she a prostitute or an adulteress? Both? Does it matter what her sin was? Did she feel she had a choice in the direction of her life?
I always wondered about the heart of Gomer. She was a whore, a wife, and a mother. But who was she as a woman? How did she feel about her life? About her husband? About their children with the sad names? Did she love? Was she loved? From the first time I read about her, Gomer’s life saddened me. She is one of the women in the Bible whose full story I hope to learn in heaven.
I haven’t thought of Gomer since the early years of my marriage when I was trying to reconcile my past with the marriage I had no idea how to build. For years, I learned to read Hosea and think about God and Hosea, neglecting Gomer in my mind.
For several weeks now, I’ve been thinking about the idols I had in my marriage. I’ve realized that the more effort I put into my marriage, the more joy I find in the reality there. The more joy I find, the more I seek the relationship I have instead of the one I’d expected to have. I am amazed to realize that I’ve set the idol of romanticism aside to invite reality into my heart. I honestly don’t remember the last time I read one of the romance books now gathering dust on my shelves.
Last night, I opened my Bible, wondering what I needed to read. God pulled me back to Gomer—her life, my life as a young woman, the Baals she pursued at the expense of her marriage, and the idols I pursued at the expense of mine.
“And in that day, declares the Lord, you will call me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer will you call me ‘My Baal.’ ” (Hosea 2:16, ESV)
Finally, I could see Gomer as the agent of her own life. People and circumstances could make her into a whore, a wife, a mother—but no one could make her call Hosea her husband. Only she could choose to do that. God led me to this verse so I could see the fulfilled hope that I couldn’t even imagine as a young woman. For the first time, Gomer gave me hope rather than sorrow.
I thought of where my marriage is now. I’ve set aside my idol, my Baal, to look at my own man and call him my husband. The husband I’d idolized in my mind is gone, abolished. The Book that gave me no hope as an impure young woman now speaks to me of being married in righteousness, justice, steadfast love, and mercy.
Have you asked yourself recently what idols are standing between you and a real and righteous marriage? Where does your heart need to be?