Sex, Christians and Being in the Middle

Recently I was asked to speak at a conference focused on adolescent sexuality. The conference was sponsored by a few secular non-profits, including Planned Parenthood and The Crisis Teen Pregnancy Center; and the mission of the event was clear: to help young people make positive sexual choices and avoid teen pregnancies.

This was not a usual venue, or topic, for me.

In fact, at first, I wasn’t even totally sure why I would be invited. But they asked if I would speak about abstinence as one of many healthy sexual choices a teen could make, and I agreed.

And then, there I was, right where I always am, in the middle.

sex

Photo Credit: calvin w, Creative Commons

I’m a middle child, and so obviously, I have issues—all the freudian idiosyncrasies that come along with middle-childness. It’s this need to be the peacemaker, the bridge-builder, this constant tendency to find myself in the middle of things. I’m usually the one who sees things from this side, but also from that side.

I’m the one who can’t pick a position, can’t make a choice, the one who always finds herself riding the fence with things.

I have, in the past, hated myself for this, tried to talk myself out of it, told myself this was unhealthy and “weak” and that one day I would grow out of it.

But, for now at least, this is where I am.

On the one hand, I was certain the “abstinence” talk would be by far the least popular conversation at a conference centered around sex. I mean, really? Nobody ever wrote a song with lyrics that go, “let’s talk about abstinence, baby.” This is exactly nobody’s favorite topic.

And yet, I was welcomed by the conference staff warmly when I arrived. I shared what I’d been taught in youth group growing up, what conversations we’d had about sex in my house, what worked for me when it came to abstinence, and what I never understood as a teen.

I shared some of the sexual decisions I made, and why they weren’t the right choices for me, and how I found the courage to make the right ones.

After my presentation, I had several people thank me sincerely for sharing.

On the other hand, outside, I could feel the protestors looming.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that there were protestors outside the whole time. They were upset the liberal conference was being hosted in their small town, disapproving of the non-profits who supported it and frustrated that adolescents were allowed to attend the event (because of the sexual content).

They were pretty calm, I guess, as far as protestors go. In fact, I don’t think most of the conference attendees minded them too much.

But for me, from my place in the middle, I couldn’t help but feel like, “Hey, while you’re out here being angry, I’m going to go inside and have a dialogue.” And in this sense, being in the middle wasn’t a weak place or a wishy-washy place. It was a terrifying place, a growing, confusing and sometimes awkward place. It took a ton of courage to stand in the middle.

I think, as Christians, we need to rethink the way we’ve always talked about sex.

I don’t think we can keep reusing old language to talk to new young people, or using old language to talk about new topics (sexting is a thing for teens now, for example). We can’t keep saying, “because the Bible says so” and expect adolescents are going to listen (the Bible doesn’t say anything about sexting, I checked).

Sure, God is the Word, and God is alive, but I think that means our words need to be alive with Him, always shifting and changing and growing as our culture changes and grows. We need to find new ways to explain the benefits of putting off sex, even if (and when) others don’t make the choices we think they should.

We need to expand the conversation, to be willing to go places we haven’t been willing to go before.

We need to be building bridges, not burning them.

If we don’t learn to talk about it in a new way—if we keep holding signs out in front of buildings—we won’t make any progress.

Saying all that feels hard for me, but I’m owning my place in the middle.

The middle isn’t a weak place like I’ve always thought it was. It’s not a non-position position. It’s a position in itself. It isn’t easy standing in the middle—any more than it is easy to stand on one side or the other. We need people who are willing to stand their ground, to fight for what they believe is good.

Including in the middle.

So, as for me, I’ll keep doing what I do—keep seeing both sides from where I’m standing, and keep standing here, in the middle. And I guess you can keep doing what you do, too, even if it’s holding signs out in front of buildings. Chances are you feel as passionate about your positions as I do mine, here in the middle. So I won’t try to talk you out of it.

In fact, next time I just might stop and ask you your story.

Weekend Reading

photo: Vinoth Chandar, Creative Commons

photo: Vinoth Chandar, Creative Commons

Each weekend I love to leave you with a list of the best things I have read on the Internet because, well, sometimes, you just need something great to read. I’m so excited to share these articles with you, and I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

If you read something great this week, leave me a note in the comments. And mostly, enjoy your weekend. Do something awesome!

The Lie And The Truth About Marriage by Glennon Melton (Momastery)

I wish more people would talk about marriage this way. In my experience, people tend to glorify what marriage is really like and what it’s about. Marriage is amazing, but it also hurts like hell. I absolutely adored this post by Glennon.

Secrets of Success: How Reading Gives You An Edge by Alli Worthington

Thankfully, I love reading and don’t need much encouragement to lose myself in a book. But in case you find yourself tending toward TV or social media instead of a book, here are a few things that motivate you to pick up a book next time, instead.

8 Ways Neuroscience Can Improve Your Presentations by Geoffrey James

I just found this so profoundly helpful. It doesn’t matter if you’re preparing lesson plans as a teacher, if you’re presenting something at a meeting, or if you’re speaking at a conference or at church—this will help you organize your ideas and communicate them clearly.

Five Attributes of an Innovator by Cole NeSmith

Many of us want to be innovators, and several of us call ourselves innovators. But what does it really take to be an innovator? I was convicted by this list from Cole. I especially liked #1.

 The Bottomless Pit of People-Pleasing by Seth Godin

I’ve been thinking about this so much lately, trying to curb my tendency to people-please. What about you? Do you find yourself trying to make everybody happy?

Need to Stop Procrastinating? Definitely Read This Blog Post

Well hello there fellow procrastinator. It’s nice to see you here. I’m not sure what it is your procrastinating from—dishes piling up in your sink, reports you were supposed to have filed by the end of the day, bills you’ve been putting off all week—but whatever it is, welcome.

As for me, I’m supposed to be editing, and instead I’m writing this blog post.

procrastinating

Photo Credit: Matryosha, Creative Commons

I’m so glad we could meet under these conditions. We understand each other, you and me.

Someone told me once: procrastination is about fear.

At first, that didn’t really ring true to me. In fact, I thought, “nah, for me, it’s really just about being lazy.” When I’m supposed to be doing something hard—like writing a book or cleaning my bathroom (okay, that’s not hard, just disgusting) or finishing an editing assignment—I want to do something easier.

Suddenly I realize I’m ravenously hungry, or I need some “inspiration” from Twitter, or shoot, my headphones are in the car and, oh yeah, I was going to order that one book…

But then, more recently, I started wondering:

What is it we don’t like about hard tasks?

We like the completion of them. We like the finishing point. We love the feeling of finishing a long run or losing 10 pounds or writing a book. We just don’t like the process, necessarily—the feeling of being hungry, or logging the miles, or getting the words down on paper.

Is it possible there’s a little fear of that process?

I was thinking about this the other day when I went for a jog for the first time in months. Well, actually, “went for a jog” is a tiny bit generous. What I basically mean is I put the stretchy clothes on, as if I was going to go for a jog, but then I piddled around my house for 30 minutes, finding a dozen other things to do.

I asked myself, on several occasions, “Why am I not walking out the door right now?” and I could think of a dozen perfectly logical excuses.

“Well, these dishes aren’t going to do themselves!” or “I’ll go after the laundry is done,” or “I really shouldn’t run on an empty stomach,” or “I’ll just wait until it warms up a little.” But the longer I procrastinated, the more I realized, I wasn’t avoiding the task itself so much as I was avoiding the pain or sacrifice it was going to take to complete it.

And I wonder if this is really what we’re doing when we’re procrastinating

Perhaps, for example, there is a task you’re supposed to be doing right now (no pressure).

Maybe it’s going on a run, or making a phone call, or writing a college paper. Chances are, the task feels difficult for you. My guess is you’re putting it off not because you’re lazy, but because you’re a little afraid of the pain associated with it.

But it wasn’t until I avoided my run all day the other day that I realized: You can’t avoid the pain by putting it off.

In fact, we actually prolong the pain when we procrastinate. We take a task that should have taken 30 minutes (like a quick run), and spread it out over the course of an entire day. A task that should have taken 10 minutes (having a hard conversation with a friend) suddenly takes weeks to address, and meanwhile, bitterness grows.

Procrastinating a task doesn’t protect us from any pain. It doesn’t save us at all. It’s completely illogical and nonsensical.

Maybe—just maybe—if we think of it this way, we can stop doing it.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go order something on Amazon I’ll never use, pin some recipes on Pinterest I’ll never make, spend 10 minutes considering a Tweet I’ll never send, and then get back to my editing project.

I’m pretty sure you have some procrastinating to do as well.