Guarding Against Emotional Fantasies
About the Guest
Sexual temptation isn't just a man's battle, is it? All this week on the broadcast, Shannon Ethridge, best-selling author of Every Woman's Battle, talks with Dennis Rainey about facing sexual temptation with wisdom and integrity.
Shannon EthridgeShannon is a million-copy best-selling author, international speaker, and certified life coach with a master's degree in counseling/human relations from Liberty University. She has spoken to youth, college students, and adults since 1989. Her passion for healthy sexuality actually began in Mortuary College. Her first career choice, becoming a mortician, led Ethridge to work on dead bodies. Many she embalmed were young people who had died from AIDS or committed suicide as a result of an HIV po...more
Sexual temptation isn’t just a man’s battle, is it?
Guarding Against Emotional Fantasies
Shannon: I think that your husband can provide great accountability for this. For example, I took him shopping with me once, and I was looking for a new skirt, and he said, "Shannon, you have great legs, but – and I like seeing that – but I don't want the whole world to see that. I'd really prefer you to wear the longer skirts. You still look very sharp and fashionable in them, but it doesn't arouse other people to look at my wife."
And that was such a loving response to me, you know, that he acknowledged my beauty, but he also acknowledged that "I want that to myself, I don't want you marketing that to the world."
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, February 18th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We're going to talk today about what husbands and wives can do together to help each other avoid falling into the trap of lust.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us. We're going to tackle a topic today that I don't know if we've ever addressed it directly on FamilyLife Today. We've talked about the issue of temptation and sexual temptation, particularly as it relates to men on a number of occasions.
Bob: But I don't know that we've ever gotten into this issue as it relates to women and because of the nature of the topic, it may be appropriate for some parents to have their kids away from the radio as they listen to this particular program because we're going to try to be certainly appropriate but candid at the same time.
Dennis: That's right. We're going to speak with the author of a book called "Every Woman's Battle," and her name is Shannon Ethridge. Shannon, welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Shannon: Thank you so much, Dennis. It's great to be here.
Dennis: Shannon is a wife, a mom, a writer, a speaker, she has her own retreats across the country called "Well Women Retreats."
Shannon: Yes, sir.
Dennis: Your ministry around this subject of calling women to sexual purity …
Shannon: Yes, and faithfulness.
Dennis: Yeah, I found it fascinating, Shannon, when I read your book, and you began by saying you were having an affair with five men.
Dennis: Now, that has a way of getting …
Shannon: It gets people's attention.
Dennis: … getting the reader's attention at that point.
Shannon: I always want to make sure that people don't put the book down after the first page; to get to page 3 so that they'll understand what I was actually getting at.
Dennis: It only took you two pages, but I thought, now, wait a second, Bob and I are interviewing her tomorrow?
And here she has six men in her life – one of them is her husband. What were you trying to say in that?
Shannon: What I wanted women to understand is that every woman's battle is not to compare their husbands to other men, and I was in the process of doing that for a number of years. I compared him to my college professor; he wasn't as intelligent. I've compared him to my pastor; he wasn't as spiritually passionate. I compared him to lots of other men; in some way or another he didn't measure up but, you know, if we look at the great things about other people, and then we look at our husbands, it's not fair because we live with our husbands. We see the good, the bad, and the ugly. We've smelled the bad breath, we see the toothpaste left in the sink, we see the cabinet doors open and the dirty clothes on the floor, but we only see the good things of the other people, and we don't see the good, the bad, and the ugly.
And with every unhealthy comparison, it breeds more disillusionment in your marriage, and it has the same effect as having an affair. You become so disheartened and disappointed that you begin to resent him.
Dennis: I think our listeners need to know she went on to say in her book, too, that she wasn't having an actual affair, it was an emotional fantasy, actually.
Shannon: Yes, yes.
Bob: And I think that's interesting, because men and women certainly entertain thoughts about people other than the folks you're married to, but we entertain those thoughts differently as men and women, and I'm not sure that we really understand those differences.
Shannon: Absolutely not, and to use the word "entertain," I don't want women to get the impression that it's appropriate to entertain the thoughts. It's only human that we're going to have those random thoughts come up in our mind, but to entertain them or fantasize over them or obsess over them or use those as a measuring stick by which we measure our husbands, that's when it becomes very dangerous.
Bob: In the same way that it would be inappropriate or wrong for a man to linger with thoughts of another woman.
Shannon: Or to stare.
Bob: In that same way, a woman has to be on guard against the emotional fantasy …
Bob: … and that comparison, and that's where the romance novels and the soap operas really feed …
Shannon: … feeds it like crazy, absolutely. And Internet chat rooms are the latest, you know, frenzy that is feeding these unhealthy behaviors.
You know, so often people say, "Well, what is every woman's battle?" And they think it's about eating or shopping, and when I tell them, "Well, it's discovering God's plan for sexual and emotional fulfillment," so often the response is, "Well, women don't really have sexual issues, do they?" Or maybe men will say, "Well, maybe women have some issues, but it's not near as strong as it is for men," and I want to debate that. The visual stimulation is not as strong for women, no, but the emotional longings and the cravings of our heart and soul for love and intimacy and affection and attention is just as difficult to deal with as the visual is for men.
Bob: What woke you up to this issue personally?
Shannon: After about five years of marriage, I was actually thinking of leaving because I felt so disappointed and disillusioned. It wasn't a particular man that I wanted to leave for, I just didn't feel as – well, I cried out to my husband, "You just don't meet my emotional needs," and he spoke the truth in love to me. He sat me down, and he said, "Shannon, you have a Grand Canyon of emotional needs, and even if every man in Dallas lined up outside your doorstep to spend time with you, it still wouldn't be enough." He said, "Until you look to God to meet these needs that you have, there is nothing that I nor any other man on the planet can do to satisfy you."
And I had a very promiscuous teenage life, and so it rang true in my spirit what he was saying, that you know what? I have looked for love in all the wrong places, and I've never found it in a human relationship, and if I can't find it in this marriage relationship with this man who is a great man of God and loves me unconditionally, he's a great father to our children, I don't think that it could be found on this earth, and what I discovered is a wonderful love affair with Jesus Christ. And that has so filled me to overflowing that I don't put the pressure on my husband any longer to be my all in all and to meet all of my emotional needs.
What he gives me is icing on the cake, it's just overflow, but God is the one who fills me up now.
Dennis: Shannon, would you describe yourself as an emotional high-maintenance person?
Shannon: I used to be, I'm not anymore. Definitely, before we had this turning point, I was looking for love in all the wrong places, as I've said. I had a neon sign on my forehead that basically communicated to men, "I want attention. I want affection." And men would go out of their way to give it to me, and I always wondered, now, why would a man flirt with a woman with a Jesus bumper sticker and a car seat in a minivan and a wedding ring on her finger and that sort of thing?
But the way that I dress and the way that I carried myself and the way that I interacted with men, it was opening the door. And so now, thank God, by His grace, there has been a transition in my life that men don't do that, and I just feel so much more emotionally fulfilled, and I don't feel that need – my radar is not up any longer.
Bob: You're saying you were sending subtle signals …
Shannon: Sure. We teach people how to treat us.
Bob: Well, tell us what kind of signals? What were you doing? I mean, you had the minivan and the carseat and the Jesus bumper sticker, you were dressing provocatively?
Shannon: Well, one of the reasons that I got this major revelation that, you know what? I haven't had as much of a transformation in my life as I truly need. An aerobics instructor invited me to lunch one day, and he had made a comment that he was a "recovering Roman Catholic," and I took that to mean that perhaps he needs Jesus, and I went under the guise of I'm going to share Jesus with him over lunch.
Dennis: Now, you were married at the time?
Shannon: I was married at the time.
Dennis: And you're having lunch with another man?
Shannon: And I'm having – and at the time, I thought that there was nothing wrong with that because I thought that my motive was to share Jesus, but on the way there, I was driving in the car, and I was praying, "Now, Lord, now help me keep my focus because his biceps are really big, and he is really handsome, and he could be a distraction to me." I knew my weakness, but I was sticking my head in the lion's mouth and praying, "Lord, protect me from the lion."
Dennis: Had you told your husband how big this guy's biceps were?
Shannon: No, my husband knew that we were having lunch.
Dennis: So you did tell him that?
Shannon: I had not gone on and on about, you know, he's very attractive to me or anything of that nature. But, over lunch, he said to me, "Would you like to know why I invited you to lunch?" And I said, "Well, sure." And he said, "It's because you have a neon sign on your forehead." And I said, "Well, what does that sign say?" And he said, "It says that you're hungry for love and attention and affection."
And I thought he was coming on to me, and I said, "Well, how do I get that off, because I am a happily married woman," and he said, "Do you really want to know?" And I said, "Yes." And he said, "You have to die to yourself."
And he turned the tables, and he ministered to me, and he said, "Shannon, this is what I see in you. You come to aerobics class dressed not as much to sweat but to cause other men to sweat." He said, "The way that you carry yourself, when you told me that you were married, I was surprised, and when you told me that you were a youth minister, I was really surprised." And he said, "The life that you're living is not consistent with the image that you are projecting."
And that was a major, major wakeup call, and this has been eight or nine years ago, but that is when I started really wondering, "What image am I sending out?" And when I told my husband the conversation that night, you know, that this is what he said to me, he just started crying, and he said, "Shannon, I've been praying for five years that someone or that God would reveal these things to you that I've never had the word to relay to you that you are an incredibly attractive woman but that you don't have to advertise it. You know, some of the things that you choose to wear and some of the ways that you hug everybody at church, and that you awaken things in other people that you're very unaware of, and that it was very dangerous."
Bob: When you had that lunch, was it just your dress that this individual described to you?
Shannon: I'm sure that he picked up on various mannerisms. We kind of batted around some exchanges in the midst of class. He would come over and, you know, an aerobics instructor is going to correct your form, and so he would touch my elbow to lift my arm higher, or something of that nature, and I would probably make eye-to-eye contact with him and smile at him or, you know, be very friendly to him or maybe even offer a hug on the way out and say, "That was a great class," or something of that nature, and I just was not aware.
Bob: There are some women listening who are thinking, "Well, okay, I'm an outgoing, friendly person.
Bob: I smile, I hug, I'm trying to dress modestly, I'm not trying to give off any kinds of signals and, frankly, I think it's the man's problem. I mean, this guy …
Shannon: And that attitude unnerved me. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt.
Bob: Tell me what – no, go ahead.
Shannon: The attitude unnerved me and in all actuality, I had that attitude, too. I used to think that, "Well, if the way that I dress or behave causes a man to stumble and fall, that's his problem." But God convicted me very clearly and said, "No, this is your problem," and He showed me that Scripture that sin is bound to come but woe to those through whom they come. It is better that you have a millstone tied around your neck than for you to cause a brother to stumble and fall.
And when I learned how visually stimulated men truly are and how stimulate by touch they are, which a hug, from a woman, can be very stimulating to a man. I realize I am causing my brothers to stumble and fall, and here I am trying to minister the Gospel to people, trying to be a light for Jesus, and what they're seeing is my flesh, they are not seeing my spirit, and I had to learn how to control my flesh to the point that the spirit is what shines through.
Bob: So to a woman who is listening to the program, and she is thinking, "Well, okay, I don't want to cause anybody to stumble, but I also don't want to become a mouse over in the corner."
Shannon: Right, right.
Bob: How would you coach me? How can I be aware of what may be a problem that I'm not aware of, and how do I pull back?
Shannon: Well, I think that one of the questions that you have to ask yourself as you get dressed in the morning is "What is my motivation?" You know, a lot of women will select their wardrobe based on what men they're going to encounter that day. I think that would be a huge red flag.
Dennis: Now, wait a second – a woman actually dresses – or a married woman would?
Shannon: It's very intentional.
Shannon: It can be very intentional.
Dennis: I'm sorry, I sound like I'm clueless here.
Shannon: It's okay.
Dennis: But a woman would actually dress in a certain way based upon who they're going to run into?
Shannon: Many, many, many women confess to me, "I have certain outfits that if I know I'm going to run into a guy that I think is particularly attractive or I want his attention, I'll go for that before I go for something else."
And even the college-age women at Teen Mania that I minister to, they'll say to me, "Well, I heard a guy say that he thinks that blue jeans and a sweat shirt is more sexy, And so even though it's not my style, that's what I'll wear if I know I'm going to be around him that day."
And so I think that you really do have to be honest and look at the motivations of your heart. And then also there are some very obvious things such as – some women have great legs, some women have nice tanned skin or something of that nature. But when you dress in a way that you try to – that that is your marketing tool, that that's what you want people to notice about you, I think that you have to really ask yourself, "Am I putting so much emphasis on the outer beauty and drawing attention to this outer beauty, that it somehow masks the inner beauty."
Bob: How do you know, as a woman, whether you're being appropriately attractive or feeding a hunger in your heart?
Shannon: I think that your husband can provide great accountability for this. For example, I took him shopping with me once, and I was looking for a new skirt, and he said, "Shannon, you have great legs, and I like seeing that, but I don't want the whole world to see that. I'd really prefer you to wear the longer skirts. You still look very sharp and fashionable in them, but it doesn't arouse other people to look at my wife."
And that was such a loving response to me, you know, that he acknowledged my beauty, but he also acknowledged that, "I want that to myself, I don't want you marketing that to the world."
Dennis: The greater problem is the single women who don't have a husband to give them some feedback and some advice. What would you say to them?
Shannon: What I would say to them is also the same thing I would say to a woman whose husband doesn't have very high standards for her wardrobe because, actually, some women have said to me, "My husband wouldn't be a very good accountability partner, because he likes it when I dress a little provocatively, and he doesn't mind. He wants people to see how sexy I am."
And so I would say get a female accountability partner. My best friend said to me once at summer camp. We were at summer camp, directing camp together, and she said, "I don't think that you realize how short your shorts are, because you're looking at them from a frontal view, but I'm walking behind you, and I'm watching you bend over and pick up Bibles, and I'm watching you interact with the kids and wrestle around with them," and she said, "I want to come over to your house, and I want you to just put on all your clothes for me that there is any question about, and you're going to bend, and you're going to stoop, and I want you to just see the things that other people see when you wear these clothes."
And it was a tremendous help to me, you know, and just weeding out the things in my wardrobe that were causing other people to stumble and fall and that were jeopardizing my credibility as a Christian woman.
Dennis: That happened when you were a single woman?
Shannon: No, that happened after I was married, actually. My standard was, "Well, other women wear this. I see other women in the church wear this." That's not a very good standard, especially today.
Bob: That's a pretty bold thing for your friend to do.
Shannon: I have a great best friend. She loves me.
Bob: Well, but there are a lot of women who, if a friend came to them and said, "I'm not sure you recognize" …
Shannon: They would take offense.
Bob: They would.
Shannon: Sure. But if somebody speaks the truth in love to you, you'd better recognize it. You know, wounds from a friend can be trusted.
Dennis: I think we're so afraid today of being labeled judgmental, we've really dropped our guard, dropped our standards, and as you talk about what is the standard today in the church, you can't get the standard by looking around for the average.
Shannon: You can't, and I want to tell you about a story that was relayed to me. A couple of ladies in church were whispering to one another about the woman who was directing music; about how her blouse is somewhat tight-fitting and as she's lifting her arms and directing the music that it was basically a very entertaining show for men to watch, and that her skirt was just a little bit too short, and that this woman actually asked women in her church in a women's meeting one time, "Do you think that maybe I dress a little inappropriately?"
And immediately all the women in the room said, "Oh, no, no, you're fine." They didn't want to hurt her feelings, and I thought what an opportunity missed to speak the truth in love. I think the response should have been more of, "Well, why do you think that you need to ask that question? Are you thinking that maybe it's inappropriate," and open up those lines of communication and mentor her. Don't just try to smooth things over and make her feel good about herself because you're just feeding the problem.
Bob: You know, whether it's an issue of what you're wearing to aerobics class and being confronted, as you talked about, or what's being worn in church, we're really ultimately dealing with a hard issue, and it does seem like there is a hunger in the heart of a woman to be affirmed for her beauty, to be appreciated for her appearance; to be attractive.
Ultimately, as you said, the issue for you had to be do I find that affirmation in my relationship with Christ or am I looking for it from everybody else?
Shannon: And no matter how beautiful other men think you may be, there is no man on the planet who thinks you are more beautiful than what Christ thinks, and when you understand how the King is enthralled by your beauty, and it's a passage in Psalm 45. The King is so enthralled with your beauty, you never have to turn God's head. His head never turns away from you; that He is just so in love with you and thinks you are so beautiful inside and out, He knows everything about you and loves you, anyway, that is where we're going to get filled up and affirmed.
The turning of the heads, walking down the street corner, and that sort of thing, that doesn't fill us up. It feeds that unhealthiness in our hearts. It makes us think that this is where to get what we're looking for, and it's so not. That's lust, that's not love. That's not loving us for who we are, that's lusting after the outer shell, which the outer shell is going to change, over time. Everything goes south and wrinkles up eventually, and if we base our identity on how we look, our identity is going to crumble as the years tick by. But if we can find our identity in our heart, in our service to Christ, in our mind, in our personality, those things are not going to change. Those things are just going to continue to get better with age.
Dennis: And I think the Proverbs provide us with a great word of summary here, Proverbs 31 reminds us of the clothing of the godly woman. It says that "strength and dignity are her clothing." In other words, her character is what ultimately clothes her life, and it's what makes her attractive. And the end of the passage in Proverbs, chapter 31, says, "Charm is deceitful, and beauty is passing, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised. Give her the fruit of her hands and let her own works praise her in the gates."
If you look at the end of this passage, it's not her beauty that is being praised, it is what she's lived for, it's her …
Shannon: It's her character and the fruit of that character, which, I think today in this culture for all the – what the feminist movement has tried to do, it has not really addressed the key issue in a woman's life; that her real value is in who she is as a person.
Bob: You know, we can't see who we're talking to today, but I think there are some listeners who may need to ask the Lord this question – "Lord, did you have me tuned into this program for a reason? Instead of a lunch with a friend or a mentor or somebody who would sit me down and confront me, was FamilyLife Today my confrontation? Did you want me listening because there are some issues I need to address?"
And if that even resonates for a second with you, then I think you ought to call and get a copy of Shannon's book as a starting point for addressing or for unpacking, for asking questions, for saying, "I do want to be pure and righteous and holy before the Lord. I want to be dressed with strength and with dignity," and this book will help raise some issues for you, and you can pray your way through it and just ask the Lord to show you want may be there.
Dennis: And I think there are additional sections in this book that get down to a few more grittier issues than were appropriate to address here on FamilyLife Today on Christian radio. Shannon addresses the whole dimension of the sexuality of a woman and how she is to manage that and what is God's perspective? And I think for a woman who may be struggling in this area or for every mom who is raising a young lady today, this book would provide some definite help and hope and guidelines and training and equipping for really helping the next generation find a godly plumb line. I think we're in desperate need of some fresh standards in this culture today.
Bob: Yes, an addition to the book that Shannon has written for women who are wrestling with this issue personally, called "Every Woman's Battle," you have also written a book for moms to help their daughters called "Every Young Woman's Battle," and we've got both of those resources in our FamilyLife Resource Center.
And you can go to our website, FamilyLife.com, and there is more information available there about how you can get copies of either or both of these resources sent to you. There is also information about other help we have here at FamilyLife that addresses these issues.
Again, the website is FamilyLife.com. When you go to our home page, on the right side of the screen, you'll see a box that says "Today's Broadcast," and if you click that box, it will take you to the area of the site where there is more information about the resources that we have available.
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You know, part of the proactive strategy a woman can employ in order to guard her heart, as we've talked about today, is to initiate and build a stronger relationship with her husband. And one way that couples can do that, Dennis, is for a husband and wife to spend time together each day looking at God's Word, praying together, talking about their marriage, their family, about spiritual issues.
You and your wife, Barbara, have just written a sequel to the bestselling book, "Moments Together for Couples." The new book is called "Moments With You," and it's a daily devotional that's designed to help a husband and wife have that time together when they can interact and spend that time together.
And this week we'd like to send a copy of that book to any of our listeners who would consider making a donation of any amount to the ministry of FamilyLife Today. When you help support this ministry, and we are a listener-supported ministry, those donations are essential for us to be able to continue this radio program and other outreaches of FamilyLife.
We'd like to say thank you for your support by sending you a copy of this book, "Moments With You." If you are making your donation online, when you come to the key code box on the donation form, type in the word "moments" so that w know to get a copy of the book out to you. Or call 1-800-FLTODAY, 1-800-358-6329. Make your donation over the phone and say, "I'd like that devotional book I heard them talking about," and, again, we're happy to send it out to you. It's our way of saying thanks for supporting the ministry of FamilyLife Today. We appreciate your partnership with us.
Now, tomorrow we want to talk about some of the common traps facing women today in this area of sexual temptation and lust, and we'll see if you have stumbled into any of those traps. I hope you can be back with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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