A guest post from a reader:
Like many other ladies, I have a weakness for romantic fiction. There is something so heartwarming about watching two people realize that they were made for each other, and fall in love. My preference is the understated, gradual, conservative approach. Besides closing books at the first hint that they might be unwholesome, I’ve limited most of my reads to those by Christian authors, as an additional safeguard.
But earlier this year, something went wrong.
Having not had the chance to read many MODERN Christian romances myself yet, I decided a few months ago to browse sites like Amazon and Christianbook.com for reviews of some current bestselling works in this genre. (If you’ve ever dived into the world of Christian romance fiction, you are probably familiar with today’s best-known authors; I needn’t include any names here.) It took sifting through pages of positive reviews before I found any negative comments on most of the titles I looked up, but eventually it became apparent how far many of today’s Christian authors allow their characters to go in romantic situations. At a Christian bookstore only weeks later, I recognized a title and skimmed through it to see for myself. What I saw violated my conscience, making me tingle and yet feel sick inside at the same time.
After these disillusioning experiences, I resorted to my old-fashioned romances (those delightfully quaint twentieth-century novels that no one can find anymore) and relished them more than ever before. They engrossed me for hours at a time, carrying me to a dream world where every problem ultimately found its rosy resolution. I LOVE happy endings!
A few weeks ago, however, the Lord initiated a period of self-examination. Specifically, I began to review my friendships and general interaction with the male gender, being blunt with myself for the first time in a long time. Once I did… I had to acknowledge that, after years of dreading to cause a wrong impression through friendliness, I have not built any healthy friendships to speak of. In fact, it has become “normal” to avoid nearly everyone.
Though these items were painful enough already, I then dug deeper for the root causes of my tendencies. I always have considered myself a wallflower, but there was something more. I even unearthed my diary from back when I was ten years old, and read about my first roller-coaster experiences and strange new feelings. As I read and put the puzzle pieces together, the missing something emerged. At that crucial time, when I most needed explanations about what was happening, someone to mentor me by monitoring and encouraging my spiritual growth, and CAUTION about letting my imagination wander. . . I turned to romance. It never occurred to me until later that the situations in the novels did not match my own; I simply applied what I read. From then on, I never really stopped reading it. In fact, over time, the romance genre became a soothing balm, a comfort food during trying times in the real world.
What were the results of these years?
1. I came to associate reading romance with even more enjoyment and satisfaction than reading God’s Word.
2. I operated from a set of ideals that, in all truthfulness, no man can fulfill.
3. I developed a outlook that assigns romantic motives to others’ actions, casts me in the heroine’s role (which appeals to my vanity), and constantly revives memories to alternately thrill and tremble over them.
4. This outlook began to repeatedly clash with my godly upbringing in modesty. My inhibition and conscience panic at my impulses and send me in the opposite direction… FAR in the opposite direction, to the very extreme. Hence the lack of normal friendships, empathy, and even ability to TALK with men.
5. The cycle’s grip (and my own natural inclinations) makes me long to meet that special person whom I smilingly call The One.
A severe handicap has developed–one that will not vanish overnight.
Where did I go wrong? How did I come to idolize romance and marriage and all that goes with them? How do I heal?
I am not trying to preach from a soapbox here, not even to advocate the banning of all romance stories. I am simply seeking to probe my heart before the Lord, and to ask my sisters in Christ to examine themselves in this area. Are we wasting irretrievable time and energy living in an imaginary heroine’s role? Are we, as my mentor pointed out, blocking the Lord from using people in our lives, because WE handpick “possibilities”? Are we entertaining sinful thoughts or sneaking tastes of future pleasure, letting our minds run along dangerous paths? Are we creating an outlet for our own natural cravings for companionship, instead of taking them to the Lord?
Why do we read romance?
I used to read Christian romance books. But even with the rated G ones, I found myself feeling resentful if my husband didn’t relate to me in the ways that the male romantic leads related to the heroine. Eventually, I realized – I just don’t need to read romantic fiction at all. I replaced that with books to help me learn to be a godly woman and wife and to help me draw closer to Christ. That has been a much better investment – for me – at least.
Maybe some women are able to read romantic fiction or watch romantic movies and be okay. That’s awesome. But many women I know – myself included – tend to internalize expectations from movies and books and then have a difficult time in real life relationships with tremendous disappointment or resentment toward real-life men. I don’t want us to sabotage real relationships with real men for fantasy and fiction. And I certainly don’t want us to sabotage our intimacy with God for fantasy about men.
Let’s keep in mind that men are very different from women. They don’t tend to bond with romantic gestures, words, letters, and conversations. Their greatest need is respect, not love. And let’s seek to prayerfully ask God to help us tear down any unrealistic ideas we have about romance and marriage and any idols in our hearts – that we might truly seek Christ far above all else and live in full submission to Him as Lord. He is the only One who can meet the deepest needs we have for connection and spiritual/emotional intimacy. May we never attempt to put a man, romance, marriage, self, or anything else on the throne of our hearts but Christ! He alone is worthy of that position.
I would love to hear your thoughts!