Shannon Ethridge, an advocate for sexual integrity and author of the book Every Woman's Battle, talks about discovering God's plan for fulfillment.
Shannon Ethridge, an advocate for sexual integrity and author of the book Every Woman's Battle, talks about discovering God's plan for fulfillment.
Bob: In an era of promiscuity, husbands and wives can work together as allies to encourage one another, to embrace a high standard of holiness. Here is Shannon Ethridge.
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, June 21st. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We'll talk today about how men and women can work together to help one another 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 temptations, particularly as it relates to men, on a number of occasions. 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." 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 three 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. You know, we smell 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. 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.
Bob: And I think that's interesting, because men and women certainly entertain thoughts about people other than the folks they'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: Yes, 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 and that comparison, and that's where the romance novels and the soap operas really feed …
Shannon: … feeds it like crazy, absolutely. 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 if – 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 set 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 and a minivan and a wedding ring on her finger" and that sort of thing. But the way that I dressed 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, and 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 car seat and the Jesus bumper sticker. You were dressing provocatively?
Shannon: Well, one of the reasons that I got this major revelation, that, you know, I haven't had as much of a transformation in my life as I truly need, is an aerobics instructor invited me to lunch one day, and he had made a comment about 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 lunch – 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 it could be a distraction to me." I knew my weakness, but I was sticking my head in the lion's mouth and saying, "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, so I had lied …
Dennis: … so you just haven't met.
Shannon: Yeah, 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 words to relay to you – that you are in incredibly attractive woman, but that you don't have to advertise it. Some of the things that you choose to wear and some of the ways that you hug everybody at church, and you awaken things in other people that you are very unaware of, and that it was very dangerous."
Bob: When you had that lunch, that turning point, as you described, 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 move my arm higher or something of that nature, and, yeah, I would probably make eye-to-eye contact with him and smile at him or 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. 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 unnerves me. I'm sorry, did I interrupt? The attitude unnerves 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, you know, "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 stimulated by touch they are, which a hug from a woman can be very stimulating to a man, I realized, "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're 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, "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: 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 the encounter that day, and I think that would be a huge red flag.
Dennis: Now, wait a second. A woman actually dresses – a married woman would?
Shannon: It's very intentional.
Dennis: I'm sorry, I sound like I'm clueless here, 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 sweatshirt 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 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?" I'm not saying that you shouldn't have both, I'm just saying that when you put so much emphasis on one, sometimes you neglect the other.
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 problems are the single women who don't have a husband to give them some feedback and some advice. What would you say to them?
Shannon: Well, 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 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. You know, 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's any question about, and you're going to bend, and you're going to stoop, and I want you to see the things that other people see when you wear these clothes."
And it was a tremendous help to me, you know, 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, "You know, I'm not sure you recognize" …
Shannon: … they'd take offense.
Bob: They would.
Shannon: Sure. But if somebody speaks the truth in love to you, you'd better recognize it. You know, [inaudible] from a friend can be trusted."
Dennis: I think we're so afraid today of being labeled judgmental, that I think we've completely – well, not completely, but we have 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 was 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 then immediately all the women in the room said, "Oh, no, no." 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?" 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 – this is 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 an 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. That tears us down. That makes us hungry for more of the same thing and, in all actuality, 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 honor," – or – "Strength and dignity are her clothing." In other words, her character is what ultimately clothes her life and is 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.
Dennis: It's her character and the fruit of that character, which I think, today in this culture, for all the – of 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, 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 what 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, how she is to view 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: We have the book available in our FamilyLife Resource Center if you'd like to contact us to get a copy. We've also got a book – and, Shannon, I know you're familiar with the book Josh Harris has written called, "Not Even a Hint," that addresses some of the same themes that you address in "Every Woman's Battle."
We're encouraging our listeners – contact us and get a copy of both of these books. When you do, we'll send along your choice of either the audio cassette or the CD of our conversation today at no additional cost. Ask for Shannon Ethridge's book, "Every Woman's Battle," and the book by Josh Harris called "Not Even a Hint." The toll-free number is 1-800-FLTODAY or go online at FamilyLife.com. You can order online, if you'd like, or get more information. Again, our website is FamilyLife.com, and our toll-free number is 1-800-FLTODAY.
I know many of our listeners got a letter from you not long ago, Dennis, where you talked about all of the activities that you and Barbara have lined up for this summer, and I know it's a busy summer for you, not only with ministry-related stuff but also with personal and family-related things. I know that's the case for a lot of our listeners. Summer is a busy time of year. Now, let me encourage you – if you have the opportunity during the summer to help us with a donation, it's a particularly strategic season for us, because these summer months help us determine whether we need to make some cutbacks, going into a new fiscal year, starting in September, or whether we can move forward.
So if you'd like to, you can donate online at FamilyLife.com. You can also donate by writing a check and mailing it to us, and I'll give you our mailing address in just a minute. You can use a credit card and call 1-800-FLTODAY, and the mailing address is FamilyLife Today at Box 7111, Little Rock, Arkansas. The zip code is 72223. Again, it's FamilyLife Today at Post Office Box 7111, Little Rock, Arkansas, and the zip code is 72223.
Well, tomorrow when we come back – well, I'll tell you what, there is a tape that a friend of mine passed on to me recently, and I don't think you've heard it, and I'm going to bring it in tomorrow and we'll listen to it together.
Bob: I hope our listeners can be here 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 next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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