My favorite book I’ve ever written is Letters to My Daughters. I still love it because it’s a truly beautiful book with calligraphy and art throughout the interior. I also love it because it’s a summary of all the lessons I’ve learned in the married years of my life. So it’s the essence of who I am.
The book is based on questions about marriage I gathered from my four daughters, my two “grafted in” daughters who married my sons, and many of their friends, and it’s dedicated to all of them by name, which I also love. It was a very satisfying book to work on, both in the content and in the creative graphics.
This book is now available in paperback, and this week’s post is an excerpt. I hope and pray this letter will help your marriage, and if you want more be sure to get the book! It makes a great gift for anyone engaged to be married. Over 60,000 copies of the hardback sold, so I’m immensely grateful to Andy McGuire at Bethany Publishing for giving it more life in the new paperback version.
Dear Mom: Without betraying a confidence, I need your help. There are some, ahh, issues in our intimate life stemming from past decisions. Is it just our path to deal with the repercussions of sin and know that it won’t ever be as great as if it hadn’t happened? Or is there hope for healing?
First remember: there is always, always hope. Cling to that.
In the book The Secret Garden, do you remember what Mary Lennox saw when she first discovered the garden? Piles of leaves, weeds and thistles, broken branches, and rocks and bits of mortar fallen from the walls greeted her eyes. The garden was in terrible disrepair.
Yet instead of seeing the ruins as impossible to fix, she saw with wonder what could be. Her eyes saw the potential beauty, the hope of new life. Immediately she began her restoration work.
Likewise, our sexual relationships are often begun with walls broken and fractured and with weeds of past experiences choking out healthy sexual expression.
As in Mary’s garden, restoration to beauty is possible in the secret garden of marriage. We were made to bloom, to flourish in the place of maximum sunlight with the right amount of moisture—not too little, not too much. God plants us in a marriage with the potential to grow as individuals to mature beauty. But it takes time.
As a boomer-generation child, I came of age in the early days of the sexual revolution. A friend and radio guest, pediatrician Dr. Meg Meeker, said that our generation has left a terrible legacy in the sexual liberation we inaugurated. I agree with her. Casual sex and fluid gender identity is an epidemic spreading like wildfire, and the result for our children and grandchildren is truly frightening. As a result, it is rare that young couples marry today as virgins or enter matrimony untouched by abuse. Far too often, one or both carry physical, psychological, and emotional sexual scars into marriage.
It can feel like too much, but I know God is supremely able to rescue and restore. And so premarital experience must be addressed with your spouse. Once married, the experience is not just yours, but his to bear with you. As Paul said in Galatians 6:2, “Bear one another’s burdens.” Your wounds are now his, and his wounds yours. Your individual losses affect each other and your experience in sex.
Yet there is great joy in a love that overcomes. What a wonder it is to be welcomed in love, to not be alone with your losses but to be with another who loves in spite of the loss. Love does cover a multitude of sins. God delights to redeem and rescue, and He’s at work in this aspect of your marriage, too.
You see, it’s not just our individual mistakes that come with us to marriage. Lurking below the surface for every husband and every wife, in every marriage, is our universal shame. Every one of us is imperfect and bears the stain of shame before God. Though we long for the comfort and safety we intuitively know is to be found in the oneness of sexual intimacy, our shame often gets in the way. The consequences of sexual sin and abuse are not quickly overcome.
Past sexual experiences, universal shame, and all our miscellaneous baggage make the work of creating a beautiful secret garden more complicated than it was intended. Yet gratefully, with much love comes much forgiveness (see Luke 7:47).
It is in exposure to each other that we find the healing that love intends for us. This is the glorious beauty of marriage: that two injured, imperfect, sinful souls can live together in harmony and thereby demonstrate to the world that the intentions of God’s original beautiful redemptive design are possible. Every marriage that not only survives but thrives fearlessly in spite of all obstacles is building a sweet victory garden of great pleasure and joy.
One of my favorite phrases in the Bible speaks to all of us, broken trees that we are, damaged, infected, or unhealthy. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul talks about those who are guilty of greed, idolatry, and sexual immorality, and then says, “And such were some of you” (1 Corinthians 6:11). This verse tells of a change, a shift, a rebirth. It is a new day. Hope is speaking words of promise for our deliverance from sin to freedom and beauty.
None who enter the garden through the gates of matrimony arrive unscathed by the darkness of sin. But every one of the redeemed—you and I—have been washed clean and set apart for His purposes and His plans, as individuals and in our marriages. We are building this secret garden in the midst of ruin, but with hope, always with hope.
- Be brave and risk sharing pieces of your story, one by one, with your beloved so that healing can begin in your secret garden.
- God loves to redeem. It’s His greatest joy.
- Nothing is too hard for Him. Even this.
- Be courageous and keep working on your secret garden even when it seems impossible.
May your gardening be filled with that hope, because He is able to do exceedingly beyond all we ask or think.
This post was adapted with permission from my book, Letters to My Daughters: The Art of Being a Wife, ©2016, Bethany House Publishers. If you enjoyed reading this, you’ll find many more letters in the book about different issues that come up in marriage.
I highly recommend Dr. Julie Slattery’s book Rethinking Sexuality. She is a wonderfully humble person and her wisdom is profound on matters of intimacy in marriage. Her podcasts are also a great resource on this topic they can be find on her website puredesire.org.
2 thoughts on “Repairing the Damage from Premarital Sexual Choices”
Sorry, I meant authenticintimacy.com
Hi Barbara, thank you for this post and your book! You mentioned Dr. Juli Slattery at the bottom of your post and, her website, authenticintimacy.org is an excellent place to find resources including the Online Book Studies that are offered there, like the one you mentioned titled, Rethinking Sexuality. Some other really helpful and transformative studies I’ve participated in are Passion Pursuit: What Kind Of Love Are You Making and Finding The Hero In Your Husband. This has been such a great way to be a part of small group from the comfort of my home and allow God to do His work in my heart with other women on this journey!