Fifty Shades of Experience

Well Wednesday’s post started quite the discussion, didn’t it?  If you just read my posts in email form, you might not have seen the 60+ comments on the Fifty Shades of No post I wrote.  Most were in agreement, although some struggled with the post.

Let me be the first to say that I welcome you to share your thoughts with me whether you agree or disagree. I only ask that you do so respectfully. If I get a disrespectful comment–whether the writer agrees or disagrees–I delete it.

Let me also share with you that I will never write about something that I’ve never had personal experience with.

Over twenty years of ministry, Mark and I have mentored hundreds of married couples in crisis.  Many of those couples were dealing with issues caused by pornography–and no, it wasn’t always the guys. Sometimes it was the women who were reading erotica or even just secular love stories filled with steamy love scenes.  Many of these couples would say, “Marriage shouldn’t be this hard.” When we would dig deeply into why they expected marriage to not be so difficult, it often came down to the television shows they watched, the novels they read, or the movies they viewed that painted a different–and unrealistic–picture.

I’ve seen way too many marriages begin to fall apart because the couple was not careful and discerning about the messages they were believing from whatever form of media they were “digesting.”  Some even admitted that it was constant exposure to work conversations or the moms they were hanging around with that were affecting their perspective, causing discontent, or eroding their sense of right and wrong.  We tell our kids that they need to choose their friends wisely and that applies to us as parents, too!

No I didn’t see the movie or read the book I was discussing on Wednesday, but I have seen plenty of movies and read plenty of books that have affected my thinking and skewed my perspective even just a slight bit.  The problem with that is a slightly skewed perspective away from the way God wants me to live can easily become a slippery slope.

Let me share with you one such time and one such movie that has forever stuck with me. This was many years ago when Mark and I were experiencing a tough time in our marriage. It was a few years after he finished Bible college and a few years into his first ministry assignment. I was a stay-at-home mom of four little ones. Mark was busy with ministry and we were living under the same roof but there wasn’t a lot of emotional connection in our relationship. I wouldn’t say our marriage was in trouble, but my heart was definitely vulnerable.

One night Mark was at a church meeting. I put all the kids to bed and decided to pop in a movie I’d rented earlier in the week. It was the movie The Bridges Over Madison County.

The movie was about a mom named Francesca who was devoted to her family (played by Meryl Streep). Her husband was gruff and unkind and it was obvious she was living in a loveless marriage. The husband took the kids away for four days to the State Fair leaving mom to care for things at home.

A photographer, Robert (played by Clint Eastwood), stops by the farm to ask for directions as he’s looking for covered bridges to photograph. Francesca befriends the photographer and takes him to see the bridges he’s searching for. A four-day affair results between the two characters.  While this didn’t happen on the screen, it was as if her life went from black and white to color. The way the movie presented the picture was as if the affair brought color to her life.

As I was sitting there watching the movie, I began to have thoughts like these:

  • “Wow…I would sure love my black and white life to move to color.”
  • “You know, I can’t blame her. She was in a loveless marriage. Everyone deserves to be loved.”
  • “The affair didn’t really hurt anyone. The husband and kids were gone and it brought four days of happiness to her life.”

Before I knew it, I was swept into what I saw on the screen and personalizing it for my life. I was resonating with the character’s loveless marriage and rationalizing why her actions were okay for her and ultimately would be okay for me.

Then I caught myself.  Conviction entered my heart. Wow….I got sucked into that message so easily! I almost started to believe lies that could have destroyed…particularly if I would have acted on those lies, believing my happiness was all that needed to be considered.

What we think, what we read, what we see does affect our morals, our values, and our sense of right and wrong.  I have personally experienced that…or I wouldn’t have taken the time to write about it.

The Bible isn’t relative to what we think or feel. It’s truth. Absolute truth.  God gives it to us as an instruction book for life. Not to limit us, but to set us free and protect us from making choices that can hurt us or those who love us.  He gives us guidelines for what to think and directions for how to live because he loves us and wants the best for us. Our feelings can lead us astray, because they change all the time. God’s truth guides us because it never changes.

Several who commented on the post asked why this book and movie were singled out. If we’re concerned with them, shouldn’t we be concerned about other books we read and movies we watch. Yes!  Absolutely yes!  There are good reasons you don’t let your kids read or see certain things and there are good reasons why we, as moms, should be discerning about what we read or see.

As one who has helped put back together the pieces of too many broken lives and broken marriages, I can attest that being careful about the messages we expose ourselves is very important.

That’s not judgment. Nor is it criticism.

That’s first-hand experience.


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22 thoughts on “Fifty Shades of Experience

  1. well, i didn’t read your last post or any of the comments — but i must say, i agree with everything you wrote in this post. “The Bible isn’t relative to what we think or feel. It’s truth. Absolute truth.” <<—- this is EXACTLY what i believe and thankful that i've not even had a small bit of desire to read or watch that book or the other "hot" ones circulating right now! i may not always be living in "color", but i am thankful for all that i do have.

  2. Jill, You are so right…truth is truth and no matter what else we want it to be – it simply remains truth. Thanks for sharing…

  3. One friend who read 50 Shades said she, regretfully, can’t get the images out of her mind. Those are some powerful images… from the pages of a book -not photographs, but the written word. I’m grateful for the wisdom of “experienced” women who aren’t judgemental, simply honest in sharing the Truth.

    …and YES, JILL! I remember Bridges of Madison County, too! It had a similar impact on me. I STILL hate what that movie did to me. I had bought the book… and the DVD, but to this day I have never read it or given it a second viewing. I still remember watching it as a newlywed with my experienced mother-in-law. While I teared up as Francesca opted not to open the door of the truck that dark and rainy day, her response surprised me. It seemed “old-fashioned” but now I see what a hedge she put around her marriage. It’s that kind of thinking that explains how she and my father-in-law celebrated 70 years of marriage on the 26th of last month.

    Thanks for your daily blog… May God continue to bless you and keep you.

  4. Reading your post rom yesterday and the comments that followed almost made me write, remember Bridges of Madison County? Same conversations happened then. Especially since I was living in Iowa and could go see the bridges! I read Bridges as a young and naive newly wed. I won’t be reading 50 Shades of Gray. Bridges did not have a huge effect on me but I’ve learned more about the power of suggestion now.
    Thanks for writing.

  5. I do agree overall, but the reason I liked/respected Magic Mike is because Tatums character fell in love with the “normal girl” who hated his lifestyle, convinced him to see more in himself because she believed in him, so he left that lifestyle to start a new life. Secular yes, rated R content yes, but it did a good job highlighting the darkness and emptiness of that lifestyle. The marketing was not accurate by portraying lots of exotic dancing & nudity, although there was a bit of that. But tonight, as my marriage is falling apart due to my husbands infidelity & sexual addiction, I feel that Fireproof is just as annoying for setting up a standard that no mere male can live up to, not to mention the idealistic notion that a broken man and/or a broken marriage can be fixed in 2 hours or even 40 days. BTW, Jill I love you and can’t wait every year for Hearts at Home. I can’t control much in this hard life, but at least I can try to be the best mom I can.

    • Jen, I am so very sorry for what’s happening in your marriage. It breaks my heart. You are right, there’s not much we can control in this challenging world. We can only deal with our own heart and our own relationship with God. Keep your eyes on the Mountain Mover in this hard season where it is so easy to see only the mountains.

  6. I saw “Bridges of Madison County” and remember being horrified that at that time it was regarded as such a “good” movie.

    I just found out about my husband’s infidelity both “in person” and he also is registered on 2 online dating sites, and emailed a woman on one of them. He has his own small business and, looking back, I realize that he works every day with several people who have had broken marriages; one man’s live-in girlfriend is pregnant with their second child and it’s fairly common place for even married couples to cheat. There’s also a lot of “bending the truth” that goes on in the industry and being constantly around that probably made it easy for him to lie to me–probably much more than I realize. I just found this out a week or so ago. Our society paints this all as “normal”.

    Our kids will be going to college in a few weeks and I won’t only be facing an empty nest but starting a new life alone. I’m blessed that I have so many Christian friends to support me.

    He can’t blame his actions on anyone but himself but as I read in 1 Corin. (I think) “Bad company ruins good morals.” “Bad company” can be real people and also books or movies.

  7. I did not read your previous post, but I can say a hardy “amen” to this one.
    I recently had a similar conversation with a colleague about the Twilight series – I did not read them simply because of the vampire content. My reasoning had to do with a book I read in high school about vampires that opened the door of my imagination to some very dark areas (which would be considered very MILD by today’s standards.) I was “reprimanded” and told it is simply a love story…if so, then why make them vampires?
    The point it – I came away feeling ashamed that I had made a decision to NOT read the books.
    Recently, my teen brought a movie home from Red box that he REALLY wanted to see. I let my guard down and didn’t check reviews or watch it before hand. It was awful! Now those “jokes” and images are in my child’s head because I made a compromise. (I only caught the last couple of minutes of the show – he’d already watched it….twice!)
    I told my kids this week no movie like that would be allowed in my home again. Don’t even ask.
    So go ahead – try and make me feel guilty or out of touch or a prude. God has called me to His service…and that includes keeping a watch over those I love.
    Once, when I was little, I discovered some wonderful little sand “castles” in an area of my yard. I thought someone had come to play in my yard while I slept! With my bare foot, I played in the sand castles only to discover that cats make “sand castles” too. I will never forget that inside that pile was a load of yuck! So no, I haven’t read 50 shades or watched any “Magic” movies. Sometimes you don’t have to investigate a pile to know what’s inside.
    Just my thoughts on things.

  8. Jill – I was so affirmed by your post on the book and movie. I felt the same way as you do. Some of my friends are reading the book and talking about that movie and it saddens me that they are drawn to that. I’m proud that you have the courage to say what you did.

  9. Regardless of whether one is in a loveless marriage, you made a commitment. I, too, am in this position. My Bible Study and His Word have been a tremendous support to me and I am getting through each day. However, NEVER ONCE has it ever crossed my mind to engage in an illicit affair (in thought, word or deed) with another man. No matter how angry I am with my husband or how horrific his rage was the day before, this does not give me “an out” to go “find love elsewhere.” I always have love through Jesus. No matter what. There is no reason to go looking elsewhere.

  10. Timely, because I haven’t read the book or seen the movie yet, though I’ve been tempted to both, and have heard discussions about them (esp the book) a lot lately. I LOVE to read, but am realizing as you said, that the novels put a spin on relationships that isn’t real. A happy marriage is hard work. So Jill, do you have some non-religious, but healthy book suggestions? Or suggestions on how to find books that we can enjoy that won’t mess with our expectations?

  11. These are the same thoughts men have when struggling with pornography. Both are at the root lustful thoughts. A lot of women hate pornography because it creates unrealistic expectations of women. Well ladies, so does The Notebook and Twilight and all the other woman porn out there. Lust is easy to spot with men, we are simple victims of the way our eyes and brains work. A woman’s heart is an ocean of secrets and perhaps realizing what lust causes will open some eyes. Lust is lust, I know this from experience.

  12. Amen! Amen! Amen! Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. We need to guard our marriages by guarding our hearts and minds. Taking captive every thought… and bringing everything into obedience to Jesus.

  13. Jill, I just want to say “thank-you” for taking a stand on this issue. It has really been bothering me how many Christians are taking part in this book and movie. It is all over my Facebook newsfeed-sadly, mostly women from my church. It breaks my heart. I know your stance is not a popular one so thanks for standing up and speaking out. So many women respect you and your opinion and I am sure that you have already saved some hearts and minds.

  14. Amen!!!! Thank you so much for sharing this. Thankful for the truth you share and that I am not alone in my convictions.

  15. Shall we go on sinning so that God can keep showing us more and more of His grace? I was saddened by one commentor on your previous post who said if she read the book or saw the movie God would probably forgive her. Certainly, He will…no probably to it! However, why do we want to even put God in the place that he has to forgive us! It is possible to live above these things. To have the attitude that we can do what we want and God will forgive us is dangerous indeed. Instead of thinking how close to the edge we can walk we should be thinking how far away from the edge can we get. We are called to live holy lives. I think it sad that some view this as trying to live “holier than thou”. It isn’t. We all have our weaknesses and we are to help one another in those weaknesses. That is exactly what I see Jill trying to do.

    Also, i don’t quite understand why so many are concerned that Jill would speak against something she has not read or viewed. I do not have to stick my hand in fire to know it will burn me. There are things we should stay away from as Christian s that can burn us and sear our conscience and make us have the smell of the world. We are called to be different. We are to be discerning and to warn others of dangers. Thank you Jill for sounding out the warning.

  16. AMEN! I know when I talk about this to people it seems they don’t understand it. I am so glad you posted this as it helps the awareness. Music is another way I find I had been influenced by, and so now I discuss with my kids the lyrics of the songs they are listening to so they are aware of what goes in-is what comes out. I say that to them a lot.

  17. Jill, I was away from the internet for 5 wonderful days on a family vacation 😉 though read the 50 Shades post today at the airport…..I totally agree….no need to fill my head with more filth….When I was younger I read and saw everything….I have been a life long Christian…but have been really working on developing a deeper relationship with Christ. I read and saw “Interview with the Vampire” when Tom Cruise was cool…I am over the Vampire thing. I have read the online reviews of 50 Shades….and the reviewers say that it’s about a man dominating a woman. Don’t we have enough problems with that in this world? Do we need a book about it? One of the Bible verses I have been trying to memorize is Philippians 4:7-9
    And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

    8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

    Thank you Jill for your encouragement and your stand! 🙂

  18. I agree totally Jill. I was not a Christian until we had been married about 8 years. I read things as a teen that I got from a friends house that absolutely affected how I view sex which caused many struggles in the earlier years of our marriage and even sometimes now, although I see things from a different perspective. I have seen things on television that have definitely left images behind that I had difficulty erasing from my mind (and from the books just as one commenter has said).

    Those things I referred to were more graphic or obvious, however subtle things can have an impact as well that you may not even realize, just like you said.

    I have three children, one of them a young adult in a serious dating relationship. I taught her and will do the same with our 8 and 5 year olds, to discern what she watched, read and listened to. I pray every day about this for my youngest children. I do not want my daughter to have problems in her marriage like I struggled with because of what I foolishly read. She has always been very good at discerning what she is watching and listening to. She has not been exposed to what I was and I’m pretty certain that she will have an easier time (that is just the regular struggles of a newly married couple in that area without the added stuff caused by the lies of the enemy through the books, etc).

    By the way, my mother did not know that I read those books and my parents were careful about what they let us watch. But we weren’t Christians – I wasn’t a Christian and didn’t have God’s guidelines to follow. I’m so thankful that I have them now for me and for our family.

  19. So thankful to Jill for the post I’ve been waiting for. It’s 50 shades of foolishness to me. What comes to me is this, “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight.” 1 Corinthians 3:19 and this, “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.” 1 Corinthians 2:14 The Spirit certainly hasn’t led me to reading/watching these kinds of things.

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