My Struggle with Romance Novels
I was never one of those girls who dreamed of the prince carrying her off to live in his castle. When I played with my Barbie dolls with my younger cousin, we would actually strip our Barbie and Ken dolls naked and put them in bed together. Looking back on it now, I realize that was probably abnormal. Maybe we were both trying to make sense of things we had seen or heard, I don’t know – either way, my Barbies were used so that I could try to make sense of what men and women did together and I got it right, minus the love part. My dad started having an affair when I was 12, which started a tumultuous back and forth between my mom and the other woman for three years. During this time, I found out about romance novels somehow and they, in a distorted way, brought me comfort. I remember thinking, “If God couldn’t keep my parent’s marriage together, then sex and immediate attraction must be a pretty powerful thing to break apart my parent’s Christian marriage, right?”
At a time in my life when I should have been looking to Godly couples as an example to strive for, my parent’s marriage was falling apart and I instead chose to look at the least Godly example of what love looks like.
And so, it carried on for years, the novels were my go-to reading, helping me sleep at night. And if I felt an instant attraction for someone, in my mind, that was the beginning of a good relationship. Even Hollywood movies confirmed it to be truth. And even though I was part of youth group and signed the “True Love Waits” card, in my mind, that also was part of the deal – just an added part. I mean, he didn’t have to be a believer, just wait until we got married to have sex. And in the meantime, we could do the whole “everything but sex” routine that so many Christian women seem to think is acceptable.
My mind was so mixed up between religion and carnality but godliness and truth was not included in the mix.
As I struggled to find truth in a world that only became more confusing, I tried to straddle the fence between pleasure and holiness, hurting myself more and more and making bad decision after bad decision. I am sure I also hurt others along to way but I was too confused and selfish to see it then. I couldn’t figure out why none of my relationships were working. I mean, I was following the formula set by everything I had seen and read. I was still keeping my virginity. It isn’t until now that I realize so much was still missing. I was missing purity and the desire to please God above myself – two very important things. My virginity became an idol – something I was praising for myself because it was useless otherwise.
I might as well have been a Pharisee that Jesus called out in Matthew 23:2-5 when He said:
The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law are experts in the Law of Moses. So obey everything they teach you, but don’t do as they do. After all, they say one thing and do something else…Everything they do is just to show off in front of others. They even make a big show of wearing Scripture verses on their foreheads and arms, and they wear big tassels for everyone to see.
I was just like them. I bragged about still being a virgin and made a big show about it but meanwhile, I was reading everything that was filth to the mind and heart. I was saying one thing but doing something else. I even still (mostly) went to church. I had my outside life that I lived but an inside filled with idolatry and lust.
But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. -Matthew 5:28
Then that sin grew and I started allowing in the temptation of being physical with guys, throwing away the "anything but" phrase. As Scripture states “desire gives birth to sin” (James 1:15). I had a desire for someone to fill the loneliness in me and questions that I had since I was 12 about romance and what a healthy relationship was. I had a desire for someone who wouldn’t leave me. Yet, always, I either left them or they left me. All this time, I had been harboring these thoughts of “romance” and with each failed relationship, I thought that I did something wrong, and maybe that something was sex. But it went so much further than that; it was a deeper heart issue.
For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God. -1 Thessalonians 4:3-5
I was so confused, saying I was Christian but not turning to God fully. I did not understand that He was the one I desired all along. But by that point, I was fully immersed in sin – both in inner thought and outer deed.
But God never gave up on me. When I realized my sins, errors, hurts, and mistakes and longed for forgiveness, He was there with open arms. Immediately, the desire for sexual promiscuity was gone; yet, I still read the novels and watched the romantic comedies. Baffling still, God worked miracles in my heart; changing me, molding me, loving me, and healing me.
It wasn’t until nine years after I turned to God and called out for forgiveness that I was convicted about the romance novels. At the time, I was reading Chesterton where he was talking about God’s kingdom and how He sits on a golden throne, resplendent with a golden light. In that instant, I pictured myself asking God to come down from His throne to visit me in my romance novel sin alley. It was dark and gloomy and filled with trash and dirt that covered everything; and when God entered, I saw it for how filthy it really was and I actually felt physically sick to my stomach.
I will refuse to look at anything vile and vulgar. I hate all who deal crookedly; I will have nothing to do with them. -Psalm 101:3
It was then that God used that specific moment to free me from my bondage of fake love and romance novels because He knew my heart was ready.
It was also then that I realized what it took for Christ to carry all our sins because they truly are darkness. I realized what it takes for the Holy Spirit to reside in our souls – with the constant battle between our redeemed selves and our earthly selves – how the Spirit has so many roles and I am grateful for each one. And I realized that it is true that God’s timing is perfect. I am not saying that God allowed me to keep sinning, I did that all on my own, rather that He is a patient and loving Father who waits and is always willing to forgive and heal.
Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. -Philippians 4:8
I, of course, know now that love is not what you read in a romance novel. It is what you read in the greatest book of all time – the Bible.
As I have talked about this with other Christian ladies, I am realizing more and more that this is a struggle for others. Whether it is romance novels or romantic comedies, we all get sucked into the world’s idea of romance, which is not at all like God’s love. His love is greater and more pure than anything the world can ever offer. And if marriage is something you prayerfully seek and God has intended, that love will be selfless like Christ at its core, which is stronger than any love in a romance novel.
Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in Your ways. -Psalm 119:37
Have you struggled with this? Are you struggling with this? Have you stopped to consider how different the world’s version is of romance compared to God’s?