Alison HowardI was a believer of lies.  I believed in what society and the media told me about love and marriage and then on Sunday I would raise my hands in church and sing to a God I didn’t really know, but thought I did, all while counting down the hours until Monday when The Bachelor would be on TV and I could check out of the reality of my own life for a few hours.  I believed I was entitled to a happy marriage and regular doses of butterflies because if happiness and butterflies didn’t exist daily then something must be wrong with my marriage.  I believed in Olivia Pope and Fitz and so rooted for them because true love should win (despite adultery).  I believed in Kim Kardashian.  I believed in Oprah (and really really really wanted to be just like her).  I believed in Fifty Shades of Grey.

I remember when Fifty Shades of Grey came out.  It was 2011 and I was unhappily married.  I was pretending to have everything together for the sake of my professional reputation, relationships, and my sanity – but my personal life was unraveling.  Instead of turning to truth I indulged in lies because it felt better.  Scandal and Revenge and Keeping Up and Super Soul Sunday and Fifty Shades and other crap I read/music I listened to/people I spent time with all distracted me from reality and truth and God.  I became obsessed with my work.  Planning weddings while hating marriage.  The irony.  But since I had apparently already missed the mark on getting the whole happily-ever-after marriage thing right I may as well enjoy the beautiful or messed up stories of others – whether they were true or false – regardless of how they polluted my heart and soul.

So when Fifty Shades came out and everyone jumped on that bandwagon, curiosity and FOMO (fear of missing out) took over and I delightfully secured my spot with so many other women in this country.  A new shiny distraction!  A gorgeous rich man, a unknowingly beautiful yet needy, mousy woman, S&M, “love”.  The makings of a beautiful relationship.  I devoured it.  I wish I could have a rich gorgeous man pay attention to me….well, without the abuse….but if he were rich and gorgeous maybe that would be okay as long as it wasn’t too hurtful or weird.  And she does kinda save him.  Teaches him to love.  Maybe they eventually find Jesus. Seriously.  Those were my thoughts.  Talk about delusional.  I believed the lie because my soul was hungry for what I think all our souls are hungry for: to be seen as precious, cherished, intimately known, understood and loved; but I was feeding it the wrong thing.  And when my husband seemed to fall short I filled myself with lies in hopes it would fill the void only to find it left it gaping wider and hungrier than before.  This went on for years. Years.

Then I met Jesus – truly met Jesus – and everything changed.

Women, what are we doing?  What are we supporting?  Even if you aren’t a Christian – you are a WOMAN.  Is it because Anastasia chooses by her own free will to be objectified that it makes it okay?  Is that what we tell ourselves to justify it?  Are we not made to be more than a man’s perverted play thing? I get that we think it’s just a harmless fictional book series and the movie is equally as harmless – I used to think the exact same thing – but don’t be deceived.  Don’t let the subtlety of it all fool you like it did me. Because each little thing I took in over and over and over again, that didn’t seem like a big deal at the time, slowly changed my belief system, my self view, my world view, my views on God, how I viewed my husband and our marriage.

While planning beautiful weddings is what I do, cultivating a beautiful marriage is what really matters to me.  When I sat in church this past Sunday and our Pastor asked if we knew the name of the main character of Fifty Shades of Grey, I heard more voices say, “Christian” than I heard say, “Amen” after the prayer only moments before.  I was so shaken because I realized not only my own deliberate hypocrisy but that of so many sitting with me.  In church.  WHO ARE WE?!  Why do we buy into these lies and follow the world down that wide path we’re warned against?  I’ve been married for twelve years to a truly amazing man and most of my marriage has been hard because of the lies I believed. If I can help one woman see what took me over a decade to see (apparently I am an extremely slow learner), then bearing this piece of myself is worth it. Here are the three main lies I used to believe:

LIE ONE – TV, Social Media, Music and Literature Don’t Really Influence Me
I remember my parents not letting me watch The Simpsons because they thought it was a bad influence and I thought they were ridiculous.  Turns out they were on to something.  Just because everyone else is watching it, reading it, listening to it does not mean that I should.  Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it (Proverbs 4:23).  I think the negative effect of media on us has two parts:
1) Fear of missing out and/or fear of dealing with our own junk.  If we are constantly exposing ourselves to trash to make ourselves feel better (total lie) or to keep up with the office talk or what the mom’s at the park are talking about, trash is what will flow out of us.  Why do we consume garbage to begin with?  For me, it was because it made me feel better about my own junk, it provided me a brief distraction from my own junk, and it gave me something else to discuss other than my own junk.  Did any of it make me more compassionate, loving, honest or selfless?  No.
2) Making comparisons based on what we see online, on TV, read, etc.  Nothing makes me more discontented that when I am consuming too much media. Suddenly my house isn’t big enough, I’m not skinny enough, my kids aren’t smart enough, my husband isn’t good enough, my friends don’t care enough.  Limiting my media time and increasing my TRUTH time (spending time in the Word) is the only way to combat this lie.

LIE TWO – It’s Okay To Call Myself A Christian While Supporting Things That Are Not Christlike
Oh this lie.  This lie got me for a long time.  I called myself a Christian while not thinking or living at all like Jesus, but with the justification that since I believed in God that was good enough.  You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God.  Good for you!  Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. (James 2:19)  I was the epitome of lukewarm.  I believed in God, I served in church, I lead others and still I maintained I could embrace things the world embraced and call it “harmless entertainment”. Friends, if we wouldn’t want others (Christians or otherwise) to know what we’re watching, reading or listening to then we shouldn’t be consuming it at all.  If you call yourself a Christian yet you support ungodly things by spreading its message and sharing it on social media, stop.  Examine what you support and why you support it and make a decision.  We all have an audience – people who pay attention, online and off  to what we do and say.  Consider your influence on others and the message you are sending.

LIE THREE – The Main Objective of Marriage Is To Make Me Feel Happy
I believed this lie with all my heart and it came from a place of total selfishness.  I didn’t understand marriage because I didn’t understand God.  The less I understood God, the less I understood marriage and the less happy I consequently felt.  I embarked on a long exhausting journey to find true happiness and it left me feeling more empty and depleted than anything else.  When I finally surrendered my life to God, opened my Bible, and began to pray real prayers, I found what had always been right in front of me: the love of Jesus.  True happiness.  If you and your husband both call yourself Christians but your marriage isn’t happy, you don’t have a marriage problem, you have a God problem.  That was our problem.  Once I realized how self-centered I was and decided to truly give my life to God everything began to change.  Mark and I got real honest and I realized that my husband is seriously the best human being I have ever met.  He knows everything about me – every struggle, every flaw, every shortcoming and somehow this man still loves me and chooses me.  Mark reflects God’s love to me (almost) daily.  We support each other, we rally when it’s hard, we die to self and choose the other.  It’s humbling and brutal at times.  But that is true love and its result is the most amazing joy imaginable.  The truth is, your marriage isn’t supposed to make you feel happy all the time; your marriage is supposed to make you more Christlike.

Valentines Day is Saturday.  Instead of buying into the lies of the world about love, relationships and marriage, I pray you would seek TRUTH and find that love – real love – is not selfish, abusive, perverted, controlling or manipulative.  Real love is patient and kind.  Real love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude.  It is not irritable and it keeps no records of being wronged.  It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices when the truth wins.  Real love never gives up, never loses faith, and is always hopeful. Real love never fails.