How Romance Novels are Psychologically Dangerous

Here inlays a problem with a multitude of romance stories: the author ‘shows’ you she says ‘no’, but tells you that she secretly wants to be kidnapped. 

RomanceNovelsI recently finished a book recommended to me called Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. When I read the Amazon description of the book, I gave the person who recommended the book fair warning; this is a Christian romance novel and I’m probably too jaded to appreciate it.  This person assured me I would love it as it is a story of the book of Hosea written in the setting of the gold country in the 1850’s.  Let’s just say, there are so many issues I have with this romance story that I cannot recommend this book.

To begin, I’d like to note, this is the first romance novel I have read since I was about 12 years old and so I cannot speak to all romance novels.  But the issues I have with this book are very similar to issues I have with most romance movies and thus why I have given up on them as well.  My husband even has fun telling me the names of the Hallmark movies he encounters to watch me fake-gag; ‘Love at First Bark’ and ‘Frozen in Love’ are just a little bit too much for me.

The Good

Of course, as with any good lie there is always an element of truth.  The hero of this story, Michael Hosea, has many good qualities; he loves God, is righteous on many levels, is a rescuer, he attempts to hear God, and acknowledges his own need for redemption.  It shows he waits for intimacy until she is ready and he has a good balance between rugged-toughness and sensitivity. This is a story of attempting to love in the midst of the need to forgive many times over.  There are several good lessons to learn from it.

The Problems

Michael Hosea is represented as an amazing, God-fearing man who falls in love with Angel, a beautiful, needing-to-be-rescued, prostitute who has been sex-trafficked since childhood.  He sets out to save her, but in doing so he kidnaps her against her will and marries her when she is in a state of half-consciousness.  He takes her 30 miles outside of the nearest town and holds her against her will until he can convince her of his undying love for her through his ‘being nice’ to her.

This is SO NOT how you help a victim of sex trafficking!!!  Just because you want what is best for someone does not give you permission to be yet another person who takes away their choice with your choice.

She escapes “his love” to go back to prostitution, and he does it AGAIN!  His great love for her busts in on her in the act of prostitution and kidnaps her a SECOND time!  She fights going with him and yet ‘he knows best’ and kidnaps her back to his home.

Here inlays a problem with a multitude of romance stories: the author ‘shows’ you she says ‘no’, but tells you that she secretly wants to be kidnapped.  Do you see how many problems there are with this???  In essence, we are told this woman doesn’t really know what she wants so don’t listen to her.  In today’s language, Michael Hosea is a god-fearing man who would be brought up on charges of stalking and kidnapping.

Michael Hosea does good to show Angel kindness, compassion, and mercy on many different levels.  But do you see, that when this is coupled with loss of independent thought and choice, it becomes dehumanizing.  God always allows us the choice of running to false gods and emptiness.

At one point, Hosea tells Angel ‘you belong to me’ because she is his wife but remember she was half-conscious when he slipped the ring on her finger.  Too many times unhealthy people think of ‘belonging’ as ownership.  They think because ‘you belong to me’ means I can now make decisions for YOU because you are too broken to make decisions for yourself.  In reality, belonging means we bring our true selves into relationship and are accepted right where we are.

Please hear me on this:  The way to help a person who is ‘too broken’ is to listen to them.  Give them their choice back.  Support their decisions which you may see will bring them to more harm but through this they will learn.  They need to choose their own path of healing or choose to continue in pain.

Ultimately, he learns he has to let her go in order for her to actually heal and love him in return.  I won’t spoil the book for you but suffice it to say, Michael Hosea ultimately plays the hero by relinquishing control and letting God be God in her life.

This Is Not Even the Story of Hosea

In reading Hosea, I feel like the author missed the point.  I will admit, maybe I don’t understand Hosea because I think the commentators that I read on Hosea don’t get the point either.   In Hosea 1-3, God calls the prophet Hosea to marry a prostitute as a prophetic picture to Israel of what she is doing, playing the harlot.  This is shown as a ridiculous marriage, not as the icon of what a marital love should be.  The majority of Hosea 4-14 is God telling Israel of his anger and the chastisements she will receive because of her wicked ways. He allows Israel to become exhausted with running from Him.  God’s kindness and tenderness is ever present and ready to receive Israel when she is ready but Israel doesn’t experience His kindness and tenderness while living a wanton lifestyle.  It is after she repents that God is always ready to show his redeeming kindness and tenderness.

This story of Michael Hosea dominating and rescuing her from bondage through endless niceness is not the story of Hosea in the Bible.  Hosea is a book of judgement to the corporate people of God.  Applying it to an individual can be problematic.  (Addendum: Does she need to be rescued?  Absolutely!  But this is for the civil magistrate to do and then to prosecute those responsible.  She then needs to find spiritual healing.  THEN she is ready for a romanic relationship.)

God’s kindness and forbearance are involved in leading us to repentance as shown in Romans 2.  But even in that context, God allows us to run to our false gods and reap the consequences (Romans 1) so that we will turn back to Him.

How Romance Novels Set Us Up for False Ideas of Love

In the beginning, Michael Hosea sees Angel walking down the street and God tells him that ‘she’s the one’.  (Are there romance stories where this isn’t the set up?)  What kind of thinking does this set us up for?  Do you wait for God to tell you ‘this is the one’ before you move?  Is there ‘the one’?  Can you lie to yourself to get what you want?  While you can be attracted to someone (and I think you should be attracted to someone you marry), there are SO many other elements that are important to consider before dedicating your life (at first glance) to someone, such as; how do they resolve conflict, what are their life goals, what and how do they spend money, etc.  To set us up that ‘true love’ knows the moment you see them is a recipe for disaster.  It ends up being a constant disappointment because they don’t meet the expectations of what you created in your mind when you glanced at them from across the street.

Here’s a line of disaster, “She marveled at how he was sensitive to her every thought” (page 318).  Guess what, we can NOT read each other’s minds.  Sensitivity is great but to have this as an expectation of romance is catastrophic.  And if you think you can read someone else’s mind because you love them, you are arrogant.

Here’s another line of disaster from Michael to Angel when he has taken her out of the house in the middle of the night to walk through the woods and she is afraid.  “You don’t hear me.  You don’t understand anything. I can’t take you back. You’re not going to have it your way.  It’s got to be my way or not at all” (page 138).  What?  Because he is a God-fearing, good-hearted man, it has to be his way?  Because his love for her is so great he drags her through the woods to see  a romantic sunrise and she doesn’t have a choice in this?  Love does not demand it’s own way and it always allows for choice.  So much WOW here people!!!

OK, one more line of disaster… “Give your pain to me,” Michael said to Angel (page 153).  We like to think that true love can take away someone’s pain to make everything better.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.  While we can bear one another’s burdens and it does lesson the load, it is still for the person to walk through into healing.  It takes time and we must feel to heal.

There were a number of problems I have with this Christian romance novel and the way it depicts a good-hearted, God-fearing man as a stalker, controller, and kidnapper because he is overwhelmed with love for her and obeying God.  It is shown in a way that proves his ‘control’ is really love for her.  These mixed messages set us up to completely miss the point of romantic love.

Maybe the book of Hosea isn’t exactly the best book to develop a ‘romance novel’ after since it actually is a book of judgement.  Maybe a better source from Scripture to model a romance after is the Song of Solomon, which is a book that depicts a story of mutual romance and a deepening marriage.

I am told from a reliable source, that there are a few good Christian romance novels out there that show good relational behaviors.  But I think it’s going to be awhile before I take the risk to read another one.

(A second addendum:  I get that men love to be hero’s.  What if our romance stories showed he falls in love with a woman because she is a competent, attractive woman who actually adds her skills and giftings to be able to complete the mission?  Hum…how would that set up the young women of our culture to develop themselves?)

 

 

Love In Any Language

I think as a culture we are measuring our attempts at loving against these 5 Love Languages, instead of against Scripture.

Love In Any LanguageThere is much written on the 5 Love Languages.  I’ve read the book, articles about the book, heard sermons, and it comes up in daily conversations.  The original book written by Gary Chapman was published in 1992 and has sold millions of copies.  The premise is that we all give and receive love differently and that we should aim to love those closest to us in the love language they can receive best.  While there are certainly some good takeaways from this book, I think as a culture we are measuring our attempts at loving against these 5 Love Languages, instead of against Scripture.

First Corinthians 13 is the ‘love chapter’ in Scripture.  So if we are going to measure ourselves it would be a good idea to start there.

 1If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.

This sounds really important!  I can live my entire life faithfully, flawlessly, sacrificially, and with great talent, but if I don’t have love it means nothing.  So. Much. Wow!  Let that sink in.  That means I could love my spouse with Acts of Service, Gifts, Time, Physical Touch, or Words of Affirmation and if I don’t have LOVE then it’s all for nothing.   If that’s the case, then I want to seek after what it means to actually love…like it’s gold.

 Love is patience

Patience can only be developed in the laboratory of frustration.  This is why we need frustrations in our lives.  When I was a young mother I was a very impatient mother.  I thought I had a great deal of love for my children.  I certainly had a great deal of affection for them.  But I had little patience.  I still remember the day when I read this verse and realized that in all of the moments I was impatient with them I was not loving them.  Over the years I began to see that as I was showing patience I was honoring them.  Patience is the way of love.

love is kind 

Kindness is a desire to do good for another.  The dictionary says kindness is, “a good or benevolent nature or disposition.  Having, showing or proceeding from benevolence.  Indulgent considerate or helpful.”  I think it would also include “without an agenda.”  Love is kind without knowing the return on investment.  Kindness is so powerful that it is love even in the face of opposition.

and is not jealous;

Jealousy is characterized by resentment over another person’s success.  Do I want the success of someone who has taunted me?  Do I want good to the one who has hurt me?  I will sometimes struggle here.  But then I remember that sometimes ‘success’ and ‘goodness’ come in the form of hard knocks, when they come to teach life lessons.  I’ve had a few of my own hard knocks and they have been good to me.  I remember we all have our own stories and someone else’s success is not a part of my good story.

love does not brag and is not arrogant,

There is a difference between bragging and sharing your blessing.  Bragging is taking the credit and one-upping others. It’s about your own greatness.  But walking in humility is about understanding your blessings and giving credit to the One who has given all good gifts.

does not act unbecomingly;

Unbecoming isn’t a word we use much anymore.  It means inappropriate, ill-suited, inapt, incorrect, unacceptable.  Love acts in a way that is considerate of others.

it does not seek its own,

Love does not manipulate others for its own desires.  When I make requests of others, it needs to be clear of all expectation.  They need to be free to say yes or no, without repercussions.  I still believe that I can seek my own desires.  It’s more that I can’t put that on someone else with coercive tactics.

is not provoked, 

Love acts, it does not react.  It does not make a decision based on fear, anger, or grief.  It determines the way of goodness and moves toward it.

does not take into account a wrong suffered

Wounds are deep and painful.  I want to protect my wound so it heals and so that I don’t get hurt again.   But Love steps into truth and moves toward what is right.  Sometimes that means to forgive and forget.  Other times that means we say ‘no more’ for the sake of everyone involved.

does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth;

Lies are death.  Truth honors.  Truth honors my pain, my experience, and my humanity.  It sets me free to be exactly who I was created to be; imperfectly perfect.

bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

All things.  After going through this list of what love is and what it is not, it now states Love does ‘all things.’   Love bears in patience and kindness.  It believes in patience and kindness.  It hopes in patience and kindness.  And it endures in patience and kindness.  Do I?

Love never fails;

Never is a very deep promise.  It’s a promise I can stand on.  Remembering that Love doesn’t always change my situation and it doesn’t always change another person.  But when I have loved well, it will never fail to change me.

 

Book Review: Emotionally Healthy Spirituality

Helpful for: Christians who have sidelined connecting with their emotions and who are desiring to grow towards an emotionally authentic life.

EHSEmotionally Healthy Spirituality  by Peter Scazzero Book review

by Dede McReynolds*

5 of 5 stars for Emotionally Healthy Spirituality

4 of 5 stars for Readability, written in plain terms this book is not full of glitz, glam or poetry yet it was an effortless read to the end.

5 of 5 stars for Content, he address a serious issue with practical and Biblical solutions.

Author Peter Scazzero pastors a charismatic church in Queens, New York and founded the Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Ministry. He writes about his personal journey of being emotionally silent to emotionally healthy.  

Emotionally Healthy Spirituality puts in plain terms the problem that we have all seen; Christians who can devolve into the deepest depths of doctrine, who have “the best” theology, eschatology and ecclesiology YET are emotionally stunted. Meanwhile there are others who love in profound ways yet have no understanding of the God of the Bible.

He diagnoses emotionally unhealthy spirituality and provides a  solution through maturing in emotional health and contemplative spirituality. Peter defines contemplative spirituality as living a Mary life instead of a Martha life.  He guides readers toward contemplative practices that are relevant for the Christian of today and proposes serious work on self that will make space for the necessary emotional growth.

Helpful for: Christians who have sidelined connecting with their emotions and who are desiring to grow towards an emotionally authentic life.

Highlights:

  • It may seem out of place but pg. 42-43 gives a radically relevant interpretation of the Beast of Revelation.
  • This pastor’s definition of emotional health pg.45 is clear and concise, better than that of most self-help professionals.  

Author: Peter Scazzero

Title: Emotionally Healthy Spirituality 228 pages. ISBN #978-310-34246-5

Publisher: Zondervan 2006

Website: http://www.emotionallyhealthy.org

*Dede McReynolds is the Service Coordinator of the Hope Center in Moscow, Idaho.  She coordinates the Hope at Work Program which helps those who struggle to get or maintain employment.

Book Review – Blueprint for Permanent Transformation

If you’ve been going around in circles desperately wanting something to change in your life, I highly recommend KO Spangler’s book Blueprint for Permanent Transformation: Conquer Fear, Experience Freedom, Embrace Life.  This workbook takes you step by step through the labyrinth of how God works in you to make changes in your life.  It can be worked through individually or better yet as a group study where you will find accountability and support.

Is your life stuck, or worse being damaged, and you’re not sure how to make things change?  There is a truism that says, ‘the only person you can change is you.’  The temptation is to think that the “problem” is someone else.  You may be right that someone else is causing the problem in your life. But if you have a problem, then you are a part of the problem and you can change your part of the cycles you are in.  So, whether you or someone else is responsible, you have choices.  Spangler’s book lays a framework for change.

False Belief Systems, such as, “I have no options” and “This is the way I’ve been, this is the way I am, and this is the way I always will be” leave you trapped.  This includes areas you want to grow out of like depression, anxiety, anger, or addictions or it’s areas you want to grow into like gifts or abilities. You may not like the options you have or the hard work ahead to change yourself, but you are always capable of change.

Right now, I’m working through the book to help grow my abilities as a leader. I don’t necessarily see myself as a leader, but God keeps putting me in positions of leadership. He has given me vision of where he wants to take me and I’ve been through deconstructing some of the lies in my life.  Now God is asking me to step out in faith to lead and this blog site is one example of the areas I’m stepping out in faith to do. Her book is challenging me as I am growing.  Spangler breaks down the process of change into four sections; Vision, Deconstruction, Construction, and Habitation.   

Vision

The first step to change is believing that change is possible.  It’s here that God begins to show you the changes you need to make.  You need to separate ‘my part’, ‘their part’, and ‘God’s part’.  When you can’t see how change is possible, you can ask others and consider what they advise.  You may feel like you are damned if you do and dammed if you don’t.  Vision is where you learn to take responsibility for your responses, attitudes, and actions.

Deconstruction

During this part of change, you get to learn with God how you got stuck so you can make a new path.  As you continue to walk in deconstruction you will come to a testing ground called ‘the dark night of the soul’.  This is when you come face to face with the enemy who wants to keep you stuck as you attempt to stand firm in your new direction.  Everything in you wants to run back to old habits, and you may stumble into them at times as you learn how to surrender to God’s greatness instead of your understanding. The power of deconstruction is learning He alone can empower you to make it through this phase to have breakthrough and that you can rely on Him to do so.

Construction

Once you have breakthrough past the dark night of the soul, the change you have been hoping for becomes yours.  But like a child wearing grown-up clothes, it still won’t be comfortable yet.  As you continue to walk in the new truths, old habits die and new habits become who you are. It’s in the construction phase that you learn how to walk humbly in the truth God has given you by practicing the promises of God that will take you there.   

Habitation

Habitation is the reward of all the work God has done in your heart to this point. Now that you own the change for yourself, God will lead you through the fine tuning needed to affect the world around you with the change He has made in you and and the power of the promises He has revealed.

When you understand the process of change, it gives hope and makes change possible. The merry-go-round can stop and you can get off.  You can purchase this book here.