If I led a Marriage Retreat

If I led a marriage retreat, what follows is what I would want to say and do. It’s not what I would actually do, but it’s what I would want to try out and see how many lives and marriages would benefit from it.

We would gather in a conference room as is typically done. Then my wife and I would announce we’d be right back to begin and exit briefly. Moments later, we come back and stand in the front of the room, stark naked. Jaws would drop, eyes would be shielded, and tensions would rise immediately. If not thrown out by this point, I would begin to diffuse the situation. Here’s what I would say:

This will be the most unorthodox and possibly life-changing marriage retreat you’ll ever encounter. The most memorable one for sure! In case you haven’t noticed by now, my wife and I, your leaders for this weekend, are completely naked and exposed. And yet you are all still alive! Relax, no one is going to die. Just imagine that we are some painting in a museum or a sculpture, and you’ll be fine, I promise. We will be sharing our story honestly with you which also makes us even more vulnerable than we already are!

Before we do that, can I make a few observations? Normally we separate men and women to talk of sensitive information apart from one another. This is usually done after the ice has been broken with some sort of game. I’d say the ice is broken already, and it hasn’t done much good to be separate to talk about intimate issues in the past, so while we’re being open and transparent, let’s all stay together and talk very frankly with each other.

My wife and I are naked, and we are unashamed, just like Adam and Eve were described in Genesis 2:25. This is why my wife and I like to refer to the very comfortable-for-us state of undress not so much as nude, but rather “as God intended.”

Like Job said in Job 1:21: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return.” Is there a textile industry in heaven? Fashions? Brands? Models? I seriously doubt it! I hope not! So if this is the way we are born, and it’s what heaven will be like, why not start getting ready for it?

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking this was God’s ideal before sin. And now that we are on this side of the fall, it’s all changed, and we can’t regain that innocence. Some might even accuse me of immanentizing the eschaton (look it up!). I mean, Jesus did teach us to pray in Matthew 6 saying, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”! And we all usually try to improve things here on earth, bringing a bit of heaven on earth. That’s not a bad thing. There is enough hell on earth as it is!

You may also be thinking that God invented clothes when he made them skins. But no, Adam and Eve invented clothes when they sewed together fig leaves. God’s skin aprons improved their fig leaf invention, and set them up to have protection and warmth in a new harsh environment outside of Eden. This was an act of grace.

You may think they covered themselves out of shame. You’ve heard this a million times and you agree with that notion. But the text says they hid because they were afraid (Genesis 3:10). Shame is not mentioned, except for the fact that they were naked without shame (Genesis 2:25). They were married. Did they suddenly have to cover up in front of one another? No one else was around! In fact, God asks them in Genesis 3:11, “Who told you that you were naked?” Who is the only other character in the Garden? The serpent– the one who hates the image of God, and has used this type of brokenness to his advantage and our detriment ever since the beginning.

We can do this debate thing and present arguments for all the objections that certainly are rising up in you right now. We can talk about the commonplace of nakedness in Bible times, the euphemisms used in the Bible to denote sexual acts over simple nakedness, the universal practice of nude baptism for centuries, and much much more. Many books have been written on the topic. But I have a greater goal in mind for this moment. This is not why you are here. The fact is, you are married. And if you’re anything like us or most of the Christians I know, there are some common misconceptions about the body as the image of God that you may be believing that are hurting your relationship. These are very serious matters and get overlooked in our churches. Some of you guys are caught up in pornography and feelings of lust as you objectify other women. You know it’s not God-honoring, you don’t even like it, but you don’t know how to stop. It makes your wife feel terrible about herself. Some of you ladies won’t even undress in front of your husbands with the lights on. You are both accosted by baggage that stems from issues regarding your bodies and sexuality. Like gnostic heretics of old, you tend to view the body with a dualistic split, the body as bad and the spirit as good, and you wish you could unify the two so they can be intertwined as a whole and call it good.

Well, you can! And that would be correct. That’s what God did. In Genesis 1:31, after God created woman he called the crowning glory of his creation “very good.” And I don’t think God is one to change his mind on something of such great importance! The godly and holistic approach is to not separate body from the soul, from the whole person. When you separate body from soul, we have a name for that – death. Bodies are not bad in and of themselves. What you do with your body may be wrong, a twisted distortion of what God intended for good. But your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Therefore honor God with your bodies (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

This woman you see before you in all her glory, is beautiful, is she not? Well, she didn’t believe she was for over 20 years of her life! That’s tragic. What’s even more sad is that it’s typical, and it grieves the very heart of God. You are all made in God’s image, imago Dei, and precious to Him, and fearfully and wonderfully made. As for me and my house, we now see beauty in everyone, as we see others as God sees them. We should not take our cues from Hollywood or from a sex-crazed culture with their phony and shallow definition of beauty, or their ideas about sexuality. You are beautiful… full stop! Body acceptance is extremely important, and a spiritual issue in your Creator’s eyes. Be body positive with yourself and others. Be body friendly to yourself. Love yourself, the someBODY who God made you to be. You were bought with a price, and that price was Jesus’ own life (see 1 Corinthians 6:20). Christopher West points out that if you are punched in the face, you don’t make a property damage claim, but rather a personal assault claim. Our bodies are an intrical part of who we are as persons. It’s part of our personhood. When we divorce body from soul, it becomes less important what we do to or with our bodies. I’m convinced and convicted that we have gotten this all wrong. There is a hole in our theology, to quote a friend. We should treat our bodies and other people’s bodies as more sacred. The answer to our struggles is not to reject the body, but to redeem our bodies.

Ladies, some of you are like my wife, who thought that to despise her body was a mark of humility. It’s not. It just isn’t. Humility isn’t hating yourself. It’s thinking rightly about yourself. God said to love your neighbor as yourself. Hating your body isn’t noble and it spits in the face of your maker. You can’t love others well if you don’t love yourself in a holy way.

Our culture tries hard to send my wife and your wife messages all day, every day, on how they need to work hard to be more attractive. The standard is young skinny, airbrushed, and photoshopped models. It’s not even real! An impossible standard, and not true or natural beauty in my opinion. In fact, I tell my wife all the time, “You are the standard by which all beauty is measured.” Does she have stretch marks? Yes, she’s had four babies. That’s beautiful. Does she carry more weight? Have cellulite? Yes, and that’s ok. Even the model is insecure about some body part. We all have the same parts. Some parts are bigger, some are smaller, some sag, others don’t. It doesn’t matter! We are beautiful as the pinnacle of God’s creation and vary in our beauty the way that no two trees are alike. I love that!

What else do you notice? She is not just a collection of body parts. She has a heart. She is my wife and your friend. But if you were to objectify her, reducing her to an object or a piece of meat, that would be demeaning, but typical in our sex-obsessed culture. She doesn’t have to be naked for you to do that! In fact, now that she is and leaves nothing to the imagination, the simple and natural beauty kind of loses its allure to be sexualized doesn’t it? 

Plus she’s not up here in any sort of seductive pose or inviting you in with her eyes or expressions or anything. She is simply being, a human being. And you guys, being in a public setting are honoring her, and respecting her and not resorting to any animalistic behavior even though there is a naked woman who is not your wife right in front of you in person. Perhaps if she was a stranger, not a friend, and on a screen, and you were not in public, but in complete privacy, the story would be different. What’s up with that? 

My story is that I was addicted to porn. It was a struggle, I thought it would go away when I got married. It didn’t. I was in church leadership and I had this gnawing problem in secret. I tried all the things they say to do, even accountability. But it doesn’t work, none of it does. You can cheat it if your mind is depraved enough. If you don’t address the root of the issue, it’s only better temporarily on the surface. You can brush cobwebs back, but unless you kill the spider, you’ll deal with cobwebs forever. The only thing that works was being made free in Christ. The truth set me free, not for a brief and momentary victory, but a forever change. I don’t think the same way anymore. My mind has been renewed. I can appreciate beauty as a creation of God, an icon of his image, but no longer reducing it down to an idol for self-gratification. Romans 1 describes those with a depraved mind as exchanging the truth of God for a lie, and worshipping and serving created things rather than the Creator. We can’t lust and worship at the same time!

I don’t bounce my eyes when I see a beautiful sunset! I praise God for it. What boggles minds is that I can look upon a clothed or even a naked woman, without lust in my heart. Like a former alcoholic who can walk down the liquor aisle at the super market without any temptation, I have no desire to cheapen God’s gift or disrespect another human being, most importantly my own wife. 

We act as though lust is the only sin that Jesus cannot help us overcome this side of heaven. We throw up our hands and say it’s a fallen world, so don’t even try. But we don’t do that with any other sin! We renew our minds and God does the work for us without our help.

Or you can choose to stay in bondage. You say it will always be a struggle, and it will be. You make extra rules God never imposed to serve as safeguards, and just like with every rule ever made, it gets broken. Thank God for grace and a better way forward!

Now having been surprised into freedom, as this woman’s husband, I’ve committed to her that only she would be responsible for causing me to become aroused. This may vary from person to person, but I determined that I will not masturbate. This amazing woman, who I love and with whom I have a deep relationship, she has a direct role in every one of my sexual responses. I have this not as a rule that I must abide by, and struggle every day to maintain. No, it’s actually a joy to live by that commitment. As I said, that didn’t used to be the case at all. I cheaply would give away my release of personal gratification to many other strangers on screens because of looking lustfully at them. Jesus (in Matthew 5) would call that adultery. I cheated on her. Never in person, but it’s still cheating! I’m done trying to justify it. Jesus was right. It’s not a victimless act! It hurt this woman. It hurt me too. It made me less of a husband, father, and leader. I decided I didn’t want to be an adulterer any longer.

I decided to reject the lies that as men we are wired to be visual and to react sexually (either in thought or deed) whenever I see exposed skin. We have been conditioned by our society and if we are being honest our teaching in the church supports these worldly views, which are dehumanizing at the core. It’s an old gnostic heresy, thought to be done away with, but it’s alive and well in this room today.

Puritan and Victorian attempts at modesty aim to cover up what is deemed a temptation. But the truth is, whatever is covered is automatically objectified.  Imagine if we had a body taboo for elbows! We’d suddenly treat elbows as if they were seductive and ask women to cover up their elbows so we could control ourselves. That’s crazy! We can control ourselves without your help. Some of you ladies are well intentioned, but dressing modestly can become a prideful way to try and take the place of Jesus. Jesus doesn’t need your arbitrary dress code standards to make men pure. Only men can control their thoughts. But if we tell men, that every man battles impure thoughts every day, they will battle impure thoughts every day! And then they’ll lose and blame the woman for not dressing appropriately enough to meet some arbitrary standard!

Cultures that commonly expose the breast, have an innocence about it and don’t sexualize it or fantasize about it. It’s a problem in OUR thinking and in OUR conditioning.

The sight of someone (who is naked or clothed) does not cause you to lust. That’s a lie that needs to be completely rejected. By that logic, we would have to conclude that the sight of banks causes greed, or the sight of bakeries causes gluttony. We better take down all the signage and cover those places under a large tarp! Or do our actions regarding their visual stimuli actually matter more than the supposed temptation they produce? James actually says each man is tempted, not by God or anyone other than himself and his own lust (my paraphrase of James 1:12-15).

Bathsheba is often blamed for David’s sin of adultery because she was bathing on the roof in full view of David. This was common. Bathing on the roof or in the river in mixed company was standard operating procedure in those days. David is the guilty party here. He saw and wanted to take what wasn’t his for his own satisfaction. That’s why the prophet Nathan strongly rebuked David and called Bathsheba an innocent lamb (see 2 Samuel 11 and 12).

Guys, some of you need to take a hard look at yourselves, and how you view women. Take note throughout the course of one day, how many times you objectify other women and have thoughts of lust or coveting. Then you need to think about renewing your mind on the whole way you view all of it, the way you are right now with my wife here. You are honoring her and respecting her as made in the image of God and worthy of dignity on the merits of that fact alone. She is my wife, and you are respecting that fact too in my presence and in the presence of your wife. Your wife is beautiful too, but I don’t want her, because she’s yours, and I have all I need right here.

My wife doesn’t have to “put out” enough to “protect” me and help me stay pure. That’s my job. If I was going on a business trip, bless her heart, she’d make sure to have sex with me the night before. She learned this at various marriage retreats. The problem is, that fix (sex not for relationship, but out of duty) is only good for about 20 minutes, if your mind is depraved enough! Now that I’ve renewed my mind, I don’t need “protective” sex to remain pure. And it’s so easy now that I changed the way I think on these things.

I’m sure your minds are blown! I can’t read your minds, but I’m guessing this isn’t what you expected for this marriage retreat. I hope it challenges you to make changes and helps more than any other instruction we could have brought.

Our best advice for any marriage is to start sleeping naked, both of you. It’s incredible! And pajamas are really weird. You’ll have health benefits and feel closer together if you’ll do it. What about the kids? Don’t worry about that. In fact this is one of the best way to porn-proof your kids. I wish we had done this when they were younger.

Hey, I know it was so awkward when we came out here like this. A few people went storming out of here, and I bet this struck a real nerve with them and maybe you too. But as time has gone by, is it a little less awkward? Did you even forget we were naked as you listened to our story? Continuing to talk frankly, if some of you guys with conditioned reactions that immediately equate nudity with sex got tight in the pants at first, I bet by now you’ve relaxed, as the non-sexual brand of nudity has been normalized for you.

You know, if you all chose to get naked right now like we are, without the shame society imprints on us, many untruths would become demystified. There are ideas we hold as true that need to be challenged and then disregarded. I’m sure if we all were undressed, you’d gain a confidence you didn’t know you had, and you’d start to worry less about things that really don’t matter. Our conversation would improve and we’d share deeper insights from the heart with each other. We’d realize how much we hide behind our clothing and our fake personas. We’d be more real and authentic.

This is how God sees us. We don’t have to dress to impress, and nothing we can put on would even accomplish anything to that effect. Hebrews 4:13 says everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give an account. I love the old hymn: when he shall come with trumpet sound, oh may I then in him be found. Dressed in his righteousness alone, faultless to stand before the throne.

I would not be doing my job well today if I didn’t share what the Bible says we should clothe ourselves in. It does command us to put on certain clothing:

  • We are to be clothed in power from on high (Luke 24:49)
  • Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 13:14)
  • The perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable (1 Corinthians 15:53-54
  • We groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling (2 Corinthians 5:2-4)
  • All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ (Galatians 3:26-27)
  • Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience (Colossians 3:12)
  • Dress with decency and propriety (1 Timothy 2:9-10)
  • Let your adornment be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God (1 Peter 5:5)
  • To her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine line is the righteous acts of the saints (Revelation 19:8)

Notice these are all attributes and are more important to God than any threads we could wear to cover our skin. The clothing we are commanded to wear is symbolic, metaphorical, attitudes, decent qualities, good deeds, virtues, and Christ himself.

This is the true sense of modesty! Modesty really means a holy humility. Modesty is an attitude, not a dress code. David Hatton says, “For centuries, modesty was understood in those same terms, until the Victorian era gave the word a new meaning to match its prudish view of the body. In spite of this altered definition, the older meaning was retained as late as 1828, when Webster’s Dictionary continued to define modesty with no mention of clothing’s ability to produce a modest condition in the way it hid the body.”

Friends, we must not approach the word of God solely from a perspective tainted by cultural bias. The world around us is hyper sex-crazed with their cheap version of sexuailty that is far from God’s ideal based in a loving, committed relationship of marriage. The church often is hyper-prude in it’s ideas and methods for curbing any sort of impurity. Again, Hatton explains, “both views promote an unholy, God-dishonoring treatment of the human body based on exactly the same vain imagination. Prudery hides the body, calling the Creator’s design a lustful indecency. Pornography flaunts it, using prudery’s definition to turn the beauty of God’s handiwork into a stimulus for impure sexual thoughts. Both these ways of treating the body are an unnatural, unrealistic abuse. Though they seem to be opposite, they are conceptually identical. Both are ungodly, and both are based on a dysfunctional view of humanity’s physical embodiment. Wherever a wholesome, godly view of the naked human body is rejected and a shameful, obscene view is embraced, the resultant religious zeal of prudery inevitably plunges a society into the hellish depravity of pornography.”

If we could leave you with a gift that would revolutionize your marriage, bring you closer together, closer to your Creator, and closer to fellow image-bears around you, it’d be a wholesome and godly view of the body. That and a renewed mind. If you trust us and resonate with what we are saying, try it for yourselves. Your body acceptance and confidence will rise to new heights and your temptation for impropriety will vanish overnight. We love the Lord, and we love each of you. It’s up to you if you want to research for yourself the ideas we’ve expounded on today that perhaps have gone against everything you’ve ever heard your whole life. That’s how it was for us, but we studied and prayed and are so glad to have been shown a better way. We pray that you don’t reject it outright, but that you would consider everything we’ve shared, and that ultimately it will bless your lives, your faith, and your marriage and family life.

5 thoughts on “If I led a Marriage Retreat

  1. hanchampion

    I think it’s a great idea. I would change one thing. I would do it as a tag team and have appropriare portions taugbt by your wife. This would avoid mansplaining and be less awkward than having her just stand there.

    I would also do it in winter in a warm room with the only exit being to the outside. This would slow down the early departures. And maybe some would stay.

    Posters with those verses on display beforehand would also be good.

    Like

    • Phil O.

      Yes, if we were really to pull this off, my wife would definitely be involved and share from her perspective. As a hypothetical, I was doing some condensing from what would be covered during a whole retreat. Totally agree with your comment. Thanks for reading and taking time to write!

      Like

  2. davidvogel64

    I like the thought experiment! If I were to change a single thing, it would be to begin your first session using visuals rather than yourselves for the nudity. Get so far as to define the purity of the human form before you show yourselves undressed. You don’t want to unnecessarily frighten off couples who would understandably react to your coming in nude as though they got the wrong seminar. Mightn’t they immediately assume you were about to expound on the benefits of couples swapping? Give them the basis of biblical-sound social nudity, then demonstrate. Otherwise, a very thoughtful polemic!

    Liked by 1 person

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