I am an avid reader.
I love to escape into other worlds, to experience things that I would never otherwise get to experience and to learn things I would never otherwise get to learn – all from the comfort of my own sofa.
Which is why I recently found myself browsing the Christian fiction section of my local library.
It feels so safe to choose a book off the Christian fiction shelf at the library. These are books that won’t have bad language, overt sex scenes, or promotion of bad morals, right?
So, I grabbed a book off the shelf. A book that is a New York Times Bestseller. A book that is advertised as being about a small town, and not overly romantic.
And I found myself captivated by a romance story that seemed so “innocent” and “safe”, yet ugly dangers were lurking right under the shiny cover.
Christian romance novels tend to focus exclusively on the exciting romance – because that’s what we enjoy reading. Unfortunately, these novels can all too easily set us up for unrealistic expectations in our own marriages.
Here’s an example from the book that I was reading: Five minutes after he had met her, the hero of the story told the heroine that he would never have gotten her “pink roses” like her current boyfriend had gotten her. He knew from the moment he saw her that she was more of a “tiger lilies” or “sunflowers” type of girl.
Isn’t that romantic?
We women long for a strong, masculine man who will be so in tune to our feelings and needs that he will know what kind of flowers we would prefer from five minutes of just being in the same room with us.
We long for a man who will instantly realize when we are sad or happy, elated or devastated and will know exactly the right words to say to us.
We long for a man who will be infatuated with us, longing to serve us, noticing only… us.
And, we can read about these men in Christian romance novels. They are sensitive and rugged, kind and strong, meeting the heroine’s every need.
Real men won’t always say exactly the right words to comfort us when we are upset. In fact, half the time they won’t even be able to figure out what on earth we are upset about.
Real men often have to work long hours, sacrificing time and energy to provide well for their families and therefore being unable to meet our every emotional and social need.
And, after years of marriage, real men may still have no clue what our favorite flowers are.
We forget that the perfect hero of the Christian fiction novel is the figment of another woman’s imagination, and not a real man at all. And it is utterly, utterly unfair to compare our husbands to this standard.
Here’s an excerpt from the book I was reading:
…his head dipped lower, and their lips met in a soft, gentle kiss. The touch of his mouth on hers was hesitant at first, testing, as if he half-expected her to pull away. But, with her palm pressed against his soft cotton shirt, she felt his heart beating under her hand, and she kissed him back without thinking. His arm moved around her waist, and he pulled her loser. The pressure of his mouth grew more intense for one tantalizing moment, and then he stepped back and let her go….
Once inside, he found some dry clothes for them both. Jessica ended up in a sweatshirt several sizes too big. “I look ridiculous,” she said, working hard to roll up the sleeves, though they kept slipping down. “Don’t you have anything smaller?”
Sam stood nearby changing into a dry T-shirt. She tried not to stare at his muscular chest and well-defined biceps as he pulled off one shirt and pulled on another.
“Sorry, I don’t keep a lot of clothes out here,” he said, catching her eye. She could feel her cheeks grow red as she averted her gaze.
“Besides,” he added as he tugged his shirt into place, “you look really good in yellow.”
“Um… thanks,” she replied, hoping he hadn’t caught her staring.”
Can we call this what it is? This is sexual tension, strong attraction that is bordering on lust. And, when our own lives are filled with sinks of dirty dishes to wash, reading about these situations can be deceptively enticing.
We wish for excitement, for romance, for the strong feelings of youth that no longer seem to be present in our own marriages. So, we read about these situations and we imagine ourselves in them, and the strong handsome man that we share the imaginary scene with may or may not be the flabby balding man sitting across the room from us….
Christian romance novels often encourage women to fantasize about romantic moments with men other than their husbands. This not only sets us up for disappointment in our own very real and often unromantic day-to-day lives; it also weakens and destroys our marriages.
When we read Christian romance novels, we need to be very careful to discern where Biblical truths stop and subtle lies begin.
The Christian fiction book quoted above had an excellent passage about a woman overcoming depression. The authors also wrote about how life is outside of our control. Things often don’t turn out the way we expected. We must rely on God. It even quoted some Bible verses.
These are wonderful truths to think about.
The only problem is that there are subtle lies interwoven with the truths in this book.
For example, the hero of the story is a young man who attends church regularly and supposedly takes his faith seriously. And yet, in defiance of 2 Corinthians 6:14, he is willing to date an attractive young woman who is described as having no relationship with God.
And, of course, it all worked out in the end when the heroine became a Christian.
The unrealistic expectations that these novels create are lies. The ability of the main characters to place themselves in the way of temptation and yet come out unscathed is also a lie.
Unfortunately, many Christian romance novels mix Biblical truths with lies.
In the book that I read, the hero took the heroine back the to home that he was remodeling. There, while alone, they kissed and walked together in the rain, getting thoroughly soaked. They returned to the house and changed into dry clothes, where the heroine noticed the hero’s “muscular chest and well-defined biceps.”
Ummm – that’s a great place for a married couple to be. It is not the kind of situation I want my unmarried daughter to be in. And, I would be extremely disappointed in my son if he led his girlfriend into a situation of temptation like this. So, why would I read about it and think that it is all right?
Just because “nothing happened” does not excuse this scene and make it OK.
As Christians, we need to celebrate what is good and pure and intentionally avoid situations of temptation.
We need to sharpen our minds and analyze whether the situations we are reading about are encouraging the story characters (and thus us) towards purity and goodness… or setting them up for temptation.
Many modern Christian fiction books sacrifice purity and goodness in favor of drama, intense emotional moments, conflict, shame, and lust. We need to hold ourselves to a higher, Biblical standard.
Have you ever gotten so emotionally involved in a really good fiction story that you had a hard time putting it down to spend time in God’s Word?
Christian fiction romance novels are fun to read. But, if we are spending time reading them and not reading our Bibles, there is a problem.
If you find yourself spending a lot of time reading fiction novels, you may want to ask yourself if it is a good use of your time. I see nothing wrong with relaxing with a good novel. But, we must do it in moderation.
If you find yourself struggling in your marriage, perhaps it would be wiser to turn to a non-fiction book filled with Biblical wisdom on ways to strengthen your marriage rather than escaping into a fantasy world of romance that will leave you feeling even less satisfied with your marriage.
Are the books that you are reading leading you toward God and toward purity? You can easily determine that by answering these five questions:
What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with the these thoughts? I would love to hear your opinion! Please scroll down to comment.