The Naked Truth
The best things in life are free to reveal their true nature over time.
When I recall what I know about sex—and what I know I don’t know—I picture myself in a series of rooms. The first, the common space in a men’s dormitory at a Baptist university. A few college guys recline together, all of us ready to talk about something none of us have experienced. Smiles stretching, then stopping halfway, across our faces
Everybody talks about how good it will be, like a fever you want to catch. Years before the Avett Brothers ever put these words to music, we live out the lyric: “Ain’t it like most people? I’m no different. We love to talk on things we don’t know about.”
We talk to hear our own voices, to sound like men in the absence of experience. We talk as if we already know it all. We talk to fill the silences between the letter of a law handed down and the spirit of a gift we don’t understand.
In the second room, a set of tables arranged so everyone can look each other in the eye. Not quite Camelot’s round table, rather a makeshift square where married and unmarried men trade innocent questions, hard-earned wisdom, Bible verses and “I think” interpretations.
Nobody smirks. No one makes a punchline of their sisters, or scores cheap points at the expense of honor and brotherly love. And yet, I want to grab every someday groom by the lapels and say, “It’s not like you think it is. It’s less, but it’s more.”
I want to tell them that the breath and the blush come in an instant, but it takes years to get it right. When you say “I do,” you picture yourself as Superman; more often, you resemble Everyman—tough to keep your cape looking neat and tidy while you’re naked. Some nights are all sweetness and haze, and you can’t untangle. Some nights you retreat to your corner of the mattress, rummaging for all the fig leaves you can find.
I want to loosen my grip and tell them of awkwardness and shame, how our bodies make promises, break promises, and make up for broken promises still. I want to say something about the battle of being known, convey that every inch of her is worth fighting for, that better is one day lying next to her than a thousand elsewhere. But I hold back my words in the name of propriety, for the sake of honoring the mystery.
The third room goes by several names. Most call it a sanctuary; some call it an auditorium—the church is the people and not the steeple, after all. Whenever I step inside, the intimacy of the place does something to me. My thoughts slow down enough for me to turn over all that I hold sacred, to see the flaws, the beauty, the way one glory resembles another.
Standing at the front of the room, I close my appeal to the people I answer to God for, then gesture toward the bread and the cup. I take great pains to invite and restrain, to prop up both legs of the table, sounding out a communion that is holy and welcoming. With the bread broken and the cup outstretched, I take my place in line with gospel family. Together we shuffle toward the symbols of our salvation. I think back on a week’s worth of days, and every way I tore at the covenant. The lust in careless glances, the anger of abrupt words, the many times I rely on myself, denying the presence of one who makes me holy and whole.
Some Sundays, the bread dissolves on my tongue or sticks in my throat. Other times, I savor the smallest morsel. The moment’s mercy satisfies, then anchors me in place. I cherish the meal, yet the meal never keeps me in God’s love. Only the true covenant-maker can be the true covenant-keeper. We spend so much time scratching and clawing at the covenant, yet each touch testifies to its durability; our bodies offer prayers to the one who holds us together, asking him to do the work, thanking him in advance.
Then I think of her and our covenant. Facing the elements and my assurance, I make out the shapes of what we do. Sometimes we come with spring-loaded steps, eager to make our way forward. Often we come limping, bearing the weight of parenthood, aware of the curse on work, sensing the pain of sin.
Every married man, whether he knows it or not, scrawls out a list of reasons to have sex. The church supplies some points, as does his time and place. He invents some from the dust, and to dust they shall return.
Night after night adds up to year after year, and he crosses out reasons that no longer make sense. I scratched through “procreation” well before many of my peers. Always suspicious of those who said it was everything, infertility proved me right.
Eventually you cross out pleasure—at least the sort discussed in dorms—and rewrite the word on a different part of the page. Something to work out, to work on, to redefine.
Fourteen years in, the list bears little resemblance to my first draft. Circled in dark ink, underlined next to stars and asterisks, the words “remembering who we are.”
Alone together, my wife and I make the motions of a different communion. We fumble around the altar. Hungry eyes, lips already stained with wine. This communion, like the one we take on Sunday mornings, grounds us in the present—in our flesh and our dependence. Yet it also gives us eyes to see with a longer view. We remember this isn’t all there is, that we will soon return to the table. Until then, we may count ourselves chosen and loved.
The best things in life demand something from us: skin and soul and time. Time enough to make mistakes and find mercy, to know and be known. The best things in life expose us to others, reveal us to ourselves, and show us a God who never hurries us along.