As we head back to the basics, let’s tackle this issue of fantasy. Aside from pornography, it is the most popular topic of questions I get.
Is it ok to fantasize?
What if I fantasize and don’t masturbate?
What if I’m fantasizing about my future husband?
What if I’m fantasizing about my actual husband?
What if we never “go all the way” in my fantasy?
Is it wrong to imagine what sex is like?
I feel like there’s an easy way to tackle this and a more complicated way.
The easy way to address this is to just come right out and say, “fantasy is wrong.”
If you’ve been exposed to church for any length of time, you have probably heard a sermon on Philippians 4:8.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (ESV)
And some pastors or Christian leaders will use this to rail against the great evil known as “fantasy” which they expand to essentially mean “anything that isn’t really happening.”
The problem is when we do this, we’re neglecting to acknowledge one very powerful God-given trait of humanity:
Do you read fiction? Fiction isn’t true, by definition. Are we going to take this argument so far as to say that any sort of entertainment that isn’t true is in violation of God’s word? Are we saying that Christians can only read historical accounts, autobiographies, and watch documentaries because that’s “what is true?”
Are we saying that Christians cannot dream about the future?
Is hope, in some sense, not some sort of “fantasy?” It is anticipating what has not happened yet.
It’s important to note that the Greek word translated “true” in this verse is less about being factual and more about being authentic. I love how the Amplified version expounds on the rest of the verse:
Finally, believers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable and worthy of respect, whatever is right and confirmed by God’s word, whatever is pure and wholesome, whatever is lovely and brings peace, whatever is admirable and of good repute; if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think continually on these things [center your mind on them, and implant them in your heart].
When you stand up and say, “Fantasy is wrong” you are at risk of killing off creativity, dreams, imagination- all things I truly believe God has given us.
Before an artist creates, she imagines what the product will be like. As a composer writes a score, she imagines what it will sound like. Before a writer crafts her story on paper, she walks it out in her mind, imagining the sights, sounds, and textures. Before a woman holds her first child, she imagines those moments and her mind races through the years, picturing first steps and birthdays and graduations and grandbabies. Before a couple says “I do,” they dream about their wedding day and their future together.
God is a creator and I believe, though I can’t chapter and verse it, that He has instilled a bit of that creativity in each of us.
We are the only creature, for instance, that can appreciate beauty. We photograph sunsets and rock formations. We run brushes on canvas to attempt to recreate the beauty around us. We write music and poetry. We tell stories and sing.
Pretend play is one of the first skills of toddlers.
They wield sticks as swords and have tea parties with their teddy bears. Even my daughter, who is barely 16 months old, loves to bring her new mixing bowl out to the kitchen and pretend to cook with momma. Is this the early uprising of a wicked sin nature steeped in fantasy? No. It is the early budding of creativity, the ability to imagine, and eventually to dream and to hope.
Does God have a problem with that kind of “fantasy?” No.
But there is a fantasy that I truly believe we need to be careful of. As with anything good and God-given, there are poisoned alternatives. If pornography is how evil corrupts and exploits our God-given sex drive, then sexual fantasy and escapism is how evil corrupts and exploits our God-given creativity.
Let’s define fantasy.
For the purpose of the rest of this blog post, I want to try to define what I mean by fantasy, because it’s not as broad as “make-believe.” My daughter is not violating God’s law when she grabs her two stuffed “rar rar”s (dinosaurs) and pits them in a battle against each other.
As I see it, there are two specific realms/types of fantasy that are the real issue here. The first is, obviously, sexual fantasy. The second is escapism fantasy.
This is the most dangerous, in my opinion, because it doesn’t have to be sexual so we almost never address it. I have never heard this mentioned in churches. Ever.
But escapism fantasy has a way of completely violating every standard set forth in Philippians 4:8. It isn’t authentic, honorable, worthy of respect, right, confirmed by God’s word, pure, or wholesome and it doesn’t not bring peace.
It’s a coping mechanism and can be a harmful one. If you read my story, you know I struggled with this. As a teenager, I created an entire world I would escape to in order to cope with life. In this world, I actually didn’t exist but I had existed once. Sometimes I was dead. Sometimes I had been kicked out of the family. Sometimes I had moved away of my own will.
And every time I entered into this world, it was like a soap opera. I would act it out for hours, and oftentimes, there was never anything sexual. I just went there because it was “safer” than real life. It was one of the ways I avoided pornography. At the height of my struggle, I was either watching pornography or engaged in this make believe world, almost like the real world didn’t exist.
Eventually, it crept into my real life. The only way I could function in my real life was to pretend to be someone in that fantasy world. If I needed to vacuum the house, I pretended to be someone in that fantasy world and she needed to vacuum the house, and she would, while having conversations (out loud) with people who didn’t exist. If I needed to study, I pretended to be someone in that fantasy world who was part of a study group studying the same stuff.
It wasn’t a personality disorder as I was well aware of who I was the entire time and knew full well I wasn’t her. I never lost my awareness in the real world; I just didn’t want to be me or be here. (This article here does a good job of explaining.)
I once thought this was some unique and twisted part of my story, but women have read this and said, “Oh my goodness! Me too! The other day I was washing dishes and talking to someone who wasn’t there and my mom came in and asked me who I was talking to. I didn’t realize I was doing this out loud!”
It feels like this might have to be an entirely different post because it takes many forms. Your tendency to mindlessly scroll through social media can be a form of escapism. When you plop down to watch Netflix for hours on end, that could be escapism. When you drink your cares away every weekend, that could be escapism. Food can even be a form of escapism.
And all escapism says, “Life is too hard to handle. I have to get out of here.”
It trades the rock and refuge we’re supposed to find in Christ for a castle we’ve built in the sand. Escapism looks God in the face and says, “You can’t handle this. I don’t trust You to care for me in this. I have to protect myself.” We run from what we were meant to overcome.
We might mask it as self-care or “destressing” but it can quickly go from a healthy way of “taking a break” to simply running away. One great way to know whether or not your activity is just a healthy “break” or whether it’s an unhealthy escape is how you come back to “reality.” Do you come back refreshed and energized or even more gutted and low? If you think you struggle with this, let me just encourage you right now to seek out help.
For the sake of this post, I want to turn our attention to another form of fantasy.
Sexual fantasy is a little more complex than just “thinking about sex.” It’s not wrong to think about sex.
I repeat: it is not wrong to think about sex.
However, a line is crossed when it goes to imagining ourselves in bed with someone else having sex with them. A line is crossed when we watch the couple drive away after their wedding and start painting a mental image of what their wedding night looks like.
This is so hard to define, but I want to try to throw out a rough definition: Sexual fantasy is the imagination of a sexual experience involving other parties or involving myself with someone who is not my spouse for the purpose of enjoyment, arousal, or entertainment.
And for this, we’re going to leave Philippians 4:8 and camp out on Matthew 5:28:
But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (ESV)
Some of us would like to think that fantasy gives us a free pass. Last post, I mentioned that a common argument defending pornography is that “it’s a safe alternative to sex.” Well, an argument defending sexual fantasy is that it’s a safe alternative to pornography.
To be clear, when I talk about fantasy, I’m not only talking about the romantic, pitter-patter, sweep-you-off-your-feet, flower-petal-plucking daydreaming fantasy. I’m also talking about the hardcore, it’s-basically-porn fantasy, because yes, women absolutely struggle with this.
Women struggle with lust. Christian women struggle with lust.
We can look at a man in a suit and undress him in our minds. We can see a couple kiss and mentally follow them to their bedroom. We see a steamy scene on TV (does anyone even watch TV anymore) or an ad featuring seductive women climbing all over a half-naked man and find our sexual engines starting to rev.
We don’t imagine the butterflies of what it feels like to get a bouquet of flowers. We imagine what it’s like to be in bed with him (or, in some cases, her).
That’s not a man’s struggle. That’s a human struggle.
And Jesus makes it clear in Matthew that there isn’t any room for it or any excuse for it.
In fact, in this passage, Jesus is directly addressing the idea of finding the loopholes in the rules. The sermon on the Mount (in Matthew 5) is all about the heart issues. No, you may not have slept with that person, but if you’re undressing them with your eyes and drooling over their body, Jesus says, it’s basically the same thing.
So, sexual fantasy isn’t a “better alternative” to pornography, it’s another form of it. It is another way that our sex drives, which are good and God-given, and our creative ability, which is also good and God-given, can be hijacked and corrupted.
You aren’t holier than the girl next to you simply because you keep your images confined to your mind. She might be sleeping with her boyfriend but you’re fantasizing about the cute guy in youth group. Both of your hearts are adulterous and in need of renewal and grace.
How do I fight “fantasy?”
There are two common schools of thought when it comes to winning the battle of your mind.
The first is the idea that your mind is like a TV. When something inappropriate pops up, just change the channel. Ignore it. Move on. Bury your head in the sand and pretend it goes away.
The other is to think negatively about the issue. So, when I think of lust, for instance, I’m going to remind myself how horrible lust is. How evil and wicked and wrong, etc…
Here’s my personal issue with these two. First, neither are presented in the Bible. Second, if you have come to rely on fantasy as a coping mechanism and truly struggle with escapism or fantasy- the TV doesn’t have any other channels. At least not any that are easily found. You can click the remote all you’d like and you’re going to end up scrolling from fantasy #1, to fantasy #2, to rewinding, to fast forwarding.
As far as negative thinking, I used this illustration in my book. If I spend an hour talking to you about a fluffy white kitten, even though I’m detailing everything horrible about that fluffy white kitten, at the end of the hour what are you thinking of? A fluffy white kitten, of course. There’s no reason for you not to be thinking about the fluffy white kitten.
When we try to win this battle by reminding ourselves how “wrong” our thoughts are, we aren’t breaking free from them. We’re sitting in our prison cells, mad at our chains, and cussing out the guards, but we’re not going anywhere. It’s not like they’re going to get their feelings hurt, set us free, and walk away. They don’t care that they aren’t welcome.
The key for fighting fantasy is to actively guard your mind and to go to war with things that don’t belong.
This goes for anything from lust to escapism to low self-image to pride… whatever your enemy is, you win by fighting it, and by fighting it, I mean fight. We don’t fight with remote controls and we certainly can’t fight in chains.
Check out 2 Corinthians 10:3-5
For though we walk in the flesh [as mortal men], we are not carrying on our [spiritual] warfare according to the flesh and using the weapons of man. The weapons of our warfare are not physical [weapons of flesh and blood]. Our weapons are divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying sophisticated arguments and every exalted and proud thing that sets itself up against the [true] knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought and purpose captive to the obedience of Christ… (AMP)
Imagine for a moment that someone busted into your home. You just so happen to be home.
a) Pretend like the burglar isn’t there?
b) Start telling them what a bad person they are while they make off with your stuff?
c) Fight to get them out of your house, call the police, and then invest in an alarm system and maybe a weapon or a dog.
Why are we better are protecting our homes than we are our own minds?!
You want to experience freedom from unGodly fantasy in your life? You need to start arming yourself and fighting it. When those thoughts come barging through, unwelcome, don’t just let them trounce around while you cower in fear, some self-perceived victim of your circumstances. You have a choice in how this plays out.
Fight them. Don’t just change the channel, grab them by the neck and drag them kicking, screaming, and declaring their rights and innocence all the way to the feet of Jesus and let God do what He does best.
Authors over the years have rightly talked about the battlefield of the mind. What’s in our mind matters, and God wants to renew our minds and set us free from these traps of fantasy and lust.
And do not be conformed to this world [any longer with its superficial values and customs], but be transformed and progressively changed [as you mature spiritually] by the renewing of your mind [focusing on godly values and ethical attitudes], so that you may prove [for yourselves] what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect [in His plan and purpose for you]. Romans 12:2 (AMP)
What if I’m fantasizing about my husband?
A really quick side bar here because I get asked this question from wives.
I’m going to tackle this in a post in the next series, because it’s my opinion and not really anything I can back up with Bible, but thinking about sex with your husband is, I believe, a healthy part of marriage as long as:
1- It isn’t a replacement for actual sexual intimacy with your husband
2- It doesn’t involve your husband and someone else
3- It doesn’t involve something your husband wouldn’t actually do. If you’re imagining your husband engaging in behavior you know he won’t do or isn’t comfortable doing then you’re crossing a line.
But we’ll dive into that more next month.