Last week I decided to try a new hair-styling technique–style-by-feel. I fixed my hair while running through the house to gather last minute items to get out the door as fast as possible. It worked great. We were in the car in less than five minutes, and the squirrely mess of my hair was up. I looked somewhat “put together” without putting much time into it.
Getting onto the highway, I glanced in my rear-view mirror and caught the first glimpse of my masterpiece.
I had mascara smeared on my face, my updo was laughably crooked, and it looked worse than the crazy mess it was before I’d put it up. A shower and teeth brushing had been my only getting-ready that day, because I’d woken up late. I’d done what I felt to be necessary, but none of those tasks required me to look in the mirror.
But yeah, I should have.
Most of you know I’m not a girly-girl. I rarely wear makeup, don’t dress fashionably, and usually look about the same no matter what time of day you see me. I never thought of mirrors as a huge necessity, but in this case, boy would it have been helpful. One quick glance could have told me a lot, and I could have fixed the problem in seconds.
So, here’s where this coincides with romance novels. Recently I read a blog written by a godly woman I highly respect that “slammed” romance novels, even the sweet Christian ones. And to be honest, her blanket statements on the genre offended me, even though I’m not a huge fan myself. She basically claimed romance novels were dangerous to a Christian woman’s marriage and attitude toward her husband, making her discontent. (Ok here’s a secret–Narnia Chronicles made me discontent with my life when I read them as a child, so romance novels definitely don’t own the market on causing discontentment.) I have a LOT of friends who write romance, and I can’t imagine they would work so tirelessly with so little reward on something that would HURT marriages. No, no, no. But I still didn’t know the answer–was she right? Are romance novels wrong?
I also had the pleasure of sitting in a room of women last night with an author of books on Christian intimacy in marriage, who touched on this topic. What she said absolutely nailed it. Basically, when asked if they were right or wrong, she said we should evaluate what the book does to you–how does it make you feel about your marriage and your husband?
A very freeing thought came out of all this–there are good and bad romance novels. Real deep, right?? But keep reading, because I’m not talking about quality here. Our current standards call “good” romance novels those with “swoon-worthy heroes” or intense romance. “Bad” ones are the ones that don’t elicit enough romantic thoughts or feelings.
BAD romance novels are ones that evoke the wrong emotion–a longing for a different or better husband, a dissatisfaction with your marriage, a feeling of being cheated in life because of unmet expectations. Yes, romance novels can be an escape into a better relationship, and sometimes women feel they need that. Ok, I get it. But sometimes “escapes” come with consequences. Just as you’d have to pay dearly for an escape to a cruise ship (money, time away from family, arranging schedules), escaping into someone else’s (not real) romance can have a damaging impact on your heart and attitude.
GOOD romance novels are like the mirror I needed the other day. They can show you, through the model of another couple, a problem you have that may be hurting your own marriage. They can uncover lies you believe about yourself or God and help you vanquish them. They can help you see more clearly what’s wrong with your hairdo and help you notice the mascara smeared on your face so you can go FIX IT! They can also give you added appreciation for your spouse. There have been books that leave me with a desire to run and hug my Vince. The sweetness of the love I read about reminds me of the incredible love I’ve been shown by my guy. To be honest, the genre has come a long way in recent years, and there are many more in this category than there used to be. Reader expectation has gone up, and so has the quality and depth of books available.
So when you read a romance novel, a well-written one will leave you in an afterglow of feelings and thoughts. But what sort? Think about your attitude when you’re done reading–
Does it make you want to improve your husband, or yourself?
Does it make you run toward your marriage with gratefulness, or pull away in disappointment?
And really, the answer might be different for each woman, even for the same book. So this is really a personal decision.
Oh, and one other REALLY COOL aspect of romance novels. Romance is the model for God’s relationship with us. It is the imperfect model of that ultra-important bond between Christ and His people, the church. Some books help us understand that bond, that intense love, in a real memorable way without even saying anything about our own marriages or the lack that may be in them. Think of “Redeeming Love” by Francine Rivers. No one I know finishes reading that book going, OH MY GOODNESS–MICHAEL HOSEA IS SO HOT!!! No. Not at all. They leave that book going, WOW–my God is so incredible, and I cannot even fathom His love for a sinner like me.
So I guess I could end with a reminder to readers to check your heart as you pick romance novels, but I won’t. Because I’m a writer myself, I’ll speak to other writers. We have an AWESOME opportunity to impact people in their most personal, most valuable relationships. Words are potent, and stories so effective when it comes to reaching people’s minds and, as a friend once said, “moving around the furniture.” Christian fiction should be set apart by more than simply being “clean” or “sweet romance.” Its intent should be…. wait for it… to HONOR GOD. That means pushing women TOWARD their husbands, toward God, and toward righteousness. Whether your writing is light and fun or deep and convicting, use this opportunity not just to entertain, or to impress, but to channel God’s truths through your fingertips and out into the world.
“May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.” Psalm 19:14