When EVERY MAN'S BATTLE was released three years ago, it clearly struck a nerve among Christian men who struggle with sexual sin. The resulting sales were amazing --- but nowhere near as amazing as the realization that women (Christian women, no less!) needed a similar book to help them come to terms with their unique struggles with sexual temptation. The notion that Christian women face strong physical and emotional temptation has long been dismissed or ignored. After all, "good" women simply don't have those kinds of battles, right? That kind of thinking has prevented Christian women from sharing their struggles with even their closest friends.
In the foreword, Stephen Arterburn makes a point that is crucial to understanding why women face temptation and how they become so vulnerable to unhealthy attractions to, and relationships with, men. What it comes down to, Arterburn writes, is disappointment. For married women --- the target audience for this book --- that means disappointment with their husbands, a problem exacerbated by comparisons with men who appear to be more considerate, affectionate, sensitive, intelligent and good-looking. For single women, temptation is often closely linked to the idea of lack --- lack of love, of marriage, of the opportunity for "licit" sex --- and the uncertainty of ever finding fulfillment.
In her opener, Ethridge confesses to having extramarital affairs with five men simultaneously. None involved sexual contact, but each compromised her relationship with her husband as she alternately obsessed and fantasized over each of the five men. Those mental and emotional attachments prevented her from experiencing true intimacy with her husband and fulfillment in her marriage and her life --- not to mention her relationship with God. Today she ministers to other women who struggle with affairs, both real and imagined, and helps them establish relationship boundaries, lifestyle changes, uncompromising moral standards, and methods for reading the warning signs that a line is about to be crossed.
And Ethridge handles all of this with a refreshing frankness about her own struggles, some of which continued even after she believed she had set the proper limitations on her own relationships with men. No one reading this book can very well argue, "Well, she just doesn't understand," because it's clear that she does. She's been there, and she has found the courage not only to come clean with her husband and thereby strengthen her marriage but also to expose her weaknesses publicly and thereby make herself accessible to women who so desperately need the help she offers.
Best of all, the help she offers is highly practical. Throughout the book, she gives specific guidelines for women to follow and even specific kinds of responses to flattering comments and overt come-ons from men. Instead of listing a host of rules, Ethridge lays out a number of biblical principles that women can use to guide them into making appropriate decisions. She urges women to guard against such potentially damaging activities as comparing a spouse with other men, watching questionable TV shows and movies, fantasizing about other men, engaging in self-gratification, and indulging in "harmless" flirtation. But she's never heavy-handed; her way is a way of grace and compassion.
It will be interesting to see how sales of this book stack up against the men's book. Are "good Christian women" ready to admit their weakness and buy a book like this? Let's hope so. Ethridge has opened up her life so that others may discover the healing and wholeness and true intimacy they're seeking. I suspect many women have a chance of finding just that in this book.
Reviewed by Marcia Ford on July 15, 2003