Purity and the Bigger Picture

March 9, 2010 at 1:00 am (A Slice of Life, Godly Living, Purity) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

Lauren’s Story

A number of our readers have asked questions about my personal “purity” experience: What were some of the boundaries you set when you were single? Did those change when you got engaged? And what about now that you’re married—how do you relate to men other than your husband? I hope to address each of these questions as I tell my story below, and I’ve divided my life in to five “phases” that I hope will help to illustrate spiritual and practical changes that have taken place in my life.

Phase One: The Formative Years

Though not raised in a Christian home in my early years, I was certainly blessed with very conservative, loving parents who wanted to teach me right from wrong and protect me. Somewhere around the age of 8 we had a discussion about dating and sex. My parents told me that I should save sex for marriage and that the house rule was no dating until I was 16. It all sounded very reasonable to me, so I agreed without hesitation.

Even having those barriers in place, my little heart was already all astir with romance. I remember dragging a boy around by the arm on the playground in preschool—forcing him to marry me. And later, in second grade, I remember wishing I could kiss a little boy in my class. Most people see this as cute and innocent. But it was lust on a lower level. Disney movies probably didn’t help. And as I grew older and my movie selection broadened to romantic comedies, I was carried away by my own romantic daydreams. Isn’t it amazing how little-girl daydreams turn into bigger-girl fantasies?

So my thought life was less than clean, even at a young age. I had accepted my parents’ rules without question, but my heart had its own fun in the meantime. I seriously thought I’d get my first kiss when I was 16 and able to date—as though some wonderful guy was waiting for me to hit that magical age and then sweep me off my feet! Thankfully, the Lord saved me when I was 13, and the Spirit began His work in my heart…

Phase Two: Decidedly Single

I had a sincere relationship with the Lord from the time I was 13 and on. So as I actually approached the legal dating age, I began to evaluate my life and wonder if I was ready to date. I figured that dating wasn’t a good idea until I was comfortable with where I was in my walk with the Lord. This seemed very wise at 15, and others commended me for my view. But in the back of my mind I wondered, “When can I ever say that I’m happy where I am? How can I say, ‘OK, God, we’re doing fine, I’m deep enough with you now, so I can afford to be distracted by a boyfriend’?” At that crucial point, my mom heard about I Kissed Dating Goodbye and bought it for me. That book, though I wouldn’t say it’s perfect, helped fill in the gap on the dating question. If I’m not at a point where marriage is an option, I don’t need to date at all! I’m free to focus on the Lord and not worry about a relationship for now!

That was great in theory, and for the most part it worked in practice—I’ve never dated anyone but my husband, and that is such a huge blessing! On the other hand, purity goes a lot farther than “not dating” or “saving it all” for your husband in the way we usually understand it. Purity is a heart thing. And I’d developed some bad habits of clinging to crushes, imagining myself marrying them, and allowing my thoughts and emotions to be swept away by someone who wasn’t my husband. That was anything but pure. And to top it off, I was really shy about liking boys, unwilling to open up to my parents (especially my dad) about anyone I liked. So not dating actually made it easier to hide what was in my heart from those who loved me most. While I do recommend not dating, I don’t recommend keeping your heart from your parents.

So my high school years were a constant struggle against lust and raging emotions—old habits that had been around since preschool. Looking back it makes me sick to think that I obsessed over certain guys like I did. No, I wasn’t “boy crazy” in the since that I drooled over any “cute” guy that walked by, but when I did have a crush, I certainly paid him too much attention—attention intended for only one man–allowing my heart to wander from the Lover of my soul.

Phase Three: The Real Battle Begins

Something different happened when I met Nathaniel in the first week of my freshman year of college. Maybe I was a little more grown up, a little wiser, the Spirit having a little more sway on my heart, but when I met him and found we were like-minded (and I was interested in him), I told my parents as soon as I went home for Labor Day a week or two later—and I openly told my dad.

This new person was unlike any of my old high school crushes. Not that I thought marriage wasn’t an option with the guys I liked in high school, but when I met Nathaniel things were much more realistic. Here was a guy I really could see myself marrying—to the point that it made all my previous crushes seem silly. After I knew Nathaniel for only about 2 months, I was fairly certain I wanted to marry him. I can’t say that’s exemplary (or wrong, for that matter), but it’s my story.

Now, meeting the man of your dreams four years before marriage is a viable option makes for quite the difficult journey! And it was rough on his end, too. I remember reading and re-reading Elizabeth Elliot’s story in Passion and Purity and asking, “Lord, are you really going to make me wait four years like you made her wait???” Thankfully, unlike Mrs. Elliot’s case, Nathaniel said nothing to me about “us”. He worked very hard to guard his own heart and mine—refraining from expressing his feelings for me—until he would ask me to marry him almost four years later.

One thing that impressed me about Nathaniel, and that will give insight into my own personal standards of purity in guy-girl relationships, was that he never tried to hug me—in fact, he didn’t really touch me at all. That was quite refreshing, as I had developed a somewhat hands-off approach to guys since high school when a friend hugged me quite tight and made me uncomfortable. “Casual” barely begins to express the way guys and girls related to each other in college. Physical contact wasn’t thought to be a big deal—long hugs were given in every direction. So to find someone who had never dated, wanted to save every expression of physical affection for marriage, and who sought to guard a girl’s purity about as much as his own was an amazing blessing. That’s not to say that other guys weren’t also a blessing in that area, but Nathaniel was exemplary (then again, I may be partial…).

There were a few points of compromise over those four years. Though we both thought it best to avoid spending time alone with members of the opposite sex, we happened to end up running together when after two weeks the rest of our running buddies dropped out of the habit. We continued to run together until the end of the semester, and then just never brought it up the next semester—both of us convicted that we didn’t need to be spending that kind of time together.

Another point would be playing the “slug bug” game on road trips. Granted, these road trips included more friends than just ourselves, but somehow I think Nathaniel and I enjoyed punching each other more than anyone else…

So the standards we each (separately—we never discussed “us”) sought to uphold were not to spend time alone together and not to express any kind of romantic interest or affection—physically or verbally. I can’t say we did this perfectly, but those were our goals. I thank the Lord for guarding my heart on more than one occasion when I felt helpless to guard it myself. There were times I was dealing with something and I wished Nathaniel would have hugged me—but I’m so thankful that he didn’t. He gets to give me plenty of hugs now. And I learned to better rest in the arms of my Father at that time.

About half way through college I wrote a poem that dealt with the struggle of surrendering my dreams of marrying Nathaniel to the Lord. The poem continues to bless me every time I re-read it, and I hope that it will be helpful to others, as well.

It honestly doesn’t seem like most of college was especially difficult until the last semester. We were just friends, after all, and we enjoyed our college experience without the drama of a relationship–or of a potential dating relationship.  It was easy to keep things at this level since we both knew that marriage wasn’t an immediate option (I’d heard along the way that Nathaniel didn’t want to get married until he finished college and had a job lined up to support a family).  But when graduation was on the horizon things were different.  That “far off” time when something might come of our friendship was staring me in the face.  And much to my chagrin, I had to make plans for my life after college without expecting anything. I applied for jobs, even got offered a good one, but I was miserable trying to figure out what to do. Nathaniel had wanted to propose earlier in the semester, but the Lord delayed things on his end, which made my struggle wane on, but allowed my heavenly Father to work in my heart a complete surrender. I praise Him for His timing! During this time, I still saw Nathaniel as a close friend, but was letting go of my desire to be with him. It hurt. Misplaced emotions eventually have to be dealt with, and it’s not a pretty sight. Praise be to God that only a few days after my final surrender, Nathaniel did ask me to marry him!

Phase Four: Betrothal/Engagement—Have the rules changed?

Having been promised in marriage to Nathaniel, my life took a new turn. Where before expressing our feelings and longings would have been inappropriate (for lack of a commitment), now we were supposed to let down our guard emotionally in anticipation of our coming union. I don’t think I really “fell in love” until about three days after Nathaniel proposed—when the initial shock wore off and the last line of my defenses laid down their arms. Having worked so hard to guard my heart up until this point, I can honestly say I’ve never been in love with any other man. Despite my less than admirable infatuations in my earlier years (which now seem so trivial), I can rejoice that my heart is fully my husband’s.

In the physical sense, Nathaniel and I vowed not to touch each other until our wedding day. No holding hands as a couple, hugs, or anything. In effect, our “physical relationship”, which was non-existent while single, remained the same during our engagement. At this point, we could claim each others heart, but not each others body—that would come later, in one package. And so the way I related to other men didn’t change either. I was still guarded emotionally and physically. Hand shakes, high-fives, and holding hands in a group prayer was about it with anyone. Thankfully, our commitment was not too hard to keep since Nathaniel was in Oklahoma and I was in Texas during this time. That kind of long-distance engagement was quite nice as it encouraged communication—which we had much to do having not talked about sharing a life together before this point! We talked about all aspects of our upcoming marriage. It was a great time of anticipation and preparation!

Phase Five: Purity in Marriage

We shared our first hand-holding, kiss, and hug at the altar on our wedding day (which are a very special part of the “whole package” intended to be shared in marriage). I’m getting giddy just thinking about it. The pay-off from having saved everything was just wonderful, and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Now that I’m married, purity has taken on a new dynamic. It is pure to give myself away now—to my husband. One of the best ways to guard mine and my husband’s purity is to completely and continually give what I’ve been saving for so long!

As far as other men are concerned, I’m surprisingly a little more relaxed in my standards. I don’t get offended as easily when someone tries to hug me, though I do try to turn it into a quick side hug! There is somewhat a difference to me now. I’m secure in my husband’s arms, and when there is a brother in the Lord who has a pure reputation and consistently hugs everyone around him to greet them, it doesn’t bother me—especially when we’re with another couple who we’ve known for years. There’s just something about knowing both a guy and his wife that makes things a little more comfortable. That’s not to say every woman should act as I do, but that’s my own experience. I still do shy away from any man who strikes me as flirty—even if he’s not apparently biased with his hugging. There are a few people who make me uncomfortable enough that I would work hard to avoid getting a hug from them! And in general, I don’t offer hugs, just hand shakes and high-fives! And Nathaniel is fine with my “standards” for relating to other guys.

On non-physical issues, I don’t find myself “needing” to have deep conversations with any other man. I may ask a teacher a question every now and then, or join in a group discussion over a meal, but my practice is to pick my husband’s brain and enjoy talking to him about everything! In doing this, he and I grow closer to each other and grow together in the Lord—which is the real goal of purity anyway!

My Story and the Bigger Story

I hope that what I’ve shared can help you to pursue purity in your own relationships. But beyond mere temporal application, I hope you can see the beautiful design God has for His church, and what kind of pure love we are to have for Him. You see, we were all once daydreaming about other lovers—some of us even acting on those dreams. But then this One guy came along…

When we come to see Jesus for who He is, we begin to see how petty and even ugly our devotion to other lovers has been. This brokenness leads us to plead for His mercy, and to our astonishment, He not only pardons us based upon His own sacrifice, but purifies us and makes us His bride! But we’re only enjoying the thrill of the betrothal or engagement now. One day He will come for us, and then the real celebration begins. For now we are to fall more and more in love with Him—in preparation for going to live with Him forever. We forsake other lovers, purifying ourselves because we have this amazing hope of seeing our God face to face! That is the real purity we pursue: Pure devotion and obedience to our Lord and Savior. If we miss this, we’ve lost sight of the purpose of our living as Christians. Purity in relationships here on earth is just one small part of the bigger picture! Get excited!

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The Skunk Smells His Own Stink

November 5, 2009 at 5:47 pm (A Time to Laugh) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )


A couple of years ago, Abigail was part of a team to teach abstinence in the local schools. Our first day in the local middle school, she and her partner, Christy, looked at each other and wrinkled up their noses. “It smells horrible!” Christy, who was barely pregnant and fighting morning sickness, exclaimed. “It smells like a ton of mothballs!” Abigail blinked. “Mothballs? It smells like a skunk!”

Over the next several days they choked on the foul air that greeted them every time they entered the school, but they kept their thoughts to themselves.

As their last day wrapped up, a teacher from a neighboring classroom stopped by the help with clean up. “Whew,” she remarked. “It will sure be nice when that skunk smell dissipates.”

Abigail looked up quickly from the papers she was gathering . “So it was a skunk?”

“Yeah,” she grimmaced. “A whole family of them moved in under the school. They weren’t too happy to be moved out and let us all know it.”

Abigail glanced at Christy, who was holding her nose and looking sickly. “Christy thought it was mothballs.”

“Oh!” the teacher exclaimed. “That’s because the janitor dumped loads of mothballs in the hall in an attempt to cover the stench!”

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