Confessions of an Idealist

March 15, 2010 at 1:25 am (Godly Living, Love, Marriage, Purity, Singleness) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Abigail’s Story

My Papa calls me a precocious child—and dramatic.  Add to that an aura of idealism and you have a recipe for trauma.  At least I can keep a secret.  Few know that I was once engaged.  After that, I took a vow of celibacy.

In Which I Tell of My Engagement, Such as it Was

It lasted an entire afternoon.  I was three years old.  His name was Colby and he lived a couple of doors down.  We were engaged, he said, reaching out to hold my hand.  It seemed like an interesting game—whatever “engaged” meant.  When my older brother began teasing me, I discovered that PDA equals humiliation.

In Which I Came to Dread Being a Heart-breaker

Almost as soon as I could speak, my Papa taught me to recite Ephesians 6:1 and explained to me that pleasing my parents was pleasing the Lord.  I might have been six when we visited an elderly aunt.  “What a pretty little girl!” she exclaimed, in elderly-aunt fashion.  “She will be a heart-breaker!”  My parents hastened to say something like, “Oh, no, that’s not what we have in mind at all!”  Their exact words are long gone, but I understood that heart-breaker was not among their goals for me.

In Which I Explain Why Romance Is Embarrassing

I was the girl who closed her eyes during the movie kiss.  When another neighbor boy tried to coax a kiss from me, I declined.  If holding hands earned teasing, I wasn’t about to risk the song “Abi and Colin sitting in a tree…”

Since my early childhood, I have kept myself to myself—my thoughts, my hands, my struggles.  I was always distinctly aware of my privacy and personal space, often excluding my own family.  Secret-keeping, while often masquerading as purity, was simply my method of self-preservation.  I’m introverted.  Intimacy equals vulnerability.  I hate feeling vulnerable.  As I grew and matured, I began stuffing my drama and emotions into a mental closet—to save embarrassment.

My observations of “romance” are deeply engraved in my childhood memories.  Girls acted like giggling goof-balls, said stupid things, tripped over nothing, turned red constantly and whispered secrets to their friends—who announced them to the boy in question.  Boys stole my headband, pestered me, bumped into me, told dumb jokes, invaded my privacy and acted generally obnoxious.  I resented their “immaturity.”  When the preacher’s son made a big ruckus out of sitting by me in Sunday school every week, I took up the matter with his father.  Friends told me, “He likes you” and adults consoled “He’s just sweet on you.”  If that was “sweet” I’d just go sit in the corner with the lemons.

My favorite fairy tale was a version of the Little Mermaid that concluded with the poor mermaid alone, broken-hearted and voiceless after unsuccessfully seeking the prince at whom she’d flung her heart.  Given the circumstances and her disobedience to her father, it seemed a realistic and appropriate ending.  The moral?  Romance is the perfect way to ruin a perfectly good life.

In Which I Decide to Fight Back

I was nine when we attended a small-town barbeque.  My brothers and I joined a group of kids on a squeaky merry-go-round.  Suddenly the boy seated beside me asked my name.  Duly answered, he wanted my age, my grade, and where I was from.  This impromptu interrogation concluded, he turned to his friend and announced, “I got me a pretty lady.”  My ears pricked, curiously.  “I asked her name,” he continued, proudly, “her age, her grade, where she’s from and bingo!  I got me a pretty lady.”  “You ain’t got nothing,” I thought bitterly to myself.  Arrogance!  He hadn’t even asked me!  My brothers thought it was hilarious.  Pondering the event later, it seemed so ludicrous, so stupid, that was almost funny.  I made a decision: if boys were going to be stupid and drag me into it, then I would make them look as stupid as possible.

And I got very good at it.

By the time I was twelve or thirteen, I’d mastered the art of humiliation.  One day after church, a visiting boy began furiously flirting with my buddy and me.  “He’s hitting on your sister,” a friend whispered to my older brother, Nathaniel.  “Just watch,” Nathaniel chuckled.  “It will be funny.”  In an act of deceptive kindness, I boosted the boy onto a trash barrel and into a tree where he perched happily, blowing me kisses.  Then I grabbed the trash barrel and rolled it away, leaving him stranded.  The audience erupted in laughter.  I never paid attention to how he got himself down.

In Which I Accept a Challenge

Before I hit thirteen, my Papa introduced us to the “Bold Christian Youth” seminar by a father and teacher named Jonathan Lindvall.  Lindvall’s message sprang from Paul’s exhortation to Timothy to be an example to the believers—in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity.  He spent three sessions on the topic of purity, delving far beyond the basics of sexual purity and into the issue of emotional purity.  He introduced me to the concept of defrauding: taking something that doesn’t belong to you.  He shared the simple story of how he had met and married his wife, Connie, with his parent’s guidance and her parent’s blessing.  The simplicity, the sincerity and the utter lack of gush appealed to me and I was sold, lock, stock and barrel.

The concept appealed to me for several reasons:  First, it was clearly pleasing to my parents and to the Lord. Second, it made sense.  It didn’t waste time and energy.  And people didn’t get hurt.  (Right?)  Third, it was rather non-threatening to my personality and comfort zone.

I now had a Biblical foundation for battlements to guard body, heart, mind and emotions.  But as I developed my battle-plan and the rules that would protect my borders, I discovered that not everyone was on my team.  In fact, most of the boys I knew seemed like traitorous spies, intent on crossing boundaries at every opportunity.  I remember feeling entirely invaded when one guy friend chased me down and picked me up.  Instead of coming to my aid, several others just laughed (probably because they thought the “smart-mouthed girl” was getting what she deserved.)  With renewed energy and a misplaced zeal, I responded with down-right cruelty.  You pinch my knee, I stab you with a safety pin.  You repeat the offense, I repeat the punishment.  You mess with my hair, I slug you.  You flirt with me, I verbally tear you into sniveling shreds.  I resented any intrusion into my place of concealment and looked suspiciously on any act of kindness.  If I were kind in return, people might think I returned the sentiment.  So I loaded up with sarcasm, cynicism and subtle insults and fired at will.

My parents pulled me aside one day and explained to my horrified ears that “picking on” boys could actually be interpreted as flirtation—it was giving them special attention.  All this time, my efforts to ward off the enemy might have been drawing fire?

I withdrew.  I quit teasing, quit talking to boys, quit making eye-contact.

Chuckling, my parents exhorted me to be kind, to be friendly, but to avoid teasing, insults and “singling out” and to be honest and straightforward about boundaries.

In Which I Discover that Boys Can Be Friends

My mid-teens found me and my brother and involved in a homeschool speech and debate league.  The environment stimulated my mind and brought me out of my shell to look around.  The guys I met behaved like men (well, for the most part) and treated me with respect and friendship.  Most of them were solid believers with strong convictions and when I expressed my convictions and boundaries, they responded with sensitivity and respect.  “I don’t give hugs,” I explained and they quickly apologized.  They became my brothers.  Soon I was developing many friendships that had depth and substance and seemed non-threatening.

Unwittingly, I dropped my guard.

But as my circle of “safe” boy friends grew, something horrible happened.

In Which “Safe” Becomes the Enemy

I had my first crush.

I’d never really liked a boy.  Sometimes, in my early teens, I’d admired a godly young man (usually much older than I), but there was little reason to like anyone.  I was a Papa’s girl with two brothers close to my age.  If there were to be any praises, teasing, affection, drama, conversation, competition, antagonism, attention or good advice, they had it covered.  I’ve heard it said that crushes are a natural part of a adolescence.  So are pimples, but they’re still disgusting.  So when the first crush came, I was aghast.  The world had fallen, my heart had betrayed me, I had lost all vestiges of purity.

As soon as I discovered my heart’s betrayal, I gathered together my forces and declared war on my unsuspecting crush.  Mentally, I shot slime balls into his person and character until he simply wasn’t worth liking.  I focused on his faults, his weaknesses, his annoyances.  Bingo.  He was history.

After all, I wasn’t getting married.  Which made liking a guy the token failure of my purity standard.

See, as the Biblical call to purity had echoed across my heart, I’d felt a powerful desire to be an example to the believers.  If I was to be an example of purity, wouldn’t the best and clearest way be to prove that a woman could be entirely devoted to Christ for her whole life?  Marriage had never been paramount among my desires (remember, I had an intimacy issue).  Now my dramatic side embraced the concept of singleness—serving the Lord perhaps in work with orphans or the inner city.  After all, in a situation like that, singleness could be a decided asset.

Between the conviction that I would stay single for the glory of God and my fault-finding tactic, I survived rather splendidly.

In Which I Finally Grasp Marriage

My family was holed up in a cabin at a family camp in the Ozarks the summer I turned seventeen.  I’d spent the week watching my parents as they waded through some rough issues.  One night, as they sat whispering on their bed, I lay in the bunk above them and finally understood.  Marriage was beautiful.  Across the wooden panels of the cabin ceiling paraded the powerful wooing of Christ toward His church and the picture that a godly marriage could portray of Christ’s love and the church’s obedience.  It was a picture so sadly lacking in the culture I’d witnessed (even the Christian culture) that I suddenly understood the divine calling to live it out.  Marriage had always seemed fine for those who desired it, but I’d reasoned that singleness was better.  As I lay there, sleepless, I grasped for the first time that a pure marriage was just as powerful an example as pure singleness.  Both were from the Lord and both brought Him glory.

In Which I Vow to Remain Single

This revelation did not negate the value I placed on singleness.  Paul’s teaching on the freedom a single woman has to single-mindedly serve the Lord still hangs prominently in my heart.  But the revelation did make the single-mindedness a bit more difficult and I felt like I was battling towering odds.  My grandmas had made bets with my brother that I would be married at 18 and I ranked top on friends lists of “who will marry first.”  My obstinate determination not to marry had guarded my heart for so long, but with my growing appreciation for marriage, I began to feel exposed.  I’d been convicted of my cruelty in tearing guys down to avoid liking them and abandoned it for a more Biblical approach of kindness.  As I approached the magical age of eighteen, the romantic suggestions increased exponentially.  Now I actually thought marriage was cool?  With all of my self-defense mechanisms crumbling and my ammo tossed to the winds of the past, how could I ever stand guard over my heart?

Feeling vulnerable, I dug a trench.  I took a vow of celibacy.

In Which I Learn to Focus

My “vow” was really just a year-long commitment.  I promised the Lord that I would devote myself entirely to His service, refusing to consider marriage, but focusing on knowing and loving Him passionately.

I don’t recommend taking vows like this, but the Lord mercifully used the promise for good in my life.  I developed disciplines of taking every thought captive, ignoring “boy attention” and refocusing my thoughts to the Lord.  My spirit flourished and I fell so entirely in love with the Lord that year that I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I could be single forever—and He would be God Almighty, my Betrothed.

In Which I Lose My Last Defense

During this time of focus, I’d leaned heavily on one last defense:  the art of evasion.  Like a timid hare, a single threat of romantic interest would send me scampering to hiding.  “Um…Charlie’s here,” my Mom announced as a guy I’d been kind to in the library turned up on our doorstep.  “I’m not!” I cried, and fled out the back door.

One day my dad gently explained to me that avoidance could also be a form of “singling out”—giving special treatment to certain guys.

In Which My Ideal Goes the Way of All Fairy Tales

I passed my eighteenth birthday, leaving my year-long vow behind, and my heart wavered again toward marriage.  I passionately desired to be a shining example of emotional purity and I pleaded with the Lord that I would be neither distracted nor a distraction.  I’d watched Nathaniel and Lauren struggle through four years of distractions and determined to guard myself well against a similar story.  My ideal had always been simple and practical—something that permitted me to be entirely oblivious until it suddenly became obvious that I could better serve the Lord married and married to Mr. X.  The end.  No drama.  No romance.  No struggle.  No distractions.  Let’s all just be sensible, can we?

But I’d overlooked a fundamental problem:  oblivion was never included in my many faults.

Over the next several years, my ideal broke into a thousand pieces.  You know how Cinderella wore glass slippers?  In real life, no one wears glass slippers.  My ideal was like a glass slipper—beautiful in theory, but unable to stand the pressures of real life.  Being pursued several times didn’t fit my ideal any better than struggling for four years—both were distractions.  We’re taught not to view every young man as a potential suitor, but what happens when it’s not my mindset I’m battling?  What happens when, like Amy or Sarah or Lauren, a girl thinks she might have met Mr. Right?  Or when a young man is pursuing in an upright manner?  Or when others are trying to “help”?  I wasn’t the only one lacking oblivion.  People asked nosey questions, made nosey suggestions, tried facilitate my “happily ever after,” pushed me, pulled me, poked me and prodded me until I felt like the weepy girl who’d been forced to center-stage.  I was anxious, nauseated, confused, disillusioned and battling resentment.  How was I supposed to guard my heart when it was constantly under attack?  I felt like my reputation was being dragged through the dirt as I was quizzed about one guy after another.  Did people think I just bounced from one guy to the next like that?  Did they think I didn’t uphold my own standards?  What was I supposed to say?  Or do?  I was convinced that to intentionally encourage, where I did not have the blessing of my parents as well as wisdom and my own conscience, was cheating!  As I struggled with distractions, I felt like I was failing my own purity ideals and I was haunted by the words “heart breaker.”  I just wanted the drama to stop!  This romance stuff wasn’t just embarrassing—it was a nightmare!  My dramatic, precocious nature was ready to build a tower with no door or vanish into a nunnery.

Slowly I understood that I couldn’t survive on my own—I was helpless, weak and confused.  I felt so stripped of my privacy and defenses that I was willing to open myself to intimacy with my parents.   And with my heart feeling as crushed as my ideals, I was driven to scripture to see what the Lord truly expected of me.  I’d always assumed distractions were bad, but “bad” things drove me to my parents and to the scriptures for anything to which I could cling.  I found that the purity battle is won, not on the defensive, but on the offensive.  I was trying not to “fall in love.”  Instead I should love.  The purity standard never changed, regardless of my circumstances.  I should love the Lord first, using everything that entered my mind to turn my thoughts toward Him.  When tempted to be distracted, to worry, to consider, I should springboard into praise, worship, truth, trust.  I should love my brothers—regardless of appearances or intentions.  I should seek my brother’s good, seek to turn their minds to the Lord, seek to treat them with kindness without showing favoritism, seek to encourage them.  I should love all my neighbors equally—even those who are prying into my heart.  I should extend grace to those who may not share or understand my ideals.  And I should seek my parent’s accountability and guidance.  I won’t pretend it wasn’t painful, but Christ’s sacrificial love drove Him to endure unfathomable suffering–trusting that He was doing right.  It is His love that controls us and enables us to lay down our lives for others.

From the ashes of my nightmare rose a powerful call to purity and love.

In Which I Share the Moral of the Story

This time you get the moral before the end of the story!  After all, I’m still living, and until I meet Jesus there is no “happily ever after.”

Looking back, I have no regrets regarding sexual purity—well, except perhaps holding hands during my “engagement.”  But until recently, I’d been ashamed of my emotional purity struggle as an overwhelming failure–a complete waste of time, energy and emotion.  I had completely failed all my own ideals.  What was the purpose?  I’d been intensely grateful to the Lord’s grace and to my parent’s wisdom in protecting me from any relationships, but it seemed like a battle I should never have had to fight.

Then I experienced a failed courtship—through the eyes of a friend.  As I wept with her over her broken heart and ideals, I understood God’s healing power.  Another friend recently married—the only guy who’d ever been interested in her.  “How nice,” I thought, but she shared that she had often felt discouraged and undesirable.  As I listened I understood that each person’s struggle will seem hard to them—“bad” to them.  “Hard things” are life and “bad things” happen, but God promises to redeem them for our good.    In fact, God never promises us our ideal—no matter how well we behave.  He just commands us to obey His word—to love Him and His people as worship.

Purity isn’t about ideals or rules that I make up—it’s about obedience to God’s word!  My actions and attitudes must flow, not from pride in my high ideals, but in recognition of my weakness!   I am forgiven for mistakes in my past, I am not to guess at the future and I am to live today in worship of Almighty God.  It’s encouraging to be reminded that I am not responsible for circumstances or results—I’m just responsible to obey the Lord and love my brothers. You don’t have to be strong to win the purity battle, you just have to depend fully on the Lord and His grace.  May the grace of our Lord be with you!

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Part One: Love and Purity

March 3, 2010 at 1:43 am (Articles, Attitudes, Godly Living, Love, Marriage, Purity, Singleness, Worship) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Posted by Abigail

Several years ago, I received a Facebook invitation to take a “purity quiz” and see how I rated.  Curious, I clicked over.  Not surprisingly, I ranked something like “angelic”—entirely due to activities I had or hadn’t participated in–including marriage.  I shook my head and blinked—had Lauren been taking this quiz, she’d have lost “purity points” simply by virtue of being married.  In fact, her reputation would have been severely tarnished by the fact that she kissed her husband—never mind that it wasn’t until their wedding day.  Girls I know who are now shining examples of purity would have been ranked something like akin to purity’s pond-scum due to pre-Christ actions—forgiven actions.  Oh, friends, a girl could obsess about boys, flirt with boys, read romance novels, fantasize—even look at pornography and still come out “angelic.”  But she couldn’t be married.  She couldn’t have kissed her husband on her wedding day.

It wasn’t that long ago that Britney Spears was held up as an icon—a “good girl”–a “virgin.”  Now her name conjures up shudders of horror.  Something happened.  What went wrong?

As I clicked the browser closed I thought, “Something is terribly skewed with our perception of purity.”

For what is “True Love” waiting?

Swimming against the current is never easy, and when it comes to the issue of purity, sometimes it feels like we’ll be swept away in the filth of modern “love.”

We easily recognize the destruction of “love” by a society so devoid of anything holy.  In the name of love, God’s commands are broken, vows are broken, marriages are broken, hearts are broken.  The world surrounding us has a broken image of love glorified in the public unveiling of sex and the rampant cheapening of romance.  Both have become a commodity sold on billboards on every highway, advertised by every form of media and sported on a million living models.  To the world “love” is a multi-million dollar industry—a never ceasing effort to capture in a tangible way the elusive spark of intimacy.

In the midst of the madness, some say purity is coming back into style.  In an effort to swim against the “Love is Sex” current, the “True Love Waits” campaign has spawned a fad of rings and t-shirts and banquets and merchandise to encourage “purity pledges.”  But the statistics surrounding the “True Love Waits” movement are hardly encouraging.*

As godly young women see the “True Love Waits” advocates being swept into an ocean of temptation and technicality, they wring their hands and cry for answers.  In the effort to protect “true love” the boundaries are often pushed back, one step at a time.  “True Love Waits” preaches purity as “saving sex for marriage.”  A boundary of “saving sex for marriage” is like starting down a water slide thinking you won’t get to the bottom.  So, where do we draw the line?  Well, kissing leads to sex, I won’t kiss.  Holding hands leads to kissing, I won’t hold hands.  Dating leads to holding hands, I won’t date.  Emotional attachment leads to dating, I won’t get emotionally attached.  Friendship leads to emotional attachment, I won’t be friends with boys.  Talking leads to friendship, I won’t talk to boys.  Eye contact leads to talking, I won’t make eye contact with boys.  Being in the same room with boys leads to eye contact, I won’t be in the same room with boys.  HELP!  There are boys everywhere tempting me to break my purity pledge!  They keep walking into the room!

From our fogged understanding another skewed perception of purity is formed.  Subconsciously we are accepting the word’s definitions and understandings—“falling in love” leads to sex and purity is saving sex for marriage, so if we are really going to accomplish purity, we’re going to have to protect ourselves from “falling in love.”  At least until we marry, at which time suddenly we will fall in love and ta-da!  Everything will be perfect and pure.  Essentially, we’re not supposed to love boys.  Which breaks down, in so many words, to a horrible lie:  that love is impure and purity is unloving.  If we want to be pure, we can’t risk loving.  So we create rules:  no dating, no best guy friends, no talking to guys, no looking at guys period!  And no matter how pure our intentions are, how well we keep our own rules, they simply don’t work.  I promise.  Suddenly one morning, we wake up and realize that we’re crushing on a guy we’ve never even looked at.  (He sure gives good answers at Bible study, though.)  In anguish and frustration, we tear out our hair crying “How did this happen?  I did everything right!”

Be an example—in love and purity!

Paul left his son in the faith—his protégé–Timothy, in Ephesus, strengthening the church, establishing order as Paul’s apostle and wrote him some guidelines for his conduct as a younger Christian.  “Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe.”  (1 Timothy 4:12)  He charged Timothy to be an example—in love and purity!

An example in love and purity—to those who believe.  Love and purity not only do coexist, but must coexist!  Scripturally, love is not something a person can “fall into.”  Neither is impurity.  Both are choices that we make, often one tiny moment at a time.  To understand just what the Lord wants of us, let’s get back to the Bible for our definitions of love and purity.

>Purity

The Bible uses the word “purity” to refer to doctrine, wisdom, thoughts, religion, hearts, devotion—and in its most simple form it means: undefiled. **

>Love

Scripture commands two kinds of love:  phileo (Greek–brotherly affection) and agape (Greek–sacrificial love).  It also speaks of several forms of romantic love (various Hebrew variants of ahab).  All are created by God and intended to be pure.  And all must flow first and foremost from devotion to God.  ***

The world has a terribly skewed perception of purity for a simple reason:  purity is not a set of rules.  It’s not a have or have not check-list.  In many cases acts are, of themselves, not impure, but motives direct whether our actions are pure or impure.  Jesus said “out of the heart proceeds…impurity.”  And “he who looks at a woman to lust has committed adultery already in his heart.”

Purity is a heart issue.  And rather than denying love, it is actually empowered, guided and guarded by love.

If you want to be pure, you must love.

Because love is pure and purity is loving.

Part One:  Love and Purity

Part Two:  Love and My Heart

Part Three:  Love and My Brother

Part Four:  Love and Marriage

Part Five:  Love and Matchmaking

Part Six:  Love and Today

*READ WITH CARE:  A study done by the New York Times reveals that, of teens who take the “True Love Waits” pledge, the majority break them.   Many Christian girls perceive purity as a “technical virginity”

**A few appearances of purity:  Job 11:4; Psalm 12:6; Psalm 18:26; Psalm 24:4; Proverbs 15:26; Proverbs 20:11; Zeph. 3:9; Matt. 5:8; 1 Tim. 1:5; 1 Tim. 3:9; 2 Tim. 1:3; Tit. 1:15; Jas. 1:27; Jas. 3:17; 1 Pet. 1:22; 2 Pet. 3:1.

** *A few appearances of agape:  Matt. 5:43; Matt. 6:24; Matt. 19:19; Matt. 22:37; Matt. 22:39; Mark 12:33; Luke 6:27; Luke 7:42; Luke 10:27; Luke 16:13; John 5:42; John 8:42; John 10:17; John 13:34; John 14:15; John 15:9; John 15:12&13; Rom. 5:8; Rom. 8:28; Rom. 8:35; Rom. 12:9; Rom. 13:8; Rom. 13:10; 1 Cor. 13; 2 Cor. 5:14; 2 Cor. 12:15; Gal. 5:13; Eph. 4:2; Eph. 5:2; Eph. 5:25; Phil. 1:9; Col. 3:19; 1 Thess. 3:12; 2 Tim. 1:7; 1 John 3:11; 1 John 3:14; 1 John 4:19; 1 John 4:21; 2 John 1:6.

A few appearances of phileo:  John 21:15; Rom. 12:10; 1 Thess. 4:9; Tit. 3:15; Heb. 13:1; 1 Pet. 3:8; Rev. 3:19;

A few appearances of romantic love:  Gen. 29:20; Judg. 16:15; 2 Sam. 1:26; 2 Sam. 13:4; 1 Kin. 11:2; Pro. 4:6; Pro. 5:19; Ecc. 3:8; Song of Solomon; Ez. 16:8; Ez. 23:11; Hos. 3:1.

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