Would you believe me if I told you that I deleted this post from my edit window 10 times in the last 24 hours?
I didn’t do it because I didn’t want to share this part of my story. I didn’t do it because I am ashamed, although I’ll admit I’ve had the opportunity to remember what that feels like since I started revisiting this story. I didn’t do it because I hated every word I had written.
I did it because the words never seem to sound right.
At first they came out to legalistic, too stark and pointed. As if I had pulled away any real emotion from the story, turned it into a point form list of cardboard memories.
Then they were too preachy. Full of passion and purpose, and a lot of reasoning. The words were good but they didn’t sound like me, my memories twisted and turned, displayed like an object in a youth group lesson.
There’s a hundred ways to tell this story, and if I’m being honest, none of the words will sound right. I watched a Ted Talk the other day about how all of us have our closets, and I sat staring at my computer screen incredulous. Have you ever had one of those moments where God speaks so clearly, at the most unexpected moment? I had one of those moments while watching this video. The speaker is basically saying that while not all of us are hiding our sexual identity in a deep, dark closet, each of us has a “hard conversation” that we feel is better left stored away out of sight. For some, its homosexuality, for others its a diagnosis, an affair, a financial issue, an un-confessed love. For me, it has always been this story.
The overwhelming theme of this talk, was that we need to simply rip the bandaid off, get the conversation out there, and stop pretending we’re anyone but who we are. Essentially, be real. That is what I intend to do here…
I can count on one hand the times sex was talked about in my household as I was growing up. It was not necessarily an untouchable subject, but rather…an ignored one. I remember once, around the age of 11 or so, I was up late watching a movie with my mom. I had, no doubt, worn out her last nerve emerging from my bedroom for various reasons and she had finally agreed to let me stay up. At some point in the movie, a character made some sort of suggestive innuendo that I didn’t understand and I asked her what he meant.
Her response was simple and blunt. “He means sex.”
These are the only three words I remember ever hearing directly from my parents on the subject, although I’m certain I never pressed them for details or answers anyways.
As such, my understanding and education came from the world around me. Playground whispers, movies & media, and awkward health classes that tried to tackle the “tricky” topics with comic strips and overtly candid question and answer sessions with the public health nurse. I came to understand, largely from the media I consumed, that value is easily defined by physical attraction, that lust is a natural precursor to love, and that (as in all on screen relationships) sex is not only to be expected in a growing relationship but is also the climax of any romantic journey. (You may be inclined to fight me on that suggestion, however think of any rom-com you have ever watched. Boy meets girl, they flirt, they date, perhaps they fight or something terrible happens that drives them apart, they fall into bed together, they live happily ever after).
Like many teenagers today, I grew up in an overtly skewed sexual culture. A culture where casual sex is glorified in the media, the overwhelming message is that true love is satisfied by sex, that men only think about one thing and women are only good for one thing…and where it is nothing to see half naked people posted in the most unexpected places (above freeways, grocery store cashier lines, waiting rooms, public restrooms).
I had made the choice as a young teen to steer clear of the one local youth group that was available, with good reasoning. My brother, adopted when we were around the age of 10, is only 3 months younger than me. I was born at the end of December 1990 and he was born mid March of 1991, so we fell into different grades at school but still somehow managed to cross paths in various community activities, and on occasion found shared friends. In an act of big sister love (or perhaps big sister greed) I decided that he should have at least one place to go that he wasn’t forced to share with me. He, therefore, was given the youth group and summer camp experience, an environment that no doubt would have done a bit to counteract the worldly view that was bombarding my senses. I, as you read last week, took a different path.
Having already face planted into partying, nearly killing myself in the process, at the age of 15 I pulled away from alcohol and questionable crowds and realigned by circle of friends. I dated three people in highschool. One at the age of 15, mid faceplant. That relationship was more rebellion than anything else. A shortlived romance defined by our shared affection for heavy metal, whiskey and forgotten Friday nights. Unhealthy, misguided, and dissolved almost as quickly as it emerged.
The second was after I realigned my peer group. A clean cut, goofy boy on the wrestling team who only noticed me after multiple MSN conversations that resulted in little more than my obscure music collection populating his snowboarding playlist with music he likely would never have discovered on his own. We dated for 11 months; a relationship that resulted in a still existent friendship and an incredible understanding of where I didn’t fit, how I didn’t relate to people, and who I didn’t want to be. Nearing the time we broke up, we barely spent any time together, especially at school, and I remember answering the question, “Are you two still dating?” with the unsure statement, “Ehhhhhhhh, I guess so…?” I called him up a week later, laying on my living room floor, and we agreed that I would still help him with his homework, he would still come over for dinner to bug my parents, and we would still be friends. My best friend would later say that we were the only teenage couple she’d ever heard of that legitimately “grew apart”.
The third came a short month after that phone call. To be honest, this new friendship overlapped the second breakup by a month or so, and I think I knew my next relationship would not be far in the future. I could write a series on this third relationship alone. All the things I thought were magical, all the disfunction, all the moments of understanding, all the miscommunication. In truth, had we simply stayed friends we would have been so much better off, but instead in grade 12 we embarked on the rockiest emotional rollercoaster I’ve ever experienced. It lasted roughly three years, on and off, and truthfully redefined my understanding and my view of healthy relationships and purity in its whole form.
The only understanding I had of the Christian view of purity was what I heard down the grapevine; the washed up, hardly helpful theory that purity is defined most importantly by physical condition, that lust is impossible to fight, that pre-marital sex will leave you worthless and used up, and that abstinence is the only answer. These were the stereotypical messages that floated around, again mostly in the media, and I’m slightly appalled when I hear that some people were actually fed these cookie cutter, flat, unforgiving lessons in relationship from their pastors and parents without any other direction or clarity.
When I was 17, having dated the third in this list for roughly 5 months, I chose wholeheartedly to give my virginity away. I was so wrapped up in this boy I viewed as a man, all rugged independence with a mysterious, broken past, that I would have done anything to ensure his love for me. In truth, he never asked or forced or pressured me towards any choice or action. He was sweet and respectful and while he was as tempted a I was, the choice was entirely my own and I take full responsibility for it and for every bit of brokenness that I have had to place at the Lord’s feet since then.
At the time, and for years afterwards, I was entirely comfortable with my choice. I had long-since turned my face from whatever it was Jesus might say about the situation, and was confident in my worldly understanding of it. Afterall, at the time, and for at least a year afterwards, I was convinced that this was my soul mate, the man I would marry and spend the rest of my life with. When we broke up, after three rocky years of passionate disagreements, a handful of break ups and make ups and uncountable life lessons, my worldly view ceased to make any sense at all. I allowed myself to be chewed up and spit out by one more man after that, not long after the break up; a short lived fling that left me feeling dirty, used and worthless, and promptly decided that men were going to have to be put on the back burner.
I started the long, difficult journey of figuring out what the hell had gone wrong. Everything the world had ever told me about relationships had been proven incredibly wrong, and I was left picking up broken pieces of my own shattered self. All of this had overlapped with my own awkward re-entrance to the church, a process that took me roughly 2.5 years, a trip across Canada, my first trip to Mexico and a practicum interview at the church I now work and worship at. During this time I kept my choice, my slip ups and ongoing mistakes wrapped up and tucked away, feeling as though I had committed the unforgivable sin that had left me used up and worthless, no good for a healthy Christian relationship. These things eventually, through my ongoing personal conversation with God became my past, but I continued to keep it tucked away, even as I started to slowly collect examples of what the Bible and my now beloved Jesus says on this whole, convoluted topic. I slowly started to realize things that no one had ever told me, to see that I had unwittingly opened myself up to an unbelievable barrage of emotions and attacks that I was unprepared for.
From the very first moment that I gave into any sort of temptation, even before I physically chose anything, everything I thought I understood about relating to this boy changed. 5 months was barely enough time to get to know each other, never mind to find security, understanding, strength and real commitment. My understanding of his affection for me no longer seemed real unless there was a physical manifestation of it, my worth became defined by his physical attraction for me. Before this, I thought I understood what it felt like to battle my own self-esteem, and after it seemed I discovered more reasons to dislike myself, more imperfections to despise. I felt too young, too pale, too inexperienced, too thin, too average, too real for this relationship I had rushed myself into with him. Emotions became sharper, disagreements became passionate attacks on each other, when we were happy or together it was almost addictive, when we were upset or apart it was almost unbearable.
In a very real sense, I threw the most vulnerable part of myself to the wolves of the enemy and they chewed it to a pulp.
As I started to see these past experiences with him, the rises and falls of the rollercoaster, through unclouded eyes, I started to see that those unbearable bumps were the result of so many things; an immature relationship, unprepared hearts, a lack of security in the relationship, an inability and unwillingness to recognize the difference between lust and love, a longing to fill a void that no person could ever fill. The more I came to recognize the brokenness of that relationship, the more I wanted to draw away from male attention and closer to the security of my savior. I made a choice, for the first time since I was 15, to be intentionally single. A choice that has not always been easy, considering the occasional dinner invitation has come up, the fact that my pastors wife and daughters have an affinity for matchmaking, and I am human and therefore crave an emotional connection with another person, but one that has taught me more about myself and God’s intention for my future, for relationships and for marriage than I ever could have expected.
Through this, I’ve begun to see purity in a whole sense rather than the stereotype I had once viewed it as; to see it as an emotional state, a physical state, and an intellectual state…and more than that, an eternal struggle. Sexual purity is not simply a choice that is made once, but rather a series of choices made each day about what type of media you consume, what temptations you will battle, what daydream you will entertain, how you will engage with a person you are attracted to, or who happens to be attracted to you. It is a part of a consistent walk that encompasses all of our sin-habits, all of our confessions, and all of our choices. It is a part of a consistent, daily (sometimes momentary) choice to reach past whatever short-term satisfaction you crave and focus on the eternal.
The most defining part of this story, this journey from worldly focused choices to intentional singleness has been the lessons in self-worth, forgiveness and redemption that He has taught me; the assurance in scripture and in prayer that my worth is not found in my choices but in my identity as child of God, that no sin is unforgivable (even though we have a tendency to try to rank them) or unforgiven, and that I am no less now than I have ever been. In moments of doubt, I’ve found these lessons backed up by people in my life, by comments they have made and reminders that they value me for the person I am now.
Above and through all of this though, I am most thankful for the the moments I am reminded of the redemptive way both of us in that damaging relationship turned to back to God in recent years, how we’ve re-learned how to be friends, and both confessed and forgiven each other the brokenness we caused each other. We have a friendship I would not trade, one that could never be translated into a romantic relationship again, and is stronger because of that. There is an understanding there of all that was wrong, all that was learned, and all that had to be pieced back together, separately, in the aftermath.
I could not say that I know all there is to know on this subject, I can’t even pretend that my view is necessarily correct, but I can tell you that I have a lot more to say and a lot more to learn. I can say that I am both terrified and excited for the season that I get to learn what a true, healthy relationship in Christ feels like and what a strong marriage based in faith will look like. I can attest to the struggle of striving for whole purity, the redeeming power of an honest relationship with Jesus, and the unmistakable gratitude that comes from seeing Him take something so broken and create something better.
Read Part 5 – Simply A Spark