Because Waiting Is Not Enough
Wednesday, February 15, 2017
Back in 2009, I got the news that I was going to be published for a national audience for the very first time. The publication? SUSIE Mag (which became the now defunct SISTERHOOD Magazine, a reboot of Focus On The Family's Brio). The article? A sweet—and thoroughly incomplete—essay titled "Does True Love Really Wait?"
I was over the moon when I got the news that my piece had been accepted by Susie Shellenberger herself, the former editor of Brio and founder of SUSIE. She had been fairly easy to get in touch with and I emailed her directly asking about how I could submit my work. Susie responded within the day and I sent in one fiction story that was promptly rejected. But I had another piece up my sleeve, one I just knew would be my in. After all, what faith-based girl's magazine would reject a story about waiting until marriage to have sex? That is totally against the by-laws of American Christian Culture.
When I was a young teenager, my dad—a devoted fan of all things Focus On The Family—had purchased a subscription to Brio for me and I. LOVED. IT. Every month, I devoured articles about fashion and music and movies and life as seen through the lens of girls like me, girls who loved Jesus and wanted to get it ALL right, ALL the time. So, as you can imagine, being published in SUSIE felt something like affirmation; not just of my skill as a writer, but of my value as a Christian woman. I had waited until that ring was on my finger and now I was being applauded for it. AS WELL I SHOULD BE, DAMMIT.
When I received my copy of SUSIE in the mail, I practically tore it apart searching for my article.
And, then, THERE IT WAS.
TWO FULL PAGES.
The accompanying art was gorgeous: a bright red heart bordered with sunbeams, on top of which sat the title of my piece in pretty white lettering. I squealed and jumped around and then plopped down in a chair and read the article all the way through, feeling every ounce of pride that one would expect from a writer seeing her byline in print for the first time.
This was it. I was saying something important. I had an audience. Girls across the country would read my words and be inspired.
And they were. Mostly.
The next week, when reading through the comment section below the online version of my article, one girl had written:
"This sounds great and all...but how am I supposed to actually put this into practice?"
I brushed it off and thought to myself that the article wasn't about practice. Geez, girl. It was about doing (or, rather, NOT doing). It was about receipts. It was about proof that waiting until marriage was possible. It was a testimony that I—and, similarly, they—could keep their clothes on and it would, in fact, be worth the wait in the end.
Oh, Wendi. Sweet, naive, 24-year old Wendi. You had so much to learn about sharing stories.
I didn't realize then that I had a responsibility to the girls who would be impacted by my influence. I literally just told them my "success" story (which was riddled with mess-ups) and left them without the necessary road signs to help them along the way. Sure, I offered some scriptural evidence to give readers a sense of why waiting for marriage was important...but I didn't really give context for the guardrails they were so actively encouraged to put up. I didn't expose the neurosis that often rears its ugly head on the wedding night when a girl—who is suddenly free to enjoy all the good stuff—STILL FEELS GUILTY because she spent years hearing sex is bad and her brain just can't compute the changeover. I didn't tell them that purity is less about abstinence for the sake of remaining a virgin and more about a life-long pursuit of the beauty and goodness of our Savior. I didn't tell them that we have spent far too much time focusing on the status of our hymens.
I guess now is my chance.
I have been married for eight years and have walked through a lot of these same issues with my husband in that time. For me, it has been a struggle to contain the feelings of guilt and shame that come along with sexual intimacy. I knew going into our marriage that God created sex as a truly remarkable gift for His children, but knowing and experiencing are two different birds...and sometimes they fight like hell for ownership of the nest. When I was single and dating, I thought feeling guilty was a normal and healthy reaction to sin. And it was (is), but not when it's coupled with acute shame. (Please hear me when I tell you that conviction—or the guilt that comes from messing up and leads you to your Savior's arms—is good. But shame—or the voice that tells you you're a worthless human being for having the gall to choose incorrectly—is NEVER God's voice. Tell that nonsense to GET GONE.) Still, after Pierce and I got married, Shame was there, ready to pounce and screw up any opportunity for physical intimacy or really awesome sex.
Excuse me? I thought, time and time again. You're not supposed to be here right now. You see this ring? This means you don't belong here anymore.
To which Shame responded: Ha! Joke's on you. I've been here for twenty-plus years and I ain't going nowhere.
In addition to being a jackass, Shame also has really bad grammar.
Pierce and I both waited until we were married to have sex, but we were hardly what some would call "pure". Neither of us came to this covenant without some mistakes in our sexual histories...but I've come to believe that perfection is not the goal of purity anyway. Holiness is. And I want you to hear me now when I tell you that there is a stark difference between the two.
To be perfect is to be without flaws, without errors of any kind. Think of Perfection as a robot who has been designed to answer every question and meet any need. She is also contoured and shaped to fit every beauty standard. Everyone loves Perfection from a distance. But, up close, Perfection is boring as hell and has no real concept of what's good.
Holiness is a whole other level of perfection, one that comes by way of grace and repentance. It is a gift given by Love, not a task list completed down to the very last check mark. Someone who waits to have sex until marriage is no more holy than someone who has a long list of partners when she (or HE, for goodness sakes, because women are not the only ones who should be thinking about this stuff) belongs to Christ. Holiness is the reflection of the Savior's glory on us, and it comes to everyone who receives His grace. It is not attained; it is received.
I still believe that abstinence is the answer to the question of whether or not a single Christian should be having sex. There has never been a doubt in my mind about the legitimacy of that claim. But our approach to purity has been lacking in more ways than one, and we are seeing the results of it: regret, shame, bitterness, abortion, abandonment, abuse, addiction, and even sometimes a complete loss of faith.
We cannot afford to get this wrong anymore. We cannot afford to leave the conversation without context. Meaning matters as much as directives do, and while we cannot know the meaning of everything in this life (nor are we supposed to), we DO know that Christ gives us commands because HE LOVES US. We DO know that while sex was intended for marriage, having it outside of marriage does not disqualify us from the gift of holiness. There are consequences to our sin, of course, but for every woman (or man) who goes into her (or his) marriage with a past (and by that I mean, well, everyone) there is God, extending both His grace and the intimacy He designed to bring us closer to our spouses and, most importantly, to Him.
Sex, after all, is an earthly representation of the ultimate form of intimacy: Oneness. Unity. And we cannot have that apart from Christ, no matter how chaste we are when we say, "I do."
So, to the girl who commented on my article almost eight years ago, I want you to know that the practice of purity comes secondary to the pursuit of Christ. Love Him and you will never be led astray. Give Him your heart and your time and your listening ears, and you will have the answers you need when you're wondering whether or not you should get underneath those sheets. Trust Him and know that His desire for you to be pure is as much about your mind and your emotions as it is about your body.
You are never going to be Perfect.
But you are already Holy.