True Love Weights (or, the one about sex)

“Are you married?”

That would always be the question from the time I was about 14. During any conversation with a person I just met, their eyes would casually drift over to my ring finger on my left hand and they would see the small silver ring that I wore with pride. This ring that symbolized purity. This ring that made the bold statement that I would be saving sex as a gift only to be experienced with my wife. This ring that symbolized everything that I would soon find out stood in stark contrast to the culture around me. This ring I wore not out of faithfulness to God’s standards, but as an ostentation. A show. A lie.

Because what is purity, and what does it involve? Is it simply abstaining from an act with someone else until marriage? Because if that’s all it is, I’m doing pretty good. But what if it’s more? What if it involves, like Job, making a covenant with your eyes to keep from looking at another lustfully? Have I succeeded? Can I succeed? Can any of us?

About four or five years later, as I watched that little silver ring fall out of the 3rd story window of my dorm room and into the grass below, I’d settled on an answer.

Before I continue to tell you my story, let me back up a bit more and write about when I first got that little silver ring. If you aren’t familiar with certain strains of evangelical Christian culture, you may not know about True Love Waits. It’s an organization that is built on the premise that  complete abstinence until marriage is integral to God’s design for human sexuality. After taking a class on the matter, there was a big ceremony where all the participants would get a small silver ring to wear as a symbol of purity, of their intent to abide by God’s way with regard to sex.

So don’t get me wrong, I fully support and agree with that message and, as both a Christian and a youth minister, I advise others in the same way. But my experience in this “class,” left a lot to be desired. For one, we heard the message in its simplest form, stripped of all context “don’t have sex  because Leviticus says so.” And further on, “don’t have sex because you’ll get an STD.”

I have very little respect for the husband-wife duo who were tasked with teaching us what scripture says about sexual relationships. Rather than hear and understand why one’s sexuality is so important, why waiting until marriage is a good thing, we simply heard, “NO!”

Everything built on the premise that sex is dirty, ugly, taboo.

Everything built on the lie that sex is not a good thing.

I now believe that sex, in the confines of marriage between a loving husband and wife, is good and holy, and reflects the Father in more ways than we can name. I believe it is important to speak about it, and not pretend it doesn’t happen. I believe that sex is good, and if it should be talked about anywhere, it is most definitely the Church’s responsibility to reclaim sexuality in the way it was intended, rather than treat it as an unmentionable obscenity.

If I listened to those teachers from my church, I wouldn’t have believed any of that. I would be afraid of sex, or just as bad, like a child told not to eat the cookies from the cookie jar, or our first mother told not to eat of the tree, I would’ve run headfirst into a lifestyle I wasn’t at all prepared for.

So my experience with “the sex talk” was an unpleasant one, at best. But I wore the ring anyway.

Maybe it made me feel holier than I was. Maybe it gave me a sense of security in that, hey maybe I had raging hormones and looked at every girl I saw with lust in my heart and my mind wasn’t nearly has pure as my left hand ring finger was, but at least I wasn’t lying like my friends who still wore their rings, even though I knew for sure that they’d been anything but pure.

And what about pornography?

The place I never wanted to go, but went anyway.

It wasn’t enough for me to just imagine it, like any good millennial, I was a very visually immersive teenager. What I desired in my heart, I needed to see with my eyes. And when those images met my retinas, they never left. And though I wore a ring around my finger, I didn’t wear it around my heart.

So flash forward back to the year I threw the ring out the window. I was majorly conflicted. See,my freshman year of college, I joined a group called “Dude Church” which acted as an accountability group where a bunch of guys got together and talked about sexual temptation, porn, and lust and prayed for one another. What becomes problematic about a group like that is, no one likes to let loose their dirty little secret, and rather than become supportive, it can easily become another avenue to heap shame and condemnation on yourself in the prison of your own mind. Honesty is freeing, yes, but it is also the scariest thing you can do.

So, keeping my confessions to a bare minimum, selectively choosing what to say and what to leave out, I’d trapped myself in my guilt. Rather than believing that there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus, I defaulted to the shame I’d learned to embrace in my True Love Waits class.

And the “wait” became more of a “weight” on my chest, a noose I’d tightened around my own throat. And with all my emotions pulling me higher and higher, I could not longer breathe.

So that moment on the top floor of my dorm was pivotal for me. It was the turning point between the version of me that I wanted the world to see and the one that actually existed. It was when I began to finally understand that when I leave this world, I want to leave it as a man with no secrets, as a man who finally understands the grace of God as a transformative force, rather than an empty, ostentatious formality.

So, thinking about whatever I believed purity was, I’d decided that I was not. And I took off the ring and watched it as if fell. And I didn’t go look for it later. For me, symbols are powerful. A ring was more than a ring. It was a false impression. It was a source of pride I’d put in myself and my ability to stay away from that dirty thing called sex. And as long as I didn’t cross the line, I was fine.

But that’s simply not true. Wasn’t it Jesus who said that lust and adultery are one in the same? That the intentions and motives of the heart make you just as culpable as if you’d committed the act itself?

And now, years removed from shedding the ring, I don’t believe that God’s impression of me is tied to how I squandered the gift of purity I’d mistakenly made into an idol. I believe that God’s view of me is tied to the sacrifice of Jesus that we celebrated last weekend at Easter. That the grace of God in Jesus covers all my sins past, present, and future.

And the lust, pride, anger, and idolatry I’ve so willingly ran headfirst into, that was washed away at Calvary and I am free.

Purity isn’t something that, once you’ve ruined, you can never get back. Purity is a process. One where you fall down on your face and rise again. Because if the Gospel has taught me anything, it’s that God’s approval of me is not contingent on a list of rules I keep, it is contingent only on Jesus Christ.

For clarity’s sake, I absolutely believe in God’s design for sex. I believe that abstinence until marriage is a key to joy. I believe that sin is serious, so serious that Christ had to die and defeat death for it to be erased. But I believe in a God who saves, who redeems the unredeemable, who sets us free from destructive patterns.

If your purity becomes an idol, you are sinning.

If what people think of you is more important to you than what truly is, please reevaluate your addiction to self. Because before God, all of our sins are out in the open, and we cannot hide.

Be honest. Be forgiven. Be free.

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Author: panicpreacherpanic

I am not good.

29 thoughts on “True Love Weights (or, the one about sex)”

  1. I absolutely love this!

    Kudos to you for realizing that the symbol you wore was not much of a symbol after all. You were able to be honest with yourself.

    It was the same way with my youth group in church. Instead of addressing the issue of sex, it was avoided. Teenagers with raging hormones are about as influential as a curious toddler; you tell them not to do something, they are going to do it anyway.

  2. Excellent. I am of a similar generation to you and was taught the same about sex. It very much affected my wife and I’s sex life for many years. All people, men and women alike need to understand the freedom of sex in marriage the way God intended it.

  3. I really enjoyed this blog and your raw honesty! I grew up with both a mother and father in the ministry and my whole childhood and teen years were based more on religious law such as what you discussed. It took me a long time to realize that the law is gone through Jesus!

  4. wow! amazing, thanks for posting. very thought-provoking, well done for tackling a controversial topic that is often tricky to write about with honesty and confidence.

  5. I remember being given that same kind of ring at the age of 14. Growing up and looking back, I resent my parents putting that undue burden on me. Weighed by the guilt and shame of having sexual desires (something that good girls aren’t supposed to have within the Christian community, where men are seen as the only ones with physical desire), I finally stopped living a double life of the girl my parents wanted me to be to the woman that I actually am. Sex is a beautiful thing when you have the right partner – and this partnership does not need to be constrained to marriage.
    I would suggest that the author perhaps write about why Christian parents push abstinence on their children?

    1. I don’t really believe that’s an undue burden. I just think there needs to be more of an explanation behind it than just no. Because I do think there are good reasons to save sex until marriage, I just wasn’t given any of them.

      I believe abstinence is important, and that sex is best saved for marriage. I will teach this to my children, but with the perspective of unconditional grace, i.e. “If you have sex, I will not treat you any differently and I love you as much as I always have and always will.”

      But I’m not going to tell my kids to just go for it, so I probably wouldn’t be qualified to write the article you request.

  6. Its sad to me that the culture of religion so easily causes people to become ashamed of themselves for something so natural, and so hardwired into us as looking at another person with lust. What is the big deal about having sex with someone before you get married? Sex is fun. As long as you’re smart about it and take precautions, it shouldn’t be shameful at all.

    1. In my view, I abstain to honor my future wife, I abstain because I understand that relationships can be tricky and the intimacy of sex is something I am not personally willing to engage in until I have committed myself to one person for the rest of my life. And yes, I abstain because I believe that it’s the will of God. But I also believe that it is the will of God because it’s what is best for me.

      I’ve perused your blog and am aware that you don’t believe that sin is something that is hardwired into us, so I won’t belabor that point.

      I encourage and welcome discussion and appreciate you taking the time to comment! Thanks!

      1. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against abstinence if that is what you want to do. There is certainly a point to be made that waiting for sex is a good idea. My problem is that religion tends to make sex a bad and shameful thing instead of a good and fun thing. I don’t think anyone has met their future wife without initially having lustful thoughts about her. That’s part of the attraction process, and I don’t see anything wrong with it. What bad thing is going to happen if you have sex with someone and then it doesn’t work out? Your not defiled or anything. You can still get married to someone later on down the line.

  7. Reblogged this on Strength in me and commented:
    This is an issue that I think transcends any age, gender or race. When I was in high-school it was easy for me to wear my silver ring. Even when I lost it at high-school I still kept to living a “pure” life.
    But when I began varsity things got a bit more difficult. I always thought it would be easy to keep this promise. It certainly was in high-school. However, I went to an all-girls catholic high school where we had religion classes and people constantly reminding us that sex outside of marriage was a sin. Things got harder at university, particularly when I started dating. I started to debate with myself whether keeping my purity was really worth it. I thank God every day that I had teachers in high school who preached that sex was actually a beautiful thing. That it was a form of love between two people that worships the Lord. It was this knowledge that made the transitioning from being a sheltered schoolgirl to a dating varsity student that much easier. I want to keep this amazing gift for the person that I know I will spend the rest of my life with. It made it easier to admit to both myself and God that perhaps I was sinning. I wasn’t sleeping with anyone, but I was (still am sometimes, it’s an ongoing process) thinking about it. It’s helped me develop a relationship with God where He is first and being pure is just one aspect of our relationship.
    It will be a hard journey, I know that, but I also know that it will be worth it, and I pray that other people my age learn this too.

  8. This is an issue that I think everybody deals with at some point. When I was in high-school it was easy for me to wear my silver ring. Even when I lost it at high-school I still kept to living a “pure” life.
    But when I began varsity things got a bit more difficult. I always thought it would be easy to keep this promise. It certainly was in high-school. However, I went to an all-girls catholic high school where we had religion classes and people constantly reminding us that sex outside of marriage was a sin. Things got harder at university, particularly when I started dating. I started to debate with myself whether keeping my purity was really worth it. I thank God every day that I had teachers in high school who preached that sex was actually a beautiful thing. That it was a form of love between two people that worships the Lord. It was this knowledge that made the transitioning from being a sheltered schoolgirl to a dating varsity student that much easier. I want to keep this amazing gift for the person that I know I will spend the rest of my life with. It made it easier to admit to both myself and God that perhaps I was sinning. I wasn’t sleeping with anyone, but I was (still am sometimes, it’s an ongoing process) thinking about it. It’s helped me develop a relationship with God where He is first and being pure is just one aspect of our relationship.
    It will be a hard journey, I know that, but I also know that it will be worth it, and I pray that other people my age learn this too.
    Thank-you so much for this post

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