It’s been a long time since I’ve written from the overflow of a stirred-up heart, and that’s not because I’ve not been fired up over issues. It’s because I’m in the trenches of mothering teens, and I want to respect my girls’ privacy — I want to give them space to grow up without a commentary.
The problem, however, is that my passion as a mentor runs as deep as my devotion as a mother.
To the same measure I am for my own girls, I am for this generation of girls.
I don’t want to forsake tackling the tough topics, because I know this generation of young women needs equipped moms and mentors speaking into their lives. Fortunately, my daughters agree with me. So with their permission, I’m going to share on a topic I’ve avoided for a good long time.
And the fact that it is good.
And the fact that He is good, too.
And the fact that we, moms and mentors, are falling short on imparting these truths with grace and integrity when it comes to the next generation because we’ve embraced bad theology, are consumed by guilt, and fear being called hypocrites.
For that, girls, I’m sorry.
I’m sorry that I’ve not spoken up more and challenged your mommas to be brave in this discussion. Moms, I’m sorry I’ve been quiet, letting you go on as you do and not equipping you more on this hot-button topic. I’m hoping that what I’m about to share with you will make up for lost time.
Let’s Get Honest
It’s time to turn in a new direction when it comes to the discussion of purity. We might all agree we need to look at it through the lens of God’s design. But in order to get to that place, we first need to be willing to admit where our thinking has gone wrong and take serious stock of the agendas we’ve unknowingly been touting to the next generation.
It turns sex into something bad, making a rule for “good girls” to follow and the rebellious to run from. It makes it dirty, which leads to all sorts of issues after marriage. I know. I suffered with those issues.
Oh yes, I was that good girl in high school, influenced by the church I grew up in. I was certain sex was wrong for a good girl. And so I picked a few arbitrary rules for how I could do it and still be a good girl:
1. I needed to be at least 18.
2. It needed to happen with a boyfriend and not just a fling.
3. There needed to be a good chance I’d marry the guy.
Well, how interesting that those three made-up rules aligned at the same time. In one of the worst nights of my life, on my 18th birthday of course, I gave my body to a boy who wasn’t prepared to love me, treasure me, or honor me. It was sex. It wasn’t love-making. And it was awkward, painful, and shame-filling. I knew in my heart that this wasn’t the way it was meant to be. This act of sex bound us together and made breaking up nine months later one of the most painful experiences of my life. I gave up my dreams to this boy. I gave up my heart. And I gave up my body.
I numbed the pain by throwing myself into one unhealthy relationship after another.
I was like a garbage truck consuming junk and compacting it into my heart.
I lived without boundaries yet bound up with a broken heart.
By God’s grace, my Father in heaven intervened and rescued a broken, battered, and bruised young woman. I came to a saving knowledge of Jesus and found a fresh desire to start with a clean slate, new and whole, redeemed and on the way to being restored (Romans 10:9-10, 2 Corinthians 5:17). I made a vow to not have sex until I was married, but the problem was I didn’t know how to stop the habits of my promiscuous life. The relationship with my new boyfriend-turned-fiance (who became my beloved husband) wasn’t what it should have been. No, we didn’t have sex before we said “I do” but . . . we did too much.
And that’s the problem we don’t like to talk about.
We like to praise our girls who stay pure because they are not having sex before they say “I do,” even if they are sexually active in other ways. That’s called legalism, my friends. We need to do more than follow the letter of the law, which is exactly what the purity movement (in general and accidentally) often fails to address.
For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.
Imagine if we really shifted this conversation about purity so that it was steeped in asking questions that would draw the heart’s deepest desire to be loved out into the light? What if we stopped giving a list of rules and started engaging in the conversation about love, commitment, desire, longings, and how marriage is designed to fulfill much of that, but not all of it — because our Creator God is the only one who can plug that type of hole in a heart.
What if we really got down to the root of this matter of sex — and physical intimacy that mimics sex — and speak boldly of the reason to wait until marriage: The waiting is not because it’s bad or wrong or unfortunate timing, but because it’s good and right and well-designed when it’s held treasured for marriage and the beauty of the purest experience possible.
There’s an even bigger issue we need to face: Purity is about more than not having sex outside of marriage.
Yes, my friend, what if we really defined purity beyond sex outside of marriage? The reality is that purity isn’t the opposite of not having sex.
Purity is being without stain or blemish.
Purity is the pursuit of holiness as a child of God, which includes the way you interact with others before and after you’re married.
Purity is the choice to not undress someone with your eyes.
Purity is the decision to not watch the sex scene in that movie.
Purity is the moment when you choose to put up boundaries against pornography.
Purity is the time when you say no to the invitation to engage in an affair.
Purity isn’t just about what you do with your body, it’s about how you live your life.
Purity, apart from the grace of God and His forgiveness, is really impossible.
How can we impress the importance of the pursuit of purity upon our sons and daughters if we’re not even modeling it in the way we are living?
So the real question we need to answer is whether we are embracing purity for ourselves, long after we’ve said “I do” and maybe even after “I don’t anymore.”
The fact is that many of us may be failing in our pursuit of whole-heart, mind, and soul purity, making us feel like hypocrites when it comes to urging the next generation to pursue it for themselves.
But saying “don’t have sex, don’t touch each other, don’t even look at each other” isn’t helping them one bit.
Touting the purity horn without communicating the Gospel truth that we need God’s grace and power at work in our lives only breeds a fear of failure and temptation to rebel into the next generation.
Finding the Yes Instead of Focusing on the No
For the last twenty years, I’ve told teen girls (and guys) to not have sex until they are married. I’ve urged them to put off dating as long as possible, because the desire to express your affection and love will make withstanding the temptation for intimacy super hard.
I am for their purity . . . mind, body, and soul.
Unfortunately, I’m also guilty of emphasizing a narrow-minded perspective on purity as I was reeling from the consequences of my own sin. I shared from a place of hurt and fear, which turns intimacy into something scary for my own daughter. She has confessed to me she’s terrified of her first kiss, because of “where will it lead” and yet longs for it all the same. She’s been so indoctrinated by the “don’t do it” Christian culture, and my fear-based message, that she doesn’t know what to do with her desires.
The focus has been too much on the “don’t do” instead of on the whole-hearted purity she should pursue.
If our message is about the “do’s and don’ts,” we leave our teens caught between two decisions:
1. Make mom and dad happy by doing what they say is right.
2. Make mom and dad mad by doing what feels good.
Umm. No. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be. It’s not supposed to be about pleasing mom and dad, even though that’s a good thing.
Purity is supposed to be about honoring God and His Word.
My daughter rightly declares, “If I honor you, then I’ll be honoring God.” Yes, yes! But as I’ve said in reply, “Thank you for wanting to honor me and dad, but it’s time to make your faith-walk your own and make choices that honor God for yourself.” As our conversation has come around more than once, I’m realizing as a mom that I need to emphasize pleasing the Lord more than pleasing me.
It’s got to be about her living according to Truth and making her feelings, desires, and longings subjective to the Lordship of Christ.
That may require me stepping back from rule-giving in order for her to experience some life-living.
What a mess we’re creating we when focus on the rules of sex and purity, instead of cultivating a vision for stewarding one of the greatest gifts God’s ever given His children — our bodies and the pleasure we can experience when we use His gifts appropriately in a committed, married relationship between a man and woman.
That’s why I think we need to go about this sex and purity discussion from another perspective, where we focus on the “yes” instead of the “no.”
Yes, to pursuing purity in what you watch, see, hear, listen to, and experience in life, always.
Yes, to seeking forgiveness from God for our past mistakes and moving out of the stronghold of guilt.
Yes, to agreeing with God’s instruction to keep the marriage bed pure, and everything else He says to do.
Yes, to embracing God’s forgiveness when we stumble and go off-course.
Yes, to cultivating healthy, God-honoring relationships with the opposite sex.
Yes, to defining what it means to truly love someone in action and not just feelings, according to 1 Corinthians 13.
Yes, to becoming an Ephesians 5 woman prepared to respect an Ephesians 5 man and an Ephesians 5 man prepared to love an Ephesians 5 woman.
Yes, to engaging in conversations not only about the truth but also about what they’re feeling and what they’re wondering.
Yes, to walking alongside our mature teens and twenty-somethings as they choose to date, guiding them and challenging them, setting boundaries and casting vision.
And, no, to turning sex into a rule to keep or break, and purity into a mission that only happens before marriage.
Will you embrace this new message?
Is it any surprise that in the wake of the sexual revolution the purity movement evolved? The circumstances demanded a bold response, led by men and women who felt the impact of the culture and potentially of their past mistakes. Now it’s our turn to respond. They paved the way. Let us take up their bold effort with humility as we seek to reach the next generation with the truth and much grace.
Let’s determine to give them a context for understanding purity at a deeper level.
Let’s challenge them to embrace living according to the Word in every aspect of their lives and not just in their decision to save sex for marriage.
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