Growing up, I was very involved in church activities, conventions, and youth group. I knew throughout my teen years that sex before marriage was a sin. We discussed often the ramifications of impurity and imagined high school scenarios where I might be tempted and would have to stand strong with the Lord's conviction guiding me. I anticipated many such scenarios where I would be strong enough to withstand the pressure and pursuit and win, of course, the reluctant admiration of my peers who, while they might not understand, would certainly respect me.
Having not encountered any such temptation in high school, I nonetheless entered university with the same convictions and expectations. Co-ed dorm rooms, late night study sessions: I would have to stand strong and unshakable, my resolve tested and tested again. If this challenge had, thank heaven, been absent from my teen years, my 20s would be a veritable breeding ground.
I envisioned a knight in shining armor—the one that had somehow evaded me in my high school years, despite the attention our youth group leaders devoted to his inevitable appearance and my need to withstand any impurity for his sake. I figured that God must have been saving my white knight, and now that I was a pseudo-grown-up, he would arrive, Bible in hand, David Crowder Band on his iPod, ready to challenge and inspire my faith. We might grapple with physical attraction to the point where we would have to pray for guidance, and then I could really test my fortitude to wait until marriage.
This time, of course, my indefatigable certainty that abstinence would win the day would result in a glorious wedding with the Christian man of my dreams. Most likely by my late 20s.
This scenario also never happened.
Now, 32 and single, I sometimes wonder if I’ve accomplished anything at all. If I’ve really stuck to any resolve. If I’ve witnessed to anyone about the virtues of following a God-planned life of abstinence. Having heard so incessantly in my youth that temptation would plague me and that men were only interested in one thing that had little to do with respect, I painted myself into a sort of religious corner. If I haven't been tested, have I really triumphed? Am I a fake virgin?
And how much did the expectations that God would be saving someone awesome for me if I would wait for Him and on Him distort my view of reality? Are we, as Christians, victims of our own promises?
Don’t misunderstand me. I wholeheartedly believe that waiting until marriage is God's ultimate design. He is the ultimate romantic, who has a story plotted for our entire lives: whether peppered with romance and physical passion, or full of trials and frustrations and moments of hidden truth that will be much more clearly seen in Eternity. The romantic part of my soul also buys into the cherished notion of waiting in all of its sparkling purity, for a marriage of minds and souls. Moreover, this lifestyle ensures that we are saved from a lot of the emotional baggage and insecurity that can result in giving such an integral part of ourselves in a casual relationship. It is God's way of looking out for us: not only to keep us close to Him on a spiritual level, but also for our personal preservation.
My experience seems relatively easy. For the most part, when it comes to keeping physical attraction and gesture in check, it has been. But that doesn't make up for the amount of loneliness, insecurity, and despair building when I realize that part of my faith in waiting for marriage was born of the faith that there would be a marriage to wait for. Indeed, the more that I heard about possible scenarios, the more I expected to be rewarded by a partner worthy of my resolve and chastity. God must be saving someone awesome for me since I was saving myself for him.
Now, single and in my 30s (my teenage self would never have believed it), I sometimes feel I have held onto a gift that no one wants.
I believe in purity but I have never been truly tested. I have, however, grown to see a church where men and women like myself are becoming more and more rare. I am used to being a minority in secular circles, but the older I get, the more I realize that I am becoming a minority in Christian circles too, and it is surprising and disheartening.
If my own resolve has not been tested yet, my respect for those who have overcome temptation is stronger than ever. Especially since I know of young Christians in serious, committed relationships or entering into engagements or nearing their wedding date, who have decided that teachings on purity do not hold the weight they once did, and that a commitment to God and each other is enough to bend this strict rule. God, after all, champions love and unity. Where is the harm if you are to be married anyway?
This is beyond the realm of my human judgment, but having it stare me in the face is troubling. Are we, as evangelicals, making allowances for one of the "lesser" sins? Are we bending the rules elastically to allow for more young people to come into the fold without the fear of being lectured in the same way that I was as a teenager? Does waiting for marriage in Christian circles still have some clout?
And for those like me, who have never had the opportunity to be challenged—does that make us any less strong, or cause our moral stance on this subject to have any less of an impact?
All I really know is that, whether challenged or not, I have experienced the strength of spiritual conviction. What if that very lack of challenges has been God protecting me, so that I remain fervent in an aspect of Christian living that I hold high on my list of values and that remains phenomenally important to me? What if leading me along this particular path, with all its hardships, has been His way of helping me stay faithful to Him?
There are many ways of looking at my personal experience, but this is the way I choose to see it.
Image courtesy of Tumblr.
Rachel McMillan is a writer in Toronto. She blogs at A Fair Substitute for Heaven.