Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Secrets of the Pure

As a youth pastor, counselor, and Christian I am very interested in the answer to this question: What is the secret to staying pure before marriage? I'm talking about people who are in committed relationships who in the course of dating and engagement do something that most couples (including Christian couples) do not: they stay pure. I've blogged about this before. Although evangelical Christians for the most part subscribe to a "not until marriage" theology, their practice says otherwise. In other words, Christian couples are getting sexual and yes, it's a big problem, our dirty little secret.

Anyway, I recently spoke with two people who have remained pure. The first is a Christian bartender who went out with her boyfriend for seven years and stayed pure the whole time. Seven years! They just got married. I asked her what the secret was to her staying pure. She told me that activity was never an option for them. Ever. (This reminded me of the secret to marriage that Will Smith recently espoused "You just both agree that divorce is never an option. Then you'll never be tempted by it.") My friend and her boyfriend both valued purity and believed that it was possible to stay pure. Principle 1: You have to decide that you are going to be pure. Not that you are going to try to be pure or do your best to be pure. You will be pure. Simple. If you do not have this rock solid commitment to waiting you will almost always fail. That is the reality and it is the main starting point on the journey of purity.

My second story is about a guy I know in his mid twenty's who has been going out with a girl for a few months. As I often do when catching up with guy friends I'll ask them about how their physical life is going with their significant other. I find that very few people ask this question! One guy I asked told me I was the first person who had ever asked him! Anyway, this friend told me that things were going great in his relationship, including the physical part. A few interesting things he told me:

When they started going out he told the girl he thought they should take the physical side of the relationship very slow. They made an agreement not to kiss for awhile which ended up being a few months. They did this, he said to work on their friendship first. A wise decision I think. Principle 2: When a relationship starts with the physical it is difficult to stop that side from becoming the focus of the relationship. Start with the friendship first. As an aside I wonder if the it is the guy who is the main "boundary keeper" in the relationship if the chances are higher that the couple will succeed in purity (without being sexist, my guess is that this is true).

The girl's uncles let him know in subtle ways that he was being watched by them. "Hey _(my friend), if you were going to be shot where would you want to be shot and with what kind of gun?" "Are you trying to say something?" "Nope, just curious, you know one of those "what if" questions." Seriously that's what they said to him! Of course there were no explicit threats, just subtle warning. Principle 3: It takes a community to keep one pure. My friend did not try to escape this accountability, instead he embraced it. Couples who fail sexually often have no accountability or they reject that that is offered them.

When my friend wanted to ask the girl out she told him that he had to ask her Dad. Yikes! Scary right? Actually it wasn't that bad. Mostly they talked about the girl and what she meant to both of them. The Dad did make one stipulation though: he told my friend that if he wanted to date his daughter that he wanted them to hang out mostly at their house (where she lived), not at my friend's house. I thought that this was genius because it took out the temptation to be alone in a place without any accountability. Principle 4: Stay away from tempting environments and avoid being alone very much. Many couples consistently put themselves into a place where they will be tempted - and eventually they fail.

My friend told me this story of renting a movie he had really wanted to see for a long time. So he invited his girlfriend. Unbeknowst to him, the movie had some nudity and he started to feel uncomfortable watching this with his girlfriend. So he made a difficult decision: he turned it off. "What was hard," he told me, "was that I really wanted to see that movie!" But it was the principle of the thing. Will one sex scene in a movie cause someone to be impure? Probably not. But it goes to show what my friend was willing to do to protect their relationship. Principle 5: Small decisions to protect purity add up to a pure relationship.

Let me add a principle from my own experience. Principle 6: Decide what your personal boundaries are ahead of time and make sure that who ever has the more conservative boundaries - those are the ones you never cross. Jobina and I did this. We openly discussed what we each thought was too far and then agreed to go with the "weaker" person's conscience. If the other person can't respect those boundaries, the couple will eventually fail. This means checking in on each other and putting your values ahead of your own desires. Speaking of boundaries, most couples who fail don't know how to talk about them, enforce them, or have consequences for if they fail. Yet they are so important. Knowing your partner's boundaries and not letting you (or them) go past them is a very loving thing to do. Many successful couples have used the same principle - with excellent results.

Do you know of any couples who have been successful in staying pure before marriage? If so, what worked for them? I'd be interested to know.

May Light increase!


Elayne said...

Great article Mark! I also heard Will Smith talk about his philosophy on marriage. It sure is good to hear about that kind of commitment from someone influential like that. We are all influential though when you think about it. Think of all the people around to watch you and Jobina! You were great role models. Dad and I were thanked for being a good example by a lady at our wedding. It took me by surprise. I guess I never thought about the fact that people were observing us and pointing us out to their teens!
I'm with Will Smith. You decide what is appropriate and you don't consider any other options. It mirrors the Becky Terribassi approach to consistent prayer journaling: You make the commitment and you just stick to it!

Jay Boaz said...

If I have a daughter someday I will buy her that shirt. :)


Lindsay said...

We did. Geoff and I were both virgins when we got married, at 26 and 33. It's crazy that I hesitate to tell people that, when it's something I know I should be proud of.

The saddest thing is that I'd never, ever expected to marry someone who'd stayed pure... I don't think I'd ever dated anyone else who'd waited - and it was one of those things that I respected about him so much. I'd never judge someone for making a different decision, but I thought that it said so much about his character.

It's something we communicated about the entire time we were dating and engaged, and we were both totally committed to waiting - just like the Will Smith divorce quote you posted (which I love). As long as you leave yourself a loophole, you're in trouble. It just wasn't an option for us.

And it's a good thing that we waited. I got pregnant - taking my birth control faithfully - less than four months after the wedding :)