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Monday, January 31, 2011

Emotional Purity and Courtship, A Conclusion

My heart is pretty full right now. When I posted my first post on this subject, I had no idea it would go where it did. And the stories just keep pouring in! For some of you, it was just nice to know that you aren't alone in your struggles. For others, it confirmed what you've always thought on the matter. And for many, it's left you thinking "Now what?"

I have been cautioned not to "jump from one ditch into the other" but I think that is a false dichotomy. There's a very wide road between those two ditches. Just because I decry the problems with courtship, doesn't mean that I think promiscuity to be the answer. The casual dating that our parents were trying to get away from has it's own set of damaging behaviors and issues. What we need to do is find a balance. How do we conduct our relationships in a way that honors God, honors the other person, and honors ourselves? That allows God to be God and lead in our lives, write our love stories?

I am not going to give you another formula. I don't think one exists, actually. But the scripture is full of teachings on how to interact as children of God. Every principle we need to have God-honoring relationships are outlined in the Bible. These have been called the "one-another" verses. I challenge each of you to get a concordance and look up the phrase "one-another" and see how many instructions there are in the New Testament regarding our interactions with each other. These verses will become your standard for how you conduct all your relationships, regardless of what those relationships are. They are the fleshing out of what it means to love God with all you are and to love your neighbor as yourself. The reason we follow these verses, the very crux of the issue, is summed up in Jesus' words "By this will all men know that You are my disciples, if you love one another".

Any relationship in your life will be God-honoring if these one-another verses are the standard under which you operate. Marriage, dating, parent-child, friend, and sibling relationships should all be conducted with these teachings in mind. Because, when all is said and done, we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, children of God, and every other relationship we have is secondary to this.

Consider verses like these:

"I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace." Eph. 4:1-3

"Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with one another and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." Col. 3:12-17

"If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others." Phil. 2:1-4

"Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited." Rom. 12:9-16

If this is the standard under which we are supposed to operate our relationships, how much more should we use this standard in our dating relationships? In our marriages? With the people who we are most intimate with?

One-anothering....it's what being children of God is all about.

If this seems rather vague and general to you....good! It's supposed to be. Because intertwined within following the one-another verses, is God writing your own story. Making it personal, individual, specific. I think He just likes to be creative in how He shows His glory and love to men. If you don't believe me, read your Bible. A fiery furnace. A lion's den. Talking bushes and donkeys. Healing blindness with spit and mud. Manna from heaven. Your story of God's grace and love toward you is no different. Let him be God and don't try to make formulas to control His working in your life.

This might seem scary, this stepping out in faith. Because it requires acting upon something that we can't see the end of or know where we might be taken in the mean time. What I said earlier bears repeating here: "...formula is the opposite of faith. Formula says "I will follow a God that I've put neatly in a box, to give me the desired results". Faith says "I will follow You even when I can't see where I'm going, even when the world is collapsing around me". Formula says "I will not risk, I will be in control of my future". Faith says "I will risk everything, I will trust Whom I cannot see, surrender what I cannot control anyway." Formula is the assurance of things planned for, the conviction of things seen. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Heb. 11:1). But we are afraid. So we control instead of trust. We don't take a step unless we can see where we're going. We build neat little formulas and say "THIS will keep me safe!" Then we blame God when our puny formulas fail."

Any system or teaching that promises a safe, packaged life is promising more than what Christ promised His followers. Actually, it would be promising the opposite. Jesus, in no unspecific terms, told his disciples that if they followed Him, their lives would be anything but safe. If He was trying to teach a prosperity gospel, He failed epically. He promised torture, tribulation, hatred from others, abandonment, ridicule, and all kinds of fun things. But He also promised abundant life, blessings, and intimacy with the God-who-is-love. He never promised ease and safety, but He did promise it would be worth it. I am very suspect of any teaching that promises the opposite of what Jesus Himself promised.

So love much. Risk sometimes. Step out and ask a girl you admire for a coffee date. Invest in other people. Give, expecting nothing in return. Bear one another's burdens. Love one another. Tell your story. Be honest, sincere, and genuine. Give abundant grace. Go talk to him. Be friendly. Be kind and compassionate. Abide in Him. Follow our crazy God. Live well. Live Jesus.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Emotional Purity and Courtship, Take 2

Last week when I posted my honest and rather awkward thoughts on the matter of emotional purity and courtship, I had no idea what was going to come of it. The response was overwhelming. I knew that these teachings needed to be addressed, but you, my readers, have confirmed these things in my mind.

While most of you agreed, even expressed similar brokeness, there are still some that think I'm exgaggerating, or over-reacting. Most of these dissenters are young parents who desperately want the best for their children. Or they are young girls, who are still being fed these lies and empty promises of life, who don't want to let go of them.

So allow me, for one post, to share the experience of others. Others who have "been there done that". Others who are the results and the fruits of teachings that we are only beginning to see come to fruition. Others who have thus far been afraid to speak up, thinking that there must be something wrong with them, thinking that they are alone in their dysfunction. Let their words and their hearts give weight to what I have written this far and will write in the future.

From my blog comments (emphasis mine):

"It honestly goes a lot deeper than I let most people know. Like, last night, while talking to my fiance, I mentioned how some people gave me grief for holding hands with him last fall, when we'd been going out for nearly a year. He couldn't believe it. Getting flack like that totally didn't surprise me; it's that sort of thing, though, that has made me second-guess and question myself very often during our relationship...I'm still trying to figure it all out. *sigh* For instance, to this day, I don't have ANY guy friends at all, aside from my fiance. Good girls aren't supposed to, you know. I'm not even sure I could have a friendship of any great depth with another guy, not because of my fiance, but because it's so entrenched in me that friendships with guys is wrong."

"Dysfunction? It took me ten years to figure out how to show a guy I liked him, and I still don't quite know how to be a sister to my brothers-in-law."

"I have been happily married for almost 10 years and still feel as though I have to give side hugs to my male friends at church. Sad, but true...this teaching makes you feel as though you must always be alert...never letting your guard down towards the opposite sex."

"Now in my later 20's and married, I still find myself incapable of knowing how to have relationships with other guys. I don't know how to be a *normal friend* to my brother-in-laws, hubby's buddies, or any men other than my husband. It's a sad struggle. "

"About a year ago, I became involved in a relationship with my best friend. Since then, I've heard more on the topic of emotional purity and "I love you" being defrauding than I've ever heard before! It's been really hard, hearing these things from my dad, and trying to figure out where my path needs to be....I'm afraid to care, I'm unable to show affection, it seems to be wrong... I haunted by doubts of "what if this isn't the 'right one'? I'm ruining myself for whoever my husband will be." etc..."

"I feel as if I could have been the one to write this post --everything you had to say mirrored my own life so closely. I am definitely on your same road to recovery. The biggest aspect of my own journey which you did not mention in yours is that all of those terrible ideas (which I'm still fighting!) also lead one to a great deal of suspicion. I am trying to take little baby steps toward *gasp* having some semblance of friendships with MALES (which is hard enough --it still feels so wrong)...."

"As a homeschooled guy who got caught up in the S. M. Davis style of this teaching for a while, I can attest that it's not just the women who are scarred by this mentality."

"I'm a young man, and I'm glad that there are WOMEN that realize that this is all a bunch of crap, too....I adopted the mindset on my own as a late teen, thinking that I was going "that one extra step" and being a Good Christian. My (ex) girlfriend and I patted ourselves on the back for trying to have such a Godly relationship....There's also the obvious fact that much of what a Godly man will find attractive about a woman IS her heart. We're taught how the woman on the INSIDE matters, far more than mere physical appearance. Yet women are taught to guard their hearts and share as little of themselves as possible. I wonder who thought THAT one up ...Why would I knowingly, willingly, enter into a relationship with a girl who refused to allow herself to feel any affection for me, and, should either of us "drop the ball" and her actually begin to feel some, refuse to express it to me? That is so saturated with stupidity that it's astounding... We men are taught that it is our sole responsibility to pursue women while they more or less sit back and play mysterious, hard-to-get, revealing as little of themselves as possible and hiding their heart from us..."

"i love what you said about other men. I have been feeling that, and not knowing WHY I have such a hard time being comfortable around other happily married, fun guys. Who just like to visit, who like me as a friend, who flirt a little. I am such a prude! ROFL I am having a hard time loosening up ... even saying that, my first reaction it ... harlot! OMG .... I need brain surgery :P"

From personal friends:

"The whole courtship/betrothal idea definitely had some negative effects for me. It enabled my fear of guys to stay hidden under the guise of "I'm not supposed to talk to guys." As a result, I have had only about 3 guy friends since I entered my teens (I'm in my 30s now), but even those relationships are very difficult for me to feel comfortable with.... It caused me to be far too judgmental of potential friends. If they ever wanted to talk about boyfriends or hanging out with guy friends, I shunned them. It created tension in my extended family because I was afraid to acknowledge when my cousins had a boyfriend or girlfriend. I wound up shunning them too, assuming they wouldn't want to talk to me if they had a boyfriend or girlfriend with them. I believed that I knew the only Godly way to have relationships. I was very critical and proud and fearful and totally dysfunctional. I am trying to learn how to have good relationships, but it is very hard because of all the "rules" that keep screaming at me in my head when I try." ~Sharon

"It still scares me to be alone with a guy. My best bet at describing my feelings when I happen to be alone with someone who happens to be male would probably be a quote from All About Steve - something about "Thank you for not raping me." It still scares me to have any sort of friendly banter with a guy especially if he is married. I am afraid he, his wife, or someone else will think I am like being inappropriate or having an affair with him or something. It is so stupid....I sometimes despair of ever having a romantic relationship. I am scared of men - even awkward around the ones I would trust with my life. I don't know how to act normal around them.....In short, "courtship", and therefore my parent's feelings of entitlement to control of any romantic relationships I might have, has robbed me of ever having normal friendships or normal romantic relationship(s). No matter how much I work at it or how much I heal, there will still be those voices telling me, 'Your boyfriend is trying to seduce you by holding your hand, or caring about you and your heart. If he isn't excited about doing everything your parents want him to and being whoever they want him to be, then he just wants sex. He doesn't love you...you are seducing him by actually trusting him when he has earned it or by dressing in something cute...you should trust your parents - even though they have never earned it and have broken it time and again - over any young man no matter how 'trustworthy'. You are not smart enough, good enough, wise enough, etc etc to EVER know what is good for you. Don't ever trust a suitor, and for heaven's sake, for sure don't trust what you have seen, heard, and experienced for yourself!'" ~ Sophie

"I grew up with boys. My best friends as a kid were my brothers. At a young age, I figured out boys were better friends than girls: they weren't catty. Overall, I've had a pretty good relationship with boys, until my dad kept telling me the only thing on guys' minds was sex (nothing else), that I shouldn't talk to boys, etc. Somehow I even got the impression I was supposed to evaluate every guy I met to see if he met the husband criteria. When I got older, I wasn't allowed alone with any boys except my brothers..."in real life", when I'm alone with guys (except my husband, but even alone with my brother in law), I can't help but wonder if he's going to try to take advantage of me or something. It's hard for me to relax in the company of guys (unless like my husband is there or other people) because of how much my dad ingrained in me that guys were only after sex." ~ Anne

"Because of the dating advice (actually, advice not to date) I got in the books I was reading in my teens, including IKDG (I Kissed Dating Goodbye), I never pursued two men I fell in love with (four years apart)... I actively pushed each one away with all I was worth. Why? Because they didn't meet my 'checklists' of what I wanted in a mate. And I can tell you unequivocally, I wish I had pursued those relationships. I am happy that I 'gave them a piece of my heart' (though I was trying desperately not to and repenting and begging God's forgiveness for it because I thought it was emotional adultery!); what hurts is that I never had the closure that comes with working through a relationship. I never had the closure of breaking up because I never let the relationship start to begin with....And personally, I would like an apology. I, like many others, cannot go back and undo the damage caused by believing this garbage. It's not just Josh's fault. It's the fault of every other author and pastor who preached it, it's the fault of our parents for not alleviating us of the misconception, it's our own faults for not having the courage or whatever it is to challenge what we ourselves believe - for the latter I feel deep regret." ~Rebecca

"My first boyfriend was a casualty of courtship madness. Dad didn't like him, he had someone else in mind, so he stepped in and told the guy to stay away from me. The separation seriously hurt the boy... I became seriously depressed and anorexic after the whole mess. I swore off men until my husband came along. I hate what he had to go through to marry me. Dad made our lives as miserable as he could only agreeing at the last minute to walk me down the aisle. I wish he hadn't because he was still so hostile. I felt guilty for years that I couldn't trust God to change Dad and smooth things out so our marriage was a joyful event. It's not a good memory. I felt like a rebel. Like I was turning my back on God because Dad didn't approve. Damn courtship. Dad enjoyed the power it gave him over me as an adult. Ultimately it failed, but in the process everyone involved was badly hurt." ~ Maia

"I felt like a harlot compared to all the girls who were also into this teaching. In fact, the first time I ever attended their meeting, several of them came up to me and asked if I was saved....yeah, I got the vibe, from the girls and guys, that I needed a good washing from the inside out...It seemed to me that they tagged me as more of a rebel of purity than they were...the guys were weeding out for the purest most spiritual and marriage worthy girl to marry & I didn't fit that profile." ~ Lolly

"My dad was a big fan of Elisabeth Elliot's and Josh Harris' books. He made all of the teens he worked with read through them. Then he implemented extremely strict rules to keep everyone from "cluttering" friendships with bad emotional history. His and my mom's experience in college and highschool served as the example for everyone: how dating ruined friendships and broke up the chance of meaningful fellowship because of baggage. My brother was discouraged from dancing because you had to "touch girls" and it would be a defrauding situation for him. I was not allowed to talk with older guys because my dad said they were trying to manipulate me and I was too young/impressionable. I have been able to drop a lot of the fundamentals of what I was taught/indoctrinated in/brainwashed with in my second relationship. Breaking up with my first "crush" made me feel like total s**t for the longest time. I was on Elisabeth Elliot's "second-hand-goods table" and there was no hope for me. This time around I have been working really hard on keeping an open mind and implementing only what seems to be a workable idea... at least I try. Every turn I am accosted by the specters of "should" and "must" and big red flashing lights in my mind. I am crossing the pre-determined "boundary lines" of sharing information and time without a "determined" commitment to any authority figure. Hey, we even spent time in a room alone together!!! It is a constant, uphill battle to clear out the mental clutter and go with what I feel is right in my conscience and what works for the situation...." ~DaoHF

"My parents had me read both of Josh Harris's books, as well as Paulsen's Emotional Purity and Wilson's Her Hand in Marriage and a couple others when I was in my mid-teens. And, yeah, it royally screwed up my relationships with girls. For a long time I insisted on awkward side-hugs, thinking that a real, honest-to-goodness front-hug would make me think too much about the girl's breasts, and/or that contact with them would stir up sexual feelings in her ... or maybe just that contact with her breasts would be sexually inappropriate. Mostly I just shook hands. With girls who were good family friends. Finally a particularly bubbly friend who had been away for a while greeted me with a tackling hug, and it just about paralyzed me. When my system rebooted and I ran diagnostics, I realized I wasn't defrauded, and maybe front-hugs weren't so bad. :-P" ~Scottie

"The fear of doing the wrong thing, robbed us of enjoying male/female relationships outside of courtship and robbed us of relational enjoyment through our own courtship, rather than enjoying the process that God created to be enjoyable. Purity was turned into such an idol that I had to repent with my wife before God that we had given purity higher value than married sex, and attached shame to something God had said was good." ~ J.

"I first ran into the emotional purity concept in high school, from friends, magazines, and books within the homeschool culture. To my early teen mind, it made sense: protect myself and the magical prince charming will arrive, ready to receive my pure heart. But I didn't see how this influence was confusing my ideas about interaction with any guys I knew. The strong emphasis on avoiding "giving my heart away" made me see every guy as a "potential". He had the potential to take away my purity if I developed any feelings for him. This created a cycle of paranoia that left me unable to relax, have fun, and develop normal friendships. Rather than protecting my innocence, I think emotional purity took away from the carefree innocence I should have had as a teen. Instead of laughing off a crush, it was a guilty experience that was only made more serious by my confused conscience. It wasn't until I got to college and suddenly saw normal interaction everywhere around me that I was able to appreciate and learn to have friends who were just that - friends." ~Amy

"I have issues with the idea and concept of courtship as defined by Josh Harris, et all...that involves and puts more emphasis on the parents than the couple. By issues I mean, I completely totally, and utterly disagree with the idea that parents should have any right at all to inherently control/have input (that is actually demands)/ orchestrate the entire process. Because this takes away the responsibility from the two people who are actually going to have to live with the consequences of the decisions made and puts it on people who think they have "their best interests at heart" and perhaps they do, but they do not know their kids better than their kids know themselves. Not to mention this ROBS these young adults of an experience - a right of passage - it robs them of the GROWTH into healthy adults that happens and NEEDS TO HAPPEN in relationships. It tries to take away any mistakes and ends up causing MORE damage in maturity than saving of heartache. This idea and process as I've experienced and read in Boy Meets Girl (Mike Farris anyone?) is wrong....I'm not talking about irresponsible 14 year olds here, I'm talking about young adults old enough to date and make their own decisions. Adults have no right whatsoever to control or manipulate other adults in anything and especially not romantic relationships. Those are hard enough of a learning curve on their own without parental-rights-we're-older-so-obey-crap adding to it. I am however completely for parents giving advice if it is sought, and if they have problems, respectfully communicating that to the couple and leaving it in the couple's hands and not interfering after that. The line is crossed when "courtship" becomes a wooing of parents and fight for control rather than two people on a journey learning and making decisions that will affect the rest of their lives." ~Hannah

"My family had been "non-dating minded" since I was a little girl. At first the fairy-tale loving side of me resisted, but as I grew older and encountered the same mindset among others, I accepted it, along with its emphasis on emotional purity. Consequently, I was terrified to even strike up a conversation with a guy during my teen years. I remember a few well-adjusted guys who treated me in a friendly manner, but those interactions were very rare, and I never knew how to respond.
When I was 17, I attended a conference by a well-known betrothal guru. He outlined the steps two betrothal-minded families should take if God revealed that two young people should marry. As I recall, it went something like this: If God revealed it to one of the dads, they were to approach the other dad. If he revealed it to a mom, she was to approach her husband. If he revealed it to the son, he was to approach his father. And with a laugh he finished, "And if God reveals it to the daughter, she should be quiet and wait for God to tell someone else." Shortly afterward I believed God told me who I'd marry. It's a long story, but basically I had noticed this guy for awhile. However, it would have been "forward" to strike up a friendship, and "sinful/impure" to feel attracted to anyone, much less to admit I had a full-blown crush. So in order to rationalize my feelings, I convinced myself that they meant God was revealing him to me as my future husband.

In obedience to Mr. Betrothal Guru, I said nothing to anyone, but kept this belief close to my heart for about two years. I waited patiently for God to reveal this to someone else, waiting on a miracle, since my family had moved and no longer had any contact with the young man. Finally the burden became too heavy for me to bear and I just had to confide in someone, so I told my parents that I believed God had told me who I was going to marry. They liked the guy and weren't opposed to the idea, but it never occurred to them that this could just be an overblown crush. Their daughters didn't have crushes, because crushes were impure and ungodly. In my mind, we were as good as engaged. I didn't know how it would happen, but I was certain that it would. A few months later we heard that the guy I liked was engaged to someone else. It's a huge understatement to say I was devastated. I thought I was going to have a nervous breakdown as I cried for weeks, trying to accept the fact that the guy had "missed it" so completely and forced us both to settle for "second best." Finally I was able to face the fact that I had taken a perfectly normal teenage crush and rationalized it as "God's voice" so that I would not have to feel guilty about feeling attraction toward a guy. That is when I finally began to heal.

Looking back I am absolutely amazed that I couldn't see this from the beginning. And it grieves me that I basically wasted two years of my life praying and waiting, with such devastation at the end. I could have avoided so much drama, obsession, and heartbreak if I had simply been able to admit to myself that I liked a guy. But I couldn't do that. In my belief system, liking a guy was sin." ~ Grace

"As a teen, my parents would pray with me that I would save my heart for a man who was saving his heart for me. I saved it. Now I don't know what to do with it. As an adult, I pray that my first kiss will come before my thirtieth birthday. My next birthday is my twenty-ninth." ~Anon.

These are stories of brokeness by real people. There are many more where these came from. But this is not the end of the story. Because with great pain and mistakes comes healing and learning. Redemption is happening all around us, all the time. God is giving back the years that the locust have eaten. Confession is the beginning of healing; acknowleging the lies, the genesis of transformation. We know now what is wrong. But what then is right? What is the solution? How to encourage people who are fighting for healing and truth in their lives?

I leave you with encouragement from my friend, Rebecca. Listen to the words of one who has been there and back again:

"1. Love as many people as possible. Give away as many pieces of your heart as possible. Love your friends and acquaintances - not just in a so-called 'agape' altruistic way, but really invest in, care about, desire them... The more people we love the fuller and richer our lives get. As C.S. Lewis says,

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless--it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

2. The key is to not harden your heart when it gets broken. Your heart will get broken, no doubt about that. The more you love, the more your heart will break. The test of character is how you respond to it. Do you continue to bravely love and reach out to new loving relationships? Or do you climb into a shell, bury your heart in a casket as Lewis says? IMO IKDG is 'casket' mentality. It's the wrong response to a challenge. As the Bible says: "There is no fear in love. Perfect love casts out fear." And with Christ we have an infinite fountain of love to draw on and share.

3. If you fall in love, pursue it, no matter how 'wrong' the guy seems to be for you. Chase it for all it is worth. (Except: do it in a healthy, boundary-conscious way.) If it is not the relationship God intends for you to have, you will fall out of love. This is true! This is what the books for some reason ignore. If it's an unhealthy relationship and you are committed to developing a healthy relationship, the relationship will end. If there are irreconcilable differences, these will cool your heals. But if you are in love you must try and see if you can form that healthy relationship, if you can work through differences. That way you can find out for sure if it is not meant to be - rather than going based on probability.

I think the pain of heartbreak is exactly what motivates IKDG and every mother who loves the book.

And the pain of heartbreak isn't just a poor motivator.

Fleeing it is outright wrong.

Heartbreak is something we need to brave to be alive, human, Christian.

Heartbreak is part of being in God's image. All of creation groans until it is united with him and God yearns to be united with us. The tragedy of sin is the rend it creates in our relationship with God - our separation from him breaks his heart. This is why the cross was worthwhile to Him. If we are to imitate Christ, we cannot avoid heartbreak. Christ courageously loved us despite knowing in advance that his heart would be broken...

And honestly, how would we feel about Christ and God if he never really loved us and it never really pained him that we didn't love him back?"

Be sure to read Emotional Purity and Courtship, A Conclusion.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

How the Teachings of Emotional Purity and Courtship Damage Healthy Relationships

There are many times that I don't realize just how much strange teaching I've had to "un-do" in my life until I try to explain them to someone else. This happened to me the other night. A dear friend and I were talking about our kids and how to help them transition from children to adults. The topic of dating and relationships came up and we started talking about my story. Sometimes it's actually comforting to me to be met with blank or incredulous stares from people I consider "normal", good Christians. It somehow validates my belief that some of the teachings I grew up with were very wrong.

I've also lately started facing the ways in which the teachings of "emotional purity", (a la Josh Harris, the Ludys, and others) have damaged the part of my brain that makes healthy relationships function.

I define "emotional purity" in the same way that popular homeschool writers have: it is the idea of "guarding your heart". Which sounds all noble and righteous and everything but in this context is really just a facade for fear. Fear of loving and losing. Fear of making the wrong choice. Fear of getting hurt. Fear of being damaged. Fear of not measuring up. In my life it meant never having a crush on a guy, never allowing myself to "fall in love", basically training myself to shut down a normal, healthy, functioning part of my human heart.

I'm 27 years old, been married for almost 7 years. I rejected the teachings of courtship and emotional purity when I was 19. But their effects have yet to leave.

There are several ways that these teachings can damage a person's heart.

1. They cause shame.

Shame because sometimes you can't help but like one guy a little more than another. Shame because that's "sinful" and "emotionally impure". Shame because it sets a standard and proclaims that you are somehow shameful if you cannot keep it. You are considered damaged goods if you have fallen in love and had your heart broken. It was Josh Harris in I Kissed Dating Goodbye and the Ludy's in several of their books that popularized the idea that everytime you fall in love or get "emotionally attached" to someone, you give away a piece of your heart. The more pieces you give away, the less of your heart you have to give to your spouse someday. He even went so far as to say that each of those former flames actually have some sort of hold on you. This has got to be the most bogus and the most damaging teaching of this entire movement. Love doesn't work that way. The more you give, the more you have. My 3rd child doesn't have less of my heart just because I've loved two other children before him. And, really, I haven't given them "pieces" of my heart. I've given them each all of my heart. The miracle of love is that it multiplies by being given.

Each person I love has "a piece of my heart"...my best friend, my sisters, my husband, my parents, my kids. It is ridiculous to suggest that there is not enough of my heart to go around.

And what view of redemption does this teaching proclaim? Not one that I want anything to do with. It is an incompetent redemption.

2. They cause pride.

Pride because suddenly you are better than everyone else. Because you have never had a crush on a guy. You have kept your heart for your spouse. You didn't say "I love you" til your wedding day. Pride in human accomplishment. Pride because you are so much more spiritual than that poor girl over there who is crying because her boyfriend broke up with her. Because your heart is whole and she just gave a piece of hers to a guy she isn't married to. Pride because you did it right, she did not. You have more to give your future husband than she does. She is damaged goods, you are the real prize.

This is exactly what happened to the Pharisees. They made up laws that God never condoned, then patted themselves on the back for keeping them, while looking down on those who didn't. This has nothing to do with the righteousness and grace of God, and everything to do with the accomplishments of man. I remember watching a video where one of the biggest names in the courtship movement bragged with obvious arrogance that he didn't tell his wife he loved her until their wedding. And I thought "how twisted can we get?" We took something as simple as saying "I love you", built a strawman rule around it ("saying I love you is defrauding") then hung it like a trophy on our walls. Job well done, folks.

3. They create skewed views of relationships which lead to dysfunction

This is where I still struggle. Where others see nothing wrong, I am suspicious of every look, every situation, every witty exchange. I am still uncomfortable hugging one of my best friends who is a guy. Because we were never to hug or have physical contact, even innocent, with a guy. Voices in my head scream "defrauder!" just by giving a friend a quick hug. I feel ill at ease sometimes even talking to other men. Oh, they never notice. Because I'm really good at pushing those feelings away and acting "normal". But I am bothered by my reaction to everyday situations. We were taught never ever ever to be alone with a guy. Because it could look bad. He could be tempted. You might start thinking impure thoughts. You might even *gasp* flirt!

I was trying to explain this to my friend and it came out sounding so....crazy and embarrassing. I told her if she was to walk out of the room, leaving me and her husband in the same room, my first reaction would be one of panic. "This might look bad.... what if he talks to me...what if someone else sees us....what is he thinking..." My second reaction, close on the heels of the first, would be a coping mechanism that I learned long ago: I calmly tell myself that "this is perfectly normal and perfectly innocent...he probably doesn't even notice me...this is a Godly man I know and trust....the only person who would ever freak out about this is me....to the rest of the world there's nothing wrong here". I then calm down, act normal, and hope nobody noticed my crazy internal battle. Cuz they'd probably admit me to a psych ward. Thank you, Josh Harris and Co. I hate this about myself! I am a strong, confident person. But the idea that I can defraud just by a look, that I could become emotionally impure just by a thought, that I might become damaged goods with pieces of my heart strewn all over tarnation, and that guys "only have one thing on their mind" and we need to help them control themselves, has truly negatively affected what should be normal interactions with my friends. Honestly, I don't get embarrassed talking about much. But this admission isn't easy for me.

Guess what? In the real world, men and women can have innocent relationships. They can talk to each other without one of them thinking there's ulterior motives. They can laugh and exchange wits and, yes, even drive in a car together without anybody thinking anything dubious is happening. They are not naiive but they are not afraid of their own shadows. Purity and integrity in relationships can be there without being unnaturally freaked out about it. The other night, I stuck my tongue out at a guy friend who was teasing me and his wife cracked up laughing. As I laughed, I felt myself looking down on the situation, amazed that nobody thought twice about it, then amazed that I DID...that I had to push away feelings of guilt because what if someone thought I was *gasp* flirting?! This is one dysfunction that I really wish I could be freed from. Maybe time is the only cure and I need to be more patient with myself. These teachings have deep, rotten roots and it takes time to pull them all out.

4. They teach us to make formulas to be safe

1 + 1= 2. Emotional purity + Biblical courtship = Godly marriage. But life doesn't work that way. You can do everything "right" and your life can still suck. You can do everything "wrong" and still be blessed. Rain falls on the good and evil. Time and chance happen to them all. People who follow the courtship formula still get divorced. Or stuck in terrible marriages. Courtship is not the assurance of a good marriage. Life is too complicated for that. Love involves vulnerability. When you choose to love, you are choosing to accept risking a broken heart. No formula can protect you. Life involves risk. Following God involves risk. He is not a "safe" God. But He is good.

God doesn't seem to like formulas. Because formula is the opposite of faith. Formula says "I will follow a God that I've put neatly in a box, to give me the desired results". Faith says "I will follow You even when I can't see where I'm going, even when the world is collapsing around me". Formula says "I will not risk, I will be in control of my future". Faith says "I will risk everything, I will trust Whom I cannot see, surrender what I cannot control anyway." Formula is the assurance of things planned for, the conviction of things seen. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Heb. 11:1). But we are afraid. So we control instead of trust. We don't take a step unless we can see where we're going. We build neat little formulas and say "THIS will keep me safe!" Then we blame God when our puny formulas fail.

These teachings need to be stopped. They were new in my generation and now I, and others like me, are reaping the fruit of them. And the fruit is rotten to the core. I'm sure those who promoted such ideas had good intentions. But good intentions aren't enough. Without Truth and Grace they can do more harm than good. Thanks to those good intentions, we are seeing an entire generation of homeschool alumni who have no idea how to have normal relationships. I have talked with literally hundreds of alumni my age, and am not exaggerating the extent of the issue. It's nice to know I'm not alone in my dysfunction but discouraging as well. What is encouraging is that most of us have determined to stop the insanity. We will not be passing these things to the next generation. Instead we will teach our children to love God with all that they have, all that they are; and to love and respect others as they love themselves.

I leave you with the words of a very wise man:

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless--it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”
~C. S. Lewis

Be sure to read Emotional Purity and Courtship, Part 2....

And Emotional Purity and Courtship: A Few Years Later.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Year of Redemption

This morning our pastor encouraged some quiet time in which we were supposed to look back over the last year to see where God had brought us. I didn't want to at first. There's a lot of pain in 2010 and I'd rather it just stayed there. But I did anyway. And I realized for the first time that 2010 wasn't just another year that's now only memory. It was our year of redemption.

We've been through hell the past few years. Starting when our home burned to the ground in 2007. Our faith in God and people has been sorely tested. It's felt like we've drifted in a never-ending fog for so long that we've forgotten what the sun looks like. 2010 started where 2009 left off: in a fog of uncertainty, doubt, anger, pain, and questioning. It seemed as if God had forgotten us. Or, worse, was up there enjoying making us miserable.

But you know how sometimes when you come out of a dense fog, it happens so gradually that you don't notice at first? Then all of a sudden you're like "whoa, where'd the fog go?" That happened to me today. I don't know when or how but the fog is gone. And the sun is brilliantly shining.

I looked back over the year and I saw the steady, faithful hand of God, even when I pushed Him away. Even when I railed against Him in anger. He never left. What kind of love is this that stays and waits for you to notice it? While still loving all the time? That's some crazy love.

We had lost so much yet we almost gave up everything else. But God.... all the great stories have a "But God" in them. But God restored our marriage. But God gave us a new life. But God soothed our hurting hearts and started the slow process of knitting them back together again. But God, who seemingly took everything from us except each other (and we almost lost that), has begun to restore and give back ten-fold. "But God, who is rich in mercy....."

Oh, I still have questions, believe you me. I still have doubts. But it's not a belligerent questioning anymore. I feel at peace, restful in the presence of a God who never left me. Even when I resented Him. Even though there is so much I don't understand and wish didn't exist. I will always question. It's just who I am. I look at others who are in the midst of painful struggles and I wonder why God has brought us through the fog and not them. Yet...He did bring us through, and I think that's the point. Took waaay longer than I think it should, but I guess it was just long enough.

I have to throw my hands in the air and let out a belly-laugh. I didn't realize until this morning that I felt so free. That the smile that used to be my signature but left for a while is back. That I have hope for the future that was totally non-existent just a few short months ago. That God did this.

If you're still in the middle of some painful stuff, I wish I could offer you a formula to get out of it. But I can't. Cuz I didn't do this for myself. Last I checked I was still wallowing in my pain, alternately resolving to fight and giving up. I don't know how or when, but God came through. Just when I thought He never would and didn't care and to hell with it all anyway. I still keep pinching myself to see if I'll wake up from my peaceful rest to the tumult that I'm familiar with.

We're not even physically better off than we were at the beginning of 2010. But spiritually....God has given us abundant redemption. I have no idea what this year is going to hold. I'm a little nervous when I think about it. Maybe it is our Year of Hope. Hope that things will get better and that our love, which has outlasted a few storms, will only grow stronger.

Hind-sight is always 20-20 they say. I guess they're right. I wish I could've seen what I see now while still in the middle of the fog. But maybe I'll remember the next time the fog comes around.

2010. Our Year of Redemption. Abundant redemption. Who woulda thought?

"Out of the depths I have cried to You, O Lord;
Lord, hear my voice! Let Your ears be attentive To the voice of my supplications...

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, And in His word I do hope.
My soul waits for the Lord More than those who watch for the morning--
Yes, more than those who watch for the morning.

O Israel, hope in the Lord; For with the Lord there is mercy,
And with Him is abundant redemption.

~Excerpts from Psalm 130