I coauthored this piece with Jenell Williams Paris, author of The End of Sexual Identity: Why Sex is Too Important to Define Who We Are. We urge youth pastors to talk about gender and sexuality in youth group. Published in the Sept/Oct 2014 edition of the YouthWorker Journal. If you’re interested, purchase a subscription here.
Category Archives: Sexuality
Sometimes I worry that since I haven’t dated yet I’m missing out on companionship and adventure. What it would be like to date someone? To avoid feeling this way, I create grateful hypotheticals:
If I’d dated during college, I wouldn’t have had time to invest freely and deeply in as many friendships. Singleness gives me a different kind of relational satisfaction.
If I’d been engaged after graduation, I couldn’t have moved to Kenya at a few months’ notice for my dream job.
If I was married, I couldn’t have travelled to Ethiopia recently on less than a week’s notice. Singleness frees me to go wherever God calls me (1 Cor. 7:34).
While I’ve had embarrassing moments and regrets, I’ve never gone through a breakup. Maybe I’m missing out on painful personal growth. But I’ve had more energy for other areas of personal growth, like exploring a call to ministry.
I treasure my freedom to make friends and follow God – the side effects of being single. What wonderful gifts!
Gratitude works when I’m being practical, when I see singleness as a situation. But if I start to see it as an identity, I can be ashamed of myself. Is something wrong with me? Maybe I’m some strange species of extra-virgin olive oil.
My friends from Christian colleges post facebook photos of engagements and weddings at alarming rates. I loved going to a secular college. Maybe I would have had more access to eligible Christians at a Christian school, but I didn’t actually want a ring by spring. So I feel behind and at a disadvantage in a game I never asked to play.
My secular school had different social rules to play by. In reaction to shame around sexual activity, sex positive teaching says all desires concerning sex are good. Therefore you shouldn’t feel ashamed of acting on them (as long as your partner agrees and it’s not harming anyone). If I didn’t want to be sexually active, then I was acting on my desire – no problem. But if I had desires I didn’t act on, then I was acting like the repressive Victorians that sex positivity was fleeing from. In that case, virginity was shameful – precisely because in Christian culture, sex outside marriage was shameful. I couldn’t win.
Since men traditionally ask women out, if a man hasn’t gone on a date, people will assume it’s due to his lack of interest or initiative. If people shame him for his lack of agency, he could do something about it. If I’m single, people assume it’s because no one’s interested in me. I can’t do anything about being single.
To explain why, allow me to adopt economic vocabulary. The worth of a good is determined by supply and demand. A Christian purity book asked me and my friends to reflect: “Are you a Styrofoam or china cup?” The implication was that staying pure (limiting supply) would increase our value in the eyes of men and God. That kind of thinking almost makes a girl fantasize about someone asking her out so she can reject him and increase her worth.
If there’s no demand, a woman’s value will plummet. She might use the tried and true marketing tactics of flirting, fashion and fitness to tempt customers. Or she might try to initiate something. But if her attention isn’t reciprocated, she’ll be “cheap.” She supplied too much of herself to the world, so the demand for her attention decreased.
This system encourages women to be passive before relationships even start. Good Christian girls wait because acting is irrelevant. External factors determine our value.
You can’t fault a woman for something she didn’t do. But when her identity is tied to others’ evaluation of her, you won’t have to. She’ll shame herself. And she’ll keep looking to her evaluators for love.
Donald Miller suggests our greatest desire is “to be known and loved anyway.” Shame tells us we’re unworthy. We look for kindred spirits or “the one” who will evaluate us and decide we are enough.
At least I do. Loneliness shaped my childhood. Friends broke playground alliances or moved away. The conditional love of teachers and authority figures was more attainable and predictable: Do your homework, follow the rules. Earn the label of good girl, smart kid. But conditional acceptance created fear, because if I messed up it would be gone.
I idolized made-up soul mates. Maybe God kept me single so I wouldn’t recreate my date into an idol.
Only the one who made my soul is worthy of worship.
Last week I listened to an old Relient K song that says: “You recite my words right back to me / Before I even speak / you let me know / I am understood // You’re the only one who understands / completely / you’re the only one who knows me and still loves / completely.”
God never left, never loved me conditionally. All my fear, shame, anger, sin – God saw it all. And if we’re talking economics – Jesus paid for me with his life. He invited me to become part of his bride and his family – the church. He promised to be with us forever.
God’s perfect love drives out fear (1 John 4:18) and shame (Ps. 34:5). We don’t have to play hard-to-get to boost our self-worth. Our Maker determined that we’re invaluable long ago. The Father said to Jesus, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). Jesus said to his followers, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you” (John 15:9).
I picture myself approaching the God who knows everything about me. God shakes a smiling head, offers me a hug.
Single or not, this love flows into all of us – and overflows to everyone else. Like a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, the Lord rejoices in the chosen people (Isa. 62:1-5). God takes great delight in us, quiets us with love and rejoices over us with singing (Zeph. 3:17).
I know, because last week, God sang that Relient K song to me. And we talked drinking tea from a comfortable mug. Like soul mates.
~Originally published July 2, 2014 on Christians for Biblical Equality’s blog (link)