The fact that I spent most of yesterday rewriting and editing this post, emailing trusted friends with drafts, making my husband re-read it over lunch, praying, rewriting a bit more, seriously contemplating deleting the whole thing and writing about cupcakes instead, and generally chewed my fingernails off is an indicator that I’m terrified to publish it. My writing process is usually pretty undisciplined and fluid, I sit down and write. I rarely agonize.
But over this one: I agonized.
This is the thing with shame: it’s not joke. And publishing something like this is another gravestone for my people-pleasing habits.
I say, let me only boast in Christ. My weaknesses only show His strength, and I want to decrease that He may increase. I say that, and I think I mean it, right up until I have to make a choice between following the nudge of the Holy Spirit towards honesty or propping up my own reputation.
It’s a hard thing to be vulnerable in a culture – and sometimes, let’s be honest, a Church – which values the mask of perfection, particularly for nice church ladies.
So this is me: taking off a pretty and perfect mask in the interest of glorifying Christ and his shame-destroying love.
Someone hold me.
I was nineteen years old and crazy in love with Jesus when that preacher told an auditorium I was “damaged goods” because of my sexual past. He was making every effort to encourage this crowd of young adults to “stay pure for marriage.” He was passionate, yes, well-intentioned, and he was a good speaker, very convincing indeed.
And he stood up there and shamed me, over and over and over again.
Oh, he didn’t call me up to the front and name me. But he stood up there and talked about me with such disgust, like I couldn’t exist in that real-life crowd of young people worshipping in that church. I felt spotlighted and singled out amongst the holy, surely my red face announced my guilt to every one.
He passed around a cup of water and asked us all to spit into it. Some boys horked and honked their worst into that cup while everyone laughed. Then he held up that cup of cloudy saliva from the crowd and asked, “Who wants to drink this?!”
And every one in the crowd made barfing noises, no way, gross!
“This is what you are like if you have sex before marriage,” he said seriously, “you are asking your future husband or wife to drink this cup.”
Over the years the messages melded together into the common refrain: “Sarah, your virginity was a gift and you gave it away. You did not make the sacrifice of chastity, throwing away your virtue for a moment of pleasure. You have twisted God’s ideal of sex and love and marriage. You will never be free of your former partners, the boys of your past will haunt your marriage like soul-ties. Your virginity belonged to your future husband. You stole from him. If – if! – you ever get married, you’ll have tremendous baggage to overcome in your marriage, you’ve damaged and ruined everything. No one honourable or godly wants to marry you. You are damaged, used-up goods, Sarah.”
And I’d like to direct you also to my dear friends, Emily with The Last Virgin Standing, and Elizabeth with Virginity: New and Improved! for another “other side” of this story. We need to have a better conversation about wholeness and sexuality, and I’m thankful to learn in the company of others much wiser and bolder.