Well, my last two blog posts (here and here) have featured little blurbs about past relationships and it seems that some of them have hit close to home. I’ve had a couple private messages about them and it’s encouraged me to share a little bit more. To share some things that I have been sitting on for years. I am praying that I can do it well, with grace and respect for all involved in the story and in a way that pushes others towards healing.
I’ve haven’t been hiding this part of my story in an effort to make myself look good. I’ve wanted to be respectful of how much I share when the story involves another heart, another person who has walked through failure and the messiness of life. There are people who may be “villains” in my story, but I don’t want my words to keep them there.
That’s the thing about being a believer in grace and second chances; you don’t get to just believe in them for yourself. It’s a package deal and I am optimistic that these people have grown and learned from their mistakes, as I have learned from mine.
I want to keep the focus here on lessons learned, freedom found, and doing better.
So here are some things I’ve learned about sexual purity as a girl who has walked all sides of that coin.
I had the purity ring from a weekend retreat, I had all the rules memorized and all the intention of making it to my wedding day as pure as could be. I had a dollop of self-righteousness about my own “purity” and knew how to wear it like a badge of honor.
Then I lost a sibling and felt the foundation my life had previously been built on crumble like stone. I came face to face with my “theology of good works” and realized that doing things right didn’t protect me from suffering. I entered into a season of questioning how much I wanted to follow God if it didn’t actually help me avoid this pain. I watched my parents lean on each other and my surviving sisters lean on their fiancés. So I sought out some leaning of my own and tried to place the weight of my soul on a young, foolish boy.
I actually remember losing the stone out of my purity ring shortly after that ship had sailed and feeling like some sort of cosmic joke.
“I’m not fooling anyone now”
This brings me to the first point I’d like to make about sexual purity.
1- Purity is a Process
Purity culture, which has its roots in a wonderful desire to keep people aligned with God’s plan for marriage and relationships, has one fatal flaw. It wraps up the entire definition of purity with virginity. Which is incorrect and incredibly damaging. One is a lifelong process of seeking to be more Christ-like; to love better, give generously, live sacrificially, and pursue the presence and holiness of God. The other is something that can be lost in a split second bad decision or stolen in an act of immense pain.
God’s plan for marriage and relationships is best. Waiting for the right person is wise and wonderful and the ideal way to begin a life together. I’m not downplaying that.
What I’m saying is that our purity is something that requires constant care and alignment, whether or not we made it down the aisle in that white dress.
The importance of these different definitions becomes very clear in point number two.
2- When Someone Believes They are Damaged Goods, They’re Going to Act Like Damaged Goods
In my own story, this here is the kicker that kept me down for so long.
There was the relationship that brought me to this place and used the obsession with virginity to keep me there.
“If we break up…no good, Christian guy is going to want you”
I, honestly, don’t know if he was trying to be cruel or was simply speaking out of his own misunderstanding of grace. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and say it was the latter. He was fighting his own battle of brokenness and self-worth and some of that was hurled my way.
I’m not sure what the motivation was, but I know what the effect was. I believed it and internalized it. I no longer felt that I was deserving of being treated well or loved by “good people”.
When I finally got the courage to get out of that relationship, I rebounded into a new one. The feeling of being damaged goods led to a constant thirst to have someone tell me that I was lovable. In my own mind; I was broken and rejected. I was terrified and lonely and I desperately wanted to see myself in someone else’s eyes.
The problem was that I was running further and further from the image of myself in my Father’s eyes. The ones that saw all of me and loved me, fully.
3- Shame and Fear Make Terrible Foundations to a Relationship
That first relationship I stayed in largely due to shame. There were other reasons, but that was a huge part. I felt that I owed a future here because of decisions that had been made. No matter how hard things were and how much I wanted out, this was my path. I made my bed and now I have to lie in it.
At the time it felt like personal responsibility. This far out, I can call it what it was – shame.
The second relationship kept me captive through fear. Fear that this was the best I deserved and fear of his volatile temper. He was never aggressive. I don’t want to tell tales that aren’t true. He just yelled, A LOT. I have never done well with yelling, I don’t think it is a productive form of communication, it makes me cringe, it’s unpleasant and scary. I’m just not a fan.
A mentally healthy Rae would have left that relationship earlier or stood up to the yelling better. I don’t think I would have let the words in as much. However, when I entered the relationship believing I was unworthy, it was that much easier to believe I deserved the treatment. I deserved to be told all of this stuff was my fault, to shoulder the weight of everything gone wrong.
This brings us to point number four.
4- It’s Easier To Recognize A Lie When You Say It Out Loud
It’s hard to write down these things that I believed about myself, and I don’t want to sound dramatic. I know, however, that many other women have wrestled with the same feelings.
I know because I have been involved in many conversations about them and the freedom that comes from getting the lies out is tangible. There are these tapes that we play in our own heads that sound so ridiculous and distorted when spoken out loud or, even written down, but they will keep on playing until we recognize them for what they are. Lies.
Sometimes they will even keep playing after, but having someone to talk to and being willing to be honest about those thoughts is so freeing. It helps to fight the lies the next go-round.
5- You Are So Much More Than Your Bad Decisions
I entered into a period of healing after that last relationship and I met my husband sooner into that journey than I expected.
I actually really questioned God’s timing with that. There was healing that I wanted to do on my own, but I felt an overwhelming sense of peace around Ted. I chose to go forward even in the midst of my healing and we met each other there.
I want to be careful here to not paint Ted as the hero who fixed all my problems, because it took God and my own hard work. Ted has been, and continues to be, an amazing partner and friend through the journey. I do believe he was a gift to help me work through, but I don’t want to make it sound like a fairy tale that brushed all problems away with a “happily ever after”.
What Ted did do for me, was to see my character from the start. I’ve never felt that he has looked at me through a lens of appearance first or accomplishments first. He’s always looked first at my heart and who I am. Not that we don’t care at all about appearance or actions. Physical attraction and acts of service do matter in relationships, but it is crucial to be seen for more. The other stuff can fade so easily, it’s the heart that stays.
When I met his family, they saw me and treated me the same way. They saw someone who loved their son (or brother) and who could laugh with him and engage in conversation, who tries to do things with love.
When I think about this in relation to meeting my children’s future spouses someday, it’s pretty easy for me to get it. Their past trials and experiences aren’t going to be where my approval is built. I’m going to want people who love my children well and will strive to make the world a brighter place side-by-side. That’s what I long for, for them and I believe God is the same way.
He is not after a perfect past and untarnished reputation. He is after a heart on fire for him who longs to make the world brighter for His people.
6- Relationships are Messy
There’s been a lot about relationships here; painful ones and joy-filled ones. What they have all been is messy.
The relationship hurts I shared here are part of my story and I have been compelled to share about my journey to spark healing in others. I want to reiterate that this is not about keeping those people in their role as “villains”. Truthfully, we are all broken, hurting people and we, hopefully, learn to hurt other less as time marches on. These stories are from a decade ago and so I hope, pray, and believe they have grown and learned as I have.
It’s also worth noting that my husband did take on my brokenness when we met and married, and I took on His.
There’s this idea that we shouldn’t be in relationships until we’re fully healed beings. I see how this is rooted in health and wisdom, but I remain skeptical that we are ever fully healed beings.
To be human is to be scarred and broken and we are constantly meeting each other there in all of our relationships.
We’re all one step away from broken, which is something the self-righteous Rae learned the hard way. We’re one step away because we are not worthy of the Grace we have received, but unworthy is not the same as worthless and we don’t serve a god of self-flagellation. We serve a God of restoration.
We’re all walking towards a life of purity and there is nowhere we can stray from which He cannot bring us back.
When I was scrolling through my pictures, finding the best image for a post about “damaged goods” it was hard to beat this one. My poor raggedy American Girl Doll in the process of healing. All the old stuffing had to be removed, her limbs tightened, and refluffed stuffing put in. The same doll made better by tender care and affection. Not unlike us.
“Therefore, I am going to persuade her, lead her to the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her.”Hosea 2:14