My Abstinence Education
When I was 15, I fell in love with J— and with Jesus. One stole my heart, the other my soul. Neither love would last, but both haunt me to this day.
In the ‘60s, while I was jumping rope and playing hop scotch, Jesus got down off of the heavy cross at the altar of the Catholic church and turned into a cool, hippie dude who loved everyone. It was quite a change of image for a guy who’d been King of Kings and Lord of Lords for almost 2,000 years to start chumming around with the regular folks as good ole boy, JC. The Jesus Movement, started in California by hippies who got high on Jesus instead of LSD, knew Jesus not as the stern, Father-God sorting out the sinners and the saints on Judgment Day, but as an earthy, loving brother accepting all humanity with open arms.
By the time the Jesus Movement reached Long Island at the end of the decade, it had lost most of its hippie accoutrements and had become quite suburban. Its evangelists looked more like Ozzie and Harriet than like Peter, Paul, and Mary. My parents were too old to be hippies and I was too young, but both of our generations succumbed to the hippie mantras of the Jesus Movement: Peace, Love, and Joy.
The further Jesus moved from the cross, the closer he moved to my heart. From Almighty Son-of-God to Personal Savior to friend. When his sandal-shod feet finally hit the dusty ground, I was ready to fall in love with him forever. At church, I was right in the middle, sitting in the front row, raising my hands to praise God, dancing in the aisles, speaking in tongues, playing worship songs on my guitar, reading the Bible over and over again, the way I’d read The Lord of the Rings the year before. (In the end, Frodo, Merry, Pippin, and Sam stuck with me. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John did not.)
My view of romantic love came out of my relationship to God. We sang, “Jesus I love you. Jesus I praise you. Jesus I worship you,”as we gathered together in impromptu basement churches filled with metal folding chairs. Not a pattern of mutual respect and adoration, but of master and slave, lord and liege, creator and creation. I loved J— from afar, too, with the same fervor, longing, and unfulfilled desire.
I made up my own ten commandments for the single Christian girl to explain the rules I lived by:
- Thou shalt not have premarital sex.
- Thou shalt save thyself for thine husband.
- Thou shalt not have a baby out of wedlock.
- Thou shalt not kiss a boy (or a girl!).
- Thou shalt be a good girl at parties.
- Thou shalt be chaste, your body is a temple.
- Thou shalt not get drunk or stoned.
- Thou shalt not be a glutton.
- Thou shalt be a good wife, because it is better to marry than to burn.
- Thou shalt not have an abortion.
And that’s where sex didn’t come into the picture.
J— and I never had sex, never went on a date, never went “steady.” We should have been making out in the basement, instead we were holding hands in church. We should have been exploring our sexuality, instead we were following outdated rules. We should have been studying for our SATs, instead we were poring over the Bible. We should have been stoned at a rock concert, instead we were singing “Amazing Grace.” I remember sitting next to J— at a quaint old-fashioned church we visited, wanting to hold his hand, but too shy. Did he want to sit closer, put his arm around me, as if we were in a movie theater instead of a sanctuary? I imagined saying “I love you,” but I never did. Neither did he. We sang, “I love you with the love of the Lord,” when they told us to greet one-another in church. I think we both saw in each other’s eyes, that wasn’t what we meant.
Looking back, I see that I used my “personal relationship with Jesus” as a cop out that allowed me to I could hold onto the black-and-white morality that had been comfortable to me when I was 5, 8, and 11 years old. By the time I was 15 I should have been outgrowing that and learning how to emotionally and physically deal with adult issues and moral ambiguity, but I was afraid to. Jesus gave me the perfect excuse to hold onto a juvenile morality. I thought I was being chaste, but I was just being childish.
My own experiences make me wonder how many teens who are making chastity pledges are doing it because they are afraid to grow up. Now, I don’t think teens should have sex before they are ready, and no one should never do anything sexual that makes them uncomfortable. But you can’t avoid puberty and hiding in a cave of piety will not help you mature emotionally or spiritually. This type of behavior simply stunts growth and development. Looking back, I am sad for my younger self–sad that she missed out on so many wonderful experiences and that she was so afraid of everything. I am also sad that so many teens today are falling into the same trap, and that they are being encouraged to do so by their parents, pastors, and peers.
Eventually, I realized that my romantic visions of J— and Jesus were illusions. I had made them up in my head. They didn’t exist in the real world. I wasn’t in love with either of them as much as I was in love with my own imagination. Eventually, I had to say goodbye to both of my imaginary friends and move on with my life. Eventually, I grew up. But it took me a lot longer than it should have.