My journey in chastity as a single person has had its up and downs. As a young child growing up in the Catholic Church I learned that sex before marriage was a sin. I loved God and didn’t want to do anything that would make Him sad.
I grew up in a small town with a father who was distant and a mother who was a periodic alcoholic. I was the oldest, with two younger brothers for whom I felt responsible. I was always a serious, anxious child who wanted everything to be perfect. I tried to create a “Leave it to Beaver” childhood. I believed life would be perfect if I could be perfect. Whatever adults said, I tried to do. I was always looking over my shoulder waiting for the worst to happen.
My life changed when I was nine years old. My favorite aunt committed suicide. My father became even more distant, my grandparents were devastated and my mother started a downhill slide into Valium and alcohol. I tried even harder to be the perfect child. I took care of everything in my family.
My only escape was the neighbor girl. She appeared to have the perfect life: beautiful house, involved parents. I began spending more time at her house, and her older brother started playing with us. He began touching us in very inappropriate ways. My friend went along with it. I knew in my heart the sex-play it was wrong, but it continued to happen over the course of seven years. To cope with the trauma I became “split off.” I pretended that another person was being abused, not me.
During high school I put a wall between myself and men. I longed for a relationship but was afraid. I was good at being friends with men but was unable to move into a romantic relationship. Maybe that was due to my own self-rejection. I never looked in a mirror, wore baggy clothes and hated to stand out in a crowd. I just wanted to be left alone. So I gave in to whatever anyone wanted, or I became mean. If I ever stood out I kicked into “floating” mode: just not being present so that I wouldn’t be abused again. I went to church but always felt dirty, ugly and afraid that my sin would be exposed. I tried to talk to God but felt He wasn’t listening.
College was a different experience. I was finally free of my family and all the issues. I went to a small Mennonite college the first year. There I discovered that God was not out to get me. He wanted a relationship with me. The people I was around talked about God as a person. I began to trust others and believed I could have an intimate relationship. As Andrew said in the chapter, “Made in God’s image, humanity longs for communion with others. . . . That longing is good; it draws us out of isolation and into communion with others. . . . [O]ur embodied selves can function as windows to the divine.”
The second year of college I decided I was ready to go to a bigger school. I felt I had left the old behind and the new was beginning. I began to date and to see that men wanted a more intimate relationship than I was willing have. I told every one of them that because I was Catholic I could not engage in premarital sex. Many laughed, a couple of them admired me and a few others made fun of me whenever I was in a group. Luckily, my two closet friends were not going to sleep with anyone either.
Life went on, and I began to feel like I had made it! I had friends, loved college life, had lots of dates and found a career choice. I was going to make it. I left college to do three internships. I was excited because once those nine months were over I was going to begin life as an adult. I was in a long distance relationship that I knew was going to turn into marriage. It just could not get any better.
Then reality struck., and my perfect life fell apart. I flunked the last internship, my relationship ended and it was time for my five-year high school reunion. I felt devastated. Nothing in life felt important. Why had I tried to be good when it really never mattered? God didn’t care. I wasn’t good enough. During that time the whole world changed for me. I stopped attending church, began a sexual relationship, got drunk, tried pot, etc. I was not a “mature lover” as Andy described. I was out for self-fulfillment. I did not value my partner at the time, only what sensual pleasure I could get. Obviously, this self-fulfillment became wearying. I didn’t know what to do. I was hiding my “secret life” from my friends and coworkers because I was working with Christians. Once again my life came crashing down: my mom’s prescription pill use escalated and my relationship ended. I felt like drowning. I just wanted to die.
I was in such pain that I reached out to my colleagues. I told the horrible secrets of my life. They did not condemn me but loved me as Christ loved the church. That day my real journey started. Through their love and acceptance I found a church that taught me how to really love without being self-absorbed. As Andrew said in the chapter, “Self-control is nothing less than the fruit of a Jesus-centered life.” I began to see that I could live a life of chastity.
Thirty years have passed since that eye-opening season of conversion. I have continued to have ups and downs in my single life. Questions still haunt me: Why didn’t I get married or have kids? What is wrong with me? Why do I always pick the men who are unavailable? Along this journey I have experienced the love and acceptance of good friends, both male and female. I see the good of men in my life. God has blessed me with deep and abiding relationships that have helped me walk the journey. Even though the outside world would lead me to believe my time has passed, I still long for marriage. As Andrew writes in the chapter, “We can each aim for fruitful friendships. We create new life when we look out for each other’s best interests. . . . Marriage is not the goal of the imago dei; urging one another on to creative, Christ-centered communion is.”
I know this is a meaningful quest I am on. I continue to grieve, laugh and love because Christ lives in me. I know deeply in my heart and soul that Christ has delivered me from a life of destruction. I do not have the perfect life I created in my head, but I have one of fullness and joy. I know my brokenness has not condemned me to a life of pity. As Andrew says, “God makes a way for His wounded image-bearers. He redeems [us, and] He is with us each step of the way.” I will continue to offer myself to others so I can be a living witness to God.