I promised Todd I wouldn’t write about this until we got married, so now that we are married, I’m eager to extend an empathetic voice to anyone who has felt crippled by the effects of sexual shame during the dating and engagement process.
It is seriously, entirely by the mercy of God that Todd and I didn’t have sex until our wedding night. By the end of our engagement, we couldn’t be alone in a house or room (or car or the corner of Walmart) because we’d find ourselves in serious trouble. I started wearing baggy shirts and thick jeans. He stopped holding my hand. We made boundaries, then stricter boundaries. We listened to sermons and talked to our friends and tried to implement the advice of godly counselors, but the desire to have sex with each other didn’t go away.
The first time Todd and I crossed the line from “What a sweet kiss” to “MY PANTS ARE ON FIRE”, I wept all night and told him we couldn’t hold hands or touch ever again. I was soaked in shame. I heard whispers in my ear, saying, How can you possibly lead worship tomorrow when you know what you did? You’ve ruined your future sex life. Your marriage is going to be marked by your lack of self-control. Real Christians don’t struggle with this kind of thing.
Next thing you know, I was sobbing in my therapist’s office because I felt like some backsliding sex-addict for wanting to have sex with my fiancé. She stopped me and said something to the effect of, “Savannah, the fact that you’re not afraid to have sex with someone is a HUGE victory. You’ve been afraid of sex since the first day you walked into my office, and now it’s something you desire. I don’t want to see you and Todd fall into sin, but I also don’t want you to feel ashamed for a godly craving. Sex is good.”
For months, I believed if I was more godly or more holy or spent more time in the Word, I wouldn’t want to have sex with Todd. But it’s just not true. Todd and I both love Jesus and have great communities surrounding us, but fighting for a God-honoring, physical relationship was a struggle, from beginning to end. I can’t tell you how many times we jumped off the couch and ran into separate rooms until we de-escalated (to put it kindly). How many phone calls we made to apologize— I shouldn’t have worn that outfit, I knew it would turn you on or I didn’t lead you well, I acted out of selfishness. How many times we repented and asked the Lord for strength and self-control. How many conversations we had to reconsider boundaries that weren’t working. How many moments we purposefully crossed the line. How many moments we fell across the line. How many times we failed. How many times we got back up again.
Honestly, by the time we finally got our act together, we were getting married.
I’ll spare the details because Todd would have a heart attack, but our wedding night was awesome and saturated with the presence of God. It was a picture of grace. A reminder that God does not give us what we deserve. He delights in showing mercy. He loves to clothe us in purity, shower us in His righteousness. Even though the struggle is (definitely, undoubtedly) real, He can sustain you. It was a reminder that when we fall—and we will fall— He gives us the strength to repent, recalibrate, and move in the right direction.
This is life. We stumble and make mistakes and fall short, yet He calls us Holy and Beloved. He shows us a gravity of grace far beyond the merit of our actions. Not that we might sin more and more, but that we might pursue holiness from a place of acceptance.*
I could write a million more paragraphs about this, but I’ll play my own Oscar-music and cut the speech short.
If you and your boyfriend are fighting for a God-honoring relationship… keep fighting from a foundation of grace. He will preserve and sustain you as you run to Him. You are not dirty for desiring sex. You are not gross or unworthy or a backsliding sex-addict. You are His.
If you and your girlfriend have had sex a thousand times… repent, recalibrate, and start to move in the right direction. Not from a place of shame, but from a place of grace. Ask for conviction. For His guidance and wisdom and self-control. For a community that will challenge you and lift you up when you fall.
Obviously I don’t know all the answers, because if I haven’t made it clear, Todd and I limped across the finish line…but I do know His grace overflows. I am certain that our purity before God is exclusively dependent on His unconditional love, not our actions. Our righteousness is exclusively dependent on His love, not our actions. Our sex life, our marriage, our future children’s lives, our jobs, our hopes and our dreams are exclusively dependent on His love, not our actions.
Even now, as I write at my kitchen table with Todd in the next room working on a couple worship songs, I can confidently say His presence is here and His grace is sufficient. He did not abandon us for struggling. He did not throw up His hands and leave because we made out too much. In fact, He is miraculously being glorified in our lives, not because of our good works but because of His abundant love.
What an undeniably abundant love it is.