I just read the blog-post “I don’t wait anymore” (http://gracefortheroad.com/2012/02/03/idontwait/) where the author describes taking off her purity ring at the age of 25, after having worn it for 9 years. Contrary to the first impression the initial sentences might give, the author does not go on to say that chastity is too hard, repressive or unrealistic. She’s actually not giving up chastity at all. But she took off her ring, since the way chastity was promoted in her Protestant church was wrong, by making false promises and representing God wrongly. She was told: “Be the woman God made you to be, focus on that, and then the husband will come.” Pressure was added through a popular poem handed out in Sunday school, saying that: “The reason you don’t have anyone yet is because you’re not fully satisfied in Me. You have to be satisfied with Me and then when you least expect it, I’ll bring you the person I meant for you.”
What is wrong with this approach? God did not promise us husbands, wives, children, jobs, health, or money. Nobody can give us a guarantee that we will get any of these – or keep them for that matter. Disturbingly, when it comes to earthly happiness, Christ tends to predict difficulties rather than bliss; He tells us we will be persecuted for His sake, that families will rise against each other because of Him, and that one has to be willing to give up one’s father, mother, siblings, spouse and children. However, He promises us much more than any of these earthly goods, however great their value may be. He promises to give us Himself and the peace of heart following from that.
To connect the message of the Gospel to the attainment or promise of spouses, success and riches is –apart from being false – also a very risky business. If the promised goods are not delivered (or lost), then the persons who accepted Christ because of them will at the very least be in for a great disappointment. This could lead to loss of faith, loss of chastity (along the lines of “chastity has not brought me a husband, perhaps promiscuity will; anyway, anything is better than this loneliness”) or at least to a crisis of some kind, with the need to re-think who God is and why I continue to believe in Him. As the author of the blog writes, “a lot of girls were sold on a deal and not on a Savior.”
The implications of the poem mentioned above are also terrible. The reason for not having found a spouse - yet - is attributed to the person’s lack of faith. If only she were fully satisfied with God, then the right man would already be part of her life. She is to blame and the answer to her problem lies with her – since it obviously cannot be God’s fault. Job’s friends took this approach, telling him he must have sinned to be thus punished – but we know that God did not agree with them. Nor did Christ, for when some believed those crushed by the tower of Siloam must have been greater sinners than others, he denied this. Sufferings – and wanting to get married but not finding a spouse can be a terrible suffering – have many causes. To play the blame-game is a great temptation. Why? Because by casting the responsibility on the person suffering, I do not need to be with the person in her misery; I am running away from that person’s cross, and tragically have made it thereby worse, for I have added insult to injury.
Similarly, making false promises is very tempting, because it is a way of freeing the other, at least briefly, from her pain. How easy it is to say “You will find a spouse” to the single person suffering intensely from her solitude; or to the infertile “You will have children” when she desperately longs for babies. But it is a false kind of pity, for it simply delays the pain for a while, which will come crashing down all the more later, once one realized that the prediction hasn’t come true. If one does not have the gift of prophecy, it is better not to make these kinds of predictions. One can still give hope though, without giving false hope (and I’m not only speaking of supernatural hope), for example by dispelling some of the (false) negative thoughts (“I will never meet anybody – I’m too unattractive, shy etc “) which make the burden of singles even heavier etc.
But my goal here is not to address the specific cross of unwanted celibacy (though that would be an interesting topic for another blog-post), but the temptation of false promises. After having fed people miraculously, Christ left, for they wanted to turn Him into an earthly King. Even now it continues to be tempting to turn Him into an earthly Messiah, who is there to fulfill our many desires, or to become such a Messiah oneself by making false promises. It is hard to live with people’s (and one’s own) crosses and disappointments, and false promises are an easy way out. But the only satisfying approach is to respond with God’s unfailing love, meeting others in their longing and sadness, and thus standing with them under the Cross rather than pretending to take them down when one is really incapable of doing so.
God wants to be truly loved for Himself, for the right reasons, and not merely as an earthly insurance of happiness. Joseph Fadelle is a prime-example of such a radical love. As he describes in his book “The Price to Pay”, he left his wealthy and powerful family in Irak, in order to live a poor life of exile in France so that he could become Christian. Christ had appeared to him in a dream, telling him to eat the bread of life. He was hungering for this bread for 13 years, before his dream came true and he was baptized and received holy Communion (for fear of martyrdom for himself and the Christian community in Irak, he was not granted this grace until he had left the country). The promises of riches and power, of being welcomed back into the arms of his family, of being able to stay in his country which he loved – nothing counted compared to Christ for whom he was hungering. Fadelle paid the price in order to follow Him; he received Christ, but not earthly happiness.
Let us not tone down the heroic demands of Christianity. To promise young people a spouse in return for chastity and for obeying Christ means selling out. Christ is worthy of being followed for His own sake, and Lady Chastity is a desirable companion even though her bed can at times be hard. Only with the latter approach will any promise of chastity have a chance of being permanent. Only then will it be built on a firm foundation.