Tuesday, May 18, 2010

When Our Thoughts Lead Us Astray

Dear Jocelyn,
I am having trouble figuring out what keeping a chaste heart means. So, I am dating a man whom I care for very much, and to whom I am very much attracted. I've chosen to keep my virginity until marriage, which we both have earnestly agreed to honor. However, I know that in the same way God calls me to keep my heart and mind chaste...clean...modest. Well, I'm human, and it's rather impossible to keep out thoughts that are more intimate than modest. I am attracted to this man for who he is in so many ways, especially as I see Christ alive in his words and actions and choices; why do my thoughts lately seem to stray in one direction? By virtue of the fact that we are looking towards marriage but definitely not there, how in the world do I keep my interior life in line with this season of courtship, and what is appropriate right now? I would sincerely welcome any practical thoughts or suggestions.
     -Smitten

Dear Smitten,
What an excellent question! This is an issue that almost every Christian struggles with at some point or another. You stated in your letter that you are attracted to the spiritual side of this man, and asked why it seems that your thoughts are straying to (I'm assuming) the physical aspects? My dear, because that is how God made us! I would hope that you would not be interested only in his ability to pray or study the Bible. Humans are multi-dimensional creatures—we are spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical. You are drawn to him physically because God created relationships to encompass our whole beings, not just one facet.

Now that I have answered the why, let me answer the how. Like I said, it is natural that you are drawn to him physically. But as you know, these thoughts have a proper time and place, and it is not the right time or place for them yet. Thoughts oftentimes lead to actions, and since you are not married to this fine fellow, it is not time for these actions yet. One practical way you can deal with thoughts as they arrive is by redirection. When these not-so-chaste thoughts arrive, think, "Thank you God for such a wonderful man. Now, what chores need to be done around my house? How are my finances? Did I remember to feed my pet yesterday?" In other words, distract yourself with other matters.


When we struggle with things, it helps to deal with the origin of the issue. It seems as if you are becoming emotionally intimate with your beau. While this is a natural part of the road towards marriage, we must remember that intimacy in a relationship can be compared to the four legs of a table. (Thanks to the book Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity for providing this example!) The four areas of intimacy (physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental) are meant to grow at the same time. As we become more intimate in one area, the other three attempt to keep up. However, before marriage, it is necessary to restrain growth in physical intimacy while pursuing the other three. (This is usually why dating—while wonderful!—is filled with tension.) It is when one area is growing too quickly that we find difficulty controlling the others. There are two ways to fix this: slow down the intimacy, or get married. Seeing as how you said you weren't ready for marriage yet, let me address ways to slow intimacy.


-Involve other couples in your dating: Find a godly marriage you admire—perhaps a couple in the church. Ask them to double date with you and your gentleman. You will be able to get to know him better while both hearing the wisdom older Christians can provide.


-Communicate in other ways: Not all communication needs to be face to face. Talk over the phone, write emails—even write letters! In this way, you can gather more information about him while reducing the growth of emotional intimacy.


-Visit in public places: You can have a great deal of privacy while being in a public place. A coffeeshop or park can provide the perfect opportunity to share your thoughts while making it impossible to become physically intimate.

A combination of these three ideas (and others) should help you slow down the relationship. Just remember—these methods are not meant to work forever. If and when you do decide to become engaged, I encourage you to not dawdle on your way to the altar. Once you are married, it will become much easier to find balance in your relationship.
     -Jocelyn

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