By Sheeri Mitchell October 30, 2009 9:50 am
I have always believed that an honest question deserves an honest, age-appropriate answer. So when my 7-year-old daughter asked me if I was still a virgin when I married her father, I cringed.
This is what happens when you teach your children to study the bible and they learn about things like the virgin-birth and God’s plan for marriage. If I sound flippant, trust me, I am not. I was very grieved to have to explain to my daughter that I had been sexually active before I married her father 14 years ago. At age 7, she does not understand the particulars of sex, but she does know that God created it for a man and woman to enjoy once they are married to each other. Her father and I have taught her and her siblings a simple phrase to help them to remember God’s perspective on sex and relationships: “No ring-y, no ding-y. No walk-y, no talk-y.” In other words as far as God is concerned, if there is no marriage, there is to be no sex. If ol’ boy or ol’ girl is not walking with the Lord, a serious relationship is not a good look.
I expected that the question about my virginity would come up – just not so soon. I had not, however, expected the response that I got to my confession. My daughter cried. I mean she boo-hoo-ed. “Oh Mommy,” was all she could choke out between sobs. And then to my surprise, she hugged me. As much as her tears of pain added to my grief, they also helped me. At 7 years of age, she already understands that her body belongs to God and that her purity is precious. Heartache and tears are the proper response to sin. But so are love and compassion for the sinner.
When she had finished crying and had wiped her eyes, she looked at me directly and asked, “Why?” I wanted to give her an answer that defended my choices, that explained the lies about “sexual freedom” that I had bought into, that made me appear more victimized than responsible…but in the end, all I could tell her was “Because I was stupid, Honey.” And that was the truth.
I did not get the same education about sex, and God’s perspective on it that I have tried to provide for the young people I have mentored, or for my own children. As a teenager, I did not have anyone other than my peers that I felt comfortable enough to go to for advice about boys and birth control. By my freshman year of college, my faith had not matured much past that of the third grade when Sister Benjamin had been my religion teacher. I knew many rules, but few principles.
But even with all that I did not know, I knew enough. I knew and was convinced that unmarried sex was wrong. I knew it in my heart as surely as I knew my name. And I engaged it anyway. I had no real reason. I was not compelled. I was not really even that curious. I was not pressured. I believed it was wrong. I wanted to do it. I did it. All sin really is just that simple. You know something is wrong. You want to do it. You do it. Repeat. Pretty soon, you’ve developed a habit, which becomes a lifestyle, which defines your character. Talk about trading in your birthright for a stinkin’ bowl of soup!
As I struggled with how to put all of this into words that a 7-year-old could understand, the enemy went to work on my mind. “How can you expect her to be a virgin, when you didn’t make it?” “What a hypocrite you are!” “You have no right to put that kind of pressure on her.” Then I remembered one conversation I had had with my father a long time ago, in which he warned me about drinking. I don’t remember his words exactly, but they were something along the lines of, “You don’t want to drink, like Daddy does. You’re smarter than that.” My father had been an alcoholic for his entire adult life. I had seen him sloppy drunk on many occasions. I had heard him slur his words. I had been awakened by his phone call from the police station, where he’d been locked up for driving under the influence. I had witnessed loud arguments between him and my mother about and fueled by his drinking. As a child, I had hidden from him sometimes when he came to pick me up from school because I was so ashamed of him. Almost every really horrible memory I have from childhood, is associated with my father’s abuse of alcohol. So when he pleaded with me not to drink like he did, I listened and ultimately I obeyed.
Of all the anti-drug and alcohol campaigns I have seen or been subjected to, none deterred me as much as my father’s words. When you think about it – it makes perfect sense. Who better to advise against an adulterous affair than the man whose marriage didn’t survive his own. Who better to counsel an unwed mom to keep her baby than the woman who terminated her own pregnancy? Who better to encourage women on submission than the former radical feminist? Who better to warn against the pitfalls of drug addiction than the recovering crack addict. I listened to my father, because if anybody knew how bad it was to drink too much, my dad did. He was the authority on alcohol abuse. He was absolutely right. Alcohol abuse is deadly and woefully unsatisfying – just like sexual sin.
And that is exactly what I explained to my daughter. I told her that I had become sexually active thinking that it would make my life better – that I would have more fun – that I would feel grown-up. I told her that instead it made my life worse. I didn’t give her any details, but I told her that I was scared all the time (that I might be pregnant), that I got sick (contracted STD’s), that I felt really lonely (especially after “it” was over), that I couldn’t really be close to God (because my sin separated me from him – I couldn’t even bless my food – and who wanted to go to church?), and that I didn’t feel loved, or even clean (because I felt cheap and dirty) at first. Then I told her that once my sin became my habit I stopped caring about feeling close to God and for a long time I could not hear his voice. I shared with her that I became confused. I made even dumber choices that made my life even worse, and that left me really sad (At one point I suffered from clinical depression). I ended by telling her that as with all things God asks of us, staying sexually pure is her choice, but that she would gain nothing by breaking God’s heart, but would gain blessings she can’t even imagine by staying pure. “Most importantly,” I told her, “when your daughter asks you if you were a virgin when you got married, you will be able to tell her ‘Yes, I was faithful to God,’ and that will be the truth.” I think she understood.
That conversation was a while ago. The topic of sexual purity continues to come up fairly regularly in our home. Our children ask good questions that drive me as often to the word as they do to my knees. I am glad the door is open for age-appropriate, frank discussions not only about sex, but about every other topic that comes to their minds. I do my best to make sure that my children hear God’s perspective on all that we discuss, instead of Mommy’s opinion. Where the area is gray, I encourage them to search their bibles for answers so we can talk about what they discover. This way they are becoming responsible for their own relationship with God and learning to go to him directly with their questions. Of course Mykel and I are here to share what we know. We have determined to be good examples in the areas where we can and to serve as horrible warnings in the areas where we can’t. We refuse to hide our mess from our children – instead we’ve resolved to make our mess our message.
Be blessed Family!