I remember the evening well.
It was during the spring of my eighth grade year, March 2002.
Myself and the rest of the eighth grade class at my church had finished three weeks of purity classes in youth group and reached the culmination -- the purity ceremony during which we were reminded of the importance of abstinence, affirmed our commitment to purity before our parents, signed a pledge, and were (usually) given a ring or some other token as a reminder of the commitment we'd made.
As part of the program that night, there was a skit to represent the negative consequences poor choices regarding purity could have. If you've grown up in the church, chances are you've seen or at least heart of it: "the rose" skit.
Whether done in a skit or simply used as an analogy, the message is always the same: the more people you allow to have access to your "rose" (purity), the less likely the person you ultimately intend to give it to will want it.
I grew up in the thick of the "kissed dating goodbye" era of the Christian church dating scene.
Joshua Harris published his first book, "I Kissed Dating Goodbye," in 1997, when I was just eight years old. By 2003, my freshman year in high school, a new edition had been published and according to Amazon it "remains the benchmark for books on Christian dating."
Honestly, reading that sentence made me want to punch my computer screen.
The message that came out of books like Harris' and the lessons I was taught in our eighth grade purity classes and the rose analogy/skit was that I had to be perfect in my relationships.
Going with the whole "rose" analogy, if you put a couple of roses next to each other, I can almost guarantee that every time a person will choose the most perfect rose they can find. No one wants a dirty or broken or messed up rose to give to the love of their life.
So when people compared my purity to a rose, when they told me that by engaging in relationships with other men who might not be my husband, they sent the message that if I had one failed relationship in my past or if I held hands with or--heaven forbid!--kissed one man who wasn't my future husband, then I wasn't as perfect as I could've been for him.
I'll say that again.
They sent the message that if I failed once in a relationship, if I was human, then I wasn't as perfect as I could've been for my future husband.
Do you have any idea how detrimental this kind of thinking, this kind of message, this kind of mentality is to a young Christian who so desperately wants to get it right, who already feels the need to measure up, who already feels like they need to be perfect?
I spent most of my high school years cultivating wonderful friendships with guys only to run in the opposite direction at the slightest inkling of romantic interest. I rationalized myself out of liking guys for six years because I wasn't sure he was my future husband.
I was terrified of messing up in my relationships because I thought that meant no good Christian man would ever want me after that.
I had my first kiss at the close of my college years -- quite literally the day that I finished my last college exam -- and within two months I was wracked with guilt, heave sobbing over my "mistakes," afraid no man would ever want me because I was so "impure." And all I'd done was kiss one man.
All because I thought my purity was a rose.
And now my purity was a rose that other men had handled and I would never be able to hand a perfect rose to my future husband.
Every single day I fight against the idea that because of my past (which by most counts is really nothing) I won't be good enough for a good man of God.
Every single day I fight against the fear that a man I might love will reject me because my rose isn't perfect.
Every single day I fight against the fear that I will end up alone because no one will want my rose.
That isn't something I want for myself. It isn't something I want for the children I hope to one day have. It isn't something I want for my friends and family and the people I see walking across the street.
A few months ago, the rose analogy came up in conversation with my small group girls and one of them pointed me to a clip from Matt Chandler's sermon "A Shepherd and His Unregenerate Sheep" from the 2009 Desiring God Conference for Pastors called "Jesus Wants the Rose."
Matt shares a story about how, as a freshman and college, he befriended a 26-year-old single mother who was coming back to school to get her degree. He and other friends helped her out with various things and began having conversations with her about Jesus, the Gospel, and faith. One evening, a friend of his was playing in a band at church and he invited her to come.
When the music was done, the pastor got up and began to give a sermon about sex. At the very beginning, he took a red rose and tossed it out into the audience, telling everyone that they needed to smell and touch it. As the sermon finished, he asked for his rose back. Someone handed it to him, broken and ruined. The pastor held it up and exclaimed, "NOW WHO WOULD WANT THIS ROSE?"
And Matt's response in his heart was, "JESUS WANTS THE ROSE!"
That's the point of the Gospel.
I believe that teaching young adults about purity is important, and I do believe that the Bible calls us to live lives of purity in our actions and thoughts. I believe it is important to teach them about beauty of a pure life and obedience to Christ.
But that is not what the rose analogy does.
The rose analogy does not teach young adults to value purity in a positive way. It teaches them to hold purity to such a high standard -- I would claim to a standard that makes them more important than the Gospel -- that if something in their life makes them "impure," then they have failed in the most extreme way.
It teaches them that purity is about shame, not about modeling Christ.
Whatever happened to grace? Whatever happened to mercy? Whatever happened to the beauty of the Gospel?
So, dear hearts, let's stop the cycle. Let's stop teaching people that their purity is a rose they must keep in a glass case until their future spouse drops out of the sky. Let's stop shaming them for things that will not make or break their salvation.
Let us continue teaching them the value of purity and abstinence. Let us continue to value the marriage bed. Let us continue to uphold the values of the Gospel.
But let us do so with grace for the person with the perfect rose, the broken rose, and the mutilated rose.
What are you thoughts on purity? Did you encounter the same kind of shaming while growing up? Did you have a different experience? How do you move forward and combat the lies from your childhood?