We need to be a little more careful with the messages we’re sending to our young ones. We need to be more select with the words we use that send subliminal messages to innocent, fresh-eyed children. For those children will grow up to be young men and women with expectations built up from years of misplaced ideas being put into their minds.
I understand that the intentions were only for the best. I understand that the heart behind those ideas was caring and loving. But I need to be brutally honest about the way those “caring” words and ideas affected my thinking over the years.
You see, I grew up with a too-eager-to-please, follow-the-rules kind of mindset. I figured – subconsciously – that if I followed the rules and did the right thing, people would like me and I would get the reward of happiness that comes from following said rules. And in many ways, that did come true. But unfortunately, I didn’t understand that rule-following didn’t always end in rewards – or even in the cause and effect that people in the church said it would.
Case in point? The era of the purity ring and the “True Love Waits” movement – both of which had the best of intentions. It was absolutely important to encourage young people to stay pure and wait for marriage to give themselves away physically (it still is). It was important to have safeguards in place against poor relationship choices and wasting time on casual dating that had no purpose.
But the message that I internalized was that if I stayed pure and waited, then I would be rewarded with a godly Christian husband who loved me.
And so that’s what I did. According to the church’s standards, I did everything right. I didn’t date in high school. I didn’t get kissed. I didn’t have multiple boyfriends. I wore the purity ring, I wrote the letters to my future husband, and I sought counsel from my mentors on guys I was interested in.
And yet – there was no follow-through of the husband that I expected.
This, of course, led to a multitude of doubts about myself and the thought that maybe there was something wrong with me. That maybe I hadn’t done everything right. There was a lot of pain over unmet expectations – expectations fueled largely by the church and their ideals of “walk with God and then you will find a spouse.”
I hate to break it to you, but this cause-and-effect relationship is not biblical. And neither is it realistic. Proverbs 18:22 says, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord.”
It does not say, “The Lord bestows His favor on those who follow Him by giving them a spouse.” If you “find” a wife, the verse seems to say (not “given one because you deserve it”), then that’s a good thing because God designed marriage, and He will bless you in that marriage.
On the contrary, Proverbs 19:23 says, “The fear of the Lord leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied.” There are no external rewards associated with this – it does not say, “The fear of the Lord leads to a marriage, kids, success in a career, etc.”
Rather it says, “The fear of the Lord leads to life” – life that is full, life that is rich, life that is peaceful and satisfied – all of which you can have with a spouse or without a spouse.
By building up expectations in our teenagers that we are pure so that we will get a spouse, we are encouraging the opposite of satisfaction in God. We are making our choices for an external reward, and when we don’t get that reward, we are left disillusioned and with very little motivation to keep staying pure.
What if we were to tell our young people instead to stay pure because it honors God? Because we are making our relationship with Him stronger by not settling for cheap thrills? Because we want to help our hearts to be satisfied in Christ regardless of our outward status of marriage?
I’m not saying that that message would completely remove all expectations of a spouse. But it might start moving us in a different direction. Rather than young people feeling entitled to a spouse (outwardly or inwardly), perhaps they would see it more as the delightful, undeserved blessing that it really is.
Maybe there would be a shift in the way we talk of marriage in the church – instead of constantly pointing to it as the ultimate relationship on earth, maybe we would point to our relationship with Christ as the ultimate, and marriage as an added bonus if it comes our way.
Maybe we would talk less of becoming the type of person “who’d make a great spouse,” and talk more of becoming the type of person “who’d make a great follower of Christ” (because those are ultimately the best spouses anyway).
Maybe we’d still encourage our teens to wear purity rings, but instead of pointing to their wedding night as their end goal with that ring, we’d point them to the day of Christ’s return as their reason for staying faithful in purity.
God designed marriage as a beautiful gift. Not as an idol. Not as a reward. But that which reflects His relationship with His bride, the church. It is a picture and a parable that some believers won’t participate in here on earth.
But thank goodness the parable isn’t the end destination. The shadows are fleeting, and the picture is a representation only of the real thing. And one day, every believer will partake in the fulfillment of that picture when they sit around the marriage feast of the Lamb.
Church, let’s help our young people long for that day more than their marriage day. Let’s encourage their purity for Christ their King above all else. And let’s remind them that their reward is Christ Himself. Oh, how sweet that reward is when all the promised rewards of earth don’t come through. Our God never fails us. And that’s the best promise of all.
A girl once disillusioned, but redeemed by grace