In Which I am a Jesus Girl
I've found a place of wonderful community, in the last couple of years, among those who share a history with me. Though I now make my church home amidst liturgy, the seasons of the Church year and communion, drunk straight from the cup of Salvation, it was not so long ago that I was preparing to go to church camp, praying about whether or not to raise my hands in worship and seriously considering saving my first kiss for marriage, along with most of the other girls in my youth group. My story is here, too.
I read a book, last year, a compilation of stories of women who have grown up evangelical: Jesus Girls. It's both lovely and hard to read because it's so relatable. It brings up memories of things I miss about that time, and dredges up things I'd rather forget. Still, no matter the emotion, it's clear that I'm not alone. There is a cloud of us.
Many of my struggles with singleness have their roots in my Jesus girl story. As I walk this road, learning to be more single-minded, it's helping me to remember where I'm coming from. It is impossible to avoid being shaped by our environments in some way, which is a beautiful and tragic thing. I hope that my story will encourage you to ponder your own.
Several times a year, we talked about "saving ourselves for marriage." It looked a bit different every time. When the whole group was together, girls and boys, my youth pastor would talk about consequences, mostly. I went to two youth groups in high school. One youth pastor had a daughter, almost our age, from a pre-marital relationship, the other resigned from his post after having an affair with one of the leaders. I had a front row seat to "consequences," not only to them, but to others.
Other times, the girls would go off by themselves and a woman, always married, would speak to us. Either she had waited to have sex until she was married (in which case she talked about how worth it waiting was), or she had not (in which case she would talk about how much there was to work through but that God's forgiveness was present even for something like this).
There was only one time that I enjoyed a "sex-talk." I was at high school camp, which was draining, loud and cliquey to this introvert whose idea of a vacation (even now) is to have a couple of hours a day to read. Again, the girls and the boys went their separate ways, but instead of the married woman, a man came to talk to us, the father of daughters. He spoke about Song of Solomon (when I mentioned this to the singer-songwriter type boy I was pining after that particular summer, you know, the one who never noticed me at all, he knew all of the references by heart). He spoke about love, and desire and how sex can be worship.
I had never heard anything like it before.
My first friend, who got pregnant before she got a ring, was at camp that year. She didn't live near me, but we talked on the phone and wrote the occasional email (this was before email was big, this may even have been before texting). She didn't want to tell me, she wasn't sure what I would say, but finally, she did. I didn't say much of anything, as she talked about her wedding plans. As far as I know, she didn't finish high school.
We would split up into small groups and talk, just six or so of us. There were always discussion questions, something to ease us out of the teen sullenness we supposedly had. Some of us did have it, the questions did not seem to help them.
My youth leader invited us to make a list of what we were looking for in our future husbands, right down to hair and eye color. Did they play the guitar? Like kids? Skateboard? She told us that she had made such a list. She made the list and prayed, and God brought her husband to her. She had known that he was her husband because he had completely fulfilled the list.
Later in high school, in another small group within another youth group, my two youth leaders were both engaged. Neither of them were over twenty. One of them told me about a binder that she had, in which she had been planning her wedding since she was nine. She bought magazines and cut out pictures that she liked, getting ready for the day when she would be able to start planning with a groom in mind.
The other was marrying one of the rock stars of the youth group. After the affair, he was the one who took the fallen youth pastor's place. She had been nervous about getting married so young, but they'd gone to counseling and come to the conclusion that "when you know, you know, so why wait?"
I've always been a student of words, so it caught in my brain and stuck somewhere that almost no one called it "extra-marital sex," it was always "pre-marital" which implied that marriage was a foregone conclusion. So did "future husband" to whom we wrote letters and prayed for and wrote about in our journals.
For that matter, sex was a foregone conclusion. Either you waited until marriage, or you didn't, but somewhere along the way, you had it.
At my conservative, Christian college, where dancing was taboo, I listened to conversations about "rings by spring" and "walking the loop" (after which you were a couple). Late at night, in the dorms, I went to many "ring downs" where an engagement ring was passed around with a candle so that everyone could see it. The newly affianced woman blew the candle out, once it had made it's way around the circle and told the engagement story in lingering detail.
By senior year, conversations were often about engagement photos, venues and where they were going to live (and sometimes babies).
At dinner, we would sit around the round table and talk about how great married sex was going to be.
This is where I'm from.
I recently heard a very wise, wonderful woman talk about how single people are perceived by the church. "About as useful as a third nostril," she said. This woman has written books, run retreats, been a speaker and participated extensively in ministry.
Somewhere along the way, I learned that marriage was part of the Christian life. I learned that I should aspire to serve beside my husband and that my gifts would complement his, by God's own design. I learned that God was a God who fulfilled lists brought to Him in prayer. I learned that it was not good for me to be alone.
Never, once, as I was growing up, did I hear singleness (let alone celibacy) discussed. It wasn't that it wasn't encouraged, it wasn't mentioned. It wasn't until much later that I discovered the words of Paul saying: "So I say to those who aren't married and to widows--it's better to stay unmarried, just as I am." (1 Corinthians 7:8).
When I go back through my journals, I still come across those letters to my future husband, who played guitar, and sometimes the drums. I get the impression that I thought that he could satisfy me, make me complete, and equip me for serving God.
I have walked through many nights, finally listening to the whispers of the Spirit: that I was chosen, that I was enough, that I was whole, before I was able to sing: I'm coming back to the heart of worship, and it's all about You, it's all about You Jesus, with no irony, only tears in my eyes.
I'm curious, are there any other Jesus Girls, (or guys?) out there? You're welcome here, and I'd love to hear your story. And if you don't resonate with these words, I'd love to hear yours as well.
For a while now, I’ve been writing Single Minded Mondays in this space. My hope is that these words will be an encouragement and a challenge both to those who are single, and those who are not. (Also, though I try not to apologize about my work, I just want you to know that they're usually not quite this long.)
I always appreciate fresh eyes and perspectives. I’d love to hear from you, in the comments, by email or on social media regarding these or other topics. And it is always an amazing honor when you all share my writing with those you know.
Thanks again for reading, sharing, commenting, pondering and praying. It truly means the world.
[photo credit, remix by Cara Strickland]