A few years ago I was dating someone who was living what she called an abstinent lifestyle. Her consecration dictated that she’d have no lover before marriage; and further her courtship was to be a spiritual walk during which she’d be able to determine how’d “equally yoked” they’d both be. A relationship like that brings with it all types of challenges.
I may have thought that I was confident and spiritually grounded, but I learned some very interesting things about my tolerance of others’ beliefs during my journey.
One Lenten season, I asked my girlfriend what (if anything) she’d given up for Lent. I’m not catholic but I believe in self-sacrifice in the 40 days leading up to Easter Sunday. I smile at the idea of giving up chocolate or soda in hopes that the sacrifice may evolve into a healthier lifestyle. I’ve been successful on a few occasions, but usually become glutinous on the other side of the “fast.” But my faith has not required me to give too much of myself. Moderation. Moderation… A mustard seed of faith is all that is required. No need for extra!
Well, she didn’t see it the same way. Her response sent us down a path of true faith-building that would last years. She said, “I’m giving up intimacy.”
Our relationship had already been defined by abstinence that was occasionally diluted by kissing and heavy petting. I was in uncharted territory but defended (to myself) that I had already endured a sexless marriage. If distance can make the heart grow fonder, then abstinence can make for short engagements, RiGhT??
So to try something new would be as easy as offering a kid an amalgamation of fresh uncooked vegetables. Carrots, celery, broccoli, and cauliflower…
Not so fast!
And that’s what she said…often! Shaking my head sadly, I accepted the rules of engagement. (Pun intended!)
So she’d given up intimacy. In search of just one more simile, it was like asking a diabetic to give up chocolate. I had to question the lunacy.
“Who told you to do THAT!?!” One of the stupidest questions I could ask, I realize now.
“God!” she affirmed.
“Well, did He tell you that you couldn’t stay here anymore?”
“You mean I can’t spend the night?”
I suppose at the time I was more superstitious than religious. My faith wavered more towards punishment than grace. And I was already certain that if I pressed this 40 year old virgin to give in to her hormonal urges, I would be struck by lightening for sure.
I had figured that this would signal the end of the relationship. I was not offering a compromise, nor did I plan on playing games with our emotions. After all, a direction from the Lord did not require my consent.
For me it was a spiritual awakening–an opportunity to assert my own beliefs, develop a sense of responsibility, and most importantly model for my own daughter a balance between religion and self-love.
She asked, “what will you be giving up for lent?”
“Guilt! I’ll be giving up guilt.”
“What do you mean?”
“What I mean IS that I’m tired of feeling guilty.”
Lust, gluttony, sloth, greed, wrath, pride, envy…cardinal vices. Carnal too. Flesh. The world…
I’m being asked to live according to someone else’s standards. I’m expected to live a life of decency despite the temptations that my brothers (and sisters) in Christ lay before me (?) and, AND, and…
This was years ago. I recount the years that have passed since my life changed. The seasons have cycled many times, but one theme has become constant in my life. I now live guiltless.
That doesn’t mean that I live carefree; nor does it mean that I allow myself to discard the beliefs of others. What it means is that I refuse to allow someone else to project their values on to me.
I can not feel bad because someone else has regret. I must not be held accountable for someone else’s hang ups. I must be free from their sin.
“You mean I can’t stay here for 40 nights?”
“You can not stay here at ALL!”
The love I had for her changed that day. It grew less as my heart and brain began to work together for the first time in my life.
I began to reason with my own conscience. I began to question how my faith drives my actions. I developed the ability to say “no”. And only after years of practice have I become proficient in saying this too:
“I don’t believe that I can offer you what you deserve…”
What do we deserve? We deserve to be happy.
Happiness requires our own actions–our own growth and development–hard work and dedication–and most importantly…faith.
No one can give us that.
And that is what she wanted. She wanted me to have faith in HER. She wanted me to adhere to her belief system and to honor her in the ways that she wanted (that were also subject to change whenever HER god saw fit). The god in her was not the God in me.
And the God in me said, “no more”.
The God in me said, “I release you from your own chains and the invisible chains that have shackled you to your ‘future queen'”.
“You can never stay here again.”
“But I’ve come all this way for you!” she exclaimed.
“Don’t come here. I have children who are watching me closely. I have a daughter to whom I should never have to explain that we sleep next to each other, but we don’t touch each other. I don’t want to lie… down to anyone. I don’t want to feel guilty!”
I stood up. Standing on promises. Standing up for my future generations. Building a new legacy. Starting now…no wait. Starting NOW. No wait! StArTiNg…NoW
Christ died for my sin. He spread his arms wide, and His believers cried…so that I may never have to cry again.
“I don’t have to die. I don’t have to cry. And I don’t have to lie (or lay) next to you again.”
She left. And although she came back, she didn’t stay.
She didn’t stay.
Forty days passed. And 40 more. Till there were no more.
“Don’t let the door…hit you on the way out.” What began as a challenge, became a life lesson and a new diet–a diet filled with moderation and understanding and a relationship with God that was far greater than a relationship with any person.
Someone else can bear that cross. Some other man will make her sacrifice. If it goes well, it won’t be a sacrifice at all.
But isn’t Love a sacrifice. Must it be? I may never know again. But that’s a beautiful thing too. Not knowing…there can be beauty it not knowing. But it can be painful as well. Devine agony.
What agony, to love no more?
And now her beliefs are beheld by another, till death do them part.
I recall a time when that destiny was mine. But with the will to change (my mind) and the desire to live for me, I am guilt free.
And no less…
I am guiltless.