I was about 16 when my good friend from church, Mike, and I started thinking and talking with each other about how far it was okay to go in physical intimacy with girls. My Dad was our pastor and, of course, I grew up in a Christian home. Mike’s parents were divorced — his Mom was a Christian, but his Dad wasn’t, and Mike had a fairly wild older sister. Mike and I were both basically good kids and wanted to do what was right in the area of physical intimacy, but my Dad never really gave me much guidance in this area and Mike’s dad’s advice probably would’ve been to go ahead and sleep around.
As I recall our basic outlook on the subject was, as any teenage guy’s would be, that we were extremely attracted to good-looking girls and, while we had never been involved with a girl in any way at that point, we were sure eager to explore this new and inviting frontier. At the same time, we were also just beginning to explore a more heartfelt Christian faith and we had some sense that the Bible had something to say about how we should conduct ourselves in this arena.
So we asked James, our youth pastor, a great guy of about 25, for whom we both had a profound respect and whose company we enjoyed a lot. James pointed us to a book called Sex for Christians, by Lewis Smedes, who was then a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary in California. I don’t recall that we read the whole book, but I do remember that it was clear that sexual intercourse was something that was to be reserved for marriage. That made sense to me, as marriage is the ultimate commitment of mind and heart to another person, and it stood to reason that the ultimate physical commitment between two people should not preceed these other commitments, but rather should accompany them.
But short of knowing I should abstain from actual intercourse, I didn’t have much guidance to go on.
In the summer after high school graduation, I went away for a week with my church youth group to build houses for people living in a dump in Mexico. Seeing the plight of the people we were trying to help was deeply moving. But what is most memorable to me from that week was that, one evening when we were all together singing praise songs, I felt what I can only describe as the presence of God. I came back home eager to get serious about my faith.
About two months later, I was off to college far from home and knowing no one. I was pretty innocent. I had never gotten drunk or done drugs or been involved with girls at all. James, my youth pastor, had been thoughtful enough to find out who the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship leader was at my college and I aimed to connect with these fellow Christians when I arrived.
From the first night at college, however, I was knocked off the rails. A junior down the hall in my dorm took me under her wing and led me off to a party on campus. They were serving punch and, having quite a sweet tooth, I downed cup after cup of it. Little did I know that it had been spiked with grain alcohol, a nearly tasteless 190-proof liquid that rapidly began to alter my consciousness. Along with a few beers, the combined effect had me vomiting in the closest bathroom. I was so far gone that I had to be helped back to my dorm room, where I passed out and slept the rest of the night. The next morning, I awoke feeling pretty good…for about five minutes. I then felt like heaving again and quickly lay down again — for the rest of the day.
Thus began my college career with the fire of my newfound faith getting doused right at the start. This inauspicious beginning was sadly not just a momentary blip or a minor detour. It set me in a wayward direction for about the next eight years. At some point, I made a half-hearted effort to connect with the InterVarsity folks, but I didn’t feel that I really fit in very well. I also would go to church with some frequency, but for the most part, I took the path of least resistance which led to being a mild partier and a fairly uncommitted student.
I still was aiming to save sex for marriage, which was going well as I hadn’t yet managed to hook up with too many girls. I was a shy, unassuming kid from the wrong side of the tracks in high school and none of the girls there paid any attention to me. It was a big boost to my self-esteem that a few girls were actually taking notice of me. And, almost without exception, they didn’t object to hooking up. Everyone was doing it, so along I went for the ride. And, since I didn’t know where to draw the line short of actual intercourse, I quickly succumbed to the thinking that anything short of that was basically alright.
Sometimes things would go so far that it seemed that sex might be a possibility. Yet I was still maintaining my commitment to wait until marriage, and I amazingly exercised enough self-control to keep things from going too far. If I happened to mention my commitment to the girl I was with, the likely response was, “Oh, that’s so commendable!”
“Commendable” never struck me as high praise, especially since I wasn’t really acting very commendably. I recognized it then and even more so now, when I can say with the certainty of hindsight that I would not want some guy treating my wife the way I treated girls in college. And the thought of my daughter someday being treated that way sends shivers up my spine!
Something of a crisis point came between my junior and senior years of college. Up to that point, my longest relationship had lasted about a month. But toward the end of my junior year, I became involved with a girl with whom it seemed like there was long-term potential. In fact, we managed to stay together for three whole months! One of the major areas of conflict became the fact that I wasn’t willing to have sex with her. She couldn’t understand how I could go almost all the way, but not all the way. Even still, I managed to hold to my standard and the relationship ended. I was devastated and started to do some deep thinking about why I needed to wait until marriage. I also began to question my faith. She was Jewish and I wondered what gave me the right to question her belief in God.
As my commitment to save sex for marriage was deteriorating, so was my certainty in what I had believed. Toward the end of my senior year, my defenses had weakened and my hormones and curiosity had gotten the best of me. Just before graduation I hooked up with a girl named Ellen and we slept together over a period of a few months after graduation. I didn’t even tell her it was my first time. When we had sex, I felt stupid and almost alone, even though I was engaging in something that was designed to bring a man and a woman into profound closeness. Our relationship sputtered on for several more months, but I knew she wasn’t the right woman for me and finally I had the courage to call it quits.
A couple of years passed with no real relationship possibilities until I met a woman who caught my eye at a friend’s party one evening. Irene and I hit it off quickly, and though we lived in different cities, we kept a long distance relationship going for over a year. We began to talk about marriage and, as I was getting weary of my job, I decided to move, and, in fact, I moved in with her.
I had no idea the biggest crisis in my life was fast approaching. The Bible speaks of the Prodigal Son “coming to himself” when he was at his lowest point. Eight years previous I had felt the presence of God, calling me to follow him. Now at 26, I had allowed myself to venture far along the path of easy fun and superficial relationships. I was seriously contemplating spending the rest of my life with a woman who I realized, as I began to come to my senses, was not someone I wanted to marry.
I didn’t know what to do. I felt trapped. Irene was pressuring me to get married. We went shopping for rings, and foolishly, I spent a lot of money on a ring and then proposed to her. We even set a date. After this, I began to feel like a trapped animal. I went out one afternoon with my good friend Mike and just talked incessantly the whole afternoon about my situation. In addition to feeling like I was about to make a huge mistake, I was also beginning to feel stirrings of wanting to recommit to Jesus, from whom I had turned away eight years before. I began to see more clearly that I did not want to be living with a woman I was not married to — I didn’t even want to sleep with her any more.
It finally became crystal clear to me that I would have to stop sleeping with Irene, move out of her house and end the relationship. It took a few weeks, but I was finally able to work up the courage to do this. She did not take it well, to put it extraordinarily mildly.
At the same time, I did what I should have done eight years before. Whereas I had felt the presence of God that week in Mexico when I was 18, I didn’t know that I needed to make a definite commitment to Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. And none of the adults in my life at that time helped me with this. Maybe they assumed because I was a pastor’s kid, I had already taken this step. But this time I knew that I had to turn completely around, walk away from the direction I had been headed in my life (the Bible calls this “repentance”) and put myself in Jesus’ hands. I had messed up big-time and I knew I could only go forward with His help. I’m a pretty introverted, nondemonstrative person, but during the days of this crisis, I remember driving in the car, crying and praying out loud to Jesus to help me, to forgive me and to guide me forward to a much better place.
And He did. Irene talked about taking her own life in the weeks after our split. She kept asking if we couldn’t just get back together. Some of my good friends went to her aid and, after hearing her side of the story, sided with her and against me. I had about two days of wavering, where I questioned whether I’d done the right thing. But after that, I felt a deep peace and certainty that I was headed in the right direction.
I’ve been a U2 fan for a long time and one of my favorite songs is “40” from the “War” album. The song is a recitation of the words of Psalm 40, which I hung onto in those difficult days:
I waited patiently for the Lord;
And He inclined to me and heard my cry.
He brought me up out of the pit of destruction,
out of the miry clay,
And He set my feet upon a rock, making my footsteps firm.
He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God;
Many will see and fear
And will trust in the Lord (Psalm 40:1-3 NASB).
The months after this big crisis were the most difficult of my life. I had to find a new job and I lacked direction. I began to go to church every Sunday — something I hadn’t done since I was in high school. I tried to read the Bible and pray every day, not always successfully, but at least I was trying! And I got together regularly with Mike to talk and pray. He had also wandered from God and was getting more serious about his faith just at the same time I was. This was a real blessing to both of us.
As I grew in my trust in God and His faithfulness, I became interested in Christian mission work. One Sunday, I saw in the church bulletin that a man who started a ministry in South Africa was coming to speak at our church. South Africa had interested me since college days, and I thought it would be fascinating if I could somehow go there to work with a Christian organization. After he spoke, I asked him if this was possible and he said that it was, though I would have to raise money to cover all my own expenses. Thankfully, one of the pastors from the church guided me in doing just that. Eighteen months later, I was on my way to South Africa, where for three years, I worked alongside this great man of God.
I was in my early 30s and wondering if I would ever find a wife. I felt like I’d messed up enough with women that I certainly was not deserving of a godly woman, but I was also learning that my Father was a God of mercy and grace. I prayed to Him to lead me to the right woman.
When I returned home, I signed up to become a counselor at a Christian summer camp for inner city kids, and I returned to the church I had been going to before I left for Africa. During class one Sunday, an attractive woman caught my eye. I had no idea who she was. Several weeks later, Mike and I went on a church retreat in the mountains so we could get to know some more people. When people asked what I did, I would reply, “I’m going to be a counselor at a Christian camp for inner city kids.” Then invariably they would say, “Oh, you should talk to Amy Grether; she works with a Christian ministry in the inner city.”
Hmm, I thought, Amy Grether — I wonder who she is.
Later that evening I was walking back to my cabin and a woman I already knew came walking along with the very attractive woman who I had noticed at church. She said, “Jason, I’d like you to meet my friend, Amy Grether.” Bingo!
I saw Amy briefly a few times over the summer and finally when I returned from the camp, I was able to work up the courage to ask her out. The problem was, though, I’d never actually asked or taken a woman out on a date! All my previous experience was in the pathetic realm of hooking up. Poor Mike, I had to keep calling him for advice.
Amy was always gracious and patient with me, and especially so when the time came for me to tell her about my past. She had been waiting for the right man and saving herself for marriage. I dreaded relating to her the sordid way I had conducted myself with women for so many years. And it was hard for her to hear — her tears drove daggers into my heart.
But God had brought to me a woman of courage and grace who wanted a real relationship of depth and maturity. Because we were committed to waiting for sex until we were married, we were able to talk, become friends and even pray together.
About two years after we met, we were married. A year after that, we both went to South Africa to work with the same mission organization I’d worked with before. The Lord blessed us with four totally lovable children. We’ve had an extraordinarily blessed marriage and life together. I wish I’d followed God the whole way along and done things His way at every point. But, despite my waywardness, He’s forgiven and restored me, providing blessing far beyond what I could’ve imagined.
As for my time in the wilderness, God has promised that “I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten” (Joel 2:25 NKJVTM).
This story was excerpted from the new book Purity’s Big Payoff/Premarital Sex is a Big Rip-off, edited by Donna Lee Schillinger.
The most difficult task in the life of a Christian single today is maintaining purity until marriage. The payoff is perfect love and sex, just as our Creator intended. But if that’s so awesome, why aren’t more people choosing it? And how can premarital sex be so bad if so many people are doing it and loving it? People who were virgins when they married aren’t usually the type to kiss and tell. And when premarital sex goes wrong, no one wants to Tweet it. This awkward silence from both contingents isn’t helping the next generation to decide well on the issue of premarital sex.
Purity’s Big Payoff/Premarital Sex is a Big Rip-off is a collection of 17 first-person narratives about successfully waiting for marriage to have sex—or not. Contributors on both sides of the issue candidly share in face-reddening detail what they learned on their way to the wedding bed. Young people aiming to remain pure will be encouraged and learn practical strategies for resisting sexual temptation. Those who wish they had waited will learn that it’s never too late to restore purity with God’s grace.
Learn more at PuritysBigPayoff.com. Now on sale at major online booksellers, through your local bookstore or for a special price of $12 plus free shipping at www.OnMyOwnNow.com, which receives as a donation half of the proceeds of its sales. Also available in Kindle through Amazon.com.
También en español: La Gran Recompensa de la Pureza / La Gran Estafa del Sexo Prematrimonial. Visite www.VivaLaPureza.info.