I spent my engagement on a year of service, speaking about chastity to middle and high school students. It was...a time of paradox.
Talking to five classes a day about reserving sexual intimacy for marriage while being tempted to do the opposite. Advising seventh graders to draw physical boundaries at simple kisses while navigating the more complicated boundaries of being in a serious, yet chaste relationship in your twenties. A crucible of formation and prayer wracked with frequent attacks. Awaiting my wedding, a day I was pretty sure would be among the happiest of my life, while coming to terms with the awareness that even the most beautiful earthly gifts can be idols, just a flicker when compared to the fire of divine ones.
It felt good, in a way I hoped wasn’t prideful or self-glorifying, to share my story of having stuck around too long in the wrong relationship for me, one in which I let myself be used, of writing stacks of letters to my future husband, and finding even my biggest dreams insufficient to the reality of the man I would marry; someone so sacrificial, self-giving, and pure of heart. The girls I spoke to sometimes cheered when I revealed all the letters I’d written would be a surprise for my husband-to-be in a matter of months. “And then,” said one student, “you’ll be married and you won’t have to worry about chastity anymore.”
I paused. Her words, though clearly rooted in a place of innocence and good will, didn’t sit right. But I couldn’t immediately explain why. I bumbled through an explanation that chastity doesn’t end in marriage, feeling the frustration of what seemed like a missed opportunity. On the drive home, I challenged myself to better articulate exactly why it doesn’t.
If chastity is not defined as mere abstinence, not just a list of no's but as sexual self-control for the sake of freedom and authentic love, so that your yes can be truly meaningful, of course it doesn’t end at the altar. Chastity embodies love that is free, faithful, total, and life-giving, so much so that the self-discipline and disposition to being a living gift--in whatever way that looks like, to your spouse and to others--spills over in the best way possible, changing not just your sex life, but your outlook on life in its entirety. Practically speaking, what’s the best way to do this, throughout engagement and on into marriage?
It’s natural, and so good, to anticipate the fullest physical expression of your love within marriage. Yet my thoughts on that drive home, and in the months and years since, have emphasized to me the importance of viewing that anticipation in a healthy way. I realized the notion of abandoning chaste love after marriage could easily encourage a white-knuckle attitude of just “making it through” times of abstinence, could make an idol of sex, and could become a crutch enabling a lack of self-control.
I wanted something more for my relationship: true freedom to give of myself instead of license to do whatever I wanted, a healthy perspective and respect for the gift of our sexuality instead of elevating it out of proportion as a highest, pleasure-focused good.
If, like I did, you find yourself still refining your view of abstinence, chastity, and anticipation during engagement, I encourage you to pray for a spirit of reverence in your physical relationship. Don’t feel discouraged if you recognize the need for a shift in perspective, but fortified and resolved. Authentic love and freedom aren’t a destination, but a long path. One on which we still might stumble, yet one far more exhilarating and alive than any other journey.
Your walk up the aisle is, quite literally, a walk toward Calvary: the image of a life poured out and given without reservation, for the sake of pure love. Ask for the grace to give of your own life in the same way; to imitate and embody the love of the Cross. Christ gave entirely, and invites us to do the same. His Passion and love are just that: not a milestone to reach and then move on from, but a constant outpouring of self. An invitation. He awaits us, and our yes, always.