This blog starts with a definition, followed by a confession: Firstly, I want to define chastity. If you look up the definition of “chastity” in a dictionary, the first few definitions will say something like “abstaining for all sexual intercourse” or “see – chastity belt”. Not exactly the definition I’m going for here. If you dig deeper into the definition of chastity you might find this definition: “purity in conduct and intention”. Ah, that’s more like it. For the purpose of this blog, chastity will be defined as just that – aligning your intentions and actions with purity of heart, with good intentions, with mindful consideration of the people around you. Chastity is unselfish, and even in the face of lust, stands firm in the belief that denial of self for love of another is the best way to go.
Alright, definition down. Now on to the harder part, a confession:
It’s a problem, because well, it’s not the kind of cognitive activity I should be engaging in, but they can be difficult to resist at times (I’m being completely honest here).
Let’s continue being honest – unchaste thoughts can be fun (read: not necessarily good, but fun. Oh, concupiscence). Ever looked at a picture of a celebrity on the beach, and thought, “Nice work, God, nice work”? Sometimes these thoughts feel natural. Sometimes they are pretty innocent, and give glimpses into the gift that God has imprinted into all of us – our sexuality. God’s design for sexuality is a thing of remarkable beauty, meant to draw souls together and cause two people to selflessly give of themselves until they lose sense of where one ends and the other begins. So to glimpse it and desire it is not bad necessarily – it’s natural to desire what God has created. Sexual temptation is so alluring because of what it could be. It’s a glorious (and potentially dangerous) thing in and of itself; it can point us toward heaven or lead us to sin, depending on what we do with it.
I think it sometimes becomes a problem when that natural desire gets stuck. When it’s premature and has nowhere to go because the vocation hasn’t been fulfilled and the covenants haven’t been made, it twists and turns on itself. It becomes distorted and instead of being something that is self-less and pure, it becomes selfish and blurred. When the desire is misunderstood and/or indulged in for selfish pleasure, it moves away from its true purpose. (Note: Chastity can still be in an issue in marriage, but that is a blog topic for another day.)
That happens with me – I have these thoughts and because they are not fulfilled – because they can’t be right now for whatever reason – they twist into something they shouldn’t be. I find myself having them for the sake of having them, because in that moment they take me away from myself, and transport me to a place of cheap distraction. But it’s short lived because it’s empty. It has become about me, and not about my future spouse or about God. What starts as an honest desire, becomes something impure, imperfect. I’m not denying myself for the good of another in that moment. I am indulging in something because it’s just fun or distracting for me.
And it’s so easy to fall in. It’s always there, that temptation to think about things we shouldn’t. It’s easy and accessible because it’s right in our heads, or plastered on billboards or TV screens or the internet. It’s a slippery slope that our society likes to bombard us with 24/7. Sometimes we fall in it just because we feel lonely. Sometimes we fall in it because it’s an escape from stress or anxiety or some other negative feeling. Sometimes we fall in it out of boredom or curiosity. Sometimes we fall in it because we’re hormonal and our brains kick into procreation mode (they weren’t kidding about the biological clock thing). There are many reasons why we might give into the temptation to be unchaste, but they all have one thing in common: they focus on the self. When that happens, our God-given desire becomes stripped of the God part, of the love part, and becomes something self-centered and loses the purity of love.
If we take lust a step further, say into the context of intimacy before marriage, we get into tricky waters. If we follow lust into its depth, we begin to speak a language with our bodies that is false. We are saying “I love you forever and ever”, when really, since we’re lacking that whole being-united-in-holy-matrimony thing, all we’re really is saying “I love the way this feels, and I might love you, but there’s nothing holding me here besides desire”. We could have the best of intentions, intending to marry that person some day and everything, but since we’re human, we can’t make any promises, not without God’s grace. And we don’t get God’s grace in marriage without that capital “S” Sacrament. Without that, intimacy becomes a lie because it is incomplete.
The problem is, I don’t want to lie to my future spouse. I want to love him. I want to protect him and help him grow. I want to help him get closer to God. I can’t do that if I’m having unchecked, unchaste thoughts all the time. And so, when I find myself in the grips of an unchaste thought, I stop, and pray to God to help untwist me. But oh man, it is not always an easy prayer. It’s frustrating until I remember that I am dying to myself in that moment. Self-denial is not pleasant, which makes sense because it is a small death. Death is painful. But I was denying myself for the good of my future marriage. It may be crazy difficult in the moment, but afterwards, I feel the steady peace that comes with moving closer to God’s will.
I realized that I am called to die to myself every time I am tempted by lust. EVERY TIME. No wonder being chaste is so hard! You have to die to yourself so often! Especially before marriage. You have to deny yourself something AWESOME. It sucks in the moment because we are creatures who want everything now. But I believe that it is for the greater good. Every time we deny ourselves, we help each other grow towards God and grow towards each other. We’re working towards a higher goal. It’s tough work. But good work.
Since I am discerning my vocation to married life, I am discerning what it is to be a good wife. That starts now. I have to practice chastity, so that I can love my husband the way God is calling me to. Not only that, but by practicing chastity now, I am protecting my future spouse (and myself) and loving them in the way I feel God is calling me to. I don’t want to add anymore wounds to their heart. I want them to be a better person because I love them the right way. The way they deserve to be loved.
Love, it turns out, is a commitment to die to oneself over and over as an act of charity and sacrifice, for the sole purpose of bringing the beloved closer to heaven, closer to Love itself. The act of love brings us back to the beginning, and points us toward the end, which are actually the same place: God’s heart.
That is what I want to do. I want to love. I want to love all of God’s people, no matter who they are or what they’ve done. I want to serve Him by loving – and suffering – like Him. And I want to learn to love as He loves: completely, purely, and faithfully.
“The longer the wait, the sweeter the kiss.” – Josh Turner