31 May 2013

Keeping Dignity and Chasing Chastity

As young women, we all know what it’s like to have that feeling of worthlessness or being overly critical of ourselves, whether it be our bodies, our looks, our talents, our clothes- and the list goes on.  We compare ourselves to others far too much and can get lost in finding our meaning and self-worth through how we think others view us.  In reality, no one inspects us closer than ourselves, except God, our Loving Father.

If you studied the Baltimore Catechism growing up, as Dan and I did, one of the first things you memorize is: That we are made in the image and likeness of God.  That’s right.  Look in a mirror.  You are looking at someone God loved so much that He created you to be an outward expression of His love.  Growing up, my mom had a mirror on the fridge.  Under the mirror was the phrase: “The face of Christ”, meaning that when you looked at yourself in that mirror, you were looking at Christ.  I always loved this little reminder.  It helped me to act in a more Christ-like and loving way growing up.

We need to respect ourselves.  We need to realize we have self-worth.  It’s not prideful to realize we are beautiful.  In fact, it’s just the opposite.  It is prideful and insulting to respond to someone who gives you a compliment with, “Oh no, not me”.  You ARE beautiful.  We need to shine and let others see Christ radiating in us.

So what is dignity exactly?  Webster defines it as self-worth and goes on to say “dignity” is the quality or state of being honored or esteemed or being of a high rank, office or position, such as a dignitary.  I like this last word “dignitary” a lot.  My husband is a Special Agent in the Secret Service and often protects foreign dignitaries that come in from other countries.  They always act so pompous and important, and most have a complete disregard for those serving them.  However, put into the context of us as individuals, God sees each and every one of us as being worthy of honor.  He loves us and if we wrap our self-worth in Him, and in serving and loving Him by loving those He has put in our lives, He will reward us like we cannot even imagine.

Nobody’s perfect, I get it.  But when we have fallen and sinned, we must walk confidentally, like Mary Magdelene, who, in St Luke’s gospel (chapter 7), enters the home of Simon the Pharisee and washes Jesus’ feet with her tears, dries them with her hair and kisses and anoints them with ointment.  Her immense faith, believing she is loved and forgiven by her Savior, is astounding and she can challenge each one of us to believe we are forgiven and to walk in faith, confident that He loves us.  God has given us honor and we must give it back to Him.

Now, let’s put this in the context of a relationship.  Because of the sexual, instant gratification culture we sadly live in, it’s difficult to find role models we can exemplify and easier to get caught up in the material and physical.  But before we can truly love another person, we must see the beauty and worth we possess.

Do you know any young ladies who gives themselves away to men freely, as if their sexuality means nothing to them?  Some of you may have come across or heard someone say, “So and so is such a beautiful person.  Why does she date guys like that?  She deserves so much more.”  It is sad so many women today don’t think they deserve anything.  They think they’re lucky to just get a guy who “loves” them and wants to be with them.  But why can’t we demand more?  Why can’t we hold out for someone who will love and respect us like we do, in fact, deserve?  Yes, we deserve love; we deserve respect and we should look and settle for nothing less than this!  Our Creator saw fit to make us in His image and likeness.  That’s a pretty big deal.  We should be looking to date men who see our worth and want what’s best for us.

John Paul II, in Love and Responsibility, speaks of the personalist principle.  According to this principle, a person must not merely be a means to an end for another person.  Meaning, we should never treat the people in our lives like instruments for achieving our own purpose.  We are capable of our own self-determination.  We are each unique individuals.  Just as we should never treat another as an instrument for our own purpose, therefore violating their dignity, we should never let someone treat us like instruments.  JP II also talks about the utilitarian principle: that is, humans tend to seek out relationships that are most useful to them.  We seek things that maximize pleasure and comfort and avoid those things that cause pain and discomfort.  Therefore, going along with this principle, we should pursue whatever brings us comfort, advantage and benefit and avoid what causes suffering, disadvantage and loss.  Many people today approach relationships this way, and rate a person by how someone will help them achieve a certain goal or by how much fun they have with this person.  Once this practice in choosing relationships is adopted, we begin to reduce people to objects for our own enjoyment.

Aristotle believed there were 3 kinds of friendships: friendship of utility (what can someone do for you or give you), pleasant friendship (how fun someone is to be with) and virtuous friendship. The first two forms of friendships are not long-withstanding and will dissolve over time as the thing that person has to offer you changes either on your end or theirs.  In the third form of friendship, virtuous, however, the two friends are not merely united by self-interest but are united by a common goal.  JP II says that the only way two human persons can avoid using each other is to relate in pursuit of a common goal.  Put in the context of marriage, husband and wife must be subordinate to each other and to the good of their children.  They must work as a team and discern together the common aim of their family and how to best make use of their time and resources.  This latter form of friendship is what we should be looking for in any relationship.  As you begin dating, take a look at who you’re dating and why.  Do you two have each other’s best interests in mind?  Do you want to help the other grow personally, so that you can later grow together as a couple?  You must always have the other’s well-being in mind and be careful to make sure he is doing the same for you.

Early on in our relationship, Dan and I struggled a lot.  We were best friends and liked, and dare I say, even loved each other.  So, why was it a struggle?  Well, neither of us truly realized our self-worth.  No really.  I was a 17 year old high-schooler worried about weight, hair and clothes.  He seemed insecure as well, although being a guy I couldn’t really tell you why or details because men are not detail-oriented. :p  As I made my way to Steubenville for college and left him behind, and while we still needed to grow up and mature, the distance was very difficult.  I would mention another guy I talked to and he’d freak out.  He’d say he was busy with a friend and I’d get upset.  It all seems so petty now but in the moment it was real.  We wanted to make sure the other loved us so much that when the other didn’t have time for the one wanting to talk, we became very unsettled.  We placed our self-worth in how the other acted and responded instead of realizing that someone you love cannot always be there at your “beck and call”.  And that’s ok.  In fact, it’s good and healthy.  We needed to support the other one’s friendships and independence they were trying to cultivate.  We both needed to grow and stretch ourselves and take a good internal look at ourselves as individuals.  This took a long time.  We broke up.  We got back together.  We loved hanging out.  As I entered my sophomore year of college, we received news that Dan would be deployed to Iraq for 10 months.  It was the most difficult and challenging part of our relationship.  We endured all the hardships of being apart, lost ourselves when we didn’t talk for weeks, found ourselves in our weakest moments, and relished every letter and every time we did get to talk.  That deployment was one of the hardest things we’ve ever had to go through.  We had family that didn’t get it and weren’t supportive at all.  This lack of support never got in the way of us though.  By this time, I was 20, Dan 22 and we had grown a lot as a couple.  I remember going to a meeting before he came back from his deployment.  Family and loved ones of the Marines coming home were told that the first few months back together would be difficult.  It really wasn’t for us.  We were stretched and refined in those moments apart.  God used those moments to help us grow individually so that we could then grow as a couple.  We had to realize that we were amazing people on our own, with God, first and foremost.  Dan went through a deployment and saw a lot of heartache and pain.  He was amazing!  I had to go through 10 months of very little support, school, traveling and growing up a lot.  I came to realize I could rely on God and that I was good and holy and perfect in His sight.  When we were re-united we had to focus on building each other up and working together towards a common goal.  For us, that was the talk of getting married and our engagement followed soon after.

Dan and I have been very blessed.  We were each other’s first boy and girlfriend and, therefore, never had to go through the experience of dating anyone who didn’t agree with us on faith and morals.  We’ve also been blessed enough to never have had to deal with regret from past relationships.  That said, it was still difficult to remain pure, especially as the years went by and we grew closer, and especially after going through a deployment.  After Iraq, Dan joined me in Steubenville to finish school.  He had an apartment off campus and I had an apartment for 2 out of the 3 semesters he was there.  Because of this we had no one to hold us accountable but ourselves.  By the grace of God we remained chaste but I can’t stand here in front of you today saying it was easy.  We studied together a lot and ate dinner together.  We had many opportunities alone since we both had cars and could easily get away.  As a couple we had evolved and grown closer together- mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically.  It was difficult to keep the physical in check because we didn’t have to monitor how close we were growing in the other areas.  Grow closer emotionally?  Sure.  Grow closer spiritually?  Awesome!  But, grow closer physically?  Ok, but be careful.  Be on guard after not seeing each other for 10 months, and after dating for 4 years- yeah, that’ll be easy.  But we did it.  When one was weak, the other was strong.  We knew if we went too far we’d end up regretting it later and we didn’t want to have regret.  We strove to have a pure and holy relationship.  We loved the other and recognized we were worthy of love and respect and we wanted to give our beloved the same respect.

I think we sometimes think of the virtue of chastity as keeping us from expressing ourselves - we think, erroneously, that chastity restricts us from expressing love to our beloved.  Don't go too far - you can't do that-STOP!

We could try to look at it in a different way. Instead of holding us back, the practice of chastity gives us an opportunity to actively show love. In our relationship, when one of us was weak in the realm of sexuality, the other protected us from falling. Instead of seeing a moment of desire as a struggle to get what you want at the moment, a chaste couple sees that as a chance to protect the other from falling.

For guys, the desire to protect our women is deeply seated in their nature. Guys walk on the outside when on a side walk to protect their girl from an errant car. Guys drive like crazy to get their wife in labor to the hospital. Once, in Iraq, Dan heard some incoming rockets.  He found that when the rockets landed he had grabbed a female soldier and covered her with his body. 
he had no idea that he'd even thought to do that. It just happened.

Guys protect girls. It is against their nature to injure them, hurt them or let them come to harm. Chastity is nothing but an extension of this chivalry. Ignoring chastity could put your beloved in a compromising situation, that could cause heartbreak, emotional hurt, or worse.

More than that, it puts your beloved down a path that leads away from Jesus and Heaven. In all of your relationships, remember we are our brothers and sisters keepers. We need to protect one another from falling. We need to guide each other to something greater, to somewhere greater.

There's no greater love than to give your life for someone else.  Two hours east of Buffalo, in Scio, NY, Dan assisted in the military funeral of a young Marine, Cpl. Dunham, who was posthumanously awarded the Medal of Honor for jumping on a grenade to save his fellow Marines. He was a hero.

In chasing chastity, we can be heroes too. We can sacrifice our bodies and desires to protect our beloved.  It's only by doing just that that we can find true love and honor in our relationships. If we chose not too, and let that grenade go off, everyone gets injured.

Chastity is responsible love - it says, "She is beautiful, she is mine, and come hell or high water, I can and will protect her!" Protect your beloved like a mother bear protects her cubs and expect nothing less from someone you’re dating.

There's a battle going on for our souls. Fight back. One is alone, but two (you and your beloved) is an army. And with God on your side, you'll never lose. I’m not saying its going to be easy. You might get hurt along the way but hey, that means you fought for something.  God doesn't expect you to win every time, 
He just asks that you not give up. Keep fighting and God will not be outdone in generosity.

Our life stands as proof to that.