Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Are You Strong?

Who is the strongest person that you know?

Let me take a guess: it isn’t the individual who can bench press the most.  When we talk about strength, we aren’t speaking exclusively in physical terms.  Strength is much more than muscle tone.

The woman with breast cancer, undergoing chemo, who faces her situation with courage and optimism—she’s strong, but what makes her that way? 

The firefighters, running into the burning World Trade Center to rescue those in need—they were strong, but how did they gain that strength?

Great leaders who have changed the course of history such as Washington or Lincoln--they were strong, but where did that strength come from?

Strength isn’t measured in pounds.  It’s measured in something we don’t hear of much anymore, but it’s all around us, manifest in the strong men and women who grace our lives. 

Strength is measured in something called virtue.

 All the people I mention above are people of virtue.  It’s common to associate virtue with doing good deeds and, while that is certainly a component of virtue, it’s not the whole picture.

The word “virtue” comes from the Latin words vir  and vis, which mean “man” and “strength.”  A virtuous person is, quite literally, a strong person.

Virtue is something that rises from the deep parts of one’s soul.  It’s more than accomplishing random acts of kindness; it’s a firm resolve and determination toward what is good.  It gives the person the power to give the very best of him or herself.  Virtue allows an individual to pursue the good and to choose it in thought, word, and deed.

Virtue forges one’s character.

It also makes a person free.  A person without virtue walks through life doing whatever he or she feels like.  But doing whatever strikes your fancy doesn’t make you free; on the contrary, this is precisely what will enslave you to your passions and desires. 

Virtue gives a person control over his or her reason, allowing that person to direct his or her will to freely choose what is good…especially when what is good involves something you don’t “feel like” doing.  Most people don’t “feel like” undergoing chemotherapy, running into a burning building, or leading a fledgling, divided nation.

Virtues come in an array of shapes and sizes.  There are human (natural) virtues that can come "naturally" to us: good qualities that are usually passed on through one’s upbringing and environment.  For example, my parents are very orderly people who like to keep things tidy, a virtue they have passed onto me.   These human virtues make a person happy.  (After all, happiness tends to result when you are actively pursuing what is good!)  There are also "supernatural" (moral) virtues, which are the result of God’s action.  Supernatural virtues make a person holy.

While virtue forges character, vice destroys it.  Vices are bad moral habits—the tendency toward what is not good. 

Every Wednesday I am going to be highlighting a particular virtue or vice.  As we all strive to promote peace and goodness in our lives—whether as mothers, fathers, spouses, friends, family members, workers—we need to be stronger.

To build virtue, we need to know which virtues to develop.  Similarly, to abolish vice, we need to know which vices to eliminate.

So, be sure to stop by each week for Virtue & Vice Wednesday!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Sometimes These Things Happen

I've had some great teachers in my life.  Mr. Wood, 6th grade math and science (and I don't even like those subjects!).  Mr. McPartlin, 11th grade U.S. History.  Dr. O'Connor, undergrad theology.

But perhaps the one who has taught me the most is someone who doesn't have a PhD and, as a matter of fact, hasn't even graduated from high school.

My brother, Michael, is indeed a very special person.

At 30 years of age, he possesses the innocence of a child and the wisdom of someone far beyond his years.  Despite my reading and study of theology, Michael seems to have a much clearer understanding about the mystery of life and suffering.  The fact that he cannot read hasn't hindered his ability to know these deep, profound truths.

A broad smile and joyful laughter frequently prevent many from realizing that Michael carries a very heavy cross.  Though, as I said, you would never know it.  Michael isn't one to feel sorry for himself, though someone could say he might be fully justified if he did.

You see, Michael has a long list of medical troubles, a list that grew significantly in just the past five years or so.  A lover of just about any and every kind of food, Michael is now restricted to a clear liquid diet and has a feeding tube.  Imagine if all you could eat is chicken broth, jello, and popsicles.  But, on top of that, I can't count the number of times he's been admitted to the hospital the past few years, sometimes for very critical medical conditions.

And yet...there is a silence from him.  A silent acceptance, day in and day out.  It's a silence that speaks louder to me than any homily, textbook, or lecture.

Let me just share one recent experience.  On Wednesday of this week, Michael went into the radiology department at the local hospital to have his feeding tube replaced, which is a routine procedure.  When he arrived home, he began having pretty severe stomach pain and couldn't keep any food down.  Following an afternoon of back-and-forth calls with the hospital and a medicinal attempt to fix the problem, he was eventually put on an ambulance and sent to the ER.  Turns out part of the feeding tube became misplaced and was blocking anything from exiting his stomach.  Yes, that would create severe stomach pain.

My reaction to the situation?  On the one hand was sorrow and regret.  Michael suffers from enough physical troubles.  Why should there be one more, especially something that was unnecessary?  The chances of having complications from a feeding tube replacement are so rare...why does it have to be our Michael who is the one with a complication...as if he needs something else to deal with.

On the other hand was resentful judgment and anger.  How, exactly, was the feeding tube misplaced?  Did the doctors do a poor job?  Were they a little careless in doing a routine procedure?  How could they mess something like that up?

But Michael...Michael had a different reaction.  In a conversation with my aunt where he reflected upon his situation, he quite simply said, "Sometimes these things happen."

No questioning, no complaining, no resentment toward the doctors, no envying the multitude of other people who have no where near his degree of medical issues.  Just: "Sometimes these things happen."

It makes me really reflect myself.  Do I say the same thing when something unpleasant and unexpected happens in my life (generally, something of significantly smaller scale than what Michael regularly faces)?  Do I face my difficulties with patience, faith, trust, serenity, love?

Yes, sometimes these things happen and it's how we face them and how we deal with them that makes the difference.  That is, after all, why these happen in the first place.

My brother is indeed a tremendous teacher.  My job is to work on being a better student!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Happy Easter!

It was as though creation itself was preparing for the great event...

Last night we happened to look out the window and see the stunning sunset.  What an incredible sight, beckoning and heralding the triumphant sound echoing in churches across the world that very evening...


Happy Easter!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Battle Plan - Conclusion

So I have come to the final post in this series about giving the perfect gift!

As a recap, here are some strategies to help you in your relationship to reserve sexual relations until marriage and to best love your beloved:

And now, the final--and most important--strategy:

Strategy #10: If you want to love, go to the One who is Love
You don’t have to do this alone.  In fact, let me rephrase that: you can’t do this on your own.

To live a life of purity and to truly love necessitates knowing the very source and origin of love.  You and your beloved care about each other a great deal and probably know each other pretty well.  But God knows you even better and loves you infinitely.

Sexual relations outside of marriage harms your relationship with your beloved, but even graver is the damage it does to your relationship with God.  So, while you are trying to give the perfect gift, don’t neglect the repair needed in your relationship with your Creator.

First, develop true sorrow, or contrition, for your past wrongdoings.  Realize that your actions deeply offended the one who loves you the very most.  Think about the countless gifts God has given to you—your very life, your beautiful body, your relationship with your beloved—and the ways you may have misused these.  Remember your past sins with sadness because you recognize now that your actions divided you from Love itself.

Once you have this sorrow, be reconciled to God.  If you are a Catholic, go to the sacrament of Confession.  In this tremendous gift, you admit your wrongdoing and ask for forgiveness.  God, in His abundant mercy, wipes away the dark stain of sin on your soul.  The wall that you had built between you and God crumbles immediately through the power of the sacrament.  The light of grace, once blocked by the darkness of sin, floods your soul with new brilliance.  From this, you receive grace and renewed strength to fight to give the perfect gift.

The closer you approach the one who is Love, the more you will be able to truly love your beloved.  Turn to God in prayer as you and your beloved seek to give the perfect gift.  Mother Teresa once said, "Purity is the fruit of prayer."  When you are tempted, ask God to come to your assistance. 

Develop spiritual intimacy with your beloved.  The reason God calls some people to marriage is because that man and woman need each other to grow in holiness and virtue and, hopefully, to one day enter heaven.  Your spouse is your stairway into heaven.  But if you and your spouse never talk about God, how can that happen? 

Pray together.  If you feel uncomfortable, start with basic prayers (like the Our Father).  Read a book about the spiritual life together and use that as a way to initiate a conversation.  Attend Mass together on Sunday. 

On your wedding day, you make a vow to your beloved before friends and family, but most of all before God.  Don’t make a vow before someone who is a stranger to you or, even worse, someone from whom you are estranged due to serious sin. 

The sacrifice of Christ on the cross is the greatest image of love—it is a complete, total, permanent, and life-giving gift.  To give the perfect gift to your beloved, you need God.  

Love Him first and Love will show you the way.

"Only the chaste man and the chaste woman are capable of true love." ~ Blessed Pope John Paul II

"When you decide firmly to lead a clean life, chastity will not be a burden on you: it will be a crown of triumph." ~ St. Josemaria Escriva

Also helpful:

Chris & I read Christian Courtship in an Oversexed World while we were dating and it was a tremendous source of wisdom and guidance for us.  

Check out chastity.com, particularly their Q & A section, which is very in-depth.

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Battle Plan - Part V

(This is the continuation of a post about giving the perfect gift.  You can find the previous strategies here, here, here, and here!)

Strategy #8: Perseverance
When you are waging a war, you don’t always win every battle.  There will be little skirmishes, here and there, that you will lose.  There may be times you and your beloved will slip-up, fall back into old habits, compromise on your guidelines.

The key is to keep your mind on your goal: giving the perfect gift.  Don’t let losing one battle cause you to lose the whole war.  Admit your wrongdoing, stand back up, and resolve not to fall again.  The best soldier isn’t necessarily the one who is never wounded; it’s oftentimes the one who, though wounded, reenters the fray with renewed zeal and determination.

Giving the perfect gift is worth every ounce of effort and sacrifice.  It’s worth fighting for…again, again, and again.  There is never a time when it’s too late to begin anew.  There will always be a new day, a new opportunity to fight for what is true and beautiful. 

Love is sacrifice.  If you love your beloved, you will try every single day to give him or her what is best so that, even if you fall one day, the next day you’ll be even more determined to love more purely and generously.  Chris and I didn’t do everything perfectly in our relationship and engagement.  We had our falls, too—times we didn’t follow our guidelines.  It was tempting to become discouraged and to throw in the towel.  But our desire to love each other was too strong and the goal of the perfect gift too noble to ignore. 

As I walked up the aisle on our wedding day, it was, in many ways, a victory march.  Chris triumphantly waited for me at the top of the aisle.  My white wedding dress was our banner flag, waving in victory.  We had done it: we persevered in waiting to give each other the perfect gift.

Keep fighting the good fight.  Let the white of your (or your bride's) wedding dress be your victory flag of purity.  No matter your past or how many times you have fallen, pick yourself up and begin again.

Strategy #9: Hobbies
You may find, once you have created your guidelines for physical affection and are following them, that suddenly you and your beloved have a lot of free time on your hands. 

This is exactly the way it should be—the period before marriage is a discernment time.  Up until the moment you say, “I do,” you are trying to figure out if this person is your vocation, the man or woman you are meant to spend the rest of your life with.  Physical intimacy isn’t going to answer that for you; as I mentioned earlier, it often makes the answer more difficult to find.

So, with your free time, get to know your beloved better.  Take up some hobbies together.  Learn how to dance.  Go on a bike ride.  Play a game of chess or read a story together (in a library or other public place). Explore some historical sites in your local area.

Find ways to let your beloved know how much you love him or her.  Affection and romance don’t have to always be physical.  Write him or her a poem.  Create a playlist of songs that chronologically represent your relationship, or that remind you of your beloved.  Leave flowers or homemade cookies on his or her doorstep one morning. 

One of the benefits of reserving the sexual act and sexual affection for marriage is that it adds beauty and depth to things that are important and that strengthen a relationship, but otherwise may be overlooked.  Suddenly holding hands becomes something incredible precious, something absolutely romantic.

Use your free time to talk…really talk.  Have some deep, personal conversations.  What was your beloved’s most cherished memory?  What is his or her darkest fear?  Who does he or she admire the most and why?  If he or she could change one thing from the past, what would it be?  What does your beloved consider his or her greatest fault and greatest strength?  What is your beloved’s goal in life?  How would he or she define “love?”  Talk about the future.  Where does he or she see both of you in ten years?  What is his or her view regarding your roles in marriage?  How many children would he or she want?  What is most important to him or her in raising children? 

Ask these questions because the answers will help you really discern if this person is the best fit for you.  If you and your beloved have a radically different understanding of the purpose of life or the meaning of love—it’s time to figure out why and what that means for your relationship.

The time before marriage is the time to build emotional and spiritual intimacy—not physical intimacy.

Tomorrow I will post the last--and most important--battle strategy for giving the perfect gift!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Battle Plan - Part IV

(This is the continuation of a post about giving the perfect gift.  You can find the previous strategies here, here, and here.)

Strategy #7: Accountability
Remember how I said that you and your beloved should write down your guidelines for physical affection?  Those guidelines are your promise to each other.  You are accountable to those guidelines.  The minute either one of you begins to compromise on one of your resolutions, the compromiser must gently but firmly be reminded of your guidelines. 

Don’t allow little slip-ups to go by without calling them to attention.  It’s frighteningly easy to fall back into old habits.  I said that giving the perfect gift is a battle; it’s a daily battle, sometimes minute-by-minute battle.  It demands constant vigilance.

There was a time in our engagement when a kiss went on a little longer than it should have, perhaps venturing into a “step 2” territory.  I didn’t say anything to Chris at the time and he similarly said nothing to me.  I reasoned it was only a fluke and decided to let it go (the fact that it was pleasurable made it easier to “just let it go”).  The following kiss also went a little longer.  Before we could slide into step 2 or 3 zones, Chris said, “We need to revisit our guidelines because we aren’t following them.”  He held us accountable. 

One thing we found particularly helpful was having a daily “chastity check.”  At the end of our date or day spent together, before saying good night, we would do a mental review. 

First, thoughts: did I spend time dwelling upon and imagining things of a sexual nature?  We can’t control the thoughts that enter our mind, but we can certainly decide to entertain those thoughts or to dismiss them.  The problem with entertaining sexual thoughts is that thoughts spurn desires and desires spurn actions.  Keep your thoughts pure and you’ll find it’s a great deal easier to keep your actions pure, too. 

The second chastity check: what about your words?  Did you say something suggestive or something that you would be embarrassed to have your parents overhear? 

Finally, what about your actions?  Did you do something against your guidelines for physical affection? 

By having a daily chastity check where we reviewed our thoughts, words, and actions, Chris and I helped prevent little slip-ups from becoming acquired habits and, eventually, big slip-ups.

Oftentimes though, even with the aid of a daily check, it’s just not enough to have each other.  My Mom is an amazing person and, without her help and firm guidance, I don’t know if Chris and I would have had the strength to give each other the perfect gift.  She held us accountable.  At times, it really annoyed us; now, I can’t thank her enough for it.

I remember a time when Chris and I had just returned from chaperoning a trip to Washington, D.C.  We returned to my family’s house around 2 AM and both went to sleep immediately (in separate rooms and separate beds, of course).  My Mom insisted that, once my siblings and parents left for school and work that morning, I also leave the house until my Dad returned home an hour or so later.  I was absolutely exhausted and assured her that nothing would happen.  However, my Mom knew that Chris and I would be alone, in the house, and that was against our guidelines.  Despite my claims that “nothing would happen,” there was still the possibility that something could happen.  It was too big a risk; there was too much at stake.  She insisted I leave and I had no choice but to do so.  She held us accountable and we will be forever indebted to her for doing so.

(While we are on the topic, if you are a parent of a teenager or young adult, do you hold him or her accountable?  Your child needs your support, guidance, and protection in order to give the perfect gift.  Don’t be fooled by the idea, “He is an adult now; he can make his own decisions,” or, “She moved out, so it’s not my business.”  If he were about to jump off a bridge, what would you do?  You would try to stop him, of course, and direct him to safety.  Your child’s future and happiness—both in this world and in the next—are at stake here.  He or she may be annoyed, angry, and/or resentful for your involvement.  But love is willing what is best for your loved one…even when you meet opposition.  So become involved, sacrifice even if it hurts.  He or she needs you, especially when there are so many other voices out there with opposing messages.  Give him or her the loving assistance needed to give the perfect gift.)

Back to you and your beloved!  So you need to decide: what third party will hold you accountable?  If it’s not a parent, perhaps you can enlist a close friend or spiritual adviser.  Ask him or her to check-in regularly with you to see how you and your beloved are doing with regard to your physical affection.  Don’t try to do it alone.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Battle Plan - Part III

(This is the continuation of a post about giving the perfect gift.  You can find the previous strategies here and here.)

Strategy #5: Location, Location, Location
Someone going on a diet would be ill advised to spend a lot of time in a bakery.  Similarly, don’t place yourself in circumstances where it will be hard to stick to your agreed-upon guidelines for physical affection.  As may be deduced, living together would place you and your beloved in a state of tremendous temptation.  If you have resolved to reserve the marital act for marriage, then the first step is to have separate residences.  The added benefit of this is that it will make living together, as husband and wife, that much more exciting and beautiful, precisely because it will not be old hat. 

But how does the strategy of location apply to a couple that isn’t living together?  Here’s a succinct recommendation: don’t be alone.  No matter how firm your resolve or how determined you are to follow your guidelines, when you and your beloved are alone with no one else around, you are immediately placing yourself in danger.  It’s hard to keep your physical affection only to things that you would do in front of your parents, when there are no parents (or anyone else for that matter) in sight.

Chris and I were incredibly blessed in our relationship and engagement (though we didn’t fully appreciate it at the time).  We lived in separate states until we were married, so when he visited me, he would stay with my family.  We were hardly ever alone because there was always a family member nearby.  In fact, my parents (God bless them) were very conscious about making sure there was someone nearby. 

While we desired to have time, just the two of us, it was so fortunate we didn’t—because it would have been a problem for us.  Guaranteed.  How do I know this?  Confession: sometimes we would park my car somewhere to have time alone.  Most of the time we would just talk, but sometimes we would kiss and it was incredibly difficult to keep to our agreed-upon guidelines.  Sometimes we didn’t. 

Don’t overestimate your self-control or become too confident.    

Once Chris and I were married, we could bask in each other’s private company as much as we wanted, with clear consciences and joyful hearts.  But until you are married, don’t be alone together.  Go to a coffee shop, a library, a park or playground, a college campus—places where you can still enjoy each other’s company, but where you won’t be tempted to become too physically affectionate.

Strategy #6: Train Your Will
Our desires don’t always follow reason.  Massive shopping sprees, eating a gallon of ice cream—these are just two examples of desire getting out of control.  We have to train our desires, reining them in and taming them like you would a wild horse.  Desires are good, but if they are unleashed without any control, they will eventually hurt you. 

So how do you train and control your physical desires? 

Start small.  If you want to have control over your physical affection, practice physical control in other, simpler ways.  Specifically, practice little acts of self-denial.  For example, perhaps you regularly have toast and butter with your breakfast.  Try denying yourself the butter for a week.  Maybe you love your morning cup of coffee.  Don’t put in your usual two spoonfuls of sugar.  If you really want to practice self-denial, take a cold shower. 

This might sound crazy to you.  But think about it: if you can have the self-control to deny yourself a small pleasure (hot shower, extra sugar, butter), you will build up your stamina and strength so when you are tempted with physical pleasure, your reason—not your body—will maintain control. 

With practice, you will be able to deny yourself much more alluring physical pleasures for the greater good of your beloved.  Remember?  Love is sacrifice.  Let these little acts of self-denial be your shield and armor so you’ll be strong enough to battle against physical temptations.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Battle Plan - Part II

(This is the continuation of a post about giving the perfect gift.  You can find strategies #1 and 2 here.)

Strategy #3: Don’t Start the Process
The human body is really amazing and if you understand how it works, you can keep yourself out of a great deal of trouble and temptation.  The marital act (sexual relations) doesn’t just happen out of the blue.  There is a whole array of steps leading up to it.  As you progress along the first, second, third, fourth steps and beyond, you’re preparing your body for the final step. 

So, if you aren’t going to follow through with that final step until marriage, don’t start the process to begin with!  As per strategy #2, the sexual act is being reserved for marriage.  But that’s not the only thing that should wait until the honeymoon. 

Any physical affection of a sexual nature—anything that “starts the process”—should also go on hold

“This is too hard!” you might think.  Well, in many ways, no.  It’s harder to keep frustrating your body by giving it a taste and then snuffing it all out.  By starting but never finishing the process, you will be continually tempting yourself.  It will be incredibly hard to keep putting on the breaks.  You may ultimately arrive at a place in the process where you’ve passed the point of no return, so to speak. 

Don’t put yourself in that kind of predicament.  The best idea is to have another conversation with your beloved (you are going to be working very hard on emotional intimacy now!).  Talk about what “starts the process” for both of you.  Delineate what crosses the line from pure, innocent affection and affection of a sexual nature.  In our relationship, Chris and I quickly realized that even something like kissing could start the process for us—the kiss’s duration, intensity, and even the frequency of our kisses all mattered. 

This was our “litmus test”: if you can do it in front of your parents, no problem.  If you can’t…then don’t do it at all—don’t start the process.

Again, love is sacrifice.  Sacrifice these acts of physical pleasure for the good of your beloved.  You wouldn’t want to leave your beloved dangling on the edge of a cliff, for fear he or she may have a fatal fall.  Similarly, don’t place your beloved in temptation by engaging in physical affection of a sexual nature.  No, it might not be the sexual act itself, but it may well lead to that and—as mentioned before—such a thing could be deadly for your relationship and for your souls.

 Strategy #4: Set Clear, Explicit Guidelines Beforehand
When you’re incredibly attracted to someone and are being physically affectionate (by this, I don’t mean sexual relations, as per strategy #2 that is now being reserved for marriage), it’s really hard to think clearly.  Don’t wait until you are kissing to first start wondering how far is too far. 

Ideally, when you first begin a relationship, you should have a conversation with your beloved about what is and is not physically acceptable between the two of you. 

It’s never too late to have such a discussion, however, and no time is too soon to do so, if it hasn’t happened yet.  It’s a conversation you’ll need to repeat and revisit.  There may be something you do to your beloved that sends him or her to step #4, much further along in the process than you want to be.  Find out what that is and wait until your honeymoon to do that again. 

Be very clear when doing this.  For example, I mentioned above that kissing was at times a problem for Chris and me.  So, to keep our kisses outside the “step” process, we decided we would kiss no more than five times/day and each kiss wouldn’t last more than five seconds.  No passionate kissing here—not until the honeymoon.  Sound extreme?  When you love someone, you go to extremes to ensure their well-being. 

We also found that writing down our guidelines was quite helpful.  Doing so made them concrete and enabled us to reread them, as well as add to them as new issues came up.  After making our list, we each signed the bottom to make them official.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Battle Plan - Part I

Any army advancing into battle needs to have a strategy, a plan of action.  If you want to give the perfect gift, you need to be prepared to fight for it.  Engrained habits, physical desires, the longing for pleasure—these are on the offensive, to keep you from obtaining your goal. 

The strategy is to form good, healthy, truly loving habits; to tame one’s physical desires under the direction of reason and to develop firm self-control; and to redirect your longing for pleasure into the sacrificial love of willing what is best for your beloved.
Before we go into a detailed battle plan, let’s first revisit the perfect gift  Here is the “cliff notes” version of my previous post.
  •     In a relationship between a man and woman, their desire for unity and attraction to one another urges them to give of themselves physically.
  •     Love is sacrifice: willing what is best for your beloved.  If you truly love your beloved, you will give him or her the perfect gift: reserving the physical gift of yourself until the permanent, exclusive, and complete relationship that is marriage.
  •     Physical relations, when they occur outside of marriage and thus outside of the loving sacrifice marriage entails, lead the man and woman to use each other for pleasure.  Outside of marriage, love can easily become lust.
  •     Sexual relations are bad marital preparation.  They train the man and woman to expect instant gratification.  There is little practice of the self-control and self-denial that are necessary for marriage and for raising children.  Also, physical intimacy often masks voids in the relationship (such as little spiritual or emotional intimacy, both of which are key for a successful marriage).
  •     Outside of marriage, sexual relations constitute a mortal or deadly sin, capable of completely separating one from God.  In the Catholic Church, the bodies of the husband and wife are holy and the marital act completes the sacrament of matrimony.  The marital act is part of a beautiful plan for love and life, but outside of this plan, sexual relations divide a man and woman from each other…and from God.   

So, how does one go about giving the perfect gift—waiting until marriage to give yourself physically to your beloved?  When you are dating someone, how do you know what is and is not appropriate when it comes to physical affection?

Strategy #1: Enlist Your Ally…Or Start Asking Really Serious Questions
It takes two to tango.  If you’re going to give the perfect gift, you are going to need an ally.  Well, more than one, but we’ll get to that later.  You are going to need to sit down and have a chat with your beloved because, let’s face it, you both need to be on the same page with this if it’s going to work. 

Here is what you need to know: will your boyfriend or girlfriend help you reserve sexual relations for marriage?

Remember that emotional intimacy?  If you and your beloved have it, this conversation shouldn’t be too difficult, because you feel open and comfortable talking about deep and serious issues together.  If you don’t have emotional intimacy, well, now is a good time to start developing it. 

Perhaps, dear reader, you are thinking to yourself, “I could never even bring this up with my beloved.”  Why is that?  Do you think your beloved would laugh at the proposition?  Would he or she think you crazy?  But if giving the perfect gift is better for your relationship, for your marriage, for your soul…why should it be funny or crazy?  At the very least, seeing how it would be important to you, would your beloved have the respect and love for you to listen with an open mind in an effort to understand your position? 

Love is sacrifice.  So here’s the issue in a nutshell: Is your beloved willing to sacrifice physical pleasure out of love for you?

This raises many more questions.  If your beloved doesn’t agree to waiting until marriage…why not?  Does he or she value your body more than your whole self?  This sounds more like lust than love.  Does your beloved lack the self-control required to give the perfect gift?  If so, this also isn’t a good sign.  In marriage, you want a husband or wife you can depend upon and whom you can trust will be strong in times of great difficulty.  If your beloved doesn’t have control over his or her physical desires under good conditions, can you trust he or she will be faithful to you when the road gets rocky?

I know—these questions can be scary and very serious.  But if your relationship with your beloved matters to you, the answers to these questions should matter, too.  They will highlight areas where your relationship needs work and healing.  You can’t fix something if you never realize that it is broken.  In some cases, these answers may lead someone to question whether the relationship should even continue.  This is difficult, but even worse is staying in a bad relationship or making a lifelong vow to the wrong person.

Strategy #2: Quit, Cold Turkey
So let’s say you and your beloved have a long chat and you jointly agree to embark on the most worthy pursuit of giving each other the perfect gift.  This is wonderful!  Start from the beginning—open a whole new chapter to your relationship.  It is going to be hard, but if you persevere and if you try, I promise you that your relationship is going to transform and you will be free to love each other in a way that was impossible before. 

The biggest step is stopping what might have become habitual in your relationship, perhaps even a physical addiction.  The first step: stop being physically intimate.  If your hand were in flames, you wouldn’t stand there, pondering what you should do; you would yank it out of the fire immediately.  If you’re having sexual relations, but not married, your relationship is in danger.  Get out of enemy territory! 

So, simple and straightforward: the sexual act will take place only when it can rightly be called the marital act.