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.

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