Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Perfect Gift

I was in love with him--so deeply, completely in love.
My boyfriend and I had been in a relationship for a short time, but I felt like I had always known him.  He occupied my thoughts almost always and I counted the hours until I could hear his voice or see his face.  I had thought I had known love before him, but I had been so wrong; those were only shadows of what was to come.  With him, it was so different.  It was true love.
Perhaps you can relate.  Maybe you find yourself captivated by your true love.
When your heart is taken by true love, it's only natural that this love seeks a way to express itself.  The feelings are overwhelming and no matter how many times you exclaim, "I love you!" the words never seem to convey what lies in the depth of your heart, how deeply you have been touched by this other being.
And so, true love seeks expression.  It's not enough to feel it inside, bubbling and growing within you.  It must burst forth in some conveyable manner to let your beloved know exactly how much you truly love him or her.
What is the perfect gift, then, to give your beloved?  Mere objects will not do.  No, material gifts fall too short.  Roses, chocolate, jewelry--these never fully express true love.
When in the throes of love, I think all men and women reach an identical conclusion.  The only gift that could possibly express your feelings is the gift of yourself.  True love compels you to desire oneness with your beloved; nothing but this closeness, this physical unity of two becoming one, can fully express your love.
Could there be a greater physical expression of love than sexual union?  Could there be a greater gift than physically giving yourself to your beloved?  Is there a more intimate or more perfect way to communicate your love?

Chris and I met online and it was several weeks until we actually saw each other in person.  That first date, though simplistic at a first glance, was epic and, as he hugged me goodbye, I felt it: a spark, the fire of love igniting in my heart.
As our relationship grew, so did our love and our desire to express that love to each other.  In my mind, I returned to those questions...could there be a greater physical expression of love than sexual union?  What greater gift could I give to my boyfriend than the very gift of myself?
He and I both knew the answer.  It's been affirmed in my mind a million times and the truth of it resounds in my heart.
Yes, there is a more perfect gift.  Yes, there is something greater, something infinitely greater that you can give your beloved.
The perfect gift?  It is indeed a giving of yourself physically, but it is more specific than that.  It's the physical gift of yourself that is permanent, exclusive, and complete.  It's saying, "I love you so much, that I am going to wait to give myself to you until I can do so for forever."
Chris and I decided to wait to be physically intimate until we were married.  It was an easy decision; at times, it was very difficult to live.  But we did it and, if could I go back, I would make the same decision, again and again and again.
Why?  Why does it matter so much: whether before or after marriage?
Our heart seeks to express itself physically.  That's why we have body language.  My husband knows right away when I am upset--not by my words, but by my facial expression.  My body expresses what my heart feels.
What does the sexual act express?  It shows that two people have become one, have given themselves completely and totally to one another in the most intimate way possible.
So when the sexual act takes place outside of marriage, what is happening is, in fact, a contradiction.  The man and woman haven't given themselves completely to each other in the permanent commitment that is marriage.  They aren't "one."  True, they may be in a committed relationship.  But I've been in relationships before.  Relationships are not permanent.  All it takes is one person to decide to leave.  It's happened to me before, both as the one left behind and as the one leaving.  There is nothing that substantially binds the two together: no ties of family, commitment before society, or religious or moral bond.
In premarital sexual relations, the language of the body speaks lies.

As I have written before, love is, in a word, sacrifice.  It is the conscious willing of the good for your beloved, even if that requires suffering (however great) on your part.  It is the giving of yourself--when it is easy to do so and when it is hard.
It’s hard to love someone to the point of sacrifice if, whenever your beloved hurts or angers you, you can freely and easily pick up and leave that person.
Marriage entails much sacrifice.  When you enter marriage, you sacrifice some of your freedoms.  No longer are you free to leave your boyfriend or girlfriend whenever you wish.  No longer are you free to end the relationship and date other people.  You surrender this freedom: you sacrifice it for the good of your beloved.
A permanent, complete gift is always, always better than one given on a loan.
What is the opposite of love?  You may instinctively think, "Hate."  But if love is sacrifice, then the opposite of love is exploitation: making your beloved suffer for your own gain.
The sexual act can be a powerful expression of undying love, but when it occurs outside of its rightful place (marriage), instead of self-sacrificing love of the other, the man and woman will begin to use each other.  At our wedding, Chris and I permanently and completely gave ourselves to each other, before God and our friends and family.  That night, our first night together, there was no notion that either of us was using the other for pleasure.  He had given himself to me in the vow he had spoken: he was my husband for the rest of my life.   Now he was expressing that gift of himself physically.
Within marriage, every time a husband and wife engage in this marital act, they are in fact, renewing their vows.  They are saying, "I do" again and again and again.  "I love you and I give myself completely to you."  Outside of marriage, because that lifelong commitment has not been made, the sexual act becomes devalued and becomes a mere pleasure.  The man and woman begin to see each other as a means to feel good.  True love is truly sacrifice.  Where there is no sacrifice, but rather use, there is no love.

So perhaps what I say rings true for you in cases where a person has multiple and many partners and treats the whole enterprise as a rather fun activity, along the lines of (but much better than) watching a movie or kicking back a beer.  
But what about a man and woman in an exclusive, committed relationship?  They truly love each other, right?  Why can't they express it physically? Why wait?
True love involves always desiring what is best for your beloved.  Yes, you could give your beloved a gift that seems pretty good (physical intimacy before marriage). But this gift, even if it doesn’t seem like it, doesn’t put your beloved first, but instead places many strains your relationship. 
You will come to see that when you truly want what is best for your beloved, you will reserve the greater gift: sexual relations within a marriage that is permanent and exclusive.
In short, sexual relations outside of marriage will hurt--not help--your relationship.  Physical intimacy is, of course, rather easy to achieve.  But, clearly, it isn't the only form of intimacy.  A couple can become emotionally and even spiritual intimate, but this is much harder (and takes longer) to develop.  The problem is that when two people, uncommitted to each other through marriage, have sexual relations, they have found physical intimacy. But this intimacy can easily mask a fatal void.  
Emotional and spiritual intimacy take a great deal of time and effort to grow and blossom; physical intimacy is a matter of brief few moments.  Yet, a couple that is far more physically intimate than emotionally and spiritually will not last the trials of a long-term relationship (not less parenthood!).  This is why the divorce rates among those who did not wait until marriage to have relations are so very high.  
You may know your boyfriend or girlfriend physically, but how well do you really know this person emotionally or spiritually?  The heart can be a scary place: we can all keep dark secrets locked in there, vices and personal flaws we don't like to think about.  Don't wait until after marriage to really get to know your loved one.
Giving into the desire for sexual relations before marriage also prepares you badly for married life because it provides instant physical gratification, at will.  It doesn’t prepare anyone for the self-control required of a good marriage.  Marriage is not easy: it’s a big and routine sacrifice.  It doesn’t come naturally to always put the good of your spouse (and children) before your own wants and needs.  If you are both used to feeling good whenever you want to feel good, you’ll find it that much harder to swallow your pride (and what you want) in favor of a greater good.
And many times, it is really, really hard to choose the greater good, when that lesser good is so appealing.  Chris and I decided to wait until marriage for physical intimacy, but it was a battle to do so.  I am being precise when I say a “battle.”  It's not for the faint of heart.  But, then again, neither is marriage (or any other glorious yet demanding endeavor).  
Dating and engagement are both training ground for your lifelong (and challenging) vocation.  Train yourself before marriage to develop self-control.  If you can routinely deny yourself in little things, when the time comes for much bigger self-denial for your beloved, you will be ready to do so.  Every marathon runner began by making that short run just a little longer.

I would be greatly remiss to leave out one final point.  You see, premarital relations negatively affect more than just the relationship with your beloved. 
We aren’t mere physical bodies ambling about the earth.  Each one of us also has a soul.  And what we do with our bodies—good or evil—will inevitably affect our soul.  Sexual relations before marriage weaken and harm the relationship between man and woman, but even worse, they can destroy the relationship between man and God. 
I could cite many sociological reasons and statistics for waiting until marriage, but the strongest reason is a spiritual one: having sexual relations outside of marriage (fornication) is a mortal or deadly sin—the most severe kind of wrong doing, which completely separates one from God.
Just imagine a plant, separated from any form of light.  Without the sustenance and energy it receives from sunlight, the plant will inevitably die.  God is the source of light for your soul.  So when you become separated from the source light, which happens with serious sin, the life of the soul will begin to starve.  But perhaps the scariest thing is that, once accustomed to the darkness, you don’t really notice it anymore.  It looks normal.  That’s why playing with this kind of fire is so downright dangerous.    
But the question remains: why are sexual relations outside of marriage really that seriously wrong—deadly even?
It’s helpful to consider what happens when two people are married.  For Catholics, this is a sacrament and two things are necessary for it.  The first is the vows spoken by the woman and man.  And the second?  It is the physical component: the bodies of the couple themselves.  In fact, the sacrament that takes place on the wedding day isn’t completely fulfilled until the newly married husband and wife engage in the marital act—sexual relations. 
Our bodies are holy; our bodies are the stuff of the sacrament.  Sexual relations are sacred…they are the completion of the marital sacrament. 

Outside of marriage, a man and woman engaging in sexual relations are taking something sacred and misusing it.  Our bodies are so precious and personal—a true gift to us—that it’s a big deal to misuse them.  The druggie who hallows out his frame from repeated overdosing fails to use his body well and it becomes serious.  That’s what deadly sins can do to us.

Never forget that sexual relations have a beautiful purpose and are part of a powerful plan for our lives and our love.  But to stray away from this plan, the man and woman not only start to distance themselves from each another, but (even worse) build a wall between themselves and the Creator of their lives and their love. 

Misplaced sexual relations will ultimately make you lose that strong relationship with your beloved.  But be careful, for you could even lose your very soul.

My wedding night was the most amazing night of my life because Chris and I gave each other the perfect gift: the total, exclusive, and permanent gift of ourselves.  That daily sacrifice of waiting until marriage produced an indescribable joy in our hearts: it was so worth it!
Let me say: this has been a very difficult post for me to write.  I don't want my words to hurt anyone, especially any family and friends who may not agree with what I have said.  Instead, I really want to see those I love happy.  The reality about dating, marriage, and sexual relations resounds so strongly in my heart and in my experience that it deeply hurts me to see those I care about hampering their efforts to give and experience love.  
I want you, dear reader, to know the indescribable joy of giving the perfect gift. 
If anything resonated in your heart from this post, but you just don't know how to turn ideals into reality, tomorrow I will be writing about how to practically and concretely implement this awesome way of loving.  As I said, it's a constant battle.  But don't worry--you won't be defenseless.

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