Saturday, May 27, 2006

Emotional Purity and Broken-Heart Syndrome

"There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket - safe, dark, motionless, airless - it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell."

—C. S. Lewis[1]

There is a lot of talk in Christian home-schooling circles about 'Emotional Purity.' Just put that phrase into google and you'll be amazed how many websites come up. Although there is no single monolithic definition that everyone agrees with, in most formulations it refers to the idea that romantic emotions should not occur prior to commitment.

“Purity…” writes John Thompson, “means no physical affection or romantic emotions prior to God’s approval.”[2] By 'God's approval' Thompson means parental authorization. Emotional purity, for him, represents a complete absence of romantic emotions, thoughts, desires or aspirations, until the father says ‘Go!’ Other teachers may agree with the idea of emotional purity but not with the idea of such strong parental control. For them, it might be the young people themselves who decide to make the commitment that then authorizes the emotions.

I have a friend named Emily who had always accepted the teaching about emotional purity and believed that to have a crush on a boy amounted to nurturing an idol in her heart. However, when Emily actually found herself being attracted to a young man, she was helpless to know how to handle it. Nor were matters helped when friends began to come up to Emily and say, “Don’t you know that you are committing emotional fornication? You’re being promiscuous and I think you should be careful to save yourself totally for your future husband.”

Jonathan Lindvall manages to find scriptural justification for this odd behavior in the most unexpected parts of the Bible. He appeals to the example of Adam. When, through naming the various animals, Adam realized that he, alone among all the beasts, had no partner, God put him to sleep. Likewise, argues Lindvall, when we get to the age when our interest in the opposite sex is stirred up, God asks us to "go to sleep emotionally!"[3]

The goal here is an ideal of emotional virginity, so that when the marriage finally occurs, both people will not only have never had physical relations with anyone else, but will also be emotional virgins, having never felt anything towards anyone else. “Not only are we to be physically pure,” says Lindvall, “but we need to be emotionally pure in our hearts.”[4]

I would argue that this reasoning represents some very confused thinking. Just because a person feels an attraction that will not culminate in marriage does not make those emotions impure, unless we start by assuming our conclusion. ‘Emotional purity’ is a bad term since it presupposes that there is something impure or wrong about these emotions, as if to have such feelings defiles a person in the same way as sexual immorality.

It must be understood that this ideal of 'emotional purity' does not simply mean that young people should reserve the expression of romantic feelings until after a commitment has been made, but that the emotions and thoughts themselves must be stifled prior to commitment (which, in Lindvall's case is equivalent to parental authorization). As Lindvall clearly states,

"I have concluded that God's best for me is to teach my children not to allow themselves to cultivate romantic inclinations toward anyone until they know God has shown them this person is to be their lifelong mate...Ideally they don't even allow themselves to dream about romantic relationships. Certainly there will be struggles, but to the degree that they allow me to protect them from the emotional scars my wife and I bear, they will be spared the regrets we suffer."[5]

Lindvall explains, always with enthusiasm, his success in getting his daughter to adopt this system.

"At age twelve, I took Bethany out to dinner one evening and presented her with a golden necklace with a heart-shaped pendant formed like a padlock. There was a small keyhole and an accompanying key. I presented the pendant and necklace to her and asked her to "Give me your heart" (Prov. 23:26). 1 explained that I wanted to keep the gold key as a symbol of her trusting me with her emotions. I specifically asked her to not entertain romantic thoughts toward any young man until she and her mother and I together conclude that he is God's choice to be her husband. (There is scriptural precedent for the young people involved to be consulted and consent to a marriage arrangement.) I explained that at the beginning of her marital engagement I would give the gold key to her betrothed, and that although she might not yet love him, she would then be free to aim her heart toward him. Bethany unreservedly entrusted the symbolic gold key into my care, and with it, her heart."[6]

Some young man is going to come to me and say, 'I believe God wants me to marry your daughter.' And I'll pray about it. And if God shows me the same thing, I'm going to give him that key, and I'm going to say, 'You are authorized, and I'm going to help you woo my daughter, as she will be your help mate forever.'

In that conversation I asked Bethany to take it a little further. I asked her to commit to me that she would not be friends with any fellows. I asked her not to even be friends with boys."

Lindvall started a trend here, and now there is a website that sells “’Heart Necklace with Key’ designed for this very purpose. This is a meaningful symbol of a daughter giving her dad the key to her heart until he gives it to the man selected to be her future spouse. The inscription on the heart is ‘He who holds the key can unlock my heart.’”

One gets the feeling from all this that romantic emotions are something that can be turned on or off like a light switch. Obviously our will does play a part in the process as with everything else, however, very often the romantic feelings, crushes, and infatuations that young people experience are things that, to a large extent, cannot be controlled by the will. What can be controlled is how the person responds to these feelings that can come and go like the wind. To try to tamper with the emotions themselves, however, is bound to be unproductive. The only way to prevent such ‘unauthorized’ emotions from happening would surely be to build monasteries and nunneries to house our youth. When the time for wedding vows does arrive, the vows can directly follow the introductions.

Let us consider what happens when a child reaches puberty. As the whole person struggles to adjust to the hormonal changes that are happening, it is natural that the child will be bombarded with an array of feelings, thoughts and sensations connected with their sexuality. As the body develops, gradually things settle down, though in the case of our sexuality this may not occur for many years.

If a child's first awakenings to the world of sexuality are accompanied by an atmosphere of guilt and negativity, this will almost inevitably effect how that child responds to his or her sexuality later in life. If, however, the child can be helped to view sexual awakening and these intense inner experiences objectively and in an atmosphere of understanding, this may help not only to prevent the child from developing an unnecessary guilt complex, but also deter him or her from thinking that these sensations demand an outlet for gratification and expression. Although children should be helped to see that it is not helpful to voluntarily entertain unhealthy sexual fantasies, this needs to be done in a way so that it does not become more serious in the child's mind than it really is. There is a risk of a phobia developing about sexual or romantic thoughts which could be self-defeating, following the principle that the attempt to obliterate something from our minds necessarily involves making that thing an object of concentration. In the same way that the words, "Do not think of a purple elephant" immediately arouse in the mind the very image we are being told we must not think, so the prohibition of sexual thoughts and feelings can do more to arouse the imagination in these areas than simply ignoring them ever could.

As a young adult I went to a Bible college where a similar mentality operated. I was one among only nineteen other young adults under the burden of over a hundred written and unwritten rules. One such rule was a universal taboo on anything to do with romance. The staff of this school did their best to prevent the young people from anything that might excite them romantically. Every cassette and CD that a student brought to the school was carefully previewed, and if any love songs were found then the album or the song would be banned. The administrator of the school encouraged us to make fun of kissing when it appeared on videos, even mocking the act with disgusting lip noises like prepubescent boys tend to do. When springtime came the young men were given instruction to be extra careful, as this was the season when nature causes the hormones to play up. There was a ban on private letters and phone calls across the sexes, and Lindvall’s lectures were often played at the beginning of term. If one of the staff members noticed that a man and woman were spending too much time together, they would step in and do something. In one such case, where two people actually fell in love, the staff decided this young man and woman shouldn't be allowed to communicate at all with each other, even from their homes during the summer holidays.

The result of so much concentration on not being tempted by love was interesting. The young women often seemed to treat romance as if it was a big joke and could be flirtatious in a flippant way. The consequence of not treating love and romance seriously in the right way, meant that it was treated flippantly in a totally wrong way. I found that there was not the appropriate care taken by the girls concerning how their actions might hurt the males. On the other hand, whenever any interaction with the opposite sex was at all serious, it was pregnant with self-consciousness, introspection and guilt. Furthermore, a psychotherapist has noted that the percentage of sex abuse cases among those who had been to that school was phenomenal - far higher than the percentage among the average non-Christians sector of the population.

Why did these problems arise among those who are instructed so intensely to view romance so cynically and negatively? A similar question might be asked concerning the huge sex scandal that rocked Gothard's Illinois based organization and nearly forced Gothard into retirement.

I believe part of the answer lies in the way these concerns were handled. The devaluation, even the mocking of romance prior to the appropriate time, led to a general misconstruction of romance and love in general. Because these feelings were not aligned to a model of the high and good value of romance, it was very easy to treat them - whether consciously or unconsciously - as things that were sinful; to try to bury them in a dark closet and hope they reemerge as infrequently as possible. Often when a person has undergone this kind of unhealthy repression, it causes the thing that has been repressed to be displaced onto another area of his or her experience, so that the thing that was repressed reemerges with a new shape - a shape that the person does not recognize as stemming from the very area they thought was killed.

Another factor was the false dichotomy between the things of the spirit and the passions of the body, as if they are in competition to each other. You didn’t pursue romance because that took your mind off Christ. We thus had no idea how to give the Lord control of these areas because we expected Him to take them away. These areas were not as important to God as things like Bible memorization, study and prayer meetings and if God was interested in them at all, it was in helping us overcome them.

We also find this false divide between the spiritual world vs. the earthly realm of romance and emotions throughout Lindvall’s teaching. In Lindvall’s newsletter he shared a letter from a young man who confessed to “struggling with thinking about a girl” whom he might marry. The man wrote,

"I have prayed that God would take these thoughts from me, and have tried to stop thinking them myself, once I become aware that I am thinking about her again…. I am just frustrated, and am feeling powerless against these thoughts. (Even though my mind tells me that I'm wrong, and I do have the power to control them)."

Lindvall’s advise to help this man achieve ‘victory’ was that he turn totally to Jesus, fast, pray and try to channel his emotional energy into reading and memorizing scripture. Additionally, Lindvall quoted Colossians 3:2: "Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth."[9] Since the world of romantic emotions is seen as belonging to the inferior realm of “things of the earth”, it is at variance with our pursuit of heavenly things above. A divided field of experience ensues in which a false competition is set up between the spirit and the emotions.

As I found at the Bible college already mentioned, this fragmented and compartmentalized view of our humanity meant that Christ was not Lord of our entire person, and consequently the area of our passions remained outside of His Lordship. Because we were made to feel guilty for even having such emotions, we tended subconsciously to assume that there must be something unclean, dirty, naughty, or impure about this area of life, or else treat it clinically as mere animal instincts. Romance and passion were not viewed as something in which our whole person participated, but treated instead almost like a ‘thing’ external to us that we take on and off. It is always dangerous when life is divided into compartments like this since Christ’s Lordship should permeate all areas of life.[10]

In the rest of essay I want to explore one of the main arguments used to compel young people to cultivate this negative and unhealthy view of their emotions.

Broken Heart Syndrome

In the book Best Friends For Life, we read that "one of the great benefits of courtship is that it minimalizes as much as is humanly possible the broken-heart syndrome so many young people experience."

As this quotation indicates, the need to avoid ‘broken-heart syndrome’ is one of the primary motivations behind the courtship method. But to what exactly does ‘broken-heart syndrome’ refer?

This term, ‘broken heart syndrome’ was popularized by Lindvall to describe the painful side of romantic emotions when a person feels that their “heart is broken.” Like the term ‘emotional impurity’, it is a pejorative description that unfairly typifies certain experiences. If these people can get us to think of emotional heartache as a ‘syndrome’, then they have nearly won the argument, in so far as a ‘syndrome’ usually implies neurosis.

This is really what we should expect. When romantic love comes under censor, the next step is to take a dim view of the experience of heart broken-ness. For what does a broken heart indicate other than that one has made the fatal mistake of losing control of one's emotions in an experience of romance: that one has extended oneself too far, put too much hope or confidence in another person, slipped from the safe platform of self-control into the unpredictable sea of emotional involvement?

Similar reasons have led counsellors in the secular climate to despise broken hearts. The self-centred consumerist mentality of today has no understanding for an experience which signifies the capacity to lose yourself or feel disappointed - an experience which presupposes that there is a soul that can feel hope, rejection, betrayal, and, yes, love as well.

Sharon Thompson tells us that many girls are unhappy with the casual sex they are expected to have, and the reason for their unhappiness is because they are still "'condition[ing] sexual consent on romantic expectations.'"[11] When one girl was so traumatised by her first experience of premarital sex, the girl vowed to save sex until marriage so she could be sure the relationship meant as much to the man as it did to her. Thompson concludes that by this decision Tracey "'had gone the very same convictions that had set her up to become a victim of love in the first place.'"[12] In other words when we enter into sexual experiences with romantic expectation, we become a victim of our own illusions. Because the romantic 'illusion' has at root assumptions about gender differences, a young girl experiencing a broken heart does not require sympathy – at least according to Sharon Thompson - but instruction, since such a person is engaging in "bids for sympathy and absolution based on assumptions about gender differences so conventional that whole genres turn on them.'"[13] As a solution Thompson suggests girls learn to treat love as something ephemeral and play the field with the kind of emotional detachment that will save them from heartbreak. This is called 'unencumbered sex'.

Although the context is different, the motivation is the same as we find in the emotional purity movement. Those who push emotional purity (and its corollary 'courtship') begin the discussion of broken hearted-ness at the same point as Sharon Thompson, namely, the need to avoid being a victim of the heartache and disappointment that romantic expectation can create. The solution of the former is to encourage all manner of loose behaviour but without the expectation of a secure relationship; the solution of the latter is to try to eradicate any behaviour that might give vent to romantic expectation prior to the security of marriage. In both cases they are trying to avoid what Capon calls “the indulgence of the ultimate risk of giving oneself to another over whom we have no control.”[14] Let's have a closer look at what is being proposed as a solution.

The Solution: Emotional Sterilization

Lindvall draws our attention to the fact that in the typical dating pattern when a person enjoys a series of temporary dating relationships, each relationship must endure a breaking up process before moving on to the next. “However,” writes Lindvall,

"As their hearts are wounded, and then heal after each episode, they develop emotional calluses as a defense against the depth of grief that would be useful in motivating married couples to shore up the performance of their union.[15]

"The more often they experience this [breaking-up], the more scared their emotions are, and then we wonder why when we marry we have a difficult time becoming vulnerable and open with our husband or our wife.[16]

Israel Wayne has argued similarly, comparing the emotional pain of breaking off a relationship to sticking on and then ripping off a piece of tape on your arm: at first it hurts, but eventually, if you repeat the process long enough, the hairs that originally acted as pain sensors eventually cease to register pain to the brain. Similarly, it is argued, the more we experience the emotional pain of breaking up a relationship, the more desensitized we become. Eventually our emotions become hardened as an instinctive defense against future pain. “It may seem good to have our emotions hardened,” Wayne writes,

but this doesn’t work very well in a marriage. Who wants to have a spouse who is uncaring, unfeeling, and guards themselves so they won’t be hurt? We all want spouses who can freely give and receive love. [17]

The solution that both Lindvall and Wayne give is to reject the typical dating pattern of in/out relationships for the model of emotional purity. Emotional purity guarantees that you won’t get hurt since you don’t release your emotions until it’s safe.

Not for the first or last time, Lindvall and Wayne have presented us with a false dilemma. The choice they give us is between a series of in/out dating relationships vs. shutting down the emotions completely until it is completely ‘safe.’ This gives them the perfect platform to persuade young people to be emotionally ‘pure’, since the young people they are addressing already have an antipathy to the typical pattern of irresponsible relationships. Forced into this false choice, the model of emotional purity is clearly the only option for a biblically-minded young person or parent. It is only after you go deeper into the system that you find that this solution not only excludes irresponsible dating but any unguarded emotions even when experienced within in a biblically responsible relationship. They are not teaching young people that within the context of being honorable towards those of the opposite sex, you are not being sinful, unspiritual or defiled if you have growing feelings for someone; nor are they teaching young people how to approach and deal with such feelings. Instead, they are teaching that romantic feelings, emotional desires and expectations are wrong if felt at anytime while there is still a risk that the object of those desires may not become our future spouse. We must safeguard our life against the potential of any emotional pain in the very first place.

It is interesting that this basic argument hinges, not on an appeal to scripture, but on pragmatic and utilitarian concerns, as it promises to maximize the agent’s future happiness in marriage. (It is not surprising that their basic argument would be utilitarian rather than theological, seeing as the Bible directly refutes the doctrine of emotional purity. See my article 'Betrothal & Emotional Purity: A Biblical, Historiographical Approach') We are being told that marriages will be happier and more emotionally liberated if both parties have practiced these principles prior to engagement. We would do well to question this basic assumption. Surely those who go through youth trying to avoid emotional pain, trying to prevent the possibility of suffering, trying to protect their emotions, are not as a result suddenly going to be emotionally vulnerable and open as soon as they get married. If anything, they will be the ones who have developed the emotional hardness.

Imagine a young girl who is first learning to walk on her own two legs. The father notices and realizes that there might be falls, and the potential of physical pain, before she can finally walk without error. Suppose the father, wanting to prevent his girl from the possibility of this pain, comes and offers her a wheel chair for her to sit and be pushed around in until she is nine. At nine years old, he thinks, her mind will have developed a level of control and sophistication to enable her to learn to walk without the errors that invariably confront the toddler. Now if a father really did that, what would happen when the girl finally reached the day where he authorized her to walk? She would be a cripple since her legs, through continual neglect, would have lost the ability to function.

In a very similar way, a father who successfully disallows his daughter (or son) from experiencing natural human emotions until she is able to do so without the possibility of hurt will very likely have damaged her very ability to experience normal emotions.

I’m not a neurologist but I've read enough neurology to know that during a person's formative years the brain has a placidity which allows certain patterns to be established in the infrastructure of the brain. During these years the brain is like flexible putty. The older one gets, however, the more the brain gradually solidifies. This means that if one part of the brain has been deprived from growing normally, it is very difficult to go back and cut new grooves since the brain does not have the same neuro-plasticity. Now the brain controls the emotions, and an adult's ability to experience healthy emotions is contingent to a large degree on how his or her emotions were handled during the formative years. For example, if a baby or child senses parental disapproval every time they cry, they quickly learn to repress such feelings and expressions. As an adult such a person may find it difficult to express or even to feel spontaneous emotion since the brain has been trained to do the opposite.

Similarly, when it comes to romantic emotions, if an adolescent is influenced to greet the arrival of such emotions with suspicion, repression and guilt, they will likely find it difficult to experience these emotions properly when they are suddenly told it is legitimate. The positive side is that the Lord is able to heal and make whole, but this can be a torturesomly difficult process if one has years of opposite brain patterns to contend against.

The Young Person’s Point of View

It will be worthwhile now to consider the issue of emotions from a young person’s point of view. For nearly every young person, the intensity of emotions is perhaps the hardest thing to work through. The sensation that life is unbearably happy one minute and unbearably sad the next is a common experience. In retrospect we may forget how real and meaningful our feelings were to us back then, and we are left with little or no understanding and sympathy to offer our children.

The 'emotional purity' pioneers have taken it one stage further to question whether this age of passion and intensity is really necessary, or whether it is a sort of appendage which lack of true perception, together with cultural pressures, make us subject to.

It must be realized that a broken heart of the sort that has a teenager sobbing into his or her pillow one day but heals into hope the next, is a basic part of a young person’s life. As adolescents we need the love, support and guidance of our parents, not the censor and subsequent guilt of being told we have done wrong or have been too weak. It is in learning that we grow, not in becoming so emotionally contrived that we become hard and unemotional.

Often the broken heart is a private affair - we secretly like a boy or girl but never tell anyone, least of all the person in question! - but our heart skips a beat when we pass them. Then that person leaves the neighborhood and our world comes crashing down. Or we 'fall in love' with a wonderful person in a film or book, and at the end of the story the beauty of it breaks our hearts, we hardly know why. Such are the experiences of most young people: crushes, fantasies, dreams and feelings which are very real to us at the time.

In time, however, such feelings fade and we grow to see things more objectively. But if, at the time, scorn or ridicule had been meted out to us in our vulnerability, we would in fact have closed up our heart, thoughts and feelings when we may actually need to share them with someone. Or if our parents had brought us up to feel there was something intrinsically wrong with these experiences, something they disapproved of, then we might have hardened ourselves emotionally and formed a crust around our heart out of desperation to be 'correct.' Others, unable to do this, may live in a perpetual guilt-ridden state, too ashamed to share their 'sinful feelings' with anyone.

If a young person's feelings are not seen in perspective by the adults who should be helping them through these years, namely their parents, then the normal emotional intensity has added to it the parents’ unrealistic notion of life. Things, which in time would die a natural death, are given an extended life of prolonged guilt. It is all very counterproductive.

The Trade-off

Parents who have this destructive mentality will not only prevent guilt-prone youths from falling into the 'sin' of having a crush on someone, or of admitting it if they do, but they will prevent that child from the natural healing of that broken heart. The parent who is trying to tie up their youth's emotions is not at the same time able to help that youth come to terms with those feelings, to face them, accept them, grow from them, and grow out of them.

I am not saying that having a broken heart is an inherently good thing because we can grow from it, or that we should try to get our hearts broken in order to learn lessons. Far from it! A boy who is learning to ride a bicycle will likely have a few falls to start with, and learn from the painful experience of falling how to properly manage the bicycle. It would be stupid, however, if the boy took this fact and fell off the bike on purpose in order to learn from it. The parent who says his teenagers mustn’t have individual friendships with members of the opposite sex because there is then the possibility of the emotional pain of a broken heart, would be like a parent who didn’t let his son learn to ride a bicycle because of the possibility of the physical pain of falling off.

What I am suggesting is true of any kind of suffering, that although it is not something that we should go out of our way to try to experience, neither does God want us going out of our way to try to prevent suffering.[18] Creating a plan for life that will safeguard us from pain, from our own emotions, and those of others, likewise does not help us grow. Nobody likes pain, nobody wants a relationship to end in tears, but if that does happen, does that automatically mean we were sinning? Does that mean we should make sure we protect our children from such an experience by attempting to exercise tight control over their emotions? Does it mean we should allow fear to turn us into something like a computer that automatically backs itself up at every point?

It is the job of a parent to help growth, not to dictate it, to help young people approach relationships with integrity and honor and to help them if things go wrong. It is the job of parents to help young people grow from their suffering and broken hearts, not to try to artificially create situations to prevent any possibility of broken hearts. The only way to prevent the possibility of a young person getting a broken heart is to prevent that child from ever feeling love, and that is the most tragic thing a parent could do to a child. (See the quotation by Lewis at the beginning of this entry). It is not sensitive and caring when Lindvall talks about wanting to spare his children the suffering of a broken heart, for if you want a heart that cannot be broken, what you need is a heart that cannot love. C.S. Lewis puts this well.

I believe that the most lawless and inordinate loves are less contrary to God's will than a self-invited and self-protective lovelessness... We shall draw nearer to God, not be trying to avoid the sufferings inherent in all loves, but by accepting them and offering them to Him; throwing away all defensive armor. If our hearts need to be broken, and if He chooses this as the way in which they should break, so be it.[19]

When the New York Times did a front page feature on the courtship movement they quoted from a 'betrothed' man who said, "I can begin to emotionally connect because it’s safe." Safe? What in life is really safe? If these people are looking for an emotionally safe existence, they need to go a lot further to guard themselves. Hell is the only place where you are perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love, as C. S. Lewis brings out in the excellent passage I cited at the beginning of this entry.
With regard to the particular pain of a broken heart, if this must be avoided at all costs, why stop at a prohibition on relationships with the opposite sex? Why not also prohibit all friendships with members of the same sex since it is always possible that someone we have grown to love - perhaps a best friend that we have shared our heart with in a special way - may die, may change, or may do something that leaves us hurting?

After the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center my wife was talking to a woman about it. The women mentioned that she had heard on the news that a boy had telephoned his mother from the airplane just before the crash to tell her that he loved her. My wife's friend said that she would not have been able to cope with that sort of thing if she was a mother. She has chosen not have children in order to avoid the potential pain. It's certainly true that if you're not prepared for the possibility of a broken heart, you shouldn't have children. After all, children may die, they may suffer, they may go through experiences that make the parents weep. If God were somehow against broken hearts, He surely would not have given parents the ability to have children.

In the end, if we really want the security of knowing our heart will not break, if we really want a life that is emotionally safe, we must carefully guard our heart from becoming attached to anyone - man, woman or animal.

No true relationship is safe, whether it be a love relationship or just a relationship of friends. That is why the philosophy of safeguarding ourselves against emotional hurt can only lead to the death of relationships. Indeed, if the principle which courtship and betrothal is based be consistently applied to its full extension, then all forms of relationships must be denied us, for that principle is that the possibility of emotional pain must be removed whatever the cost. (Paul Shippy has some good comments about this sort of thing HERE)

I am reminded of Christ’s parable of the talents. Recall that the man who was given one talent feared lest he lose it. While the other servants were out trading with their capital and seeing it increase, the fearful servant dug a hole and buried his talent in the ground. It was his fear of losing it that prevented him from using it. As a friend of mine recently observed, fear of failure is the greatest motivation to failure that ever existed. Every trade involves a risk. It is only by overcoming our fears and risking something of ourselves that we ultimately get anywhere.

We have seen the way certain teachers have attempted to create a pain-free world, where one never gets heart-broken and every element of risk and unpredictability is systematically eliminated from the equation of human relationships. In this way, what is created is a world where ostensibly you have nothing to fear, yet the paradox remains that it is fear that drives people to submit to such regimes in the first place. As with the man who had one talent, something is buried in the ground. In this case, however, what is buried in the ground is not money…it is our own hearts.

C. S. Lewis himself confessed a struggle with this very issue. In The Four Loves, Lewis says that in one sense it seems like perfect advice not to give your heart to anyone but God.

“Don’t put your goods in a leaky vessel. Don’t spend too much on a house you may be turned out of. And there is no man alive who responds more naturally than I do to such canny maxims. I am a safety-first creature. Of all arguments against love none makes so strong an appeal to my nature as 'Careful! This might lead you to suffering.'

To my nature, my temperament, yes. Not to my conscience. When I respond to that appeal I seem to myself to be a thousand miles away from Christ. If I am sure of anything I am sure that His teaching was never meant to confirm my congenital preference for safe investments and limited liability. I doubt whether there is anything in me that pleases Him less.”[20]

Lewis goes on to suggest that the most lawless passion that prefers the beloved to happiness is more like ultimate Love Himself than this search for safe-investment-relationships. Lewis points out that even our love for God does not offer safety and security. Was Christ’s love for us a ‘safe investment’? It cost Him His life! And as Christ lay dying for us, did He not feel that the Father had forsaken Him?

So what happens when one of these ‘safe’ relationships does lead to marriage? Presumably it is imagined that the resulting marriage will be an emotionally safe frontier. Marriage can be emotionally safe, but only in the same way that pre-marital relationships and life itself can be made emotionally safe. Remain in the safety of the shallows and do not allow yourself to be discovered, to be known by yourself and the other in all your nakedness, vulnerability and weakness. Harden up when that little voice says, “Watch out, you might get hurt.” Such a marriage may be free from pain, it is true, but it will also be free from intimacy and joy.

For more on this subject and on Biblical courtship in general, see:

Betrothal and Emotional Purity: is it Biblical?

Emotional Purity


The Way of a Man With a Maid

Bill Gothard and ATI

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[1] C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves, in The Inspirational Writings of C. S. Lewis (New York: Inspirational Press, 1960), pp. 278-9.)

[2] John Thompson, “God’s Design For Scriptural Romance Part 1: Rediscovering the Timeless Truths”, op cit.

[3] Jonathan Lindvall, The Dangers of Dating: Scriptural Romance, Hope School Digest, ibid.

[4] From the taped lecture, Youthful Romance: The Dangers of Dating, ibid.

[5] From the tract entitled Youthful Romance: Scriptural Patterns, (Springville, CA: Bold Parenting, 1992).

[6] Jonathan Lindvall, from the tract entitled Youthful Romance: Scriptural Patterns, ibid

[7] From the taped lecture, Youthful Romance: The Dangers of Dating, ibid.

[8] Shamefaced Romance, ibid.

[9] From Bold Christian Living E-Mail Newsletter, Issue #99.

[10] Susan Schaeffer Macaulay is very good on this idea of the Lord permeating all aspects of life. See, For the Family’s Sake, (Wheaton, ILL: Crossway Books, 1999), especially p. 34.

[11] From Sharon Thompson's study, Going All The Way: Teenage Girls Tales of Sex, Romance, and Pregnancy, (New York: Hill and Wang, 1995) Cited by Shalit, op. cit., p. 64.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Cited by Rodney Clapp in "What Hollywood Doesn't Know About Romantic Love: Celebrating Valentine's Day in the spirit of the Song of Solomon". Christianity Today, Feb. 3, 1984 issue.

[15] Bold Christian Living catalogue, article titled ‘Do Teen Dating Practices Prepare Young People For Marriage or Divorce?’ (Springville, CA: Bold Christian Living).

[16] Jonathan Lindvall, from the taped lecture, "Scriptural Betrothal: God's Design for Youthful Romance." (Springville, CA: Bold Christian Living).

[17] Israel Wayne, “Don’t Kiss Before The Wedding!”, The Link: A Homeschool Newspaper, Volume 4, Issue 2.

[18] Edith Schaeffer is very good on this point, and I would highly recommend her book Affliction (Hodder and Stoughton, 1978), particularly chapter eleven where she addresses the temptation to abort affliction.

[19] C. S. Lewis, op. cit., p. 279.

[20] Ibid, p. 278.

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