By McKenzie Gamache
Don’t think of a pink elephant. What did you just think of? Yep, a pink elephant.
Growing up in the Catholic Church, even as uncatechized as I was, I constantly heard the “don’ts” of purity and chastity: “Don’t have sex before marriage. Don’t be alone at night with a person of the opposite sex…” I wasn’t a rebellious daughter in middle and high school by any means, but since I heard the “don’ts” without much else accompanying them I tended to stop paying attention and instead grew curious. Later in high school, and now in college, I have found that the “don’ts” have been detrimental for many people, especially myself for years.
My sophomore year of high school I was sexually assaulted twice which left me crippled by severe guilt and shame, hiding it from everyone for years. Over that time, I continued to hear the purity and chastity “dont’s” that no longer applied to my life/situation and only ramped up my shame. As I entered relationships later in high school and then college, I tried my hardest to avoid the “dont’s” but found myself breaking them time and time again no matter how hard I fought. There was never a time that I sought out those situations purposely, but when I did find myself in them I didn’t have truth engrained to help me say no or know why I shouldn’t act a certain way. Having no other reason besides my parents or some stranger on a stage saying “don’t” didn’t help in moments of intense passion.
I was teetering on the edge of hopelessness, thinking I would perpetually lose the battle for purity and chastity. These thoughts created many lies surrounding my identity rubbing salt in my wounds. They had me convinced that I had to accept impure acts as a part of having a relationship and that’s probably all that they really wanted me around for. This left me feeling used up and unlovable.
This all changed when I was sat down one night by some of my older girlfriends who could see how broken I was. They said many things, but the one thing they told me that I remember clear as day was, “You are a daughter of the Father, a sister of Christ, and a temple of the Holy Spirit.” I’m sure someone somewhere had said those words around me before but never so intentionally. They proceeded to describe what each of those titles meant over multiple conversations, and my outlook on many things, especially chastity/purity in dating relationships, changed immensely. I heard words for the first time in twenty years that broke through the lies I’d believed for so long, and I was told I was truly worthy of love. The light that they brought to illuminate the darkness of my lies was so bright. Learning that true, authentic love was selfless, self-giving, and sacrificial was eye-opening. I was not made to be an object of a man’s desire but instead endowed with the dignity of a human person that is to be respected, protected, and fought for. Similarly, men are due that same respect in my thoughts, words, and deeds toward them!
This one conversation didn’t immediately take all the pain, wounds, and lies that had been embedded over a lifetime away. However, it ignited a desire to learn how to guard my heart and the hearts of those around me. I had this newfound desire but no idea where to start since all I knew previously were the “don’ts.” So I reflected back on the lessons I learned from my friends, and I formulated effective “do’s” for my daily encounters.
The Three Do’s:
1. When you meet someone, view them as a child of God. They are a daughter or son of our Heavenly Father, a brother or sister of Christ, and a temple of the Holy Spirit. For those that don’t quite understand the gravity of that reality, this essentially means that just by existing you have an unchanging and everlasting value no matter what sins you have committed. Nothing and no one can take away your God-given dignity and the immense love that the Father has for you. Wow, did that change the way I saw and interacted with people! We are all SO special and cherished in our Father’s eyes, so I try to look at my brothers and sisters through that lens.
2. Will both your and their good. As St. Paul wrote, “Brothers and sisters: Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another,” (Romans 13:8). If I was worthy of a sacrificial love with someone who wouldn’t strip my purity from me, then everyone I encountered was due that same honor and respect. My intentions slowly began to shift to more selfless and genuine love for the other to will the good for them in our encounter.
3. Be gentle and patient with yourself. You are a human being. You have been stuck in certain patterns for years while carrying around baggage and festering wounds, so this won’t all go away and heal within one week of trying. The Father’s mercy and Our Lady’s gentleness are enveloping you in love, so lean into it to find the strength to keep going. Take this all from a human being who has fallen hard and thought my mistakes were irreparable, the Lord’s love and mercy can and will make all things new (Revelation 21:5, anyone?). If you haven’t always guarded your purity it truly is not too late. If the Lord can turn my life around I am confident that He can and will with yours too if you are open to it. If you have guarded your heart and purity then praise God! Keep fighting, because it is beyond worth it.
The “don’ts” of purity are necessary, but they leave a hole when the “why” or “how” behind them is missing. I found this hole was filled and the desire to be pure was made easier when using these three “do’s.” My desires have been calmed when I recognized the dignity of the person standing in front of me. Again, this did NOT happen overnight, it has taken all two years of my conversion to retrain my thoughts, actions, and deeds both toward myself and others, but the freedom I now feel is worth all the work in the world. The reality is that freedom in the battle for purity never stops. It is daily. Thankfully, the Lord’s redeeming and merciful love pursues me still, and it has radically transformed my life, especially concerning purity. I hope and pray that my story can be a witness to help you in the fight to guard your heart, which in turn helps to uphold the dignity of those around you!