More than "Damaged Goods"
By Ed Gungor
February 1, 2010
In a sexually charged culture like ours, it’s hard to not experiment sexually—especially if you are attracted to and have deep feelings for someone. To not go there sometimes threatens the relationship (many expect sexual expression in romantic contexts) or causes you to look like an out-of-touch prude.
Let’s face it: sex is a powerful thing. We become completely vulnerable, open, engaged and yielded to another. We lose ourselves in the “other” in a way we would never dare in any other setting. But powerful things can be destructive.
It is here that we find the genesis of the sexual ethics espoused by the Bible. God doesn’t want us to be reticent about or afraid of sex (remember, it was His idea), but He does want us to be careful when we explore it. Just like a loaded gun needs to be carefully handled, sex needs boundaries. The primary boundary at the heart of Christian sexual ethics is marriage.
Many of us (including Christ-followers) have made some very bad choices in regards to our sexuality. When we sin sexually, it brings guilt, pain and shame. The good news is that God is able to heal our broken sexuality and restore the innocence we have lost. We can, in essence, return to facing our sexual lives like a virgin.
Some groups say God can give a person a “second virginity.” That He can, in effect, restore one’s virginity. Cool thought. I love what they are trying to do—to show that God can redeem things and right what has gone wrong in our lives. But I think there is a degree of fantasy associated with the notion that one can miraculously be made into a virgin again after being sexually active. And I don’t think faith is about fantasy. I think faith helps us face the harsh, cold reality of our past and then seek God’s healing and grace in spite of it—it is called “faith,” not “fake.”
This is particularly true in stories like Sarah’s.
I had watched Sarah grow up. I was her pastor. She was beautiful. Smart. A college grad.
“I have herpes,” she blurted out to me in my office as tears streamed down her face.
She had great parents, though they were rather strict. And once she experienced the freedom college afforded, it wasn’t checked with wisdom.
“I don’t know what I was thinking,” she muttered. “I started hanging out with people who loved to party, and I started drinking a little to fit in.”
The “big party” had promised free alcohol and cute boys. After a few drinks, one of these boys started hitting on her. One thing led to another, and before she could grasp the gravity of it, they were having sex in one of the upstairs bedrooms. They only did it one time—her first time—but she contracted incurable herpes.
She had lived with her dark secret telling no one for more than three years. Now she was telling me only because she had fallen in love with Sam, a great guy in our church (who was a virgin), and he had popped the marriage question.
She hadn’t told him about the herpes.
“I need to tell him,” she said.
“Yeah, you do,” I responded, and we talked a little about the where, when and how of approaching it with him. Then I prayed with her, holding a dim hope that Sam might be okay with it.
But Sam wasn’t OK with it. It wasn’t that he didn’t love her; he did. He just didn’t want to deal with all the complexity a sexually transmitted disease brings to a relationship. Their wonderful relationship ended. It was destroyed.
I think there are some losses that remain losses. I recently had a parent die. Really hard. Though I know God has a way of bringing good out of the most horrible scenarios imaginable (this is why we can have faith in the middle of incomprehensible evil), it still hurts. When one has been broken sexually, there is pain and a deep sense of loss. It can be tormenting. But that said, there is a way to experience healing from what has happened to us in the past. When healing dawns, the past may still be our past, but it will not be able to keep us from living a wonderful, robust life of innocence and joy.
God is a Redeemer, a Restorer. And faith in God has a way of bringing resolve to the pain of a failed past. Jesus Christ came to this planet (entering into the limitations of creation) to take away our failures and sins, and found a way to break its power. As we open our lives to Him, He begins to overcome the evil in our lives with good. Paul wrote, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). He also said we don’t have to “be overcome by evil,” because God made a way to “overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). This is hopeful indeed.
I watched as Sarah processed the pain of her loss and openly trusted God with her mistakes and incurable disease. She found grace. She ended up using her experience to help others make better choices. She eventually met a man who understood and accepted the risks of loving her and ended up happily married with a boatload of cute kids. God brought an amazing level of healing into her life. I have seen Him do the same for those who keep moving toward Him.
It turns out that God is faithful to turn the worst things that happen in our lives into good if we dare to trust Him. He has an amazing capacity to turn human pain and weakness into strength, ugliness into beauty and our failures into foundations to build on. The Bible calls this redemption.
Redemption is about our Creator processing the wounds of our lives, the scars on our faces, the evils we have endured and turning them into an even grander story of grace. That means God takes what should have destroyed us and does more than fix it—He redeems it. Redemption does such a number on the bad things that happen to us that it is tempting to look back years later and think we are better off for having gone through the loss. (I’m not suggesting that God ever wants pain or loss for us, but simply that He is so good, even evil things can’t stay evil when we lay them before Him—evil gets untwisted back into good as our lives come under God’s control.)
Those who have lost their virginity don’t have to pretend it didn’t happen. Each of us should embrace our own personal story and bring it to God to see what He will do with it. The good news is He will give us grace that will have the same impact as if we had never been broken. Our sexual innocence can be restored.
I have my own story of sexual brokenness. I was part of the “damaged goods” crowd. I wish my grace story was that God prevented me from making wrong sexual choices. It isn’t. My grace story is that I made a mess of my life, but God recovered and restored me. No matter which story is yours, a life formed by grace is still the best life one could ever live.