We’re very grateful for the groundwork that has been laid by the Emotional Purity advocates, people who first began to seriously address the problem of handing out bits of our heart with reckless abandon. We, for two, needed to hear about the concept of guarding our hearts, keeping our emotions under control, and being faithful to our future husbands in thought and deed. But we believe this foundation needs a little more built onto it. For many, the concept raised more questions than it answered.
As one girl wrote to us: “My friend + i hav both decided that wee r neva goin 2 d8 + we want our 1st kiss 2 b on our weddings. …[but] i was tellin sum of my friends @ school about the decisions ive made and another question came up, is it wrong to have a crush on a guy? my friend says that you can’t control whether u have a crush on sum1 or not and im not 100 % sure how 2 answer that. Can u guys help?”
Once the idea of emotional purity is introduced, the questions breed like rabbits. “Can you keep from having crushes?” “Is it wrong to have a crush?” “When is it technically a crush, anyway?” “Whatever it is, is it a sin?” “Will they come back to bite me later?” “Will each crush that I’ve had make me love my future husband less?” “Do I need to go find and marry the first boy that I ever liked?” “Did the crushes I had when I was two count against my emotional purity, or do they only start to count at age 13? Is there a crushing age of accountability?” “I’ve given away my heart so many times – is it too late for me to even care?”
To those on the outside, these sorts of questions might sound like silly wranglings over definitions to see what we can get away with, or the perfect ten in female ditziness. But these questions are actually legitimate, and the confusion a big deal, because at the heart of it, we’re talking about our moral responsibilities. When we don’t understand our actual moral responsibilities in this area, we can feel ridden with guilt over things that aren’t actually wrong, and completely unpricked by things that are. We can have a fatalistic “It’s too late to guard my heart because I’ve already botched things so badly” attitude towards doing right in the future. And we can develop an unbiblical fear of doing the things we are actually commanded to do.
We torture ourselves over quandaries like, “At exactly what point in my thought process did my favorable thoughts towards a young man turn into sin? Did I cross the line when I started naming our imaginary future children? …or was it back when I was wondering what color the bridesmaids’ shoes should be? How about when I first admired what a servant’s heart he has?”
We ask the wrong question when we ask, “Is having a crush a sin?” The Bible doesn’t actually say, and the reason is because “emotional purity” is a made-up moral category. And it’s giving a lot of us feelings of (unbiblical) guilt for committing some dreadful nebulous crime that there is no definition for, when the answer would actually be very clear if we phrased the question using biblical terms. There are plenty of real moral categories for real sins – like lust, covetousness, idolatry, fear of man, vain imaginations, and presumptuous sins. How much clearer would things be if we would just go ahead and say, “I’ve made an idol out of a young man; is that wrong?” or, “I’m having lustful thoughts for this guy – is that a sin?”
The Bible gives plenty of clear commands, both positive and negative: Guard your heart. Love the brethren from a pure heart. Think on what is pure and what is true. Don’t covet. Don’t lust. Have self-control. Take every thought captive. Going against any of these clear commands is a sin. This should answer our questions.
See? Now it’s not that complicated again.
Conquering LoveBut keeping our love in its proper place is easier said than done. Our hearts want to love. They want to fasten themselves to someone. As woman was taken from the side of man, she yearns to be restored to the side of man. We’ve all known since our highchair days that that’s where we belong. We’re wired to find them fascinating, attractive, and loveable. This is why one of young women’s biggest struggles is keeping that desire to love under control.
A girl once wrote to us, “For a long time I have struggled with unrequited love. I just cannot get over this one young man I know. I love him, but it seems that God has just not ordained that he should love me in return, and I am having the hardest time trying to accept that.”
There is no pain quite like realizing that what we desire most is not what God desires to give us – a pain we’re both keenly familiar with.
The truth is hard to accept, especially when we’re hurting, realizing that we made a mistake when we staked our hopes, our futures, our love, on someone who had no commitment to us in return. The girls who write us such emails are hoping for advice on how to get the young man to return their feelings, but truly the kindest (and hardest) thing we can tell them is this: that their own affections are out of place to begin with. The earlier girls would realize this, the more pain they would be spared. Love doesn’t have to go out of control and harm us. The young men God has placed in our lives don’t have to be sources of pain and heartache. There is a better way. And it requires learning to set boundaries for our own feelings.
But even those who recognize that little schoolgirl crushes are immature and fruitless can still wonder, “Is it wrong to deeply, sincerely desire a young man who is really worthy? One we could really marry?”
One thing our father taught us is that it’s not wrong to respect and admire a godly young man; not even to realize we could marry a man like him. But our legitimate and pure-hearted regard crosses the line into out-of-place love when we stray into one or more of these five mistakes:
1. Seeking our will above God’s
God already has a plan for what must happen with you and every young man you know. In His grand design, He knows who should be married to whom in order for His will to be accomplished, and your duty is to embrace that design as surely as you embrace God Himself. If we really, truly, sincerely love God’s ways, we will be able to do the impossible: Rejoice even if God gives Brandon to someone else, and take joy in the plan He has for us instead. Whenever we feel that we would not be happy with God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven, if that will is different from ours, we’re out of place. If a young man becomes more important to us than God’s will and preferences, he has officially become an idol.
2. Thinking we have a claim over the young man
It doesn’t matter how much we think we understand him, appreciate him, love him, deserve him – if we do not have his ring on our finger, he is not ours. In God’s bigger plan, this young man we’re lavishing so much devotion on might be another woman’s husband. And we might be another man’s wife. If there is no marital commitment, we don’t belong to one another.
Our love may feel pure, perfect, transcendent – but once it lights on a brother in Christ and says “He’s mine – hands off,” it has become selfish, possessive, and jealous. And this is part of the reason we need to resist crushes – because they’re incompatible with real love. That’s right – real love for the young man, and also the people around us. Do we truly love Brandon, enough to want the very best for him? Enough to want something better for him than… us? (If we truly cared about a fellow, would we necessarily think, “Brandon is so amazing… he needs a really special girl. I know! Me! Why, he couldn’t do better!”) How about the other girls? Do we love Amber enough to hope that she will also get a really amazing husband? Even if it’s… Brandon? (“But she can’t have him! Ideserve him!”) If we love the other girls around us, it really will change the way we love the other boys. Because true love conquers all – even crushes.
3. Forgetting who the man is
We’ve all heard it a thousand times, and yet we still forget: It’s the man’s job to choose, the woman’s job to be chosen. And no amount of active searching and window-shopping on our part will actually make our chosen chooser choose us any faster. Wrapping ourselves up in a bow and throwing ourselves at his feet doesn’t count as letting him be the initiator, either. It’s hard to feel powerless, but now is our time to learn patience and trust, to be at peace with the fact that it’s the man’s call. For a girl to “pick” a young man who may never be an option for her is presumptuous, at best. It can be asking for heartbreaking disappointment, at worst.
4. Building castles in the sky
The truth is, we open the door for heart wrenching pain when we stake all of ourselves, all of our thoughts, our whole world – on something that we have no guarantee will happen. Even in a courtship-type situation, when the young man’s interest is certain, it doesn’t guarantee that your future with him is. God may still have other plans (Jas. 4:13-15), and it’s best to be emotionally prepared for them.
5. Letting your brain go out the window
…as our father always put it. Dad taught us that when you’re facing one of the biggest decisions of your life is the time when you most need your wits about you. We all know infatuation is blinding; during this season of getting to know young men as friends, and especially in the next season of getting to know one of them as a potential husband, we will need to have our minds prepared for action (1 Pet. 1:13) and our eyes wide open.
Moreover, as appealing as it may sound, we shouldn’t expect God to lead us through our infatuations. Our hearts, feelings, “intuitions,” and romantic inclinations can all be wrong, no matter how strong they are or how right they feel. One friend of ours was so convinced that her feelings for a particular young man were a sign from the Lord, that she wouldn’t let them go even after his engagement to someone else. On his wedding day, she confronted him for going against the will of God, and told him it was still his destiny to marry her. Obviously, her feelings weren’t proof of anything but the fact that… she had feelings. God leads us through the truths in Scripture, not though our fickle human hearts.
We learned a lot from watching our dear friend – now sister-in-law –Nadia face all five of these temptations. It wasn’t long after Nadia became one of our family’s closest friends that she realized our older brother David was exactly the kind of man she had been praying for. As she describes it, “I was gripped by his humility and purity of heart before the Lord and his passion for proclaiming the Word of God.” She’d never met another man she thought she could help, follow, and complete as well. And yet… she had no guarantee that David was really the man God had chosen for her. Any girl in this situation would be tempted to check out from reality, fixating, wishing, speculating, wondering, hoping… To place her happiness in the contingency that it would work out. To view the young man as “hers.”
But Nadia knew the battle in her heart that she had to fight and win had nothing to do with David. It had to do with finding her satisfaction in God alone. She knew that no matter what happened – even if she married David – she could not be happy until she learned to love God more, know Him better, and desire His will over her own, even if His will for her future didn’t include David. She wanted to learn to love David rightly and desire what was best for him, regardless of whether it would involve her or not. She wanted to be focused on reality – growing and working to be more like Christ and serve Him in the here and now – not distracted by possibilities or fantasies.
Some girls think if there’s a chance the relationship could work out, they should hold on to their infatuations… just in case they were to need those feelings someday. The angst in their hearts isn’t even over “I just can’t stop loving him!” but “Should I stop, or shouldn’t I?” In Nadia’s mind, the question was “Are these feelings right before God, right now? Am I putting my hope in marrying David, or in God? Has my sisterly regard crossed the line into idolatry?”
Wash Me and I Shall Be Whiter Than SnowSome girls fear that they will have permanent scars from mistakes they have made. They fear that part of them is gone and they can never be made whole again. But the concept of inner purity deals more with the present state of the heart, the mind, and the affections than it does with the past. What we need to be doing is developing a state of heart and mind that is self-controlled and faithful to one man. It’s never too late to repent and do what’s right.
Going back to Ephesians, we see that the Church of Christ was not naturally pure, but had to be sanctified and cleansed “by the washing of water with the word” (Eph. 5:26) before she was ready to be presented before her Groom. David cried, “Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” (Ps. 51:7) Being clean means having been washed. Being pure means being purified – tested, matured, and refined by fire.
More than that, it means being forgiven. Our hearts, if not the rest of us, have all played the harlot, committed murder, and sinned against God. But what did Jesus tell the woman taken in adultery? “Go, and sin no more.” The same love that was extended to her has been extended to us by the same Savior. “If we confess our sins,” says 1 John 1:9, “he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
When Christ saves us, He gives us His righteousness so the Father can accept us as righteous and see us as completely pure – as He is. This is the essence of forgiveness in Christ, which makes us clean in God’s sight. If we have been purified by Christ, we need to learn to dwell in this forgiveness rather than dwell on our former impurity. So think about your future, ladies, not your past. We should live every day in the comforting assurance of this position, and in a way that honors the Savior who bled and died to exalt us to such a place! Once you understand your forgiveness in Christ, you will be able to think and act like a pure woman, and your future husband will be able to truly see you as such.
In King David, we see a heart that was already “after God’s own heart,” but still needed constant maintenance. We should take a lesson from the way he cried out to God in the Psalms to give him continual heart surgery: “Let… the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD.” (Ps. 19:14) And after his affair with Bathsheba: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” (Ps. 51:10)
Some girls have fallen so deeply for someone in the past that they feel they’ve lost that part of their heart forever. But does he own real estate in your heart, or is he just a squatter? We say we can’t get that part of our heart back, but it’s not gone. It’s still in us – still generating special thoughts and feelings for that someone, cherishing sentimental longings and wistful regrets, not letting go. But we can get this corner back. As with conquering sin, this could require taking a knife and cutting away a part of our life. It’s not easy, and it’s not painless – but it’s not impossible. The most emotional, impulsive, anxious, romantic, or vulnerable girl is not powerless to rule this area of her life. Philippians 4:6-7 tells us how:
Do not be anxious about anythingNot even Brandon.
but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.He hears your cries for a godly husband.
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understandingHe can envelop even the most stressful, anxious area of our lives with His peace.
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
This is why it’s possible to guard our hearts and minds: because He makes it possible.