I was a boy-crazy teenage girl. Yes, that was a long time ago, but I still remember. What I have forgotten about how that felt or tried to block out because of embarrassment, I have journals full of entries to remind me:

February 5th – Went to the basketball game and then to the Hut. They brought drums again. Edgar sat by me most of the game. I think that shocked Bob, Bill, and Paul. They sure did stare! They are so good-looking. After Edgar moved to talk with someone else, my eyes met Paul’s and Bill’s eyes a lot. I watched Paul and Bob a lot. Stevie told me that Stan said I was really good-looking. I thought he was just saying it to get in good with me ’cause I know Stevie likes Jan. He is going steady. We were throwing ice at the Hut, and I accidentally/on purpose threw some at Paul’s table. Some ice landed on his pizza. Bob saw me and told him who threw it. We followed Bob, and Paul followed behind us on the way home. We were in Ken’s car because Fro’s broke down. So we had sirens. We passed Paul back and forth and scared the doo out of him with the sirens. They stopped twice to talk to us. I think I am in love!

We didn’t have official pledges of purity back then with rings and oaths, but we were taught to be pure and keep a holy distance between boys and girls. (There has been much theological discussion about just how many inches that distance truly is!) We were taught to have standards, to know them ahead of time, and to make them known before the first date. As soon as I had an interest in a boy and he showed some interest back, I made sure he knew what my standards were. I would not kiss until the third date, and I was never going to do anything more than hold hands and kiss. There would be no “petting” of any kind.

However, once I told the first boy I dated in my small town, and stuck to my guns, everyone in my whole high school and my entire youth group knew my standards and teased me about them. At least, I never had to give that speech again.

When you are pure and everyone knows your standards, you are respected. As a youth leader you say, “GREAT! That is exactly what we want for our girls.” The problem is that teen boys really don’t know how to show respect. Their version of “respect” comes across to girls as “rejection. “

Every time I got into a relationship in high school or college I inevitably got this speech: “I really like you, but I respect you too much to keep dating you. You are a great girl and someday you will make someone a great wife.” Then they would date some really hot girl I knew had little or no standards. What I learned from that experience was, “You are just not pretty enough, you don’t kiss very well, you are not skinny enough.” No, that is not what was said, but the actions of those boys spoke so much more loudly than the respect they mentioned.

I still have friendships with many of the people from my youth group and some of the boys I had such crushes on back then. One of those friends afforded me much grace later in life by writing me this:

I had you WAY up on a pedestal, and I expected nothing short of perfection out of you. I still do. You have pursued what I thought Mary Wilson probably would end up doing – being a pastor’s wife, going on mission trips, living for Christ. That is what I expected you would be doing at this time in our lives. You know what I mean? That is what I envisioned you would do when we were 17-18 years old. That’s why I never really pursued you at all. You were too “good”—untouchable. When I kissed you, it gave me chills, freaked me out, and made me nervous. Me, kissing Mary Wilson. Good gosh! It was like eating the “forbidden fruit.”

I wish I had known then what I know now. You get dumped enough times for holding to your standards; and no matter how gently a boy breaks it to you, respect feels like rejection and bruises your self-worth. The song “Beautiful Disaster” by Jon McLaughlin states it this way, “She says that there’s no difference between the lies and compliments; it’s all the same if everybody leaves her.”

Purity is the right standard and absolutely should be the goal, but we need to arm our students with more than a ring. We need to tell our stories, the authentic, vulnerable ones about right choices that led to rejection and pain. (You are welcome to use mine if you don’t have your own story of rejection.) I recently shared with my middle school girls my journal entry and the note I received much later in life from my friend. I was thinking I was giving them some preventive medicine. Two of them started crying. They already, in seventh grade, feel the effects on their self-worth from the right choices they have made.

Arm your students with honest discussion about the cost of purity, and stay in the trenches with them. Remind them that the prize at the end is SO WORTH the effort!

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