They vary in tone. Some are very happy and upbeat about their single status. Others are angry and somewhat bitter. All seem to agree that more needs to be done for single adults in the Church. They brought up a lot of issues which I plan to address in future columns. But there's one issue I want to address today. I want to address it because I've noticed it cropping up in my encounters with other single adults for some time. I also want to address it because its importance reaches beyond just single adults. (I'm trying to keep this interesting for everyone!) It goes to the heart of how we educate our children, particularly in the area of chastity, and how we understand our relationship with God.
To illustrate, I want to take you back to a radio interview I did a few years ago. It was a call-in show, and one of the callers was “Roy from Boston.” (I've already written one column about Roy. I'm thinking I'll have to dedicate my next book to him.) His complaint was basically this: “I've kept up my end of the bargain. I've abstained from sex. I've lived chastity just like I'm supposed to. Now why isn't God keeping up his end of the bargain? Where is that wonderful spouse I was promised in exchange for all of that chastity?” He actually said he had considered abandoning his faith, because, as he said, “I've done it God's way all these years, and it never got me anywhere.”
Roy is not an isolated case. I've received numerous letters from single men and women who told me that they were taught to live chastity because, if they did, God would reward them with a loving husband or wife and a wonderful marriage. If they did their part, Christ would do His. Now it hasn't happened, and they're experiencing a faith crisis.
No wonder these people are bitter. I'd be bitter, too. They've been sold a bill of goods.
Looking around the chastity education movement, I think that many of us may still, intentionally or unintentionally, be giving this message. We know that chaste dating increases the chances of having a happy marriage. But we give the impression that it's a guarantee. And when we do, we are seriously misleading them.
Morality is not a quid pro quo arrangement. God doesn't say, “you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours.” (He doesn't need to – God never has an itch to scratch.) Morality isn't just a series of elaborate “hoops” God wants to see us jump through, and He'll reward us with little doggy-type treats if we do a good job. Morality isn't about appeasing God, or getting Him to give us things. Morality isn't about Him at all. It's about us. It's about living the way we're made, and loving the way we're supposed to love. It's about respecting ourselves and doing what is best for ourselves and for those around us. Sure, doing things God's way generally makes our lives a whole lot better. But that's not some kind of external reward for good performance. It's just a natural fruit of respecting the way we're made.
Nowhere is this truer than in the realm of chastity. We don't respect sex as a part of some kind of “deal” with God. He's not trying to bribe us into it by promising us a lifetime of wedded bliss in return. We respect sex because it's the right thing to do. Period. To fail to respect sex is to degrade ourselves and others. It shouldn't happen, regardless of the context, regardless of our age, regardless of our marital status or lack thereof.
This is a very important point: Chastity is its own reward. As a single person, I don't live chastity so that God will smile on me and send me a husband. I live chastity because it's the right thing to do. It makes my life better, here and now. On an obvious level, I don't have to fear sexually transmitted diseases or unintended pregnancies. On a less obvious level, I know I'm following Christ's call to put my selfish desires aside for the sake of love. Sexual involvement, for me, would be speaking a language I can't honestly speak. It would be saying with my body “I give myself to you,” when in fact that would not be true.
Living chastity makes my dating relationships healthier. It insures that at least on a sexual level I am truly seeing the image and likeness of God in the person I'm with. It insures that He is respecting the image and likeness of God in me. It helps to keep my mind clear so that I can get out of relationships that aren't working out. And my duty to live chastity will never change; no matter how many years I remain unmarried. Doing the right thing is doing the right thing. Period.
God shouldn't have to dangle “carrots” (or karats, as the case may be) in front of us to entice us to love the way we're supposed to love. Virtue is its own reward.
(You may visit Mary Beth Bonacci's website at www.reallove.net.)