How being single until my late 20s helped me grow

Something that comes out again and again with striking regularity, a bit like spring, is the flood of blog posts on the Christian blogosphere about praying for a husband (I’ve seen very little about praying for a wife). They usually take one of three approaches: a) it’s OK to pray asking for a husband, because the Lord gives you the desire of your hearts (not what that verse means, btw); b) it’s not OK to pray asking for a husband, pray for him whoever he is and his needs instead; c) it’s OK to do both a) and b).

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Why We Do Chastity Wrong

Couple holding hands in daytime on the beach

I’ve had the first draft of this post, originally planned as part 1 of 2 for the Boundaries prompt, since January. I didn’t expect, then, to see LoveBlog take the direction it did. I also didn’t expect to find myself with an early visit from one of women’s many nightmares, setting me back 4 posts over the end of last week and the beginning of this one. Some of the titles I really liked, and I aim to catch up with them, even if it will be after the challenge ends. Others, I wasn’t as inspired, so we’ll see. I find that I tend to keep relationship-related posts for this challenge as if I’m scared of talking about something too much if I touch upon relationship the rest of the year and then according to the prompts. I realised, thanks to a comment from a friend, that maybe that’s the wrong strategy. Having said that, I am going ahead with the original topic for affection, which was chastity outside of marriage.

Since the last time I touched this draft, I have reached the 2nd week of the Total Consecration to Jesus Through Mary, which I’m doing using simultaneously 33 Days to Morning Glory and the Totally Yours app based on the original retreat by St Louis de Montfort. This is relevant not because I’m trying to appear holier than thou, but because the reading for today involved a reflection on St Maximillian Kolbe, who has it happens has been a saint that has stayed with me since childhood (and in fact a role model even at a time of deep atheism). As part of the reflection, there was a line about how purity was not just about the lack of sex, but purity of intentions.
“A person practices purity of intention when he directs his thoughts, words, and actions not to himself or another creature but to a divine purpose or mission, and ultimately to God.” And this sentence completely rocked my perspective to what it was even a month ago.

I have lost count of the number of people who made a comment to the extent that not having sex before marriage was a thing of the past and surely it’s not the case that Catholics have to follow this rule anymore. Only a minority of them were Catholics, in fact from the circles I move in it seems that people aren’t even grabbing a coffee unchaperoned. Still, Mr Knightley texted me an article from Our Sunday Visitor once where a priest laid out how to create healthy boundaries (Dating and Chastity). A lot of literature around chastity, especially coming from the purity culture, treat it as a list of dos and don’ts. While Fr Morrow has some don’ts to list, it isn’t all actions that would qualify as the physical touch love language. Morality isn’t as black and white when judged from the point of view of intention rather than the result, and even for actions that seem to be completely innocent from the point of view of results may not be so for someone. 

People are aroused by different things. A tender kiss can be innocent for someone, but just enough to bring sexual feelings into the mix for someone else. Sometimes, such a disparity happens to be between the two partners themselves, and it can create conflict if one doesn’t accept that something that is fine for them is a near occasion of sin for the other person, and crosses a boundary. For a relationship to work, there needs to be the willingness to restrain oneself if necessary to respect the other person’s boundaries. You shouldn’t even ask why the boundary is there. What made this advice interesting the most was that it came from a man who came late to his vocation, and so can rely on his own experience of dating for advice that is practical, realistic and rooted in the struggles that are often taboos. That’s not something that can be said of everyone sharing their two cents on the scene of purity talks, especially not the now semi-repentant author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye, who admitted in a recent documentary that he wrote a book sounding like he knew all his stuff when frankly he had hardly lived at all.

Still, even as good as this article is, it doesn’t break the mould of purity culture discourse: it’s all about the other person. The impact that choosing to display affection chastely has on someone’s relationship with God is mentioned in passing. However, looking at purity from the point of view of the purity of intention rather than action puts God back at the centre. The reason we think of living a relationship chastely nowadays is a thing of the past is because too few go for the narrow gate. The displays of affection that the world tells us are necessary for a couple’s health and happiness are easy. We are meant to want those things, and for that reason, they were made really pleasurable things. And unless you fall in the asexual 1% of the population, you really cannot avoid being sexually attracted to the person you love. Talking about respecting the dignity of the other person as a God-living creature is, in my opinion, not a strong enough reason to prevent people from following the lures of the world: yes, the sacramental nature of marriage affects a person, but otherwise the same person with the same dignity is the person who will be in the marital bed after the rite is performed. If you can love them in a way that cherishes their dignity once married, the reason to avoid sex is not that it does not respect the dignity of the person. What keeping sex for marriage does is honour God because God commanded so: it is an act of self-sacrifice that should start from the desire to empty ourselves so that God can be glorified through our lives. The dignity of the other person is secondary, in fact, another person is not necessary for us to live chastely.

If you read widely in the Christian blogosphere, you’ll see plenty of people who did not choose to remain chaste until marriage and all shades in between. I don’t presume to judge where a person stands with regards to God, and their sins (repented or otherwise) are none of my concern. To me, choosing to show affection to the other person chastely is the beginning of the work of sanctification that takes place within a marriage, whether or not that person will end up being your spouse: it orients you towards helping the other person get to heaven, and letting the other person help you get to heaven. It isn’t about sex at all, but about giving up something we want for the sake of the Kingdom: like a gorgeous slice of Peggy Porschen cake on Ash Wednesday or that extra episode of whatever you’re watching on Netflix when really you should be getting ready for Mass. It should be looked at not as deprivation, although in a way it is, but as spiritual abundance. The world may say that you are lacking, but your relationship will be richer than you ever thought possible.

This post is part of the LoveBlog challenge on the topic of Affection.

Meet your hosts

Brita of Belle Brita

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Brita Long is the pink and sparkly personality behind the Christian feminist lifestyle blog, Belle Brita. On her blog and social media, you’ll discover more than authentic storytelling–she’s brutally honest about pursuing a fulfilling and joyful life even with Crohn’s Disease and depression.

 

 

Sarah of Sarah Nderi Blog

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Sarah is a 22 year old Digital Content Creator who loves reading, writing, fashion, music, travel, coffee and a blank screen (page). Her favourite things to do are reading, swimming, making animation films, hiking and listening to music.


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Christian men like women of faith, period

Portrait of a young woman

I’m famous for having a beef at the Pharisee’s culture that has developed in the Church as it had in Israel in Jesus’ time, and in the interest of fairness I am taking issue with Catholics and Protestants alike. This time the subject is a blog post arguing that “Men prefer Debt-Free Virgins Without Tattoos”. I feel bad enough for opening it to read for myself how bad it was, despite trusting the words of bloggers like Brita at Muddling Through Together and Phylicia Masonheimer, so I will not link to it. I don’t want the author to get a sense of perceived popularity and I want her to see that the only people talking about it are people who vehemently disagree.
I’ve spent most of the years since “reverting” to the Christian faith of my baptism into the Catholic Church striving to come to term with what I saw as the inevitability of my life-long singleness in a church that seems to put excessive value on being in vows. I’ve written about that journey on this blog (posts on singleness) and for Blogs by Christian Women (Waiting on the Lord in Singleness). So it is with great surprise that I approach this topic from the perspective of a bride to be, but I think it is important. Had she written this when I was single, my opinion could have been dismissed as trying to justify myself when my singleness was in fact proof that she was right, because I am not a debt-free virgin (although I don’t have a tattoo because I’m scared of needles).

The biggest irony in the post is a woman who takes it upon herself to teach women about the Bible talking women down for looking out for books to learn about the Bible, instead of from their fathers and then husbands, but never mind. My father isn’t religious, so no, I couldn’t have learnt from my father. I also couldn’t have learnt from my husband, because the only reason I met my future husband is I was a Christian, and he was attracted to my faith. He sought me after reading this very blog because his faith is important to him and he wanted someone that shares it and with whom he could build a family that also shares it. Anyway, what this blog post goes at the heart of is whether or not Christians believe in redemption. Any self-described Christian man who prefers a debt-free virgin without tattoos has a right to his personal preference, but I would question whether he had a right to call himself a Christian.

“In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:7)
This verse is part of a letter written by Paul, born Saul, THE Biblical example of conversion (which means turning around). He was a faithful Jew who persecuted Christians in the name of his faith until he had a personal encounter with the Lord, and became an ardent apostle for the good news of Redemption in a broken world. 13 books in the Biblical canon are written by him. If Jesus called a person who used to condemn His own disciples to death, surely he is not turning away women who were born in non-religious households and have a past, or women who were born in religious ones and also sinned, or the women who waited for marriage but turned it into an idol. Or the men, for that matter. It always seems to be a conversation about women…

What this perspective that Christian men don’t want strong women who are burdened by the debt of their education, because going to college means they don’t know how to run a household or cook for many people, and that they have babies later in life when they can barely conceive naturally (9 women in the Bible were barren and then conceived, some in very old age, so again I’m not sure which God she is talking about when she criticises women having babies late, which can be for many reasons other than going to college), and how they are less likely to stay home raising them or to learn from their husbands about submission (granted that the husbands knows what to teach them, she says…) betrays a fundamental insecurity and lack of faith. Maybe even insecurity about not being good enough for a woman like that.

Submission.Is.Not.About.The.Husband. Submission is about Christ. Purity isn’t about not having sex. Again, it’s about Christ. Both depend on a transformation of the mind, not growing up being told what to do and what your life should look like. Both depend on God’s grace, and our openness to give our life to Him. It’s not about becoming a doormat to be walked over by a man who isn’t equally transformed by the Lord. If we believe that all of our sins were ransomed on the Cross it doesn’t matter what those sins were: we recognise our shared humanity and sinfulness, and open ourselves up to shine the light of the true Light in people’s lives, and it’s this light that we should be looking for in our life partner, not a tattoo-free skin, a debt-free bank account and a sex-free past. Everything that a person was repentant about has been forgiven, and God is the Healer that can heal all past wounds. He can and does make beauty from ashes. If a sinner is good enough for God, they should be good enough for us too. The only question we need to ask ourselves is: “Is this person serious about their faith? Are they striving to walk in the Spirit? Or do they wear a label without substance to back it?”. It doesn’t mean that we don’t sometimes fall and get it wrong, because that’s inevitable when we try to achieve holiness on our own strength rather than through God’s grace. What it means is that we must extend mercy and forgiveness as the Lord has extended to us mercy and forgiveness, and if we are the ones to fall, then that we find true repentance and willingness to change through God’s grace, pick ourselves up and start again.

I find it ironic also that people who think women should stay at home, perhaps homeschooling, can’t see the value of an education. Many women have gone to college and then became stay at home mothers out of a free choice to serve the Lord, and not the reality that without an education that’s all that there is for them to do. What about women who can’t find husbands even if they are tattoo-free virgins? Without an education they can’t provide for themselves unless their dying father leaves a substantial inheritance, that’s just the reality of a job market that expects a degree. I wonder what the Proverbs 31 woman would look like in our times. She was clearly a woman with business acumen and wisdom, and I can’t see her as being just a blogger making money out of affiliate links while a stay at home mother.

She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard. She girds herself with strength, and makes her arms strong. She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp does not go out at night. She puts her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle. (…) She makes linen garments and sells them; she supplies the merchant with sashes. (Proverbs 31:16-19; 24)

She is also described as a woman of noble heart or capable (Proverbs 31:1) depending on the translation, and as a woman with strength and dignity, wisdom and kindness, and a woman who fears the Lord. Never in the blog post in question any of these qualities are mentioned. It’s all about the woman in relation to the future husband, and her only virtue to make her worthy of marrying is that she lived with her parents until she got married, didn’t go to college, had no previous relationships and no tattoos. Never her true motives and the strength of her faith entered the picture: the assumption was that if she followed those rules she must have been a woman of faith, and that was good enough. Except that it wasn’t good enough for Jesus (Matthew 23:23-32), and so it shouldn’t be good enough for us.

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“I am the Lord’s servant” – A Reflection on the Blessed Virgin Mary

Woman in pink blouse holding a peony

A long time ago I wrote this as part of a series on the women of the Bible, in which different Christian women across denominations and backgrounds shared personal stories of why the woman was their favourite. I’m reposting it now to honour May as the month of the year the Catholic Church dedicate to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus.

It’s hard for me to imagine, as a modern single woman in her 20s in 21stcentury London, what it must have been like for a teenager in 1stcentury Nazareth. I ponder this very question as I kneel on the cold marble in the shrine in Walsingham, just as Mary is always depicted in the iconography, as if the angel of the Lord was there with us, in the tiny house in Nazareth. “You will conceive and give birth to a son”, the angel said (Luke 1:31).

Her reply never fails to astonish me: “May your word to me be fulfilled.” (Luke 1:38)

What she was saying yes to was total surrender. She must have been raised with the idea of the woman in Proverbs 31 to aspire to. She was a faithful Jewish girl, she knew that being pregnant outside of marriage would have ruined her, even killed her. And it was this very faith that made her say that: “I am the Lord’s servant.” She held steadfast to God’s promise to Israel: the salvation of Israel would come. And with that act of complete faith and submission, she allowed God’s work to happen, unlike Eve who thought she knew best (Genesis 3:6).

And rather than feel a little resentful, like I sometimes can be when faced with hard decisions in which I do choose God but not wholeheartedly, because my desire is for what I had to give up, she rejoices. “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for He has been mindful of the humble state of His servant.” (Luke 1:46-48) Almost 10 full verses in the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel are a song of praise in the midst of what seems to me really hard circumstances. However, what I most admire about her is that she’s never lost the child-like faith of her youth, not even when her son was put to a gruesome and unjust death.

There is a 17thcentury stunning painting titled the Madonna of Sorrow by Giovanni Battista Salvi da Sassoferrato. Unlike traditional depictions of Mary as the mother of sorrows, she is beautiful and poised. To me, she reflects the peace that transcends all understanding of which Paul talks about in Philippians 4:7. In the Catholic tradition in which Salvi da Sassoferrato was painting, there are seven main moments of sorrow that mark the life of Mary the mother of Jesus: the prophecy of Simeon in Luke 2:34-35, the flight into Egypt (Matthew 2:13), the loss of the child Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem (Luke 2:43-45), the via dolorosa, the crucifixion of Jesus on Mount Calvary (Johh 19:25), the piercing of the side of Jesus and his deposition from the Cross (Matthew 27:57-59) and, at last, the burial (John 19:40-42). Mary knew the prophecies of the coming of the Messiah when she said yes to God. She would have known what Isaiah said about the suffering servant in the Nevi’im. And yet she rejoiced. She called it God’s favour. She was with Jesus at all the major events of His life, from His conception and birth to the start of His ministry at the wedding in Caana (John 2:3) after the events of His childhood, to His death and resurrection. We know she was with the disciples on Pentecost from Acts 1:14. The good and the bad, she called it all God’s favour, when I often fail to see God’s favour in the good in my life, let alone the bad.

Mary is often looked up to a lot as the example of motherhood for all women who came after her, and yet to me she is more than the mother of Jesus. She is an example of discipleship, of what total surrender to the will of God looks like. She was the one who told the servants at Caana “Do whatever He tells you” (John 2:5). That’s not just circumstantial advice to me, that’s knowing the nature of who Jesus was, and how we should behave towards God: no matter how odd something sounds, if we are to follow Him we do whatever He tells us. No ifs, no buts, no I-know-bests or this-is-not-what-I wants.

Mary always put Jesus first. It’s not just a sign of sacrificial maternal love. She may not have always understood, but she has always followed. She asked the angel how it would be possible (Luke 1:34) in a manner that shows she did not understand but was willing. The angel had rebukes Zechariah for his unbelief just a few verses earlier (Luke 1:13-20).
I know my mother loves me with a sacrificial love, but she is definitely not someone who can do away with her need to know things and control her life, so I believe there is more to Mary than motherhood. Her being a mother is interconnected with her discipleship, it’s how her discipleship played out in the grand scheme of things. Maybe it’s just that I can’t relate that much to the example of motherhood because that’s not how my discipleship took form, or at least not yet.

Mine is a story of learning humility the hard way, learning to trust in God’s timing and hold on to God’s promise. In small things and in big things. Like my mother, I am someone who needs the feeling of being in control. I was raised with an image of womanhood that was not the same as Mary’s. I’m not the woman of Proverbs 31. I’m strong-willed and stubborn, at times bossy, and have a really hard time doing as I’m told. The first word I have ever said was probably why. And had the angel of the Lord appeared to me, in that small house of Nazareth, like in the scene playing in my mind on the cold marble of Walsingham, my first question would have been why, not how. “Why me?”

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Why I started wearing a cocktail ring #LoveBlog2018

I was mindlessly scrolling through Facebook (as you do), when an article on modern women buying rings to celebrate milestones other than their engagements popped up. I glanced at the hand holding my phone, where a synthetic sapphire sits among zircons (I guess…) on the ring finger. It’s my right hand, and not an engagement ring. It seems to be the trend among single women, celebrating their independence. I have, however incredible that is (and however sadly for some), left the club. Celebrating singlehood is no longer on the cards, but I am quite determined to celebrate the amazing woman that I was before getting a boyfriend, and that I keep being afterwards. My new status doesn’t make me better or worse than I was before a man started to look at me with soppy eyes every night after work.

I often regret how much time I wasted wanting something I didn’t have, and chasing after the wrong people, when I should have been celebrating the woman I was. I, along the whole of the Church, professed a belief in a God that wonderfully and fearfully made me, one of me, not because He needed one, but because He wanted one. And still I, along with the vast majority of the Church, often felt defective for not being loved by a human being, as if the gruesome death on a cross that Jesus endured to atone my sins wasn’t enough love and validation.

It’s no more than two or three years since I had started to accept the idea that perhaps, I was destined to be single for life. I had started to find many reasons why being single was great, freedom more than anything else, and in fact some of it was freedom to be a workaholic. I mean, who is running a business while a full time post-graduate student and candidate for a local election and still a blogger? Someone once asked me the question about how I manage to fit it all in, and the truth was that being single (and not dating) meant a lot more time on my hands than if I had someone who demanded my attention.

Now I have someone who demands my attention, although I still work late often and he has to deal with me on FaceTime while in a Twitter chat or something. It asked me to evaluate whether I cared about this person enough to make space for him in my day. It doesn’t come easy, or naturally for me. It’s not like in romance novels when suddenly everything falls into place and you breeze off from brunch with the gals to seeing an art gallery followed by a romantic dinner and everyone is happy. I’m ill and a lot of what I do requires effort, and my weekends of late look more like a series of 1h30 naps. As much as I don’t want it to, I don’t always have the energy to keep in touch with more of one person at a time, and the person first on that list is my long-distance rlationship boyfriend because if he wasn’t I would be better off single.

And for that reason, I believe that being in a relationship makes it all the more important to celebrate me as me instead of me just in relation to the other person in my life. I don’t want to disappear behind my relationship status, I may be half of a couple, but I am also whole. A whole who has her identity in Jesus and not achievements, that’s true, but I’m also a woman who has achieved things worth remembering.

More importantly, this was a ring chosen by my mother when I exchanged a birthday gift from family, and she is also a woman who has achieved a lot. Her fight with cancer showed me a side of her that I had never seen, and changed our relationship for the better as now I understand her more as a woman. This is more than just a ring now, it’s a family memento that hopefully will last for at least a generation or two after me, in hope that the girls in my family will know that they are enough and the only man who has a right to validate them is Our Lord, God incarnate.

Today’s blog post has been part of the Love Blog Challenge 2018 on the subject “Celebration“. Find the rest of the series here.

Flowers and graphic saying the titles of the challenge

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