The sun pouring through the high window of my dorm at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was a baptism of sorts, drenching me in my twin bed in slits of light. Sadly, that morning during my freshman year was anything but cleansing. Thoughts of the night before washed over me, and suddenly a memory knocked the euphoria right out of me. A promise I’d made at age 13 had been broken.
As I lay in bed, freshly departed from my virginity, I recalled saying I would not have sex before marriage. It wasn’t a pact between best friends or a vow to my parents; I had made this covenant with God, and I had broken it. Instantly, I felt bare. I needed to hide like Adam and Eve when God discovered they had eaten the apple. Only hours before, I felt empowered. Now, I was swimming in disappointment.
Worst of all, I was too ashamed to tell anyone: not my pot-smoking roommate, not my boyfriend and certainly not my Baptist parents.
A Promise to God
The night of that promise, so many years before, I was attending a fiery Wednesday night revival at my family’s church in the mountains of North Carolina. Listening to the preacher rail against teenagers experimenting with S-E-X in the backseats of cars filled me with dread and embarrassment.
What was this S-E-X anyway? How did it work? These were questions I had never been able to ask my mom. S-E-X was just not discussed in my household. When the pastor invited all the youth to the altar to stand with their parents, I followed. In front of my family and the entire church, I promised God I would remain chaste until marriage.
Through high school, I took that promise seriously—it wasn’t that hard, frankly, since my parents didn’t allow me to date too much. We never talked about it, as if they simply expected me to keep that promise, despite the fact that I was maturing. After all, they’d raised me “right,” in the church, and taught me right from wrong. Shouldn’t that be enough to get me through my teenage years?
As I let the reality of my broken promise sink in, I began to question my spiritual future. If I’d broken a promise to God, didn’t that mean I had lied? What happens to God-liars? What happens to people who break God’s big rules?
Those questions came to me in the middle of midterm exams and on fall walks home to my apartment. They shadowed my serious relationships. That didn’t mean I stopped having pre-marital sex—that apple had been tasted—but I knew it was a sin. I kept my inner conflict locked away until shortly before my marriage. That was when I decided I needed to chat with the one being who already knew my secret: God.
In my fear of God’s judgment, I realized that I had forgotten His love and forgiveness. During one communion at our church, I knelt and pleaded to God for forgiveness and to help me lead a better life.
Then and there, I promised myself that I would fully explain sexuality to my child someday, and that I would teach my daughter to make sound and responsible choices in her relationships, including waiting to have sex until she truly loves the one she’s with. I just don’t want her to ever feel afraid to talk to me about it.
I say this now in her toddlerhood, hoping I have the fortitude to see it through—which is why I knelt that communion day and spoke a prayer from my Baptist youth: God, give me the understanding to walk the way you would have me walk.
I believe I felt some deliverance that day. A burden was lifted from me. It felt too easy, I must admit, like I just stepped off death row. I realized that day at communion that I had to rely on God, had to trust him more in the important decisions of my life. Promises aren’t really one-sided, after all.
At our wedding, the pastor reminded my husband and me of that as he asked our relatives to guide us in our marriage; to remind us of our vows. So instead of me making promises to God, I also needed to look to God for help in keeping that covenant.
Seven years ago in October, I made another covenant with God, a joint promise, and one I plan to keep: to love, honor and respect my husband. And we sealed it with this scripture from 1 John 3: 1-3: “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he shall appear we shall be like him for we shall see him as he is.”