Nothing about my courtship or marriage was supposed to happen.
I wasn’t supposed to give my heart away, not even a piece. Especially not to an unapproved guy whose family did not share our standards. They were good enough to be our friends, but definitely not intended for future marriage prospects. And I was only 17 anyway. 17-yr-olds were supposed to be concerned with serving the Lord and their families and weren’t anywhere near mature enough to know their own minds. “The heart is deceitful”, after all, especially when you’re 17.
But there I was, fallen from grace, in love with a boy. It was completely unintentional. I never meant for it to happen. But he was my friend and suddenly he was more. This is why we weren’t supposed to be friends with boys. Falling in love was something that ungodly dating people did. We practiced courtship and emotional purity and that meant no falling in love, no giving away pieces of your heart, no emotional fornication, only parent-approved courtship to one person who would end up my husband through a means of careful formulas to be sure no mistakes were made.
But I failed. I was in love. I was no better than The World after all.
The agony of coming to grips with my failure, of pleading with God to take away this forbidden feeling, to make my heart whole again, the guilt that I had somehow let this happen and had failed myself and my parents and my entire sub-culture was more than any teenage girl could bear. I begged God for forgiveness, I tried avoiding The Boy, I tried reading my Bible more and spent hours praying and throwing myself into my schoolwork and church activities. But it was apparent that, regardless of what I had been taught and what had been drilled into me by the courtship books, love is not something you can control.
And my whole carefully constructed world came crashing down around me.
I had to come to grips with the fact that everything I had believed was a lie. That many of the teachings on purity and “guarding your heart” and courtship and relationships were not at all reality, but some grand scheme made up to try to control other people’s lives. I couldn’t even find these ideas in my well-worn Bible, nor logically work them out in my head. Yet I knew that if my parents had any inkling of what was swirling around my head, there would be hell to pay and my life would be even more miserable than it already was. I was not free to have my own beliefs on this matter, even as an adult.
I kept it from them, my budding secret relationship with The Boy, my feelings and our talks (because if feeling emotional attachment for someone was forbidden, talking about it to them was even worse). I kept it from them until the day they told me they had to, for my own good, keep me away from him because he liked me and that couldn’t be allowed. Here’s my written account of what went down that day, taken from my journal of that time:
“We need to talk,” they said. “We’ve decided that you and Sky are spending too much time together. It’s not good for either of you. He’s obviously attracted to you and we feel we need to guard your heart so you don’t end up giving it away to the wrong person at the wrong time. I know you’re good friends and we’d like to keep it that way so we feel like you shouldn’t spend so much time together.”
Dad was about to go on when I blurted out “It’s too late!”
They just looked at me while I gathered all the courage I had and declared, “I’m in love with him.”
They looked at each other and my mom sighed dramatically. “This is exactly what we were trying to avoid. It’s OK,” my mom patted my lap. “We’re in this together and we’ll help you get through this.”
“I don’t want to get through this” I said quietly. They looked at me in silent shock.
Then I told them all…But I knew they didn’t understand. “Don’t you think,” my dad said, “that if this were God’s will for you, that He would tell me?”
“Maybe, maybe not”, I replied. “Maybe He wants you to hear it from me. Maybe part of growing up is learning to listen to God on my own.”
“You know,” Mom tried, “sometimes we can want something so badly that we think God is telling us something that He’s not. This could all be coming from your own heart. Our hearts are deceitful, after all.”
“Mom,” I said, “do you believe that I have a strong relationship with the Lord?”
“Well, yes,” she replied.
“So why is it so hard to believe that He would speak to me and show me the direction He wants me to go in my life?” I asked earnestly.
The answer was pretty much what I thought it would be: because the direction God was supposedly showing me was not the direction they had planned. I came away from that talk with the impression that they thought this was just a phase that would run its course. Once again they proved how little they knew me and how little they really wanted to.
It all went downhill from there. I documented the entire story on my blog, in 12 parts. It’s painful to read, difficult even now to relive the agony of the girl I was, the girl who had to fight, to be strong, the girl whose heart was ripped out again and again by the very people who claimed to protect it, all in the name of God. The girl who wanted nothing more than to please God, who had to use spiritual-sounding language and justifications to do what should’ve been a normal part of growing up. But that’s what happens when you’re raised to be, not yourself, not an autonomous person, but an asset to be controlled.
I read my journals and even the story I wrote out 6 years ago, and I am angered. I should not have had to use God to justify my choices. I should not have had to invoke His will for my life, to try to convince my parents that I knew my own mind and could “hear God for myself”. I should not have had to field emotional abuse and manipulation and spiritual control of my mind and heart and body. I should not have had to flee home just to get away from them and find peace. I was an adult, that should have been enough to make my own choices.
But in our world, it was not. In the world for which courtship was invented, the ultimate sin was rebellion against God’s order of authority, against what your parents wanted for you, and choosing to walk on your own amid cries of “rebellion”. In this world, men could not be trusted and women were assets to be controlled, and the two could only meet under many layers of rules meant to keep us dependent on our authorities, despising of our own desires, and mistrusting of our own hearts and minds. It has always amazed me how two people who were declared not mature enough to conduct a relationship without supervision and under extreme outside constraint could somehow be mature enough to begin a marriage.
It took me until about 4 years ago to finally stop making spiritual-sounding excuses for why we conducted a secret relationship, why we rejected courtship, why we did everything “wrong” and against my parents’ will, to stop trying to get anyone listening to acknowledge the legitimacy of our choices by invoking God’s will.
To finally simply declare, “Because it was what we wanted and we had that right”.
Such a basic idea yet so foreign to those of us who are refugees from the homeschooling movement. We have that right….the right to love, to choose, to live. To not have our adult choices dictated by another, our autonomy robbed in the name of “because God says so”, coerced by ideologies that left us no real choice because “do this or suffer hell” is not a real choice.
It was what we wanted. And that should have been enough.