It was the year of Britney Spears, Nsync, and Dawson's Creek. The beginning of the millenial and I was a 12 year old fully living "life" with music blasting in my ears from my discman while decked in neon colors. I was the kid in between the 90s and the early 00s and while a lot of events and personality defined my generation, what defined me the most was a book called I Kissed Dating Goodbye.
Unknown to many, I was placed in an outrageous grade school located in one of the country's most upscale villages. At a young age, I was exposed to the extravagances of life because of rich classmates. There was an excess of everything and yes, that included dating. My parents knew this wasn't a conducive environment to grow up in and so they did what no 12 year old wanted: pluck me out of my comfort zone and placed in a Christian education system that involved working on PACES and chapel services. If my former environment was excessive, this environment could be noted as oppressive.
And though I resisted it at the beginning, I grew to love it because it helped me discover God. And even as a "rebellious" 12 year old, my relationship with Him has always been the most comforting aspect of my life.
I was 12 when I was first introduced to the book by Joshua Harris, the Christian cult favorite, I Kissed Dating Goodbye. I recall seeing it being carried around by a popular upperclassmen and so being the crowd follower that I was, I begged my mom for a copy, not knowing it would affect my perspective and how I approached dating for the most of my adult life.
The book, which I religiously read and reread from the time I first picked it up when I was 13 up until I was 25 spoke about keeping one's self pure with chapters like why window shop if you're not going to buy. In my impressionable young mind, it made sense: to skip the dating part and the rejection and wait for "God's best".
The author's intention may have been simple: to spend our 'single' years cultivating all parts of our lives instead of just one and to avoid unnecessary heartbreak by not placing our worth in relationships and so on. In retrospect and as an adult, I do understand that. Today, I understand that real happiness and security cannot be found in anything apart from Jesus Christ.
However, as an impressionable teenager, the book seemed like a rule book with the promise that if you follow all the rules (i.e.: not dating, devoting all time to "Bible Studies", not having crushes, not sleeping around etc) you will get "God's best". However, "God's best" was never defined so it was relative. Somehow, God's best always meant someone "perfect", someone who would never "hurt" me, and the complete package.
It spoke about the rules but it never spoke about the process of real life relationships and since the book speaks about "intentional" dating, hanging out with another was never an option. Getting to know people was suddenly pressuring because you only "dated" who you intended to marry (hey, even at 26 you never truly know who you want to marry).
Mr. Harris' intention of retooling the focus to God was suddenly overtaken by everyone's desire to "do it right", so while he discouraged "crushes" and so on, the obsession with the rules kept relationships as still the main focus instead of other things.
In a way and based on observation alone, this culture has raised (and this may be a tough pill to swallow because I swallowed it myself") a bunch of entitled Christian women who because they have "waited" for so long and kept their "purity" that they deserved perfect Christian men more than women who didn't. It raised women who are expecting too much from men and who saw everyone else with judgmental eyes.
It propagated a culture of, "hey why did she get that relationship when I've been wilting away for so long here" and sadly enough, a culture of slut shaming that comes from a sense of entitlement.
The book, with all of its good intentions, created a culture that put self first instead of God. It heightened the culture of "me" and "what I am doing" vs. what the world is doing as opposed to what God is doing in me and through me by the power of His grace. It retooled the focus on legalism instead of grace.
It was keeping score and thinking that if I followed all the rules indicated, I will marry the perfect man of my dreams that doesn't exist in the whole entire universe. It made up for a Christian fairytale, a narrative comparable to that of Disney's, only tweaked slightly to make it holier. For the longest time, I have been hidden in my own shame whenever I didn't follow my chosen rule book and felt prideful when I found others who did "worse" things than I did. I was a legalistic person who followed the rules, I was no fun and most importantly, I wasn't happy.
It was as if I held specific parts of my life in my hands, that if I did what I was told and if I kept myself pure, life will be perfect. It completely takes God out of the equation -- when He should have been the focus all along. It made me discontented with the life I had because the "sacrifices" and "effort" I put into being pure wasn't being reciprocated by life. Just a year ago, I had a "rebellious" phase because I felt like God wasn't rewarding me for all the things I worked hard for.
I was the Christian Regina George and it wasn't pretty.
Anything that takes me away from focusing on God is an idol -- even if the intention is in 'pleasing' him. I was an extremely polished and perfect from the outside -- I was prideful in thinking that I deserved the best simply because I was doing all that I could to remain 'holy' when in truth, because of what Jesus did, I am already perfect, not because of anything I did, didn't do, or about to do but because of what God did for me through Jesus.
It was constantly looking over my shoulder, afraid that every step would take it away from the "grand" plan but in reality, the grand plan has already been finished -- I have been saved by grace and I have been given the best life that didn't need my manipulation.
The past year, though appearing perfect to some, has challenged me and what I have believed in for so long and writing this has helped me revisit the person I used to be -- controlling, insecure, and constantly on the go in an effort to please. What was meant to help my walk with God has turned me into the person so devoid of life.
After reaching the end of my rope, I have learned to revisit my relationship with God and appreciating His grace even more. Because at the end of the day, as Andrew Farley would say, it's Jesus plus nothing and with Him, there are no rules, I am just loved, period.
"But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace." - Romans 11:6