“When my husband kisses me, I know it will be praise that goes straight to heaven.” With those words I snagged a husband. In August of 1999, Boundless published my first article, entitled “(Don’t) Kiss Me.” The gist of it was that Christians need to take kissing more seriously, and I shared my own personal vow to save my first kiss for my wedding day. But as Sam Torode rightly accused me of in his rejoinder, “There’s More Than One Kind of Kiss,” I was not entirely innocent in my musings — I see in retrospect that, unconsciously, I was taking slight advantage of the opportunity to broadcast my availability. I was indeed employing reverse psychology — to pique Sam Torode’s interest, though I had never met him, did not yet know his name, and did not expect my future husband to write a critical response in return.
I am happy to say that it worked like a charm. On January 14th, 2000, Sam and I met face-to-face for the first time, went out to dinner, and talked for three hours. When I returned from the evening, my 12-year-old brother Micah said to me, “He’s older than you, he’s taller than you, he opened the door for you, and he’s a Christian — he’s the one!” He was right: on May 28th, Sam asked me to marry him.
Over the course of our engagement we received frequent e-mail messages from Boundless readers mistakenly assuming that our opinions on kissing were in direct opposition to each other — asking, “So, have you kissed yet?” or “Who won?” Sam usually replied by writing, “My friends often ask similar questions, and I refuse to satisfy their curiosity. I will say only: a vow is a vow, Bethany’s principles are my principles, and a kiss is a mystery that cannot be defined.”
They were usually frustrated with his response, because a vast majority of the inquirers were young women, and young women want details — preferably in romance-novel or how-to form (I can say that because I am the same way). They wanted to know if we hugged, if we kissed on the cheek, how much we touched.
Writing about kissing in theory is quite a different thing than writing about kissing a particular person. Not only are such details very private and sacred between Sam and me, they are also not things that any one couple should publish as suggested guidelines for thousands of readers, because while certain principles are universal, the specifics will vary with each couple’s situation.
Though I said in my first article that there is no perfect blueprint for every couple, by the undertone of the piece I implied otherwise. I have since learned that couples who save their first kiss for the altar are not necessarily any purer than those who save it for engagement. “The more you save before marriage, the more enjoyment you have afterwards” is not in and of itself a true statement. If that were entirely the case, then we should return to the days of arranged marriages, so that everything about our spouse would remain hidden until the day of the wedding.
When evaluating physical guidelines between yourself and your fiancé, the two most important factors to look at are family history and previous physical experience. For example, a woman who feels abandoned by her father as a result of divorce or absence could have a lot of insecurity that will cloud her understanding of selfless, loving physical expression. She will need to be on guard against using touch to assure herself of her worth, or that her boyfriend/fiancé will not leave her. In the same way, someone who has awakened his desires prematurely by taking touch out of the context of commitment will need to take greater measures to restore his purity when he does pledge himself to someone.
I’m not a relationship expert and, although this is my second article about kissing, I don’t want to become one. I don’t want to set Sam and myself up as the ideal. No couple has the perfect love story. The perfect love story is the marriage of Christ and the Church, which is yet to come — all of our human experiences are but dim reflections of that glorious event.
Christ is the only example of ideal purity and we should all be on guard against lifting others to that place, especially writers and speakers who choose to share their stories with us. No one is a virgin in heart, whether they’ve kissed or not. The Bible is very clear about that. We are all failures (be prepared to realize that in a painful way when you someday join your life with another’s).
In an otherwise excellent Christian relationship book I read recently, the author writes of “lusting” after his fiancée’s legs. After a war with his conscience, he tells her that he needs to be alone for awhile. I winced when I read this. Using “lust” in reference to desiring your intended is a depressing misuse of the word. Lust is the objectification of another human being, which happens when you remove the soul, spirit and mind of the other — the essence of them in all their profound individualness — and crave their body solely for your own satisfaction. I doubt the author was enjoying that leg as an object — he admired it because it was his fiancée’s. There is a beautiful flame of attraction that can be referred to as pure, holy desire, and it exists between all couples who are in healthy communion with each other, weaving their lives together within a covenant.
Many people, including myself, have said that there are only two states of romantic involvement outlined in the Bible — singleness and marriage — and that there is no room in-between for physical interaction. “Not married? Don’t touch. Married? Go hog wild!” But the engagement period is not a time to act like singles — never touching, never being alone together. It is a time when you learn how to channel your pure affections and passions to God through your intended, always with the thought of the other in mind. I would venture to say that touch is an important part of this. To self-disciplined, engaged couples, I would highly recommend admiring the beautiful gift of each other’s legs. In our culture, engaged couples desperately need to retreat from the world and redeem their Hollywood-polluted views of sex.
Of course not all desires, however good, can be acted upon before marriage. But when you’re struggling with them, don’t withdraw into yourself — share your burden. It takes away the secrecy and inner struggle, which Satan can use to blow things out of proportion. It was always very helpful for me to tell Sam, “Boy, I really feel like kissing you right now” — because then I was reminded of my commitment not to. God gives our fiancés to us for accountability and partnership.
The Bible does speak of an in-between period, a time when you are not single but not yet fully married. This is referred to in Matthew 1:18, where Joseph is called the husband of Mary, though he has not yet “taken her as his wife” or consummated the marriage. In traditional Hebrew practices, after a couple became betrothed they were considered legally bound to each other, so much that if the engagement were broken, one party would see the other in court.
We would do well to take our cues from the laws of God’s chosen people. Engagement should be binding, because you have given your word — and that should never be retracted, except under dire circumstances. Many parents and pastors do not stress this enough, and many young women do not take this into consideration when presented with that distracting diamond ring. We live in a society that treats commitment flippantly, but it is crucial that we understand how important it is to not promise things we cannot follow through on. (After engagement, I remember Sam pondering how connected we were, and commenting, “If we were to break up now it would be like a divorce.”) At that point of “yes,” you enter into something beyond a trial period.
Over the summer Newsweek ran a cover story on female sexuality. In the following issue a long-married couple wrote a letter to the editor pointing out something that Newsweek had missed: the greatest aphrodisiacs for a woman are her husband taking out the garbage and bathing the kids. This seems simple, but it strikes a very complex and important concept — that sex without deeds is dead; that when our romantic acts are separated from the rest of life — even menial tasks — passion evaporates and we are left with an empty shell of what love should be. We cannot divide our lives into compartments. We need to stop referring to our “spiritual life” and “sex life” as separate from “everyday life.” All aspects of our nature are connected in such a way that everything that goes on in the kitchen, dining room and church impacts the bedroom — and vice-versa.
And just as we should not draw hard lines between sexuality, spirituality and real life, we cannot separate the mind, soul and body. Our soul doesn’t reside in some cavity in our chests, it is woven throughout our flesh. Because of this unity, when our spirit joins in prayer with another’s, an emotional bond is formed. In the same way, our lips cannot do something without it affecting our soul.
There are three main ways you weave your selves together in love in preparation for marriage: physical, mental and spiritual. It’s like three thermometers — the mercury in each should be rising as you approach your wedding day. And you’ll see that the closer you get spiritually and mentally, the closer you will desire to be physically. This is good and right, but it also means you need to be wise. It doesn’t take that long to prepare for marriage (Sam and I moved our wedding up a month and a half and completely switched plans in one weekend). A short engagement is a great aid to purity — and patience!
One large problem with much contemporary Christian teaching on sexuality is that the church has soaked up the culture’s over-sexualization of everything. (Perhaps if we would limit our movie and media intake we’d be better equipped to avoid this.) As a result, we often talk of ourselves as if we were hormone machines. This is a very animalistic view of what the Bible calls the image of God.
Until I met Sam, I didn’t realize that I had assumed this point of view, which implies that our passions are stronger than our wills. What I gleaned from the broad range of evangelical relationship books I read in my teens was that all passion leads to sex, and that a kiss was a surefire means of eventually going too far. What I’ve learned since then is that passion begins the minute you glance into each other’s eyes, and not kissing doesn’t prevent it from building. Our wills, when in submission to the Holy Spirit, are strong enough to make sure that we will not compromise our principles. We can’t blame blind passion when we fall short of our standards. We are never irrational to “the point of no return.” We are not completely lost until we choose to lose ourselves. Hollywood pretends this isn’t so. We’ve all seen it — two characters are attracted to each other, and the minute they’re alone their lips are drawn together by a magnetic force they cannot resist — and then they just can’t help falling into bed. That is utter rubbish.
This over-sexualizing has also taken the form of over-romanticizing our expectations. I know I used to subconsciously believe that if I let God write my love story (by not participating in casual dating or kissing) then my romance would unfold like a novel. But just because you do all the “right things” according to the relationship experts doesn’t mean God is going to give you a purity trophy — that knockout Christian superstar who will make all your friends turn green with jealousy.
Our God delights in writing quirky stories using everyday materials — his own son was not a king but a carpenter, the son’s mother a poor Jewish girl. Don’t dismiss the young men and women that others seem to always overlook — they are often the ones who make the best husbands and wives. You might not be smitten with overwhelming tingles the first time your hand brushes the one you end up marrying, but don’t gauge your future by what happens in the movies. Quite a bit of love is quiet companionship and deep friendship.
On November 24th, I married my quiet companion and deep friend. When he kissed me, I did not feel pure because I was a virgin, or because I was wearing a white dress, or because I had saved my lips for him. I felt pure because I knew that it was a fresh beginning (as is every morning) — that Jesus gave me to him to continue making us both holy through the perpetual confession and forgiveness that comes in married life. I pray that when I am 60 and he kisses me, my lips will be more pure than they were on my wedding day.
Copyright © 2000 Bethany Torode. This article first appeared on Boundless webzine. Used by permission.
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