The Thing About Purity

12 January 2012, 08:30



The funny thing about purity is how the pursuit of it drove so many people into utter promiscuity.

Odd statement, I know. But let me explain.

It wasn’t the concept of being or remaining pure that led me to that room where I reached the pinnacle of my self-destruction one night. It was a process of lecture after lecture of berating verbal abuse that set me on a path my parents had sought to protect me from ever discovering.

I started out a bright, innocent, happy girl. Ever trusting, exuberant, joyful–These were all key descriptors people would use when talking about me. But as our family changed with our involvement in Bill Gothard’s ministries, I became someone else entirely—confused, guilt-ridden, and eventually despairing.

When I was in my early teens, my father reported to me that the father of a pair of super-cute guys who were almost in their 20’s had lamented the fact that I was not a more suitable courting age–otherwise he would broach an agreement with my father regarding a union with one of them. This both confused and intrigued me. I was thrilled at the thought that someone would see my worth, since I was already convinced I were a useless sinner, rife with lust and evil.

By this time, we had become official members of the Advanced Training Institute (ATI). My mom called me to her room one day and kept me there for HOURS, coaxing out of me any wrong doing I had ever committed, so that I could “clear my conscience” and not have to answer to God for said wrong-doings. It would prove to be the first of countless confession sessions. Over time, I preempted her coaxing by freely confessing. Eventually, it got to the point where any time I had a thought or a dream, or even worse ACTED on such wickedness, I would run to my mom or dad (or both) and fill them in on my sinful activities. Without the confession, I could not feel clean.

When I turned 13, I discovered my most guilty pleasure and the bane of my teenage existence: Masturbation. I knew this was a sin I would be expected to confess. I acted on these urges from time to time, but kept this illicit activity to myself. That is, until one of our nightly confession sessions. Mom walked in at an inopportune moment. Her reaction was immediate and severe. She grilled me about how often I did it, the method I employed, and wanted to know in detail what I fantasized about. With tears in my eyes and a boulder in my throat, I filled her in on the details she requested. That was it for me. From that point on, I felt like I was no better than a whore. But there was a problem: I had these urges that I did not know what to do with. And when I did take care of those urges it relaxed me, calmed me down, and made me feel happy. But then, that relaxing feeling would be taken over by dread, knowing that in no time at all Mom would be once again grilling me as to whether I had given in to temptation.

This went on for years. The grilling, the confessions, and the failure—I was losing faith in myself. Purity mocked my weak resolve. I could have just lied; I could have just withheld the information, but I was convinced that there would be dire consequences should I do so. We were trained after all–through Wisdom Booklets, Counseling Seminars, and Basic Seminars–that our parents were the final authority over their children, our protection from the consequences of God for our sinful natures. We had to answer to them for our every action, every thought. So I did.

Around the age of fourteen, my Dad introduced the concept of courtship. It was painted in such a romantic light–my hand being won by a dashing young man who proved his honor and godliness and would be the perfect husband. What girl DIDN’T want that?? All we had to do was keep working on becoming the perfect little home-maker. Everywhere we went, we must dress modestly so as not to turn off potential suitors with our brazenness. We must act like and be ladies at all times, because Dad would be judging our readiness for marriage based on how we “kept a home, at home.” We were to give our Dad our hearts and treat him like our husband in the mean-time, so as not to give away the unsoiled ground of our hearts. For if we were to give even a piece of our heart away it was “un-whole” and not worth as much. In an unusually brave moment one day, I said, “Well, I really just want to be held by a man! I want to be kissed and touched and physically loved. Not sex or anything just that physical affection.” My fathers response was, “I can fill in that role until God brings you your husband. Any time you need a hug or to be held, you just come find me and my arms are always open.” I took him at his word, and being an extremely passionate, physically affectionate person, would do just as he said. I live for hugs. So, when I felt sad or lonely I would go find my dad. We would actually snuggle in a horizontal position. And the older I got, the weirder it felt to look for that kind of affection from my father.

Being a passionate person, I still found myself strongly attracted to the opposite sex. I was boy crazy, to be honest. But because I was indoctrinated from an early age that crushes were sinful, I would justify them in my mind by thinking, “Well, maybe HE is the one God will choose for me to marry.” I would then become obsessed with the idea of marrying the boys I crushed on. This is problem number one with the courtship model: Little girls are not only discouraged from BEING little girls and enjoying little schoolgirl crushes–we are taught to focus (nay, obsess) on marriage from early ages. When a girl from a young age becomes obsessed with getting married, thinking it is her ultimate calling, something becomes lost in her.

I was no exception. Every crush, every fascination, every sideways glance from a male friend became a possible match in my head. I had no clue how to choose a potential partner, because the only advice I received from my parents regarding dating, relationships, sex, marriage, men in general fell within the lines of instructions such as, “Sex of any kind, including self-satisfaction, passionate kissing, and inappropriate situations, is all sinful and should be avoided all together. The only thing men want from you whether it is the 7-year-old boy you babysit or the 80-year-old retired pastor who lives next door, is sex. It doesn’t matter what they say, how they act, or what you think. It is impossible to be friends with a male. Period. You don’t have to worry about how to find a spouse, because God will show him to your dad. Your dad will do all that hard stuff, like getting to know them and weeding out any bad ones. Once someone has worked for your hand and we know he is from God, then we will allow him to interact with you and begin the process of wooing your heart. It is at that point that you have veto power.” These were some of their exact words to me. I was ill equipped to say the least.

As I began to blossom into womanhood an odd thing began to happen. Guys actually showed interest in me. I was found to be attractive by members of the opposite sex, which baffled me. I had not been led to believe that I was attractive by my family. So, the first time a boy flirted with me I was overwhelmed, happy, and shocked, among a plethora of emotions. My mind went where it was trained to go—wondering if this boy was marriage material. But it wasn’t meant to be. My parents saw me talking to him at church of all places, and noticed we were not only talking without parental supervision but were smiling at each other too, which only meant one thing: We were fornicating with our minds. I got lectured the whole way home about the dangers of emotional promiscuity and the importance of keeping my body, mind, and heart pure.

I was still intrigued by this boy who actually found me pretty, so I sent him a letter. It went something along the lines of, “It was great to meet you. I hope we can keep in touch.” His response was intercepted by my parents before I got a chance to read it. I was awakened by a spewing, vehement rage I had only seen in movies up to that point. My mom first, and then my dad screamed at me. They berated me, called me horrible names and told me horrible things, like I would end up pregnant, homeless, and penniless at fifteen, if I continued on my path of destruction.

It was at this point that I stopped confessing altogether. My innocence was gone, and evidently my purity was nearly lost irrevocably. It seemed that my parents were not interested in my spiritual well-being. Rather, it seemed that they actually hated me for my betrayal. I found out years later that my dad had found and threatened that poor young boy. He told the boy that he would make his life miserable if he ever so much as dreamed of contacting his daughter again. Little did my dad in his “wisdom” know that this “rebellious” boy would grow to be a brilliant, mighty man of God who had a heart for healing broken people. Broken people like I was about to become.

As the years went on, more boys came along who were interested in me. I grew better at hiding my feelings from my parents, though it didn’t seem to matter. They somehow always found a way to discover what was going on with me–whether it was reading my journal, intercepting my mail, or searching my room.

Looking back, I realize that I was a really good kid. I obeyed the letter of the law, but it was never enough. The standard that had been set was so impossibly high, and the verbal attacks I suffered on an almost daily basis drove me into a deep depression. I felt worthless. There was no hope. I was capable of no good. I was no good.

If my worth was wrapped up in my mental purity then I had destroyed that, because I had given my heart to more than one boy. The only thing I had left to hold on to was my physical purity.

I met a guy who was older than me. He fit the marriage criteria. In fact, he said he was in the process of starting a rescue mission in India. He was handsome and confident and said all the right things. I was smitten, and became convinced that if I married him we could make a difference together. Over time, I grew to trust him completely. We began seeing each other. As time went by, we became more and more physical with each other. We flirted with the line of what was fooling around and what was going all the way. I was naïve and foolish, and I trusted him completely. Until the day that my last bit of self-worth was whisked away in the time span of about 10 seconds. There, standing in a garage over a pile of dirty laundry like the cheap whore I was made to feel like, it was gone. He knew I had wanted to wait for that. He knew I was a virgin. But it didn’t matter. My purity was gone along with any shred of self-worth I had left. I now officially was nothing.

I went home feeling completely empty. There was no way my parents could know. They had screamed at me over a letter from a boy—this was far worse. I had to just move on and keep trying to pretend that I hadn’t just been destroyed, but it didn’t work. Word got out to my circle of friends that I was “promiscuous,” and my fate was sealed. I was now the resident whore. I reached out to the few people in my life whom I thought could help me, but even they turned their backs on me. The depression I had been managing for years raged with a new-found fury. The screaming bouts with my mom were getting worse. ALL of my friends abandoned me except one–a guy who had been a confidante to me.  He was there for me. He comforted me. He held me. Our friendship turned physical.

This new relationship would mark the beginning of a new pattern in my life that brought me to that room that night. The only friend I had left wanted me for booty calls. He was at least honest about it, but he really did only want me for one thing. I decided that must be all I was worth any more—a good lay. So, that’s what I became. There were a few months in there where I would get sloppy drunk and have indiscriminate sex with random guys. I am not proud of this fact. I am actually growing nauseous as I write it, because it sickens me to think of who I was then. I hate that girl. I was a lost, sick, pup who would turn to anyone who might make her feel a little attractive and worthy of attention at least for a little while. For a time, I actually felt empowered by the fact that I could get any guy in the sack. If guys could be players, why couldn’t girls? I was a player, all right. I got to the point where I would use men specifically to hurt them. I had lost the ability to love. If all I had been good for was to be a perfect virginal bride and that was gone, then what WAS I good for? Exactly nothing. I might as well have a little fun, right? I had become jaded.

And then one night I reached bottom. I found myself riding in the back of a car with my other wild-child friend and three guys we had met that night in a bar. Our designated driver had almost run off the road multiple times, was going at least 95, came within inches of multiple cars and was swerving worse than I can begin to describe to you. It turned out that he had been popping ecstasy all night and was farther gone then any of the rest of us. I knew I was going to die, and my parents would have no clue where I was or who I was with. We, by the hand of God, arrived unscathed at our destination, although our destination couldn’t have been further from anywhere God wanted me. It was that night in a foreign bed in a strange room, lying next to a guy whose last name I didn’t even know, that I lay staring at the ceiling crying bitter tears of hurt, disillusionment, and fear. I felt trapped, and couldn’t wait for the morning to come. I was imprisoned that night in the  room–not by that guy, but by my broken life, and by bad decision upon bad decision. I got out of bed and stared at myself in the bathroom mirror. Who had I become? I WAS a whore. And I hated myself with a fiery passion. There were several times after that night, while taking a bath, that I would hold my breath and go under water to see how it would feel to just end it all.

Something had changed inside me. I knew I had to do something drastic and fast or I would do something truly stupid. I swore off men, enrolled in a college in another state, and got a job–standing on my own two feet for the first time. Getting out and away was one of the best things I could have done. While I was there, I met a guy who was unlike any guy I had ever met before. He was a genuine friend to me in a way I never knew possible. He was kind to me; he listened to me. He respected me, and didn’t want me just for sex. He loved me and went out of his way to show me so. He would ask my opinion on things, and he let me speak my thoughts. He let me pour out my heart to him, and was with me not because of what he could get from me, but what we could be together. It took a long time for me to pull down my walls and allow him to love me–or to allow myself to give my heart to him. Because of my past, my lack of self-worth, and the hurt I had suffered at the hand of selfish men, I really struggled with the idea that someone could love ME. Hadn’t I given all that was valuable away already? Why would he want someone who was anything but “pure”?

I began to understand that he DID love me. When I tried to push him away, he loved me. When I tried to run, he loved me. When I struggled with trusting, he was patient and he loved me. I finally knew what unconditional love looked like. He picked me up out of the mud; he cleansed my heart with his love. He forgave me when in my hurt I hurt him…. sound familiar? He showed me redemption. After we had been together for a few years, he asked me to be his bride. I joyfully accepted. It took a lot of time and patience, but over time, he showed me that my virginity did not define my worthiness. Nor did feelings I had or refrained from having affect my purity. In fact, my past–though regrettable–had actually played a part in shaping me into the woman I am today. And even beyond all of that, he helped me see that I am a beautiful, lovely woman. I am priceless. I HAVE worth in not only my husband’s eyes but in GOD’S eyes. As amazing, loving, and merciful as my husband was to me, God was infinitely more so.

Its taken some time, but over the years I have forgiven my parents, and I love them dearly. I also know that they love me and really were trying to do the best they could with what they believed. Before we joined ATI, my house was a happy, fun, lively place. My parents were balanced in their rules and expectations of us. I firmly believe that it was the indoctrination of IBLP and ATI that drove them to be over the top. When well-meaning parents who want the best for their children are presented with a formula that promises godly, brilliant children with outstanding character–there aren’t many parents who wouldn’t listen and implement said program. Especially when it seems to be scriptural, and is backed up with countless anecdotes and “testimonies” supporting that formula.

You can say that those of us whose stories you read here are merely bitter, but you are wrong. I am not bitter in the least at my parents. I have forgiven them. We have a fabulous relationship now. I am not even bitter at ATI. But I offer my story to you as a warning: The formula was flawed.

I am not proposing that being taught the importance of purity is what drove me into utter degradation. It was the over-emphasis on works and the utter lack of grace or redemption that made me feel that I had nothing left. It is VITAL that girls know that their worth and value is not derived from their innocence. That it is not earned from anything they do or refrain from doing. We are valuable because God says we are. He loves us, He created us and called us His children. And He sent Jesus to die on the cross to redeem us from sin we had not yet committed. But He knew we would sin! We are powerless to remain sinless. If ANYONE had that power, then what was the cross for?? This is the danger with the teaching of IBLP. Misguiding anyone to think that grace is actually some mystical power with which we can withstand temptation and sin is not only wrong, but is heresy in its truest form. The grace of God is His love, forgiveness, and mercy regardless of anything we do or abstain from doing.

I now have daughters and it scares me beyond words to think about them foraying into the dating world, but I intend that they will be WELL equipped. They will know from a young age what sex is, how it works, and what it means. They will know about masturbation, and that self-discovery is not a shameful thing. It is also no one’s business but theirs. They will have privacy and self-respect, and know that their bodies are their own. And they don’t have to share it with anyone they don’t want to. They will also know to choose wisely whom they will share themselves with both emotionally and physically. They will also have an open channel of communication free from judgment with both me and their Daddy. They will know that crushes are great things and it’s their job as little girls to have them; but you don’t love just anybody. People have to prove themselves in relationships. My girls really are all that, and have priceless value. And I want them to know that no matter what happens or where they find themselves in life, they will always be loved, accepted, and highly cherished by their daddy, me and most of all, their Heavenly Father.

Because they are princesses. And they don’t have to go around kissin’ on frogs.

"Mary Elizabeth" and her husband live in Spokane, WA with their three girls. She is a writer and a mother. Her family joined ATI while she was quite young and left when her youngest sibling graduated highschool in '99.
All articles on this site reflect the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of other Recovering Grace contributors or the leadership of the site. Students who have survived Gothardism tend to end up at a wide variety of places on the spiritual and theological spectrum, thus the diversity of opinions expressed on this website reflects that. For our official statement of beliefs, click here.


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