Me, God, boys and a piece of paper.
I was 14 when God and I met person to person. I can’t remember quite how it happened. Mostly, I remember kind people. I remember sensing something wrong had been made right. I remember a deep sense of peace filled me. A peace which gurgled and boiled over into the crinkles on the side of my eyes and sleepy morning thoughts like a pot of home made soup filled to the brim with too many good things.
The meeting happened during my first year of High School. One of the girls in my dorm invited me to the Student Christian Association (SCA) hang outs held every Thursday evening near the communal dining room. She asked nicely, so I went. At first, I didn’t like it. It felt uncomfortable like changing your hair colour, or piercing your nose, or being the newbie in a big corporate firm. Then I became more used to it, and I didn’t like missing it.
I guess when you choose God and church, you choose Christian culture too and I was about to experience this. I remember The SCA announcing we were going to have a “Relationships Night.” I wasn’t excited. I wasn’t anything. I was a skinny and innocent farm kid who had been spent the majority of her life barefoot chasing chickens in shorts with ripped holes, or lying in the speckled shade of a Pinoak tree reading books. Boys were my brother’s friends. Boys were weird and they liked rugby. I didn’t. My knowledge of anything to do with male and female relationships was my Mum paging through books on the facts of life (awkward silences) and a room of Grade 7’s giggling and drawing human reproductive organs on the board. I didn’t want a boyfriend, even though they earned you High School status points. I wanted to ride ponies and get A’s.
I was quite into the SCA by that time though, so I went along. The head of the SCA, Jack, from Hilton College came to give us the “Relationships Night”. He was a Christian male and the whole room had a crush on him. The words he spoke on that night are still fresh in my mind. Jack stared at us intently and held up a piece of paper.
“This,” he said, “is what you have been given for your future husband”.
All 100 of us looked at the paper. We looked at Jack’s tousled blonde hair and de paused for effect, “every time you kiss someone,” he tore the paper in half, “you have less to give to your future partner”.
The room was silent.
He tore it again, “and when you kiss someone else,” and he tore it again, “this is what is left”. He tore the paper. Again. And again. And again. Pieces of the shredded paper scattered over the floor until all Jack had left was a scrap half the size of my thumb nail. He held it up for effect, “do you want to give this to your husband, who God has chosen for you, on your wedding day?”
Jack’s talk was my first introduction to some of the ideas circulated in the Christian model for dating. That image of him and a tiny piece of paper stuck in my mind with a resilience I could not budge. What if I messed up? I wanted to do what was right, I wanted to get an A for God. What if nobody wanted me?
I’ve always been a romantic soul who believes in happy endings. When I heard Jack’s talk I never doubted what he said. I imagined at that time that my life would pan out like the perfectly plotted stories I read; everything slotting into place. I would find someone to make me stay up until 2am talking about nothing, and everything. I didn’t think about working through things. Or agendas. Or insecurity, decisions, Nos and fights outside my apartment door.
When I was 22 God and I bumped into each other again, after a long time apart. This time, I was older. It was different. My many travels had carved from within me a slice of hope the size of a watermelon and I felt battered. I knew it was serious. I stayed to have a conversation. I told Jesus, “I remember you. You seemed nice. If it’s ok… could we maybe be friends again?”
We shock hands, “friends.” Slowly, my heart healed and the heavy weight of disappointment lifted from my shoulders. Once again, I felt free.
I was one of those new Christians. I had found a new friend and there was nothing you could say to convince me he wasn’t real. I ploughed through every Theology book I could find like a famished child and a home cooked meal.
Gradually, as I settled into my faith and grew up I replaced some of my romantic notions with their equally important counterparts responsibility, initiative and hard work. I grew more independent. I read views on topics from different authors. I spoke to girls who hadn’t gone on a date in 3 years, 5 years, 10 years because they were waiting for “the one”. I went to meet-ups where nobody asked anyone for their number, threw out the odd flirty glance or stood a little too close. I met guys scared to jump in a car with a girl because they were afraid of being "tempted".
It seemed so unnatural to me. I became frustrated with the model the church presented for dating and the culture it created. Were these ideas really from God? The God I know created a world wicked and wild and wonderful for me to explore and discover. God created me with choice and initiative. Were these ideas not the opinion of a few influential people? More so, was this really what I wanted for my life?
At a point in my journey I realised I would need to tear this part of my life from the sticky claws of a culture I could not control.
You see, life for me is something you throw yourself into with your arms wide and your heart bursting from your chest. It’s a giant puddle you can jump in until dirt is stuck to your hair, your cheeks and your scoop neck white T-shirt. It’s meeting a stranger when all you know is his name, it’s skinny dipping in a dark pool, it’s a coffee date because you met eyes across a crowded boardroom of faces. It’s not red tape and passivity and playing perfect.
I felt like I was watching life pass me by while I played someone else’s rules.
The church in it’s flavours and forms across history has presented many pictures of what is “God’s way” of doing things. Some lovely, encouraging and inspiring. Some not.
At the end of the day, I am a firm believer in boundaries and knowing when to say NO. I think the whole deal is more about heart, respect and integrity. Perhaps that’s what we should tell our 14 year olds instead of equating their value with their purity?
So... this whole idea of the church and dating interests me. I would love to know what you think (so it's not only my Fran off beat opinions rattling around in this space). Let me know your story (it's anonymous I promise). I've created a little space for this on the link below.