Emotional Purity?

In the past months, as I’ve talked with different single sisters in Christ, the conversations have made me wonder about certain concepts that are being communicated to Christian young people.  Concepts of what is the “best” and most Christ-honoring way to go about relationships.  Though these girls were all in different situations and were doing their best to go about their romantic relationships in a way that glorified God, there was a common theme: all of them felt guilty that they supposedly weren’t remaining “emotionally pure”.

The last fifteen or so years has brought back the practice of courtship into Christian circles and with that has come teaching on the idea of “emotional purity”.  This teaching basically says that you shouldn’t become emotionally connected with someone that you’re interested in until there is a binding commitment.  Books have appeared that are completely devoted to the subject, talks have been given about it at conferences, and it is bound to come up in almost any courtship discussion.

The idea definitely sounds good and the phrase has a nice ring.  “Emotional purity”…who wouldn’t want that? It has been equated with physical purity, something that many young Christians are striving very hard to have in their romantic relationships. But in real life – in the nitty-gritty of real relationships – is this even attainable?  I don’t believe it is.

Short of a hard-core betrothal, where there is a binding marriage-like agreement between the man and the woman before they get to know each other (which carries its own risks), there will be an emotional connection in courtship. You can’t learn whether or not you love someone without emotional risk.  In his book, The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis relates: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one…”

One of the main concepts taught by advocates of “emotional purity” is that if you get emotionally attached to someone and the relationship doesn’t work out, then you’ve given “pieces of your heart” to him.  According to these teachings, the “missing” pieces will then leave your heart in a sorry condition for the man you do marry.  That’s certainly a sad scenario, but where is God’s grace in that picture?  An emotional attachment that is broken will leave pain and scars, but we have many promises of God’s comfort and healing… “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18), “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” (Psalm 147:3)

One of the problems with the teachings on emotional purity is that it equates “emotional purity” with physical purity. The idea is implied that, as you become more emotionally connected, you’re bound to go farther than you intend to in the physical realm. That’s just not true!  It is entirely possible to stay physically pure while still having an emotional connection with the person you are courting.  It’s incredibly hard, but it’s worth it.

Another issue that arises from this teaching is found in the phrase itself.  The words “emotional purity” themselves end up condemning people, because they imply that if you “fail” and become emotionally connected to whomever you are courting, then you are emotionally impure.  This contributes to a lot of unnecessary guilt in young people who are honestly seeking to honor God.

Granted, in saying all of this, I’m not condoning the other extreme of completely baring your heart to whomever you’re courting.  As in most things, balance is key.  In our courtship and engagement, my husband and I went through several stages of reserve around each other.  We decided together that we wouldn’t romantically touch each other (i.e. holding hands, cuddling, hugging, etc.) before we were engaged as we felt that we didn’t have any right to do that. In addition, there were many things that we wanted to say to each other during that time (i.e. our full feelings for each other, etc.) that we wouldn’t allow ourselves to for the same reason we used physical reserve: we didn’t feel that we had the right to say them before we were engaged. As such, during our courtship there was a physical reserve along with an emotional and verbal reserve. However, with all this reserve, there was a definite emotional connection there and one that continually deepened as we got to know each other more and fell more in love.

We can’t ignore that the emotional purity teaching addresses valid concerns. There is definitely a need for something drastically different than the common practice of heading into romantic relationships with no reserve at all.  But do we need to swing completely to the other side and condemn any kind of emotional connection?  Once again, balance is key.  Each couple needs to evaluate their own relationship and decide if it’s bringing glory to God and putting the other person’s needs before their own.  For one couple, saying “I love you” or holding hands before a commitment may not be an issue, for another couple it may be.  The important thing is not that your relationship looks a certain way, but that you’re honest with your conscience and with each other.  And, unfortunately for us Christians who like to have a set of rules to live by, it will be different for each couple.  “’Everything is permissible’—but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible’—but not everything is constructive.” (1 Corinthians 10:23)

Purity in a romantic relationship is a very beautiful thing.  Yet our strivings for purity should not leave us in bondage to guilt and discouragement.  Forming an emotional connection is a normal and necessary part of any relationship, especially a courtship.


  1. Hello Jessica! I loved what you had to say in this article, but I guess I had the question.. Now that you’ve gone through the court ship process do you feel you would had done things a little differently? Are you happy you waited to be physical (holding hands etc) until engagement or do you think for yourself it would had been fine before that? I am going through the process right now and trying to figure out the best way. Personally it’s been tough not being able to hold hands because you just don’t feel you can be as close and open up as much as your talk about these serious things.

    1. Hello Katie,

      Thanks so much for your comment! Your question is a hard one as I don’t feel like there’s a one-size-fits-all approach to physical boundaries in romantic relationships. What was best for my husband and I while courting may not be the best for another couple.

      To honestly answer your question, in retrospect both my husband and I (it’s something we’ve talked about often) don’t feel like we would have done things differently in regard to our physical and emotional boundaries when we were courting and engaged. Yes, not touching before engagement and not kissing before marriage was VERY hard, but we feel like it was the best for our relationship. Having those very strict boundaries for ourselves meant that it was much harder for us to get caught up in the passion of a moment and do things we knew we would later regret. And, contrary to what many people told us, having those boundaries in NO WAY made it more difficult for us once we were married and could kiss as much as we wanted to! 🙂 If anything, I feel like they made us realize just how precious and intimate those interactions between us were and cherish them all the more after we were married. 🙂

      Again, the boundaries we chose for our relationship were what we felt like was best for OUR relationship. I would encourage you to talk through this with the man you’re courting and decide on some boundaries together BEFORE you’re in the “heat of a moment”. Look at things from a long-term perspective and decide what you want your boundaries to accomplish. Above all, make sure that it’s something you decide TOGETHER so then you can help each other stay strong.

      1. I am so glad you said there were no shortcoming or issue later with regard to close physical intimacy when you and your husband eventually married. I had been worried whether when I made a firm stand on not being close physically, would I become unable to express and give good close physical intimacy when actually married later. So, your example tells me I would not. Secondly, like to encourage all readers, this book, “The Bride Wore White” (on sexual purity) by Dana Gresh teaches on drawing a line with regard to how physically close both should get; and yes, it has to be done agreeably by both. For me, I think the “cut off” point or guideline is not to become aroused. Songs of Solomon 8:4b says “Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires”. May we glorify God and experience the optimum blessings He can give in and through a marriage.

  2. This is a really great article! I am 15 and have a really good guy friend, and I am guarding my heart if we ever court or if we just stay friend for my future husband you have helped me so much! Thank you for writing this! I have a blog and am trying to write about courtship on my website!

  3. WOW! I loved it, i really needed this now that I have been hanging out with a guy from my church and Im a bit confused because he is really sweet and has told me that he thinks there is “feeling” between us, he likes to hug me a lot, he says he really likes to be around me but last time we went to the movies I think he was pretty clear about his intentions to kiss me… Seriously? I was reluctant at first to go to the movies and wasn’t sure about all the hugging and touching (hands, knees) and now this!! … its really sad because I really like him but I think its time for me to set some boundaries.

  4. Wow! I wish this had been written about six years ago when I needed to hear that! I struggled with a lot of guilt… but God taught me this lesson. Thank you so much for putting this into writing for other young women. (I’m now married)

  5. LOVE this. While I’ve not really subscribed to the “Emotional Purity” concept very closely, just practiced discretion in my relationships and interactions, I was in a relationship that was approaching engagement, when we broke it off. I was confused and hurting. If we sought God’s blessing and direction throughout it, why is it His direction to end it? Why did He give it only to take it away? At the time, I wondered if I somehow had less of me to give a husband. If I would constantly compare and never get past this guy to whom I was so deeply emotionally attached.
    Yet… I know I wouldn’t trade a bit of it. With some time and maturing, I’m seeing how it has shaped who I am, matured and broken me in ways only such experiences can do. Would I have preferred to marry the first guy with which things were that serious? I would say yes. But God is wiser than me. His plans are not to harm, but to give hope and a future, an EXPECTED end. I am happy to be where I am in life, and grateful for the experiences God has used to shape me.

    Thank you for sharing this, Jessica.

  6. Thank you so much for this article. I think you captured the point very well, and you’ve taken a huge weight of guilt of my mind and replaced it with the sure knowledge of the grace of God. That verse from Psalm 147 where it talks about God healing the brokenhearted is something that’s easy to forget under all the pressure to be emotionally pure. Thanks for the timely reminder.

  7. I whole-heartedly agree with this! I pray that I will go through a Godly courtship leading to marriage, in His timing, but I’ve always had an issue with the “emotional purity” thing. If you have that “butterflies” feeling how are you supposed to contain it entirely? And if you can successfully go through a courtship without having any emotional attachments to the guy, then how would you know if you ever would? While I think the most important part of a marriage is the strong love, that is selfless and unconditional, the romantic “fluttery” love is also essential. Thank you for posting this!

  8. Soon my husband and I will be celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary. As an older woman, I’d like to issue a challenge. Approach some older women and ask them about their first love. You will know instantly the ones who gave pieces of their heart away which have never returned. Also, I have seen women in long term marriages become emotionally attached to a girlfriend, children or grandchildren, shutting down emotionally to their husband. It’s up to you to choose how emotionally intimate you are with someone and guard your heart as the Holy Spirit leads.

  9. As the author of the book “Emotional Purity” I feel like this article is off base to my heart of what emotional purity means to me or why I even wrote the book.

    I believe in grace and balance in ones life. People take a concept like emotional purity and use it as leagalism in their life. Use it to set up rules that my heart never intended to for them to set up.

    If you read even my own couthship story you’ll see that my husband and I had layers of emotional intimacy along the way.

    I also do not believe that two people should step into a relationtion and have a binding marriage commitment without even getting to know each other. This has been a recipe of disaster for many young people who’ve taken this concept to the extreme.

    As in all things life must be lived in the balance.

    In our culture of “whatever goes” my book was written with a heart for people to just be aware. Be aware of how your actions are effecting someone else. Be aware of your need to be committed to Christ and seeking Him above relationships.

    I wrote Emotional Purity 10 years ago and the book itself has had about 3 different rewrites. As God taught me and grew me thing have changed in my own outlook. One thing that changed the most was meeting many married women who are left with deep scars that prevent them from fully being present in their own marriages. To just be aware of this is half the battle for many young women.

    Also, time and time again I’ve told young people that life is full of risk and matters of the heart of risky. But we must place our heart in God’s hands and trust Him.

    I would love to dialog with you more.

    1. Dear Heather,

      I want to assure you that this post/discussion is in no way intended as an attack upon your book or the principles you stand for (Jessica specifically stated that in the comment where she mentioned your book). The dangers that Jessica has pointed out are rooted in the very human tendency to take a good idea and blow it all out of proportion, or to use it as justification to impose guilt upon ourselves or others. What we are discussing here is a natural, God-given phenomenon that has been hi-jacked by the zero-commitment morals of the world in which we live. And there is great danger to be averted–I totally agree. But there is another peril, perhaps equally devastating, if not more so: that of limiting the grace of God over supposed ‘failures’, which in reality were nothing more than the workings of a perfectly normal, God-fashioned apparatus.

      It’s a loaded topic, but an important one. I hope you’ll understand that the phrase ’emotional purity’ has taken on a life of its own, independent of your book and ideas. Case histories are good, and can give us a lot of insight into the effects/consequences of our actions. But we can’t allow them to interpret for us what the grace of God is going to look like in every situation. I haven’t actually read your book myself, so I can’t comment on your thoughts. I can only emphasize that the intent of this article was to address a prevalent mindset that can be potentially quite harmful to the growth and freedom of young women in Christ. Which is, I assume, exactly what you set out to do, as well. 🙂



    2. Hello Heather,

      Thank you for your comment. I don’t have much to add to Lanier’s response…she pretty much said everything that I was going to say, except better. 🙂 I do want to reiterate again that this article was not at all meant as an attack against you or your book. I read “Emotional Purity: An Affair of the Heart” years ago when it first came out, and like I mention in my article, the emotional purity teaching does address valid concerns. You’re exactly right that young people need to be aware of their actions and committing every aspect of their lives to the Lord.

      However, like you mentioned, people can and do take the concept of emotional purity and use it as legalism in their lives. And, as Lanier mentioned, “the phrase ‘emotional purity’ has taken on a life of its own, independent of your book and ideas” and THAT is what I was addressing. Regardless of whether girls have read your book or not, I have seen repeated cases of unnecessary guilt and shame because the girl was developing an emotional connection with the man she was in a romantic relationship with and I find that incredibly sad.

      I too would love to dialogue with you about this more. If I have offended you in any way through my article, I’m very sorry…that was not the intent at all.


  10. I remember hearing one betrothal account where the couple was up to the point of sending out wedding invitations when the young man came to the father and said, “I’ve remembered that I made a vow to remain single.”

    A few years later, she found another man with a better memory, and as she and her father waited to walk down the aisle, she whispered, “I’m so glad I never kissed [the other fiance] because now I’m REALLY a one-man woman!”

    Oh, dear, did that make me worry. Because the idea wasn’t just that you shouldn’t KISS before marriage, but that you should avoid an emotional attachment that could cloud your judgment. I wondered how I was supposed to keep from falling for the guy I was courting. Talk about setting yourself up for failure.

    When I did enter a courtship, I realized that there was no guarantee that I’d come out unscathed. But I knew DJ well enough to trust that he wasn’t going to lead me into the middle of a relationship and then abandon me. I’m glad to say that we felt free to enjoy each other emotionally and physically, within the boundaries we set. And if it had all fallen apart, I would expect that a future husband of mine would understand and approve.

    So thanks for addressing this topic. “Emotional purity” sounds noble, but the thinking behind it is gnostic (“spiritual is good, physical is bad”) and damaging. Your post articulates that very well.

    — SJ

    1. (Heather……My daughter and I read your book last summer and loved it! You had so many very insightful and helpful points to ponder….)

      We have seen many young ladies (and men) getting prematurely “attached” to others emotionally, without having made any long-term committment to them. This ends up leaving them scarred for a long time to come and sometimes handicapped in a future marriage, as they can have a hard time learning to trust (again.)
      We have seen this happen even through emails and texts (without any personal, physical involvement).

      “Boundaries” may look different in each relationship, but self-control should always be present, so that the heart exercises caution and Godly discernment along the way. The “emotional connection” should be kept under watch and slow to develop, as a couple begins to discern God’s will for them in the relationship. (This is why counseling with Godly parents/mentors is such a treasure of help in the process.)

      Yes, of course God’s grace can and does heal past hurts… But praise Him for the strength and guidance He provides to keep us from comforming to the world’s pattern and prepare ourselves to honor Him as we enter into any relationship.

  11. I enjoyed this article and from the perspective of nearly 50 years on this earth, I have to say I totally agree with the young lady who wrote it.

    Nice handling of this touchy topic.

  12. I also want to point out that I was hurt very badly in a courtship relationship that I entered into at a very young age at the request of my parents. I was around 14/15 when it began and 16 I think when it ended. The boy ended it at the request of his parents. It was very emotional destructive to me. I think we were way to young for what was basically a betrothal. Looking back I can’t believe how different I was then, I was still a little girl. I wonder sometimes at my parent’s lack of wisdom in letting this happen but I know they loved me and acted out of love, and I have forgiven them for the most part, although it took awhile for me to deal with it and truely do-so. I do not promote the Idea of courtship until young people are of marring age. I do not know any 14 year old boys who are ready to make a desicion regairding who they want to spend the rest of their lives with 🙂

  13. I just want to point out that there was a time (and in the jewish culture as well) when men and women of marring age did not ‘court’ or engage in any activity like that, in fact in many ways women were kept quite separate from the men. Their parents picked out their mates for the most part or a man would ask a women’s parents for her. I can’t imagine marring someone that I had never really known, it seems like a crazy idea, but that was one way they achieved emotional purity :). I am not promoting this, just food for thought. Alos remembering that we do not live in that culture anymore, communites back then were very close and tight-knit, and if it was a jewish comunity everyone who lived there, lived under the law of God. So in some ways that practice very well may not be applicible

    1. Hello Emily…

      You’re exactly right that the “arranged marriage” setting can bring about “emotional purity” such as I talked about. I’m not completely against that kind of thing…one of my best friends married through an arranged marriage/”hard-core betrothal” setting…but I don’t think it’s the best and definitely carries risks of its own.

  14. Excellant article! As others said, there are many unintended consequences that can come from embracing a doctrine of emotional purity when it has been blown out of proportion. I have found that out through experience.

    For my sister and I, we both had a hard time shaking the feelings of guilt as we began “falling into like” with our men. When my fiance and I began our relationship, I was very thankful for the godly counsel of my mother as she explained that it was right for me to gradually become more and more emotionally attached as we headed towards the alter. Thankfully, my man was willing to patiently woo, even though I was rather tentative!

    I do believe it is important to guard your heart against crushes and infatuations outside of a well-defined relationship that is purposed towards marriage. But God does give grace when we fail! And once you are headed towards marriage, you should begin to cultivate love and emotion for each other. A marriage needs a strong, steady practice of love; agape, phileo, and yes, even eros! I believe that our marriage will be stronger because we have done our best to grow these different facets of love throughout our relationship in a way that honors the Lord and each other.

  15. Thank you so much for posting this! I was recently in a courtship that ended after 18 months. Ever since I was 12 or 13 I have prayed that the man I marry would also be the only man I ever courted. Since the ended courtship I have struggled with feelings of guilt, even though I don’t have any regrets about physical purity. Even though the feelings I had for that young man are completely gone now, before/when we were courting they were strong, even though we never said “I love you.”

    I agree with what is written and I thank you SO much for the encuragement! You have no idea how much of a blessing this article is to me! Especially since this is the first time I have visited this site 🙂

  16. There is validity in this topic, yet its history is fraught with condemning guilt and error. Back in the late 80s and early 90s, there was a surge in courtship and betrothal teachings coming from many sources [which] sought to impress upon thousands of young people across the nation the importance of emotional purity: spending our single years in service for the Lord and practicing courtship as a godly pattern. We were taught the concept of symbolically giving our hearts to our fathers, with a heavy dose of compelling, graphic sermons (specifically about giving parts of your heart away).

    Looking back on it all now, I see truths among the fallacies, gems amidst stones. I know couples who courted under their parents’ blessing, but who are now divorced for various reasons. I know couples who were “match-made” and are very happily married. I know girls caught in the web of trying to please their mean and harsh fathers and mothers, living mediocre lives. I know people really harmed by legalism, trapped by the pedantic system that emerged. I also know people who were freed from life cycles of impurity and other who were protected from creating life-shattering consequences for unwise relationship behaviors.

    I have practiced emotional purity since I first knew about it as a young teen, but not at the expense of loving the people that God brings into my life. Since Jesus is truly the Lover of my soul, then it is He who will write my human Love Story!

  17. I am now married to an incredible young man…the man of my dreams! But before we dated and married, I was in another dating relationship…and I struggled with feelings of guilt and condemnation when we broke up…because of the “missing peices” theology. But I can say…I can testify, that Jesus Christ is in the business of making all things new, beauty from ashes…restoring beauty and joy and wholeness to what breaks in our humanity.
    Thank-you Jessica for this much-needed article. I appreciate your willingness to speak truth about a very controversial subject.
    I don’t tend to see the emphasis on emotional purity so much in courtship, but outside of courtship. What would you say to this?

    1. “I don’t tend to see the emphasis on emotional purity so much in courtship, but outside of courtship. What would you say to this?”

      I’ m not sure exactly what you mean by “outside of courtship”…do you mean in regard to singleness or in regard to someone who is ‘dating’ instead of ‘courting’ (those terms hardly mean anything anyway…it pretty much boils down to what you decide to call it!)? If you mean the latter, it probably depends on the circles you’re in because I’ve seen a lot of emphasis on emotional purity when you’re ‘courting’ and also when you’re ‘dating’.

      If you mean the former, the concept of staying “emotionally pure” while single, I think that’s a great idea in general, it just depends on how you go about it. Just like any girl, while I was single, I really struggled (and didn’t always succeed) with keeping my emotions in check and not letting them run wild in regards to guys that I liked at the time. Especially when a girl just likes a young man and nothing has been communicated between them (along the lines of starting a romantic relationship), I think it’s very important to not dwell on thoughts of the young man, imagining conversations, etc. Those types of thoughts can definitely lead to an unhealthy emotional attachment to the guy, sometimes even before a word is spoken (girls are crazy that way!).

      On the other hand, I’ve seen girls start to feel guilty just because they are attracted to a young man, and frankly, that’s ridiculous! God made men and women to be attracted to each other and it would be pretty hard to find your husband if you never were attracted to him. The feelings of attraction aren’t wrong, it’s what a girl DOES with those feelings…will she take them and quietly wait on the Lord and see what He does in the situation, or will she let her imagination get the better of her, constantly daydreaming about the young man she is attracted to? That is where emotional purity comes into play…

      Well, that was kind of a longer answer than I intended! If you have more questions, I’d be happy to answer them!

  18. That was well written – I agree! There will always be extremes either way, the trick is to find balance, and we can only do that with God’s grace and guidance.

    God bless!

  19. AMEN!

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing this. You have voiced my own feelings and thoughts on this subject with perfection. Over the years I have heard enough talks and read enough books on purity and courtship to leave on in a purpetual state of guilt. Thank God for His freeing truth.

    Purity comes from Christ. It should encompass our entire lifestyle and affect everything we say and do. It does not come attached with guilt or a “wall”, but with LOVE. Unabashed, vulnerable LOVE such as Christ’s, overflowing into every area and every kind of relationship in our life.

    Blessings, Jessica!

  20. Dear Jessica,

    Hello! I was recommended your blog by my dear friend Rose, and I thought about it today, and this morning decided to see what was going on as of late. For the month of July I wanted to give up articles/books directly related to relationships. I wanted to devote more of my time in prayer and talking with God about it, especially when I realized I was more dependent on these articles that on Him.
    Seeing “Emotional Purity” struck my attention. As you said, there have been many attempts in books that vigorously outline or try to justify one or many specific ways to go about emotional purity. I will happily say, yours is the first article, that actually opened opportunity for DIFFERENT situations, while recognizing your own. There isn’t a cookie cutter way for any relationship. The only thing (in my opinion) that resembles them all best is that: they should glorify God.

    Thank you for your talent, perseverance, and honesty with this article. As random and unplanned as it was for me to read it, it was very necessary.

    God Bless!

    A Fellow Jessica


  21. Thanks for this. A little confused though – not sure I understand what the concept of ‘Emotional purity’ is or what book(s) you were referring to (please let me know).

    1. Hello Ruth…

      People toss around the words “emotional purity” pretty loosely and so they can end meaning a lot of different things (kind of like the word “courtship”). However, the definition of emotional purity that I have a problem with is the one related to the concept that you shouldn’t develop any kind of emotional attachment or connection to the person that you’re courting until there’s a binding commitment. This concept teaches that if you DO end up developing an emotional attachment or connection, and the courtship is broken off and ends up not working out, then the man you were courting will have “pieces of your heart” and your heart will no longer be whole and complete for your future husband. Those are the basic ideas associated with the definition of “emotional purity” that I see as being more hurtful than helpful to girls who are trying to follow the Lord in their courtships.

      I didn’t want to come across as specifically attacking any person/author or book, but since you asked, there is a book called “Emotional Purity: An Affair of the Heart” by Heather Arnel Paulsen. While I don’t disagree with everything in the book, some of its main teachings are those such as I stated above. The concept also comes up to a lesser degree in several other courtship books, though the titles are evading me at the moment…sorry!

      I hope that clarifies things some…if it hasn’t or if you have any more questions, please let me know!

      1. Thanks Jessica. I think that clarifies it for me. My immediate thought is that it is impossible not to have any feelings for who you are courting/dating. Certainly, one wouldn’t dream of entering into a courtship/dating relationship without even ‘liking’ the guy!
        I do know from personal experience what it feels when one breaks off an engagement (surely, some people don’t suggest you shouldn’t have an emotional connection until after marriage!)
        I would consider ‘guarding your heart’ as seeking to keep thoughts pure in a relationship but this can be done while drawing closer to the special person in one’s life.

  22. Thank you for sharing about this “sensitive” topic.
    I read Emotionaly Purity *the book* years ago and I have to admit that it left me confused.
    I just couldn’t see how one could stay completely *pure* and if I didn’t, then I was impure.
    I struggled with the guilt factor and just not truly agreeing with the concepts that were laid forth in the book.
    I’m not currently in a relationship (though I would love to get married if the Lord wills!) but this has given me more to think and pray about.
    I always enjoy your thoughts!

  23. I fell quite hard when my heart was broken and the crazy thing was, it was mostly one-sided, not even a courtship. But I had given so much emotionally that it was quite a shock when it didn’t work out and I thought I had failed God, myself and my future husband. It seemed so ideal and yet simplistic – to be emotionally pure and unentangled until THE ONE came along, then give it your all and everything will work out happily ever after. It was such a neat little formula…only problem was God doesn’t follow formulas, He wants us to learn and grow and depend upon Him every step of the way.

    I love what Elizabeth said in the comments above “I had to be shattered in order to more fully experience the tender mercies and kindnesses of God. A broken heart was God’s chosen tool to draw me closer to Himself. In the end, my husband received something richer than what I had planned to save for him.”

    I am so thankful for the Lord not giving me what I wanted, because in the process of being broken He has revealed Himself to me and strengthened my faith. God uses our brokeness to purify us and prepare us for service, ultimately to bring Him more glory.

    I really appreciate this article. It’s still hard for me sometimes to sort the “spiritual” teaching I’ve heard from biblical priciples in my thinking. I guess I still stuggle with condemnation at times and am very cautious or reluctant to trust myself or anyone else in this area…in other words, I’m not sure I would be willing to put myself at risk of being heart broken again, although I know that’s a part of real life and love (even after marriage). Some singleminded selfishness here. 🙂

  24. I once heard a preacher say, “Neither party should have any feelings for each other, until the day he asks her to marry him.” I remember laughing. How in the world was some poor guy supposed to know if he even WANTED to marry this girl, if he didn’t love her at all? And why would any girl say “yes” to a guy she didn’t love? I wouldn’t!

    Thank you for sharing this, Jessica. It made me smile, remembering the agonies I went through as a fourteen-year-old, imaging that every time I looked twice at a guy, I was ‘giving away pieces of my heart’. You cannot be in any sort of relationship without learning to care for the other person, and however deep that caring goes, that is exactly how deep that person can (should I say “will”?) hurt you. Sad fact of life.

    At the same time, no close relationship should be entered into irresponsibly. As girls, we need to be careful not to ‘open up’ to just any old guy that comes along (which takes away the mystery and excitement of a relationship by being premature and hasty, and also leads to unnecessary heartache) and should listen to the advice of our elders when our own reasoning powers are less-than-the-best.

    The one thing I’ve noticed about girls is that: we tend to have way too many expectations, way too soon. A guy talks to us for half an hour, and we’re already expecting him to approach our father about us! High expectations are bound to lead to big disappointments. Perhaps that is what the ’emotional purity’ crowd is trying to avoid.

  25. AMEN!!!
    LISTEN TO THIS ALL YOUNG MARRIED WOMEN! If your husband was involved in deeper relationships before you then you’d like then you need this more than anybody!
    The Lord can cleanse anybody! I can wipe my baby’s hiney with my bare hands then wash them with soap and water then feed him with those same hands and it won’t hurt him a bit! The Lord can wash ever so much better than soap and water! Trust Him! Trust in His cleansing blood!
    We underestimate His healing power and cleansing grace way too often.
    Much Love

    1. Good point–but it also applies when it was the young woman who was in relationships involving activities she regrets, also. 🙂 Jesus covers all!

  26. Thank you for a very concise and helpful post.

    It’s so easy to fall into the trap of thinking that if this partner really is ‘the one’ then we will never feel sad or hurt. I’m so glad I read Elisabeth Elliott’s book ‘Let Me Be a Woman’ before I got married. There is a good chapter where she writes that no matter who we marry, we will marry a sinner. Even if we do everything ‘right’ in our courtship and engagement, there will inevitably be pain and disappointment. Others have already rightly pointed to God’s grace as the only way to deal with this. I have been so challenged during my nearly 5 years of marriage to look to God to meet my needs, because if I look to my husband I will be let down and hurt at times. None of us is perfect!

  27. Well put, Jessica. I’m so glad that you shared this, and that YLCF published it. I agree that emotional purity, as it is communicated frequently, is an impossible standard outside of betrothal or arranged marriages. And, yet, the concept does have some merit. Young women freely throw their emotions in every direction worry me. But, then, so do young women who refuse to feel attracted to anybody. It is an area to walk in the spirit, in freedom. Rules don’t make it.

  28. Very good article!

    If you follow the common interpretation of Song of Songs in the Bible — where marriage occurs mid-book — there is clearly some charged emotional attachment prior to the marriage of that couple! Obviously, from the tone of the book, God’s intent by including it in Scripture is to uphold the beauty of love and marriage, not warn us away from emotional attachment. So shall we call unholy what God Himself has portrayed and pure and delightful?

    And exactly how successful will we be in holding to a standard unattainable, a standard God has not asked us to reach? Not very. That’s why so many young ladies walk around burdened with unnecessary guilt.

    I ascribed to the “pieces of your heart” philosophy before I had any practical experience in relationships; it sounded so good and so pure. But eventually I too walked around heavy with shame because I couldn’t keep to that standard of “emotional purity.”

    Dear sisters, that guilt is probably not from God. 🙂

    It is built on the premise that the broken heart (is not fear of a broken heart what drives the “emotional purity” movement?) cannot be restored. And that premise is based on a too-weak view of God. Brokenness leaves scars, but not a gaping wound that cannot be healed. God is the Great Physician; He specializes in binding up the wounds of the broken-hearted!

    I “gave away pieces of my heart” to a couple other men before I met and married my husband. My heart was even broken once. But when I walked down the wedding aisle toward my husband, my heart was neither incomplete nor divided amongst men that I once had had feelings for. It was all for my husband; he didn’t receive something less than the whole.

    In fact, the faded heart-scars made me a different person than that little girl with far-flung ideals that I once had been. I had to be shattered in order to more fully experience the tender mercies and kindnesses of God. A broken heart was God’s chosen tool to draw me closer to Himself. In the end, my husband received something richer than what I had planned to save for him. Oh yes, God knows what He’s doing. 🙂

    Emotional attachment is not something to fear. The risk of a broken heart is part of the terrain (and I would not wish brokenness on anyone) but I would say: Do not fear it! Walk carefully, walk wisely, and pray a lot, but don’t be paralyzed by fear or weighed down by unnecessary guilt.

  29. Definitely agree. In my courtship I realized that love always comes with a risk…and it was a risk I was willing to take. For me courtship was a more protected time in which we learned more about each other and grew in love. It was hard though, because I did feel guilt at times because of all the “emotional purity” talks I had heard. Ultimately, I realized I needed to just allow myself to be guided by the Holy Spirit and God’s word rather than others ideas – a powerfully hard concept at times. Great post, Jessica!

  30. Very, very well shared, Jessica. Thank you so much for voicing this. At a young age, I had decided not to casually date, but to use courtship methods when it came to relationships. So far (3 difficult relationships later, one being near engagement), what I had put on myself and my “boyfriends” was setting us up for condemnation and fear. Since my last relationship, the Lord has shown me much of what you’ve shared here, and it’s risky voicing it in certain circles. There’s no formula, no perfect way to do things to ensure that you never have heartbreak. Heartbreak is inevitable with love–even in relationships that work out. 🙂 Suffering is part of the fires that make love worth it. The only thing that matters most is Christ. If we love Him with everything He’s commanded us too (heart, soul, mind, strength), then things will work out like their supposed to.
    So thank you, it was refreshing to hear that I’m not off-base. 🙂

  31. I think it is all part of the journey to form boundaries and then adjust them accordingly. We were always taught about sexual purity and I feel that it protected me during those fragile teenage years.

    When reading about “emotional purity” for the first time, it struck a chord in me and I realized that I had been too careless emotionally, but that no one had ever warned me! I really wished that the relationship teachings had covered this. We need to know about our weaknesses, as women.

    Maybe it isn’t rules we need so much as awareness.

    I agree about vulnerability, and I think we will miss out on some great friendships in the Body if we lock ourselves away in a tower. But I still think that in general, we need to be on our guard; to know our weaknesses as well as the weaknesses of those around us.

    1. You are exactly right, Elizabeth, and I know that Jessica would agree. We do need to be on our guard: we do need to be aware of our weaknesses and potential pitfalls. We do need to show as much deference for others as constraint over our natural inclinations. Just because something is ‘natural’ doesn’t mean it’s timely.

      But I think that the real power in this piece lies in it’s exposition of false guilt over supposed “failures”, which are often nothing more than a healthy awakening of God-given interests and desires. A young woman can be defeated right out of the gate just as easily by condemnation over emotional attachments as she can be over loose emotional morals.

      We must never never NEVER leave the grace and mercy of God out of the equation. There is nothing in the Bible that condemns a broken heart–quite the contrary. It is extolled as being very precious in the sight of God. A further quotation from Lewis’ “The Four Loves” says it so well:

      “We shall draw nearer to God, not by trying to avoid the sufferings inherent in all loves, but by accepting them and offering them to Him; throwing away all defensive armour. If our hearts need to be broken, and if He chooses this as a way in which they should break, so be it.”

      I would not advocate a 14-year old ‘throwing away all defensive armour’. 😉 But I would take serious issue with a yoke of misplaced guilt that might hamper a young woman of marriageable age from enjoying both her freedom in Christ and her womanhood for the sake of a good idea stretched all out of proportion.

  32. Excellently and beautifully written.

    I WAS in previous relationships before my husband, and I was NOT “dating around.” My family and I considered them to be potential mates, but they were not to be. It’s impossible to think that I didn’t “like” them. I did, however, recover from them. Perhaps at the time there was some brokenness, but by the time I became close with my husband-to-be and then married him, and even now, there has been no lasting damage that affects my relationship with my husband. There are not pieces of my heart missing. My husband has them all!

    We knew we didn’t marry perfect people, and that we married people who had a past. The past and even mistakes in them have made us the people we are today, have helped to shape us and mature us and bring us closer to the Mercy Seat. Would I prefer for my husband to have been my first & last love? Absolutely. Yet I am still grateful for the learning experiences the previous relationships were and they must have had some part in shaping the woman my husband fell in love with.

    And the romantic side of me still believes it’s better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all!

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