For the second part of my Sex and the Church series I am so honored to have my dear friend, Briana Meade contributing this beautiful letter to her daughter. I am so moved by her vulnerability in this post. Briana and I went to Wheaton College together and even did a study abroad together one summer, but somehow didn’t really connect until we both began writing years later. I am a huge fan of her writing and an even bigger fan of her heart. Briana is currently working with her agent on a book about millenials and blogging at http://brianameade.com.
If you missed the first post in this series, you can find it here. You can also subscribe to or follow this blog (see the Subscribe via Email box on the side) to make sure you catch the rest of the awesome guest posts in this series. I am also still accepting guest posts. If you have a story you want to tell you can email me at lily.e.dunn at gmail.com.
I want to tell you a story. It starts out with a group of boys and girls. They are handed thick pledges that look like business cards.
“I promise God…” the cards begin.
There is a 5th grader in the corner. She has sparkly tennis shoes. She bites her lip in concentration, doodles sparkly pen onto the card. She whirls her signature carefully, dotting the “I” with a little star. She giggles and turns to the girl next to her.
I remember exactly where I was. It was an air-conditioned room with pillows strewn on the floor. I had a crush on the boy next to me—another fifth grader with a cowlick haircut. I determined, in my heart, way before I knew the obstacles I would face, that I would meet my husband at the altar. That I would be proud.
That same day, I was told that I was a gift, waiting to be unwrapped. I imagined myself as a silver present with a droopy silk pink bow. What a beautiful gift I would be. My future husband would round the corner to see a shiny treasure bound with perfect execution, tiny triangles folded and taped on the edges. That was virginity. Me wrapped in a box.
This was the beginning. Over the next eight years I learned more lessons from the church – that my womanly body was dangerous and shameful and needed to be hidden.
That my body was a commodity – a wrapped gift, a perfect rose, an un-chewed stick of gum. And along with that, that I had no agency in the matter of my sexuality. It was something that would be “opened” by or “given” to someone else.
That there are two kinds of girls in the world –girls who adhered to modesty/virginity requirements and those who didn’t. That those girls would be separated like grain from chaff. That this was the ultimate value judgment. And we did not discuss what it meant in cases of sexual abuse and rape for girls to be “unwrapped” without a choice.
I lost my virginity at sixteen. I heard every single one of these messages communicated loud and clear. But I also heard very gentle messages from my parents that were affirming and compassionate.
This was a message I received from the church—your body belongs (as a gift) to your future husband, your parents, Jesus, the church.
I want you to know, darling, that this was a lie. My body belongs to me. It is me. I am my body. My self cannot be separated from it.
You are a beautiful gem. Your body is yours. That doesn’t mean that you don’t have to learn to steward it but you are not a gift for any human being, nor will you ever be. You are not a bouquet of roses or dahlias or sunflowers waiting to be “given” away. You are purely, ultimately, only you.
You with your ability to jump a foot in the air. You with your twirling on the tile at your daddy’s work like a ballerina. You with your laughter and underwater bubbling in the soapy tub. You as a stomping teenager. You someday as a spectacular, beautiful adult with a body.
The real gift, my dear, is sex. Sex is the gift, waiting to be unwrapped. Sex is lying on the table wrapped in blue paper hearts, waiting for the perfect occasion.
If you open sex early, you are still loved. You are still body. You are still you.
If you open it on time, the celebration will be easier and it will be good.
This gift is for you, dear. When you open it early, it is often disappointing. It diminishes the power of perfect timing.
Could it still be disappointing if you wait to open the gift? Maybe. I can’t promise you anything. It’s entirely possible.
Wrap your heart around the receipt of the gift and the true giver. That celebratory day will have streamers and confetti and cake.
You’ll join the person you love the most, who has shown up to enjoy your gift with you.
This man who will carry the treasure side-by-side—from apartment to house—for the rest of this remarkable short life.
What a holy, surprising, and beautiful adventure.
It is good, this gift that God has given you of sex. I’m sorry if anyone’s told you differently, but you are not the gift. Your body is not the gift.
Don’t let anyone tell you anything else.
Briana Meade is a twenty-something mother of two toddlers who is passionate about singing “Royals,” Starbucks Salted Caramel Mochas, and learning that she is not a special millennial snowflake. Though not in that order, exactly. She writes at http://brianameade.com and tweets @BrianaMeade.
I really love this. Thank you, Briana! Words can’t describe how affirming this is, and should I have any daughters I hope to tell them the same.
I think it’s ironic that the church, by tying the value of a young woman to her virginity, participates in the over-sexualization and objectification of women that the rest of the world promotes and sells every day. With this view, they’re commodities on both sides. It’s really a tragedy, and I hope posts like this will redeem the way we look at sexuality in the church. Thank you so much for writing.
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Anna, thanks for stopping by! I completely agree with what you said. This is what I was going for: the idea that we are commodities on BOTH sides. In that way, the message isn’t that different. I wanted to try to say this subtly and gently! Obviously we have a lot of work to do in our messaging. Thank you for reading!
Wow! Poetic and eye-opening. Certainly some profound thoughts to consider. Thank you for your insight.
Karen, thanks so much for your comment. I think Briana really brings to light this problem with the language Christians have used to talk about this. It’s just exchanging one form of only valuing women for their sexuality for another. “Don’t objectify women because their bodies are precious gifts to be unwrapped at the right time.” It’s amazing it’s taken so long for us to see the irony.
Hi Lily Ellyn, Just wondering if I could get your thoughts on this: I am having genuine trouble reconciling some of the statement in this post with Romans 12:1; the particular statements being, “This was a message I received from the church—your body belongs (as a gift) to your future husband, your parents, Jesus, the church. I want you to know, darling, that this was a lie.” I am not just trying to take issue with something, I sincerely am trying to resolve within my own mind what seems to be two positions which sound like they are at odds with each other.
The New Living Translation puts it this way, “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.”
Briana here. I’m sure Lily has her own thoughts on this, but I actually considered this verse as I was writing this. I definitely think I could make this more clear, but offering our bodies as a living sacrifice to God– I think it has mostly to do with context.
When we offer our bodies to God, we are offering our whole persons in the context of ALL that we are–bodies, souls,minds, selves. In that way, I think we can understand the “gift of ourselves” as a possible way to look at our spiritual offering. However, when we talk about being a “gift” in youth group settings we are only EVER, as far as I have experienced, talking about our sexuality apart from the rest of ourselves. This, I think, is a really unhealthy way of thinking about giving ourselves as a gift.
It’s also a matter of agency, you possess yourself and willingly give up yourself to God and, also, in sex, to your husband. It’s not a passive thing, but an active thing that you are excited to do because of your love (i.e. a sacrifice of love), whereas in youth group we are taught that we are passive “gifts” that are unwrapped and with limited agency.
I love this!! Especially after having a confusing weekend these were the words my soul was searching long and hard for as my head lay to rest that night.