Why is this so difficult? Why can’t my thoughts just be more pure? Why isn’t this easy?

These were the questions swimming in my head. I had never needed any persuasion in the area of purity. I knew what I stood for; I knew right from wrong. I had heard all the reasons; it was a done deal. And yet, there I was again, having locked myself in the bathroom, wondering why none of the reasons made a difference.

Well, why is impurity a sin? I asked myself.

Because it’s disrespectful to my body, I answered.

Why is it disrespectful? I continued.

Because I deserve better, right? I was made for love.

That was the last straw. I broke down in tears. No, I don’t. I don’t deserve better. I screamed in my head.

I was made for true love. I deserve true love. I tried again and again. With each repeat, the response only resounded more loudly: Who do you think you are?

Shame

Who do you think you are? It’s practically the theme song to shame and a question I’m all too familiar with. It’s also a question I’d much rather avoid than confront, but something I realized a while ago is that you can’t talk about purity without talking about sin, and you can’t talk about sin without talking about shame.

For me, shame is like a clawed hand strangling my heart, demanding a reason as to why I deserve to be set free. And I have an answer, I do. But… it doesn’t work all the time. I can’t always give that answer with conviction. Sometimes trying to tell shame that I am made in the image and likeness of God only makes things worse, because shame has a snappy comeback called the do-you-seriously-think-you-live-up-to-that card.

After years of this same conversation over and over again, it hit me. Why was I talking to my enemy? Why was I, weak and unprepared as I was, trying to negotiate with my enemy at all? Why wasn’t I talking to my ally, my Creator? The answer, I realized, was strikingly similar to a certain story from Genesis.

“When they heard the sound of the Lord God walking about in the garden at the breezy time of day, the man and his wife hid themselves from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. The Lord God then called to the man and asked him: Where are you? He answered, ‘I heard you in the garden; but I was afraid, because I was naked, so I hid.’” (Genesis 3:8-10)

I can’t count the number of times I’ve cried over this passage, seeing myself so clearly in Adam’s words. I want to go to God perfect and bulletproof, ready to do His work and make Him proud, ready to earn His love.

But I can’t. I know that I am naked, unmasked, exposed before Him, sin and all, and I hide. I hide in my shame. I resolve to earn His love first and then go to Him. So I try harder, I self-criticize more harshly, I discipline myself more strictly, and none of it makes a difference. I fall into impurity anyway, and I’m left alone, back where I started, with no one but the Enemy to talk to.

Belonging to Him

And, all alone and vulnerable like that, I start to think of purity as an unachievable list of restrictions, a never ending qualification that I will never pass, but I know that that isn’t what God desires for me. So, if that’s what purity is not, then what is it?

Not too long ago, I was journaling about purity, and I asked myself how I would define it. The best answer I could come up with was that purity means belonging wholly to God and to Him alone. I thought back to that day when I had locked myself in the bathroom, and I so badly wanted to wrap my arms around that girl and tell her that she had it all wrong! I wanted to go back in time and explain to myself that, if I would just love myself and let God love me, everything would be okay. I would tell her that if she doesn’t believe she is worthy of love, then she isn’t going to be able to treat herself or other people with respect.

Here is what I’ve been slowly putting together: If I decide to be pure, if I decide to hand myself over to Him completely, He will fill me with love. So if I don’t love myself, then how on earth will I be able to hand myself over to him? Love kills shame and self-contempt, so if I allow those things to rule my heart, then I will never be able to find my way to Love Himself.

So much of the time, I let the Enemy convince me that it’s God saying these things, that He is ashamed of me, that He doesn’t want me anymore. But then I remember what comes next — the question that God asks Adam. “Who told you that you were naked?” I can hear the same question echoing through scripture to every sinner in history and all the way to me. When I insist that I’m not worthy — that I don’t deserve real love — I can hear God’s question. Who told you that you were naked? Who told you that you weren’t good enough? Who told you that you didn’t belong to Me? … Because it wasn’t Me. It’s never Me.

Here I Am, Lord

To be honest, for as passionate as I am about the necessity of self-love in practicing purity, I am horrible at it. I have the loudest self-critic of anyone I know, and I am positively notorious for trying to handle everything myself. I wish I could say that self-love is something I’ve learned, but it’s not: it’s something I’m learning.

I think that’s the point, though. I want to love myself first, learn virtue first, become strong first, and then go to God… but God wants me now. God knows I can’t win by myself, and He wants to fight for me, if only I can step out of my shame and my self-loathing and belong to Him.

So, here I am, still working on it, today wanting nothing more than to hide from God but writing this anyway, because the battle can’t wait till I’m bulletproof and love can’t wait till I’m free of shame. Love is what is going to drive out the shame.

I once read that Mother Theresa would tell her Missionaries of Charity to go into the adoration chapel, sit before the Lord, and pray, “Here I am, Lord. Love me.” Lately, I’ve been making this my own practice, particularly before Reconciliation.

The more I do it the easier it becomes. I sit before the Lord, close my eyes, and listen for Him coming through the garden. And, when He calls to me, I don’t hide. My answer now is always, “Here I am, Lord. Love me.”

About the Author

Sophia Swinford

I'm a theology student at St. Mary's in London, but I'm still an Arizona girl at heart. I basically live off books, coffee, rainy days, and conversations about Jesus, who has stolen my heart and never given it back!

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