People are creative.
The skyscraper in your town. The food on the plate in front of you. The flowers arranged in the vase near you. Our minds are capable of incredible, beautiful, and complicated things.
And one of our favorite things to be creative about is our lives.
We get a good grade on a science test and think, “I could be a doctor.” Or we drive past a scenic country home and think, “Maybe one day I’ll live out here.”
And my personal favorite: When the coffee barista smiles at me and I think, “He likes me.”
In fact, not only does he like me, but he wants to marry me, have 6 kids, 3 dogs, and open our own coffee shop together. Barista and Patty’s Coffee House, coming to a street corner near you… wait a minute. Barista and Patty’s? Oh, that’s right. I don’t know him. I don’t even know his name.
What is Emotional Chastity?
I used to think the term “emotional chastity” was the same thing as physical chastity… but with your emotions. I literally just traded the words physical intimacy for emotional intimacy in order to understand the subject.
What I’ve come to understand is that, simply put, emotions are good, but they’re not meant to be given away without a care. They’re good in the right context. The amount of my emotional investment in someone should mimic the depth of our relationship.
It isn’t about refusing to develop feelings for anyone ever. Emotional chastity is a commitment to allowing the other person to be who they are, rather than who I want them to be. It is rooted in reality.
When I planned out that barista’s life for him, I was making him something he wasn’t. I was stealing his hopes, dreams, and personality from him, and forcing him to be what I wanted.
But this is hard because, like I said earlier, we’re creative. And we were made to love. This is so true that even our love can become creative. Not just art, or technology, but our love creates life itself.
We crave to love and be loved. When I find myself getting carried away and unrealistic in my thoughts and emotions, I’ve realized it’s because I’ve forgotten the Lord’s love for me. I desire to be seen and to be known, and rather than running to the One who sees and knows me better than anyone ever has or ever will, I wander away. I grow impatient, and seek instant gratification. I suddenly find myself day-dreaming about the barista, who in my mind is writing a song about me instead of brewing coffee right now.
Why Do We Need It?
I’ve found that it’s easy to convince myself this isn’t damaging because, hey, it’s just pretend. It’s all in my head, that doesn’t hurt anybody.
But it does. It hurts my relationship with the Lord because I start relying on a “love” I’ve fabricated rather than God — Love, Himself.
It hurts that other person, because we’re using them. It can hurt ourselves when we finally accept that person doesn’t like us back. And it can hurt our future spouse. If every barista that smiles at you is a potential love interest now, what will stop you from looking at them that way when you’re married? Choosing to be emotionally chaste is difficult, but it’s a discipline worth pursuing.
How Can We Get It?
It’s difficult because virtue doesn’t arrive in our hearts as soon as we recognize we need it. God’s grace can do a lot, but we need to do our part too.
So if you’re hoping to be more “emotionally chaste,” here’s my advice:
See things for what they really are. When someone does something kind for you (like holding a door open or giving you a compliment), thank them and the Lord for their friendship. Don’t escalate it into a marriage proposal.
Think before you share. Girls love to talk about their problems, and guys love to fix problems. Sharing important parts of your heart for long periods of time can become confusing for both parties involved.
If you’re struggling with getting carried away with thoughts about a potential romance, try to stay away from things that make it more difficult. The wedding section on Pinterest or a rom-com marathon, or listening to that country song about that pretty girl for the thousandth time aren’t exactly the most helpful. These things aren’t bad, but be honest with yourself.
And finally, perhaps the most powerful way to practice emotional chastity is to abandon your heart to Jesus. Don’t apply “I have found the one whom my soul loves” (Song of Solomon 3:4) to some other person. Apply it to Love Himself, crucified in hopes of eternity with you. Giving your heart completely to God will keep you from cheapening the authentic love He has planned for you by settling for a “love” you want right now.