Photos by Asher Ong Photography, courtesy of Wendy Wong
My husband and I were married almost exactly a year ago. But leading up to that, we went through a painful and wearisome journey of battling sexual sin for over our two years of courtship.
We did everything we possibly could to be pure before the Lord: we read articles and memorized verses, prayed and reflected over each struggle, and instituted physical boundaries. Yet almost every single time we met, everything we’d learned flew out of our heads.
Our struggle with lust felt like a cross too heavy for us to bear on our journey towards marriage. Yet God was paving the way for us, on a road lined with much grace and forgiveness. His Holy Spirit ever so patiently guided us in His truth, and with each step we took, we began to understand for ourselves what it means to be faithful to the Lord.
If you struggle with lust in your courtship as we did, and you’re looking forward to the day you can finally embrace your significant other after the lockdown is lifted, yet fearing it because of your propensity to fall, I’d encourage you to take this season of self-isolation to pray and discuss with your significant other the basics—or what I call the ABCs—of pursuing joy in the Lord, and fighting sin. Not just sexual sin, but any sin.
1. Abiding in Christ
In the course of your courtship, you might be tempted to forget the centrality of Christ in your life and relationship. Speaking from experience, it can be so easy to replace Him with one another in the small, everyday choices we make: whether it’s choosing to meet each other over having quiet time, texting or calling each other instead of praying, and being more absorbed in each other’s lives than in serving and having fellowship with others.
Yet at the end of the day, as John 15:1-17 illustrates, apart from Jesus, we can do nothing. We can’t set and keep our boundaries, or resist any temptation, or please Him in our actions and thoughts, without Him.
It is only when we abide, depend on and remain in Him, that we can bear His fruit of Christlike love, faithfulness and self-control (Galatians 5:16-25). So what exactly does abiding in Jesus look like? It means getting to know Him for ourselves: stilling our busy hands, sitting quietly at His feet, listening to His Word, and soaking in His presence.
This means prioritizing our time and relationship with the Lord, before one another. It means spending extended time praying to Him, reading and reflecting on His Word alone and together, and sharing with each other our personal prayers and reflections. It means finding a quiet joy and peace in His presence, hungering for, and being filled to full satisfaction in Him (Psalm 63:1-8).
As we prioritized time with Christ and chose to abide in Him, my husband and I grew in our understanding of how deeply grievous our sin was to God, and out of this, a strong conviction was borne to love and guard our relationship with Him first and fiercely.
2. Setting and Sticking to Boundaries
First Thessalonians 4:1-8 tells us that God’s will for us is our sanctification. In the context of courtship, this means learning to control our bodies with the help of physical boundaries.
You and your significant other must first agree that purity in your relationship is essential. You should then discuss ahead of time what boundaries would be helpful for the both of you, when you do finally get to meet again. This might vary from person to person and couple to couple, but it is important to respect that what might be a non-issue for you might be a huge temptation for your partner, and vice versa.
Over time, we grasped what worked for us and what didn’t, keeping and reinforcing boundaries that helped us, and doing away with those that actually backfired. For example, we found that avoiding dark and solitary places, such as parks at night and movie theatres, was beneficial. But complete avoidance of all physical contact, such as short hugs and quick pecks on the cheek, made us burn with passion all the more.
It is so important to agree upon and keep boundaries from the onset of a relationship—which we only learned in hindsight. And there must be consequences for crossing them: for example, as a result of overstepping an important boundary, we decided to abstain from meeting each other face-to-face for a month, for us to repent and seek the Lord individually. Only in setting and sticking to our boundaries did we learn self-control and discipline by His providential grace.
3. Accounting to Community
I remember the Sunday we approached our church elder to confess our struggle with lust. It was the first time I’d done something like that, and I was so afraid of being judged and seen differently by him. After all, he was a church leader who had known me for some years prior to this relationship. Yet as the three of us sat down and my then-boyfriend confessed our struggles, our leader didn’t bat an eyelid. He didn’t give us harsh words of condemnation or rebuke, but instead encouraged and prayed for us right there and then.
We also accounted to two older married couples in church, whose wives had mentored me in earlier seasons of my life. Every time we crossed a boundary, we’d confess to them and ask them to pray for us, after we had repented and sought God’s forgiveness and one another’s. The fact that they knew about our struggles didn’t directly change the situation we were in. But knowing that we would, and should, have to account to them imperceptibly influenced us to make the right choices as well.
These mentors would also initiate to meet up with us on a regular basis, whether to pray for us, to go through what God’s Word had to say about lust and marriage, or to just catch up with us to see how we were doing. Likewise, I had sisters in Christ whom I could share and pray with over the struggles we faced in our relationships.
Without the accountability of our church community, we would have struggled so much more with feelings of shame and guilt. Their presence and fellowship in our lives helped us to be rooted in God’s Word and His community, and to experience what truth in love, in both word and deed, looked like.
List down a handful of spiritually rooted couples, and brothers and sisters in Christ, who might be able to journey with you in this. Don’t be afraid of confessing your sin and asking them for help. After all, that is precisely what the body of Christ is for: to exhort and encourage one another in love and good works (Hebrews 3:12-14, 10:24-25).
At the end of the day, Paul is clear when it comes to burning with passion in courtship: get married (1 Corinthians 7:9).
That was what our church leader told us about six months into our relationship, after we had accounted to him about our struggles. He had ascertained that we were committed to Christ and one another, and posed this question with a frankness that astonished us: “If you love Christ and one another, what’s stopping you from getting married?”
Now that we are married, we realize what simple yet indispensable advice this was for us, as a young couple heading towards marriage.
Of course, getting married should be carefully and prayerfully considered, not just with one another, but with the body of Christ. Share and pray with brothers and sisters who are mentoring and journeying with you if you’re unsure. Now is the best time to discern how and where God is leading you.
If you and your significant other are spending these weeks and months of lockdown apart, I pray that this time presents an opportunity to grow in prayerfulness, and not waywardness. And when the day comes that the lockdown is lifted, I pray that you’ll be taking steps towards your significant other, not in deeper sinfulness and rebelliousness, but in stronger faithfulness and holiness, as you finally embrace.