Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Purity Rings

I decided to do something special for my daughter for her twelfth birthday. If you've seen the movie Courageous, or read anything about Purity Pledges and the ceremonies involved, then you know what they look like. At the extreme, they are these fancy father/daughter balls that are meant to acknowledge the father's promise to protect his daughter by screening the young men who court her, as well as her promise to save her virginity for marriage. However, at its simplest, as it is portrayed in the movie, it represents an agreement between father and daughter which, frankly, should and probably does tacitly exist in healthy homes anyway. At the very least, most people would agree that a father has the responsibility to be interested in the young men his daughter dates and to warn her when he sees something that causes him concern. There is some controversy about the psychology of the practice, some accusations of patriarchy (and against fathers, no less), alongside some serious questions about its efficacy. It seems as if most of the young people who sign the cards and make these "True Love Waits" vows at fourteen or fifteen go on to break them as soon as they realize that sex feels good.

I'd love to hear some feedback on this issue, but my thoughts are that despite the poor track record of the purity pledges, the record of no pledge and no accountability seems worse. I want to be involved in all aspects of my daughter's life while I still have some influence over her, not just the easy ones. Plus, as my daughter grows rapidly more interested in boys, she happens to live with someone who has not only a great deal of insight into the male psyche, but an intense desire to protect her from its more seedy side. So, I gave my daughter a real gold ring with a cross inscribed in a heart. I talked to her about the beauty of romance and sex, and how much I want good things for her. Then I asked her to let me guide her when it comes to young men and let me meet and approve the boys who want to date her, with complete, above-board honesty.

Then came the ring. And this was the part that bothered me from the beginning. I had the hardest time finding a ring I liked for her, because the vision I had in mind was nowhere to be found on the Christian websites or Christian stores. I wanted something gold, with maybe her birthstone, something classy and expensive enough to be a meaningful sacrifice from me. But all of the purity rings or similar types I found online and in the stores were cheap aluminum rings with cheesy slogans or fake gold rings that looked as if they came out of a Cracker Jack box. I couldn't find a single one with any quality or real intrinsic value. Worst of all, two of the websites even stated specifically that these rings are generally inexpensive because they are for young girls who may be careless and lose them.

So let me get this straight. I'm supposed to have this crucial talk with my daughter, one which is focused on my least favorite subject to talk about with her. In this conversation, I'm supposed to tell her that she has something precious, so valuable and beautiful, that only one who has committed his life to her should have it. Then I tell her that despite temptation and desire, she must protect this thing until that future time, and that I want to partner with her to help her do this. Then, as a symbol of this beautiful alliance, I give her a ten dollar ring and say, "I would have given you something nicer, but I don't trust you with valuable things and I'm pretty sure you'll just LOSE it within a year."

People, what kind of message does this send? I'm not one to be obsessed with expensive things, but it seems as if the way we treat the symbol has a lot to do with the way we treat the thing itself. This is why we get so uptight over flag burnings and why we spend so much on wedding rings. And this is exactly why these purity pledges don't work - they are just too frivolous. Anybody can fill out a card at some rally, influenced by the austere but loving voice of some guest speaker or traveling preacher who will be eight states away when that young man or woman looks you in the eye with such intense love mingled with lust that you forget about Heaven and Hell, much less some "I'm Worth Waiting For" T-shirt in the bottom of your hamper. There are real consequences to premarital sex, and an aluminum ring doesn't quite communicate that. I wanted my daughter to see how serious I am about this commitment, and so I spent some money. And unlike the revival minister, I will be around when the crisis comes, at least within phone range.

And what if she does lose it? (The ring, I mean. Merciful heavens, I meant the ring.) She'll probably feel terrible, and I'll probably be upset. And then I can say this: "Think about how it feels to lose that ring. To lose something so precious to you, so special between you and someone you love, something you can never really get back. Now multiply that by about a hundred." So, even then, the lesson drives home, and I still win.

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