The situation described in the following letters continues to be entirely fictitious, including persons, names, crimes, sins, relationships, circumstances and all particulars. The kind of situation that is described, however, is all too common and my hope is that biblical principles applied to this fictitious scenario may be of some help to individuals tangled up in a real one.
As we continue to correspond, I wanted to make a point of thanking you again. I know that writing about these things can be sometimes painful, and it is always difficult. I do not want to take that for granted, or even seem like I am. I know that as I write, I am coming from a completely different emotional place than what you are experiencing—I can empathize with you, but I can’t pretend to identify. I know that you know all this, but I wanted you to know that I know it too. But as I indicated in an earlier letter, apart from the obvious disadvantages, it does impart some advantages. Sometimes a little distance can provide a helpful perspective, and I trust that is what I am doing. It is certainly what I am trying to do.
You are most likely going off to college in the fall, and I wanted to address a few things that are almost certain to come up. A number of these things confront every freshman heading off to school, but some of them will be connected to the past that you feel you are “carrying around.”
Now some of these things I am going to say will sound like I am trying to be a Dutch uncle, and that is because . . . well, I sort of will be sounding like a Dutch uncle. If any of this strikes you as being kind of “gruff,” please know that none of the gruffness is directed at you, but rather at all orcs, trolls, and evil creatures you will be encountering, known commonly to others as “boys.” I hope you know that I am joking. Mostly.
You are going to be plunging into a swirl of new relationships, and in this process you need to be careful to guard your heart—with regard to girls and guys both. I do not mean that you should stand in the corner, trying to project the fact (which you are already tempted to feel) that you are somehow “damaged goods.” That only scares off people who ought to become your friends, and unfortunately, it also attracts the kind of people who will be no help to you at all.
Your demeanor should be bright—warm, friendly, and distant. Don’t let your past become part of your identity. You are starting fresh in many ways, and your God is much bigger than the crimes committed against you. You have to deal with these things, as will the people who are close to you, but do not involve acquaintances and strangers. That turns the abuse into a kind of badge, and it will create an identify for you that could grow to unmanageable proportions.
So warm, friendly, distant. Making friends “for life” in the first three weeks of college is perilous. The Bible has a lot to say about friendship and companions, and you should choose your friends wisely, carefully, deliberately, and slowly. This does not require you to be rude to everybody, but you should be manifestly friendly and clearly reserved. I have seen many instances of “fast friends forever” blowing up before freshman year is over. Hasty bonds of friendship are sometimes lucky, but never wise. Now I believe this is good advice for everyone, protecting everyone, but you are in need of additional protection. You should take steps to provide that cautious protection for yourself without signaling to the world the fact that you have been badly burnt.
Whether or not you feel that way on any given day, you are a beautiful girl. And others will notice this, whether or not you are noticing it. Boys will start coming around. And—here is the Dutch uncle part—you have to recognize that when young men are singling you out, paying you focused attention, one of two things is happening. I am not talking about if a guy says hi to you in passing, or if another guy holds a door for you going into the Student Union. I am talking about if he is paying you guy/girl attention. Either he is trying to figure out a way of getting you into bed dishonorably, or he is trying to figure out how to do it honorably.
Some people find this upsetting, or they think a bald statement of it is off-putting, but there it is. I have found that in arguments with gravity, I always lose. Because you are a Christian woman, you don’t want attention from the dishonorable ones, and this goes back to choosing your friends wisely. Men who are dishonorable in their sexual pursuits are dishonorable in other ways also, ways that are more readily visible—study habits, foul talk, entertainment standards, etc. Steer clear of them.
So you will have a circle of friends, conscientious Christians. They will attend church faithfully, worshiping the Lord. They will be serious Christians—the kind who can talk easily about spiritual things. They will be Bible readers. And within this circle of friends, there will be your guy friends. Now if one of them starts to single you out, you can assume that his intentions are honorable—but not that they are somehow asexual. But because they are honorable, and because you are both freshmen, and because marriage is expensive, there you both are—years out. You look cute together, but his paper route isn’t going to cut it.
But in the meantime, years out, however unspoken it is, you have an aching need for a male presence in your life, a protective male presence that will not turn sexual on you. As far as created beings can be used to meet created needs, this was a need that your father was assigned to fulfill. Failure to fulfill it was right at the center of his crime. Because he violated that, you are now having to make shift.
Now in a Christian setting, where the men are not leering or making suggestive comments all the time—where the men are acting civilized, in other words—it is easy for the women to forget how present the sexual element is for the men. So you are in a group with this guy, he is remembering his manners, and so you start looking to him as though he were an older brother. Now fathers and brothers and uncles have a crucial role to play, which is that of providing a male presence that is never sexual. When it turns sexual, that is a foundational betrayal. But when you have a friend who is like a brother, at least for you, there will be a time when it does turn sexual. And when that time comes, you will want to know the situation well enough that it does not feel like a betrayal as well. Do you see what I am getting at?
None of this is to say that the erotic element is absent for you. It is to say that all the normal impulses are there for you, of course, but they are buried under a history of awful abuse. When such abuse is left unaddressed, when it is allowed it have its carnal way, it drives young women (usually) in one of two directions. Either they are tempted to retreat behind some kind of an impenetrable wall, where men are not allowed, or they just decide the world is gross, and “what’s the use anyway?” and simply give up. The former wind up as recluses, or lesbians, or ardent feminists—any place that makes it difficult for men to get close. The latter wind up in destructive cycles of substance abuse and promiscuity. Neither reaction will be kind to you. It is my desire to help you to prepare so that a third way opens up for you naturally.
So when a guy comes around (and it is when, not if), and he is the kind of guy you would consider as a husband, I would suggest that you involve your uncle and aunt in it. I would urge you to look particularly to your uncle. This is not because “courtship” means that women are chattel, to be dispersed by some guy according to his whims. You are not your uncle’s property, and you were never your father’s property. His crime was that he treated you as property, instead of as a daughter.
Looking to your uncle means that you will be getting counsel from someone who knows the sexual distractions from the other side, but who is not himself distracted. You know that he is a good and godly man, just as you knew that your father was not. The young man you might be interested in is someone who attracts you, but is not someone that you understand very well. At an early stage of a relationship, your uncle would understand him far better.
I know this is an enormous subject, with many variables. I know that I have probably created more questions than I have answered. Sorry about that, but please feel free to ask away.
Cordially in Christ,