Friday, October 19, 2012

Standards Night Purity Talk

Almost 2 weeks into my studying for the Nevada bar exam and my brain hurts. :) I am hoping some of what I am learning and relearning is sticking in there somewhere. It is difficult to focus with children to tend and laundry to do and errands to run.

But slow and steady is my goal. And so far my studying has been keeping on that track.

Last night Jon and I did a Standards Night class for the youth in our church. Our subject matter was sexual purity. I think it went pretty well. It is nice to team up with my husband to accomplish something. We do work well together I think.

We used fire as an analogy for our remarks. I thought I would share the gist of what we said with you:

Fire Safety / Sexual Purity

Intro: Lets talk about FIRE. When kept within set limits and used for productive purposes, it is a beautiful tool that can both be enjoyable and beneficial to our lives. It heats our homes and our water. It cooks our food. It is great for making smores. Who doesn’t like snuggling up next to the fireplace on a cold winter night?

But fire can also be destructive. It is destructive when it is out of control and outside the confines where we have made a safe space for it.

In out little class today we are going to talk about a kind of fire safety the Lord has given us. This is the class on Sexual Purity. Just like the Lord gave us the power to create and use fire, He has given us the incredible power partner with Him to create life. What a gift! We all have many gifts and talents but this gift from the Father stands apart because when we use it we partner with the Lord in His work of creating life. But, He has given us set bounds or rules for when to use this power – only with our lawfully wedded husband or wife. Today we are going to talk about WHY it is important to keep these powers within the bounds of marriage, we will talk about WHAT the rules are (What exactly is okay and not okay to do), and we will talk about HOW to keep those rules.

Fire has the power to forge strong metals. These intimate sexual acts, like fire, forge a powerful unbreakable bond between the people participating. The Father loves us and doesn't want us to have to experience the hurt and pain of separating from someone with whom we have forged this lifelong bond. That is why He wants us first to make covenants to be married for the rest of our lives before we engage in these soul bonding acts.

The For the Strength of the Youth pamphlet says that when you live the law of chastity: You protect yourself from the emotional damage that always comes from sharing physical intimacies with someone outside of marriage.

The rule to keep these types of physical relations inside of marriage is a PROTECTION to you. Fires burning outside of their areas of safety are DANGEROUS. If you engage in sexual behavior outside of the Lord’s prescribed bounds of marriage, YOU WILL GET HURT. You could have consequences like a pregnancy or a sexually transmitted disease.  But even if you are lucky enough to avoid those consequences, you will ALWAYS have emotional and spiritual consequences. Even if you repent and go through the difficult process of becoming spiritually clean again, you can’t unsee something you have seen. You can’t make someone else unknow something they know about you. You will forever have a connection with that person that you will almost certainly one day wish were not there.

So we have established that we want to keep these fires only in the safe confines of marriage. But what exactly constitutes a “fire?” Or in other words, what is okay to do and what is not? It is the question I most wanted to know as a teenager. WHERE IS THE LINE? WHAT are the rules?

WHAT: Going to church at Panguich lake and the branch president telling us because of the conditions of little snow and little rain and lots of dead trees that we were not to have any open fires at all. 2 weeks later a boy riding an ATV had a problem with the machine and it back fired and let off a spark that caused an huge forest fire destroying acres and acres of land and putting teams of people working round the clock to contain the damage before it hurt people and destroyed homes.

Your lives as teenagers and on into young single adulthood are like those summer fire conditions. You are under the same strict rules that we were given about the fires. The For the Strength of the Youth pamphlet says: “Before marriage, do not do anything to arouse the powerful emotions that must be expressed only in marriage.” It goes on to be more specific, “Do not participate in passionate kissing, lie on top of another person, or touch the private, sacred parts of another person’s body, with or without clothing. Do not allow anyone to do that with you. Do not arouse those emotions in your own body.”
Okay? Do not do anything to become aroused – no open flames. So there is the line. It is somewhere in the range of kissing. Kissing is the most you should ever do with someone before marriage. AND while Some types of kissing are okay, some are not. G rated kissing is okay. If you are kissing like Cinderella you are fine. PG – the line is going to be in there somewhere. PG-13 kissing is not okay and some of it – the kind where you are lying down (rolling, levi loving, etc.) getting passionate and arousing those flames within and sexually exciting either yourself or your partner – necessitates you going to the bishop to have help repenting.

Elder Scott gave a great talk in 1996 entitiled “DO what is Right” when I was in college and dating about what was okay to do and what was not. In it he said, “A safe rule to follow is to never do anything alone that you wouldn’t do in the presence of parents shortly before marriage.”

Keep that in mind.

That is where the Lord has drawn His line. But once you get close to the line it is so difficult to stay on the right side of it. That is why we are encouraged to stay far away from the line. In Elder Scott's talk, he also encouraged us to take some time or reflection, fasting, and prayer to decide where OUR line is going to be. It should be even more protective than the Lord's line. It should help you stay safe from ever getting so close the Lord's line that you accidentally slip over it.

HOW: Many of the other classes you have tonight with help you with the how to keep your passions from igniting. Pay attention to the For the Strength of the Youth pamphlet guidelines on Dating, Media, and Modesty in particular.

I have one more rule of thumb. Let’s go back to our fire analogy: Fire needs 3 things to come into existence. they are sometimes represented in a triangle diagram-- Heat, fuel, and oxygen. If you don’t want to have a fire start or if you need to put one out, you simply have to remove one of those elements. If these three elements are all together it is highly likely that a fire will start. Trust me I know. Don't ever put a hat on top of a lamp. I almost burned down my dorm room that way. Not a good combo.

I have a similar triangle for our sexual flames. Here the three side are for my combustion triangle: Alone, Long Time, Close Proximity : Explain. Never allow yourself to be alone with a date for a long period of time and in close physical proximity. And it should be noted that if you like a person and are alone with them and have no productive planned activity, keeping away from them is not going to be easy. Some examples: sitting close watching a movie is only okay if you are around a bunch of other people and have no blankets over you. (Blankets make any part they cover "alone.") It is okay to go alone for a long time together on a hike as long as you always stay an arms length apart. It is okay to give a kiss as long as it is brief. And by brief I mean brief. Sometimes 30 seconds can be too long for some people. Be aware that your fire may not ignite as quickly as your partners and you need to make sure neither of you has any open flames going. 

Lastly, we want to talk to you a little about what to do if you get burned. Anyone here ever had a burn before? What do you do if you get burned? First you pull your hand away from what burned it. You don't leave your hand on a hot stove. So if you feel a flame ignite in you, STOP what you are doing and back away quickly. Don't feed the fire.

Next if you have a burn you run it under cold water. If you put it in cold water for 30 seconds can you take it out and be fine? NO! It keeps burning. You have to put it under the cold water for a long time or it will keep burning. The worse the burn the more time under cold water is needed. If you run into trouble and cross YOUR line with someone in this area – cool it off. Don’t just keep dating. Cool it down right away and for a long period of time. Date other people. Hang out with different people. Give it time to cool off or the heat of that fire will just pick right back up where it left off.

And if you have been burned passed that line and ignited sexual flames in yourself or your partner, in other words, if you have crossed the Lord's line (PG-13 type kissing, rolling, levi loving, touching another persons private body parts etc...) it is like having a 3rd degree. If you get burned this badly, you do not stay home and risk infection. You go to a doctor. If you have crossed the Lord's line, go to the bishop. He can help you. That is why He is there. He won’t yell at you. He isn't going to go tell on you to your parents. He will help you repent and become healed from the spiritual wounds you will have caused yourself and will help you find more strength not to allows those fires to burn you again.

We know that this gift when it is kept in the bounds of marriage can bring us great joy. There is such a wonderful joy in going to the alter of marriage pure and clean and reserved especially for your spouse. And creating a family together brings the greatest joys this life has to offer. This gift is given to us to bring us joy. We want you to be happy. Your parents want you to be happy and most of all the Lord wants you to be happy. Keeping yourself sexually pure and saving those powerful emotions to share only with your husband or wife will make you happy. 

And repentance is a wonderful gift and opportunity. There is no greater joy than feeling clean before the Lord. If you have any lingering worries about things you have don't that might have been wrong. Go see the Bishop. It isn't as scary as you think it might be. He loves you and is there to help you feel clean before the Lord. Through the Atonement you can be clean before the Lord. 


Emalee said...


I have read your blog for a long time and I really like it. I have enjoyed learning about your family and how you have grown and the faith you have shown around Camille's death.

I like the fire analogy you are using and I had one question. You essentially say that you can't "unring a bell" if you are too sexual with someone. How does this thinking jive with the atonement and our crimson sins becoming as white as snow? There is no stain, no left over residue, no leftover nail holes after they were pulled from a board, smashed cupcake, chewed up piece of gum (any other shaming object lesson). God remembers our sins no more when we repent.

I am a therapist for the church we share. I see many people who have sex before marriage. I see many who see themselves as "damaged goods." I know first hand how damaging lessons on chastity, modesty, purity can be. I believe that we are all chosen and loved equally by God because He is our Father and we are His children. I do not believe that that love lessens when we make mistakes. That is the message our youth (who are leaving the church in droves) need to hear.

Please know that I am not criticizing anything in the lesson. This is just a plea for us all to remember that God loves us and He loves all. Thank you for sharing your family and your testimony.

Emalee Banks

Anonymous said...

Hi Emalee,

Research the difference between Godly sorrow versus shame. A good reference is a book written Wendy Ulrich called, "Weakness is not sin." There is a good discussion there about the importance of Godly sorrow and why it's an important part of our lives on our journey in this life.

Hope this helps with your question and concerns,

Suzanne Millar

Stephanie said...

Hi Emalee,

I understand what you are saying. I think, however, there is a distinction between the power of the atonement to wipe away our sins and make us clean before the Lord (which it does fully and completely) and the power to remove consequences of our actions (which the atonement does not do.)

The point is not some choices we make have consequences that can not be removed by repentance. Our sins can be made white but if you get pregnant, repenting isn't going to make the pregnancy go away. It isn't going to cure you of a disease you may get. And it won't remove from another person's mind the image of you or knowledge of you naked. These are consequences of choices.

The Atonement can and does wipe away guilt and godly sorrow. It can help you have peace and strength to deal with the consequences. But it just doesn't wipe them away.

I was talking to a friend once who got pregnant in high school and kept the child but did not marry the father. It was years later and she was in love with a young man and he loved her too but would not marry her because of her past and the fact that she had this child. It was a great sorrow to her. She was telling me that she felt like the atonement didn't work because if it did then he wouldn't care about her past because it would be like it didn't happen. It wouldn't still be causing trouble in her life.

As soon as she said this it was like a lightening bolt to my soul. So clear an understanding came to me. I told her she was wrong. The atonement did work. She was clean. She no longer carried the burden of a sin stained soul. She knew she was acceptable and pure before the Lord. The Atonement did what it was meant to do. It made her clean as snow and erased the stain of sin on her soul.

But her actions and choices came with consequences that she would have to live with for the rest of her life. One of the consequences was that she would have a child to raise and she would have to deal with the father of that child at least till he turned 18. And she had no control over the fact that that consequence had another consequence in that it influenced this young man in his decision of whether or not to marry her.

The atonement doesn't undo what you have done. It makes you spiritually and can make you emotionally whole before the Lord.

It is important the kids understand this because it is better not to sin in the first place than to sin thinking you can always repent and make it like it never happened.

much love,

Emalee said...

Stephanie and Anonymous,

Thanks for responding. What an interesting discussion. I think my concern is emphasis. The message of the gospel is love, hope, grace, the atonement, and Jesus Christ. The aforementioned are not mere footnotes to messages of purity, modesty, chastity, perfection, etc.

As a therapist, I see that oftentimes shame and hopelessness are the most powerful forces in a person's life. The majority of youth (including lds youth) will have sex before marriage (check the research if you don't believe me). They often feel tremendously ashamed, filthy, like used goods, broken, etc. These wounded souls (and we are all wounded in one way or another) need messages of hope and love. That, in my opinion, should be the emphasis of the gospel.

It is not to say that I am Pollyanna about real life consequences. I know they exist and I see them in my work. I am speaking out merely to say that our youth receive so many messages that make them feel awful (I dealt with the consequences of harmful messages personally for years). We need to be thoughtful and loving. We need to be Christlike in our dealings.

Stephanie, good luck with the bar exam. My husband took the bar almost 6 yrs ago. It was so stressful and we did not even have any children at the time, so I cannot imagine. Good luck. Work hard and everything should come back (the research says it will, but it may take a few weeks for your brain to get back in shape).

Thank you for allowing me to share my opinion.

Warmest Regards,


Suzanne millar said...

It would be great to have a book club discussion of "Weakness is not Sin," by Wendy Ulrich. I hope you read it. It gets into a lot of detail about godly sorrow v. shame. Both shame and Godly sorrow can include uncomfortable feelings about having done something we feel is wrong and has hurt someone. That is where the comparison ends. Shame leads people to hide and blame; Godly sorrow leads people to confess and repair. Shame inhibits growth and esteem, while Godly sorrow leads to enhancement of both, providing an impetus to genuine change. With shame we see ourselves as bad people who should hide from others and God; with Godly sorrow we come to believe that we have done something wrong that goes against Gods moral standards. Godly sorrow leads us back to gods love. Godly sorrow isn't bad, it's a great blessing. Godly sorrow is a beautiful gift that our Savior has given us through his atonement for us.

A leaders use of shame over sinful behaviors may lead to a temporary obedience. But shaming is not a good long term strategy because it motivates by fear instead of by righteous desire. Stephanie, I think you were leading by a righteous desire for the youth you were teaching. Thank you for your beautiful message. I learned a great deal and will store up in my mind your analogy of a fire and how it relates to morality.

A really interesting discussion to begin would be to answer the question of whether or not the Atonement has the power to cleanse AND take away Godly sorrow. Next time:)

Suzanne Millar

Stephanie said...

Yes. Atonement does have power to cleanse and take away Godly sorrow. Been there. Done that. Felt my sorrow swept away. See also Alma the Younger saying how great was his joy when he is forgiven.

Sorrow and guilt should be swept away when forgiveness is obtained from the Lord. The problem is that we as humans sometimes like to hold back on forgiving ourselves.

And one thing I think is important to this topic of teaching teens about purity is to teach that it is HUMAN to make mistakes. That is why those of us who have been down the road a bit further try to teach kids to wait marriage. We know how easy it is to screw up.

That is why we teach kids to stay far from the line between ok and screwing up.

To err and learn from our mistakes is human. To learn based on another's experience is easier and wise.

Christy said...

This is in no way a criticism ...I teach the same principles you do..but my perspective has changed quite a bit as I have teenagers now. It will be interesting to see if yours does too.

It's great you have practice in addressing these very important subjects.

Suzanne Millar said...

I think that Stephanie understands what she is teaching. I also think that it isn't shameful to teach morality, it's importance in this world, and that there are very real consequences for disobeying Gods commandments. I think that if she tried to make the youth in her congregation feel ashamed of their disobedience, that would be wrong. Shame turns us away from God. Stephanie was not leading a shame based discussion on morality. Her opinion shouldn't change on this matter. Suzanne Millar

Suzanne Millar said...

I agree, except for your definition of Godly Sorrow. Ezra Taft Benson has a good essay called "A Mighty Change of Heart" that explains Godly sorrow perfectly.

Cheryl said...

A dear friend of mine had a baby out of wedlock 22 years ago. She is temple worthy an amazing, she feels no guilt or shame and hasn't for years, but she will tell you that the consequences of her choices still follow her and her son all these years later. She speaks to YW very powerfully about repentance and the Atonement but also shares the reality of choices and consequences. Teaching purity and morality is of utmost importance to our kids and teens these days!

Cheryl said...

Sorry for the poor grammar! I was typing from my phone.

Anonymous said...

I love this talk. Awesome job. I have never heard the term "Levi Lovin'" before, and have to say it made me laugh a little. Did you actually use that term in the talk? LOL!

Anonymous said...

Please take any advise from Emalee Coon Banks with a grain of salt. Or maybe with a mountain of salt. She has abused many of her patients, myself included, both emotionally, and spiritually. She has frequently violated the code of conduct at LDS Family Services, and I have documents to prove it. She once told me that not a single couple had ever stayed the course in her marriage counseling sessions, which by inference means that she has presided over an awful lot of divorces. She regularly dispenses legal advise to couples. She does not have standing before the Utah State Bar, but I guess pillow talk is just as good as a law degree. I would give you more specifics, but I think I'd better let Darren Davis and Tim Kosnoff handle that part.