Our five-year-old son, Jordan, came home from one of his first bike outings with three "souvenirs" on his knees. They looked like they really hurt but that hadn't slowed him down.
"We shouldn't be surprised," Brian said, "most falls come early on in the learning process."
Marriage and riding a bike are a lot alike. Coordination, cooperation, and determination go into both. They can be both exhilarating and good for the heart. The training wheels on a bike keep you from falling while you learn the balance and coordination required to ride. The training wheels for marriage are pure and wholesome dating relationships and heeding the advice of wise and experienced "riders." Unfortunately for many of us in this media-bombarded society, we assume we know what's involved in nurturing both marriage and genuine intimacy without any real experience or wisdom. We often forfeit the training wheels and race full-speed over hills and around curves on an impetuous course for oneness. This dangerous ride is called premarital sex and causes bigger scars than a skinned knee in a bike fall.
Premarital sex wounds the sanctity of a heart and, left untreated, can scar a marriage for a lifetime. We speak from experience; our relationship began with a fall. And we have the scars to prove it.
We started dating in high school. Brian was the president of his church youth group, a National Honor Society member, and a star athlete. I grew up a few doors down from my church, had near-perfect attendance in Sunday school, and cheered Brian on from the sidelines at school sporting events as a pom-pom girl. Through most of my high-school career, we both remained virgins, yet the physical progression of our emotional attachment seemed natural. Our defenses lowered and eventually we were rushing headlong down a dangerous hill, our hormones skidding over our reasons to remain pure.
We got married to cover the visible consequences— pregnancy— but the emotional and spiritual consequences of our sin became more evident as time progressed. The familiarity of marriage lessened the lure of what was previously forbidden— sex. Without the illicitness surrounding sex, we began to see our premarital relationship for what it really was— counterfeit intimacy. After the layers of deception were peeled away, we discovered a marriage rooted in instant gratification and self-serving pleasures.
Even so, it was four long years until we repented as a couple of the sin of premarital sex. Sure, we had said we were sorry before that time. But even then selfishness dictated our sorrow. We were sorry we had gotten caught. We were sorry we had problems because of it. This repentance was different. We were actually sorry for the rebellion we had displayed against a holy God and the dishonor we committed against each other. For four years we had viewed premarital sex much like the rest of mainstream Christian culture—with an attitude of indifference.
Due to the downplay of the negative effects of consensual premarital sex by both the secular world and well-meaning Christians, its consequences are often ignored and allowed to wreak havoc in marriages and other relationships over extended periods of time. As time moves forward, it can be difficult for a couple to dig down to the heart of the problem.
But intimacy in marriage can be reclaimed. It involves acknowledging past sin, receiving and giving forgiveness for it, and rebuilding the marital foundation.
Four Keys to Reclaiming Intimacy
Reclaiming intimacy that has been lost from the effects of premarital sex must begin with an honest acknowledgment of sin. Premarital sex isn't a mistake. It isn't an accident. It isn't just an unwise action. It is sin. Rationalizing it by way of age, circumstances, naivete, or any other manner does nothing to undo the reality that it was a personal choice to rebel against God.
Early in our marriage, we justified our previous immorality with the idea that neither of us had been sexually active with anyone else and that we had planned to get married to each other someday anyway. We both saw premarital sex simply as an early consummation of our marriage.
Not until we acknowledged before God that every bit of pleasure, fulfillment, and esteem we had achieved through premarital sex was stolen at the expense of Christ were we truly repentant. Repentance involves a change of mind about our actions and in so doing leaves no room for residual pleasure through memories or associated emotions.
2. Receiving forgiveness.
During the time of Old Testament sacrifices, the Israelites set aside one day a year to serve as the Day of Atonement for their sin. After offering the sacrifices for sin, a priest would take an unblemished goat and place his hands upon the goat's head. He then confessed the sins of the Israelites transferring guilt to the goat.
The goat was then taken outside of the city walls far away from any civilization and left to die a slow and agonizing death alone. This death served to remove the Israelites' sin guilt. It also paints a picture of the true sacrifice of Jesus, who, unblemished with sin, died a slow and agonizing death outside the city walls to remove the guilt of our sin.
Accepting forgiveness from God for the sin of premarital sex means also accepting freedom fro m guilt. Jesus' blood not only covers our sin but also the resulting guilt. Couples whose marriages are tied up in guilty knots may hesitate to embrace healthy marital sex and intimacy. A distorted view of the meaning of sex may play out through self-protective acts of cautiousness.
I compromised morality when I engaged in premarital sex. The painful consequences of my compromise naturally made me a more cautious rider when the freedom to race through uninhibited tracks of marital sex had finally arrived. For years this created uncertainty in our relationship not only through an improper association of guilt with pleasurable sex, but also through memories immersed in emotions of feeling used. Guilt-association or resentment with sex smothers a marriage bed.
"Nathan and I have been married almost ten years," Stacie, a woman who had engaged in premarital sex, told me, "and it was only last summer that I finally realized that making love to my husband was something that actually brought God joy. I even had gotten to the point that I would not make love to my husband on Sundays because I felt like it was a 'dirty' thing."
When guilt is arrested, we can then reprogram our thinking to reflect that of the wisdom and beauty of God. God provided sexual relations between husband and wife as a way to create oneness and give mutual pleasure, comfort, and recreation.
3. Granting forgiveness.
Forgiveness includes more than one person. Offering forgiveness and receiving forgiveness are tightly linked in Scripture. Jesus clearly makes this point in the parable of the forgiven debtor who refused to forgive the debts of others and consequently suffered the wrath of his King. "So shall my Heavenly Father also do to you if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart" (Matthew 18:34-35, nasb).
So the path toward intimacy must involve steps of forgiving each other for the past sin of premarital sex. You may think, "Yes, but my wife had sex with more partners than I did." Or, "I never had premarital sex, but my husband did before I met him." Forgiving a spouse for past sexual sin means simply holding them to a standard no higher than what our Savior holds for us all.
A number of years ago I played the part of the adulterous woman in our church's Easter pageant. Each night actors angrily threw me to the stage at the feet of the person playing Jesus. And each night, without fail, Jesus brushed my hair back with one hand and with the other he wrote in the sand. Then he said, "Those without sin may throw the first stone." It is what Jesus didn't say that is most alarming. He didn't say, "Those without sexual sin may throw the first stone." All sin crucified Jesus, and we all have sinned.
At the very root of forgiveness is humility: Humility to acknowledge and repent of sin; humility to show grace and forgive others.
4. Re-forming the foundation.
During seminary, Brian built us a house outside of Dallas because the monthly payment would be less expensive than rent. His plan consisted of cramming an entire new-home project into his menial summer break from classes. Things don't always go according to plan, though.
Shortly after the crew had laid our foundation, another crew came to do the rough-in work. In measuring for the walls, the crewmen learned that our foundation had been poured incorrectly. It wasn't square. Building was postponed for nearly a month as we waited on the foundation crew to work us back into their schedule and fix the problem. As a result, we didn't finish the home before classes began that fall.
When we married over a decade ago on a flawed foundation of premarital sex, we began a family without proper structural support. For the first few years of our marriage, intimacy was never built—things just weren't square. Our marriage-project was postponed. We experienced periods of aloofness and others of anger. We resigned ourselves to a dissatisfactory existence.
Yet, when we later acknowledged, repented of, and forgave each other for a past of dishonor prior to marriage, we were ready to repair the foundation of our home. About seven years into our marriage Brian approached me and said he wanted to offer us a prolonged period of abstinence. In this time we would begin to establish the communication skills, respect, and intimacy that we subverted through premarital sex.
Intimacy didn't simply appear overnight. Months passed. We returned to sexual expression in our relationship. More months passed. We attended marriage conferences, spent thousands of hours talking and getting to know the inner workings of each other, and released each other from the expectations of meeting the other's emotional needs. In the lengthy process of doing these things, we discovered a oneness in our marriage for which we had even given up hope.
Reclaiming intimacy is entirely attainable when built on the foundation of God.
Heather and Brian Jamison serve as missionaries in Kenya together with their three children. Heather is the author of Reclaiming Intimacy: Overcoming the Consequences of Premarital Relationships (Kregel).
Copyright © 2001 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.