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Troubled by My Boyfriend's Past

Dealing with a troubled past and other love advice

Q: I recently found out my boyfriend of nine weeks slept with his last girlfriend. He never told me about this, and I want to ask him about it. I feel like I have the right to know. He knows I want to remain a virgin until I marry, and he respects me for that. I just want to know how he feels about what he did. I care a lot about him and wouldn't let this affect our relationship, because everyone makes mistakes. Do you think I should bring it up or wait until he says something? When this topic does come up, what should I say?

A: Very few people, when they get sexually involved, think about how they're going to like telling someone about it months or years later—someone whom they really love. Sexual experiences don't ever go away totally. They live on, like ghosts, in all future relationships, and can do real damage there.

Since you've only been together for nine weeks, your boyfriend may feel this subject is too personal to share with you. In most cases I would tend to agree. I don't think people should share their sexual histories until they are very, very serious. But since you already know what happened in his last relationship (or think you do), you should ask him. Otherwise it's bound to affect your feelings for him. You need to clear the air. You should talk face to face, at a time when you won't be interrupted. I wouldn't do it on a date, because the emotions of such a conversation can be overwhelming. Arrange a time when you can meet together at a restaurant or coffee shop to talk about something important. Then when you get together, just say, "I need to talk to you about your relationship with your ex-girlfriend. I hate to bring this up to you, but it's really bothering me. I've heard that you had sex with her. I want to know if that's true, and how you feel about it now."

You say you'll continue your relationship no matter how he responds, but I wouldn't be so sure. If he blows you off, if he acts insensitive, if he lacks any regret, then I think you will inevitably lose respect for him. Once that happens your relationship is all but over. I say this because I want to prepare you: this is a serious talk. And he should treat it as a serious talk, too. His attitude toward sex, relationships and God's Word is extremely critical. If you can't agree about sex, your relationship doesn't have a promising future.

I Want Somebody to Love

Q: I love God very much and I do feel his love, but it doesn't seem to be enough. I want romantic love, too, a part that God himself can't fulfill. I have talked to many people about this empty feeling, and they all say I am looking for a father's love. But I have a father, and I know he loves me very much. I'm not old enough for a husband to fill this void, and I don't feel I'm emotionally ready for a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship. Still, I fantasize about having a guy in my life to talk to and cuddle with. I have many close guy friends, but it's not the same and doesn't fill the emptiness. What exactly is this void, and how can I fill it?

A: You're feeling something everybody experiences, to some extent. It's part of being human. The feeling is made up of two parts. One is the longing for a human partner. We get a glimpse of this longing in Genesis 2:18: "The Lord God said, 'It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.'" God recognized that his creation was not complete without man and woman to complement each other. The longing you feel is partly this: You haven't yet found the person you're meant to partner with. Some (not all) of the longing will be fulfilled only then.

But there's another part that will never be filled in this life. It's the part that longs to see and experience God "face to face." This is the powerful urge Paul expressed by saying, "I want to know Christ" (Philippians 3:10) even though he was already a Christian. This is what Paul means by saying "Now all we can see of God is like a cloudy picture in a mirror. Later we will see him face to face. We don't know everything, but then we will, just as God completely understands us" (1 Corinthians 13:12, CEV). On both counts, you're not going to feel that void filled right now. You're not ready to get married. And you're probably not going to heaven for a while. You're going to live with longing for a while.

That's not all bad. Sometimes feeling that void can help motivate you to be a better person—to prepare yourself for your marriage partner, so you'll have a happy marriage, and to prepare yourself for God, so he'll like what he sees when he meets you face to face. You might ask yourself: "Knowing I want someday to fill this void, how do I prepare? How do I need to change in order to become more pleasing to a future partner and to God?"

Some people pray each day for the person they'll someday marry. You don't know him, but God does. You can ask God to keep him from temptation, to help him to grow, to strengthen and deepen his character. Then pray the same prayer for yourself.

You can also pray about the day when you will "see God." In fact, that prayer is part of the one Jesus taught us to pray: "Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." We all have to live with longing, but it's a wonderful thing to know that someday our deepest longings will be filled.

Why Is Premarital Sex Wrong?

Q: I've always said I'd save sex until marriage, but six months ago, my boyfriend—a guy I was sure I'd marry—and I had sex. I felt no remorse about it. Then out of nowhere, he broke up with me. Devastated, I dove into the dating scene and, unfortunately, continued having sex with other guys until I finally started to regret my lifestyle. Now I'm dating a Christian, but we've also had sex. We want to fix our mistake, but I guess I still don't understand why premarital sex is a sin. To me, it's more an expression of unselfishness. Are there Scriptures about God's will regarding sex? And if so, how can my boyfriend and I begin to turn things around?

A: The New Testament doesn't say very much about premarital sex, because Jews grew up in a faith that told them sex belonged exclusively within marriage. They didn't have to spell it out. It was something that everybody assumed. However, when Christianity spread into Greek and Roman territory, it ran into cultures that regarded sex much like today's society. That's why Paul explained the nature of sexual sin in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20. In Ephesians 5:3-7 he strongly ruled out "even a hint of sexual immorality," stressing that "no immoral, impure or greedy person … has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God." I also appreciate Hebrews 13:4, because of its emphasis on the purity of marriage.

Clearly, the Bible warns strongly against the lifestyle you've fallen into. And given what you've been through, you should be able to see why waiting for marriage is right. When you love someone this deeply, this vulnerably, and then get dumped, it's devastating. Why would you even think of putting yourself at risk again?

You may feel very much in love, you may believe it's "obvious" that you're headed for marriage, but until you really are married, there's no commitment and no assurance. Of course sex feels like an unselfish and loving act. It's meant to. God designed it as a wonderful expression of love. He intended to draw a man and a woman into closer and closer bonds of love through sex. Intercourse really works the way it's designed. It's no substitute for commitment, though. In a situation like yours, all the loveliness and beauty of sex can turn against you, making your misery much more profound when you break up.

As for "fixing" your mistake, it won't be easy. Paul wrote the Corinthians, "All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body" (1 Corinthians 6:18). He's saying sex is different from other kinds of mistakes: It affects you at your very core. Most people find that once they've become sexually involved, it's incredibly hard to stop. That's why I warn people that there is no such thing as a sexual experiment. You can't try it out and then review whether you want to continue. Once you start, you'll probably continue even if you think it's wrong.

There is hope, though, if you're willing to take radical steps. You need to start over in your relationship. Go back to the beginning, and get it right this time! For a while you will have to quit seeing each other in private. Stop all physical contact, even kissing. Doing so will give your body a chance to learn new patterns of relating. Stick to group dates, with no long hugs and maybe a mere peck on the cheek goodnight. Learn how to enjoy each other's company without any physical contact. After several months of that, you might be ready to try dating. But even then, take it very slow. Also, find an older counselor—a pastor, a church leader, someone you respect—who will help you through the struggle, week by week. It's not easy to confess what you've done and to ask for help. But it's necessary, if you want to start over.

Is it worth this struggle? That's up to you to decide. If you love each other enough, and if you love God enough, you'll risk everything to make your relationship what it ought to be. If not, chances are good that you'll keep on sleeping together and that you'll eventually break up and start the cycle of guilt and regret all over again. I hope and pray you'll make the best choices for both of you.

Forgive My Abuser?

Q: I was sexually abused by the pastor of the church I went to. He was put in jail for some time. He is now out of jail and on parole, living in a different state. I know he won't hurt me again, but I'm having a hard time forgiving him. I know you are not supposed to have unforgiveness in your heart, but I feel as though I do. I want to know how to forgive him for the awful things he did.

A: When something so terrible has happened, forgiveness can be a lifelong process. You may never completely lose the dreadful feelings you have toward him, but you can move steadily in the right direction. Just the fact that you want to forgive him reflects an act of God in your life, giving you grace.

I think it's extremely important to get help in the process. I'd suggest a woman counselor. You can ask your new pastor, your youth leader, Sunday school teacher, or any trusted Christian friend to help you find a female Christian counselor who can help you with forgiveness. If you don't have the money, many Christian counselors can help you anyway.