My daughter turned thirteen last week. Amazing.
I bought her a purity ring. Actually—to be truthful—her mom bought it and suggested I give it to her. I liked the idea a lot. I told Ellie I wanted to take her out for her birthday to give her a special gift. We set a date. She was, of course, excited.
The day of our date I wondered how I’d do it. What would I say? Before leaving the office I leaned on Google for ideas and came up dry. I was literally nervous. How would I give this ring to my daughter, explain what it means, and make it both thoughtful and meaningful?
Driving out of the parking lot from work I literally prayed a prayer.
“How do I do this?” I asked, “I need some help here.”
Midway home I had a thought but wondered if I’d actually do it.
“There’ll be three stops on our date,” I told her, “but I’m not telling you what they are. It’s a surprise.”
Three stops. This committed me to the plan. If I balked, I’d have to make-up a third stop, which wouldn’t be easy.
“First stop is yogurt,” I told her once we were in the car. “When we get there you can get whatever you want and put whatever you want on it. But, don’t eat the yogurt right away. I want to give you your gift first.”
“Okay,” she said and didn’t think much of it. She was curious about the gift.
We got to the yogurt shop, and each of us loaded up our bowls. She put chocolate syrup on hers that hardened into a shell. I didn’t put much on mine. I knew where this was going.
So there we sat in the corner of the yogurt shop. Ironically, two women were sitting nearby talking about a friend of theirs who was having an affair. It didn’t go unnoticed.
“Did you hear what they were talking about?” Ellie asked me.
“Yes. Kind of sad isn’t it.”
“Okay,” I said, “Don’t eat your yogurt. I want to give you your gift first.”
She smiled and didn’t complain. I pulled out the small box and handed it to her. She opened it, and as one would hope, she genuinely liked the ring.
“It’s a purity ring,” I told her. “Do you know what that means?”
She didn’t. I was, of course, hoping she would. This meant I had to explain it all to her, which required a deep breath.
“One day a boy is going to give you a ring,” I started, “the purpose of that ring will be a sign of your commitment to him in marriage. This ring here is a purity ring. It’s a sign of your commitment to keep yourself pure for that boy.”
Her eyes were wide.
“Do you understand what I mean by that?”
“Yes”, she smiled and squirmed. We’d had this kind of conversation before, so I knew she got it, but I wasn’t done.
“Ellie, I know you get that, but there’s something you need to understand. Making that commitment today, at thirteen-years-old, doesn’t sound like a big deal. There isn’t yet a boy you love, and you don’t yet know what it feels like to really desire somebody physically.”
She seemed to be tracking with me but was—of course—very silent.
“There will come a day, though, when there will be a boy you love, and you will discover what it feels like to desire him, even though you’re not yet married. That will be both normal and healthy, but it will also be very difficult. God made human bodies to physically desire each other, and that’s a good thing, but he wants this desire used to seal a lifelong commitment. Does that make sense?”
She nodded, a little embarrassed.
“So here’s what I want to do. You don’t yet know what it’s like to desire somebody physically, but you do know desire for other things, like this yogurt.”
She looked at me with a “What’s this have to do with yogurt?” look on her face.
“I know this yogurt looks good,” I continued, “but here’s the deal. We’re not going to eat it.”
I paused again.
“After we finish talking, without having eaten this yogurt, we’re going to throw it away, and we’re going to walk out that door.”
Eyes wide. Mouth gaping.
“I know that sounds crazy, but I want you to have a hint of what it feels like to desire something that is both good and attractive, but not the right time. After this, we’ll go to the jewelry store, and we’ll be sure this is the ring you really want. Then we’ll go to another ice cream shop, and we’ll order ice cream again. At that second place, you can eat all you want.”
My daughter knows me. She wasn’t overly surprised by this. But I know her, too, and I knew exactly what she was going to say. I’d thought about it on the way home from work when mulling over this idea.
“Dad!” she whispered, “I’m embarrassed!” She looked toward the gal working the store and the two women behind us.
“I know, Ellie, and this may be the most important part of this. I know you. If you stumble in this area, it won’t be just about desire. It will also be because you won’t want to disappoint that boy, or you’ll be concerned about what other people think of you. You’ll have friends who will think you’re weird because of your commitment to purity, and that will bother you.”
My daughter is a people-pleaser. She comes by this naturally. I’d like to say she gets it from her mother, but that’s not true.
“Ellie,” I said, “I want you to remember what it feels like to feel weird in this moment and to wonder what other people think of you.”
Her response was amusing.
“I’m going to stir it up so it looks like I ate it,” and she went to town mixing up her bowl. I couldn’t help but wonder what parallel that might be in this analogy, but I let it go.
We quickly left the yogurt shop after dropping our bowls in the trash can by the door. We dashed to my car and then made our way to the jewelry store. As I suspected, she picked out a ring she liked better. It had to be special ordered, but it was the one she really wanted. I paid, and we made our way to an ice cream shop nearby.
Ice cream. Not yogurt.
We both ordered chocolate shakes made with chocolate ice cream, and her comment was poetic.
“I’m glad we didn’t eat that yogurt,” she said. “Ice cream is way better than frozen yogurt.”
I could not have scripted this.
“Remember that Ellie. Yogurt is only a cheap imitation of the real thing—just like sex before marriage.”
She nodded and smiled. No need to belabor it. She got it. The conversation went to other things.
Three days later we got a call from the jewelry store. Her ring was ready. I picked it up, and brought it to her. She wears it and doesn’t wear it, as one would expect. In time it will only fit on her pinky. Someday, God-willing, she’ll get a better ring, and with it, all the ice cream the two of them could ever want. I pray for that day, but I don’t need to rush it.
It will be here soon enough.