Do you feel innocent?
Do you think innocence is something you can gain back?
There was a point in my life where I had felt that I had lost all innocence. I was dealing with a lot of guilt and shame caused by my actions over a number of years and I was haunted by vivid memories of what I had done. Unable to get certain images, thoughts, and fantasies out of my head I thought something was wrong with me. When I met the person who would eventually become my bride I recognized something innocent about her. When someone told a dirty joke she didn’t usually get it right away. That’s because she didn’t immediately attribute common terms to have an illicit sexual context. This was a deep contrast to the way my mind worked at the time. When people told regular jokes they would immediately become dirty jokes in my mind. My mind attributed an illicit sexual context to most themes and words that really didn’t carry the meaning I attributed them. Encountering a person whose innocence was so apparent and genuine made me feel perverted. In truth, that was exactly the case. A perversion is a distorted, or corrupted, version of the original. My mind was corrupted, or perverted, from its original design. That’s an important statement because as I will make the case later in this article: innocence is a term which can describe the original design of the human person. Innocence can also mean blameless or sinless. I felt guilty and sinful. I wondered why my lustful drive was so out of control and why I seemed to be the only person who struggled this way. I used to think I was the only person who felt like I had lost all innocence. I realize that there are many people out there who feel this way and it is a common feeling among those who have been wounded by illicit sexual experiences – either through their own actions or through the actions of others. Many people are searching for a way to restore lost innocence. Feeling innocent again is possible. Innocence can be regained. I know this from experience.
I guess we should first define innocence. I don’t think everyone here is going to have the same definition. Before we define innocence though I want to first talk about what innocence is not. Innocence is not ignorance. Innocence doesn’t mean you don’t know, see, or hear bad stuff. We think babies are innocent because they don’t understand but that’s not why they are innocent. Innocence is not immaturity. You don’t lose innocence once you get to a certain age or once you mature. Innocence is not just for babies or kids. Innocence is Virginity. Does that help or does that make it more confusing? Probably makes it more confusing, right?
That’s most likely because you are used to people referring to virginity as a bad thing. Being called a virgin in a culture where people believe it is cool to have casual sex is like being called un-cool. If the “logic” of the day is that people are supposed to have sex regularly – that it’s part of “sexual health” – than people who choose not to have sex before marriage (or at all) are illogical. This is probably the mentality most people have about the word virginity. It is an uncomfortable, embarrassing and degrading term. Why would anyone want to be a virgin when it is so looked down upon by our peers? If this is what comes to your mind when you hear the word virginity or when someone asks you if you are a virgin than the word virgin, or virginity, seems to have lost its virginal value and we need to reclaim it.
The word virgin can also mean one who is untouched or uncorrupted by sin. Virgin is a word that can be synonymous with purity. Again, purity is another word that’s taken on some undeserved baggage but it simply means free from adulteration or contamination. Realize that I said adulteration and not adultery. However, it’s important to recognize that there is a significant relation between those two words. Adulteration means something is mixed with foreign or extraneous material. It contains something it is not supposed to contain. Its original makeup, or original design, has been compromised. A cup of pure water that has some sand poured into it is still water, and a person can drink it, but it is no longer purely water. When a person refers to pure water they don’t mean that the water hasn’t had illicit sex but that it is uncorrupted and retains its original state which is the most desirable. I’d take a poll to see how many people prefer to drink pure water as opposed to sewage water but I think I already know what the results might be. Once water is corrupted by sewage it loses its integrity. Integrity is actually another word synonymous with purity.
So let’s see if we can bring this full circle. Here is a list of terms which, according Thesaurus.com, are synonymous with purity: cleanliness, stainlessness and immaculacy. Words that are synonymous with immaculacy are: abstinence, decency, monogamy, virginity, chasteness, cleanness, devotion, honor and integrity. I know virginity has already been listed here but to make a better point I’m going to move to integrity first. Terms synonymous with integrity are: honesty, purity, sincerity, virtue, goodness, honorableness and incorruption. According to an online etymology dictionary which pulls it’s credence from sources including the Oxford English Dictionary (second edition), the Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology (1988), Weekley’s “Etymological Dictionary of Modern English” (1921), and Ernest Klein’s “Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the English Language” (1971), the word honesty had in its definition the terms virginity and chastity as early as the late 1400’s. Honesty takes its root from the Latin honestus meaning “moral purity, uprightness, virtue or justness” (see http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=honesty).
Okay, so honesty is synonymous with virginity. Well, here is a list of terms synonymous with virginity: purity, abstinence, chasteness, honor, integrity, virtue, sinlessness and…. innocence.
Innocence shares many of the same synonyms including sinlessness, righteousness, chastity, virtue and incorruption. If all these terms are synonymous with innocence and virginity – who wouldn’t want to be associated with terms like virtue, honor, honesty and integrity? Many people who are “virgins” by the common use of the term are often embarrassed to admit that fact. My experience from most others – especially young devout Catholic teens – is that just saying the word virginity be a difficult task because it is so uncomfortable and embarrassing. That’s only because it is used so often as a degrading term. It’s treated almost like a racial slur. However, to be innocent is to be blameless, to be righteous and to be virtuous. To be innocent is to be virgin. Virginity means incorrupt. To be virgin is to retain ones integrity. I strive to be a person of integrity and I pride myself of that fact.
So if to be virgin is to be a person of honesty and integrity – count me in.
When the integrity of something is compromised it can no longer serve the purpose for which it was designed. If a glass pitcher that is meant to hold water cracks then its integrity has been compromised. If the pitcher has a small crack than it may not be able to serve the purpose of holding water very well. However, if it is shattered than it cannot serve the purpose of holding water at all.
So that you don’t think I’m making all this up. John Paul II, in his Theology of the Body, states that a married couple uniting in the conjugal act is meant to be “reliving in some way man’s original virginal value”. Christopher West interprets this to mean that the phrase “original virginal value” refers not to the absence of a bodily union (not having sex) but to the original integrity of body and soul. In the state of original innocence, man and woman experienced a perfect psychosomatic (soul-body) integration. They were “untouched” by the rupture of body and soul that would defile them as a result of original sin… “Sin, however, marks the loss of man’s virginal value (body-soul integrity) in the sense that it ruptured his psychosomatic unity. Thereafter, the lust that attends sexual union serves to accent and even exacerbate this body-soul rift. Lustful sexual union is always a dis-integrating experience and thus an attack on the human being’s virginal value”.
The term psychosomatic refers to the interaction between mind and body. You see, before the fall of man Adam and Eve’s intellect and their will were in harmony and completely ordered towards the good. After they sinned their intellect was darkened and their will weakened.
Therefore their ability to know right from wrong (which comes from the intellect) wasn’t so clear anymore. Nowadays people claim that abortion is good and chastity is bad. People debate for hours on end on these issues. This is the result of darkened intellects. Because of a weakened will their ability to do what they knew was right and to resist doing what they knew to be wrong was weakened.
In my own experience I remember not being able to say no to my disordered sexual desires even when I wanted to. Often I would promise myself that I would stop doing certain things but when presented with the opportunity I never had the strength to resist the temptation.
My will was extremely weak and it was because my sinful habits over time had compromised the integrity of my mind and body. They became separated. They became at odds. My mind said no but my body said yes. Eventually my mind caved into my body and I had to change my reasoning and common sense to justify my actions. This is called rationalization.
St Paul’s Wisdom
We know when we are doing wrong because we know when our intellect and our will are no longer united. As St. Paul puts it “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.”
This is why sin, and especially sexual sin, causes so much guilt, shame, and a feeling of a lost innocence, because it ruptures the integrity of our body and soul. It compromises the unity of our body and soul, the integrity of our person, our design and purpose – the very meaning for which we were created.
For example, if we were a pitcher meant to hold water than serious sexual sin shatters us and we can no longer hold anything. This can leave us feeling very empty. I believe this is why many people will commit suicide, or attempt to do so, after they have had sex with someone, given themselves completely over to that person, and then were dumped for someone else.
Sexual sin can leave us feeling like we are dirty, ugly, and unlovable. The feeling of lost innocence is like the realization that you no longer have the value that you once had because your integrity has been compromised.
If you were a broken water pitcher who would want to buy you?
If you are broken than not only are you no longer appealing but even if you were designed beautifully and were extremely expensive at one time you are now worthless because you can’t even perform the basic function that you were designed for – to hold water. This is why even the most beautiful people can look in the mirror and feel ugly or worthless.
Our ultimate purpose and meaning in life – our design – is to love as God loves and to participate in his love. In other words our design is to participate in the life of the Trinity.
The father loves the Son, the Son receives the love of the father and the love between the two is so powerful – so real – that it is another person. The Holy Spirit is the powerful bond of love between the two. If this information is not familiar to you – read my article Sex: The Best Proof for God’s Existence. If we are created and designed to love God and love your neighbor as yourself than a loss of innocence and a compromise of our integrity is a loss of the ability to love the way we are designed to love. So the answer to how one can regain a loss of innocence is authentic love. However, in order to gain the ability to love authentically we must imitate the example of Jesus who first receives the love of the Father and allow ourselves to humbly receive love.
1 John 4:10 says “This is love; not that we loved God, but that he loved us first”.
We can only receive the love of God from a position of humility and receptivity. Reconciliation requires us to recognize that we have sinned and we are in need of God’s love but also that we believe only God’s love can redeem us. We must then resist the temptation to believe that our sin is too great to be forgiven. When we have lost innocence we do not function properly. If proper functionality means that we receive the love of God and then reciprocate that love to God and to others then we cannot truly love God or others unless we first receive God’s love. You can’t give what you don’t have and you can’t have what you have not first received. However, if our integrity has been compromised and we do not function as we were designed to function than we can have a very hard time allowing God to love us.
I’m sure there has been a time in your life where you have done something and afterwards felt so guilty that you didn’t deserve to be forgiven or even treated with dignity. When our integrity is compromised and it becomes difficult to allow ourselves to be loved we can either become closed off and hardened or react by safeguarding our sensitive wounds and reject the love that can heal us. We believe that we don’t deserve it or we are afraid that it will open us up to become vulnerable again.
Put in other words: when we feel like damaged goods we don’t want anyone to look at us and say “You are beautiful and perfect because internally we feel anything but beautiful and perfect – especially because the term perfect is synonymous with words like stainless, blameless and pure.
At first we may feel unworthy and unlovable and we pridefully reject God’s love as though we are too bad for him to want to love us. We lack the faith that we can be redeemed and stubbornly ask to be left alone so that we can wallow in our own self misery. Even when we fail to allow God to love us and continue to reject his love – when we ask him to leave us alone because we are so unworthy – he doesn’t stop trying to save us from ourselves. He doesn’t give up and because we are unable to get past our own pride our shouts to attempt to get him to leave us alone only get louder. Hearing “you are beautiful, you are perfect and I love you” is a constant reminder of what we believe we are not – and its torture.
Here’s a perfect example of what I am talking about. In the movie The Man of La Mancha, Don Quixote falls in love with a girl named Aldonza who is a prostitute and is used to being handled roughly by men. He constantly speaks of her beauty and calls her Dulcinea – a term which means “sweet one”.
His kindness and loving words are hard for her to bear because she does not feel that she deserves such treatment. She does not feel innocent (perfect and beautiful) so he is a constant reminder of the contrast between how he describes her and what she feels about herself. This is how she responds:
If you haven’t seen the movie I won’t ruin the ending for you. It’s a beautiful story of love and I believe this is a very concrete example of how most of us react to God’s mercy and love after we sin.
When my bride, Dianne, and I started dating and I took on her promise to not kiss until marriage I went through a very rough couple of months. The realization of the way that I had hurt other women, the lies I had perpetrated and the selfish person I had become were too much for me to handle. Often I spent nights tormented with guilt and shame. I cried my eyes out many times praying and asking God’s forgiveness and never felt forgiven. Very often I would tell Dianne “I don’t deserve you, you deserve much better”. I would tell her “if you really knew me, if you knew the things I had done, you wouldn’t look at me the same”. However, over time Dianne’s love and acceptance of me began to break down the walls of my heart and I began to let love in.
Years later we stood on the altar, just married and before we shared our first kiss, and I was extremely nervous. I hadn’t kissed anyone in years and I was about to experience my first kiss with my bride in front of one or two hundred people – a kiss that we had been waiting over three years for. I had completely forgotten what a kiss felt like and I had waited so long to feel Dianne’s lips.
The kiss was so innocent. I felt so innocent. I felt as though God had restored some of my innocence and inside I was like a kid jumping for joy.
Every once in a while over the years, before we were married, Dianne would ask me out of curiosity what sort of things I had done and what I was going to experience with her for the first time. I would always tell her that I was willing to open up to her but I was afraid that she would see me differently and I knew she would be very hurt so we delayed that talk. Shortly after we married Dianne and I were talking and she told me she was ready to have that talk. She simply asked me if I had experienced certain things with other girls to find out whether or not I was experiencing them for the first time – as she was. I broke her heart when I told her the truth. When I saw her crying and in pain I began to sob like a little baby. She took me and held me and we cried together. I think I may have cried more than her. I apologized over and over but she wasn’t looking for an apology. She wasn’t upset with me or at me. Even though it hurt her she wanted me to open up about the past that I was so ashamed of. She loved me and consoled me and her love freed me from the embarrassment, the guilt and the shame that I held inside for so long. After this experience I really felt that I had regained a great deal of lost innocence. Authentic love restores innocence because love heals the rupture between body and soul.
There’s another reason, however, that I believe a great deal of innocence was restored to me at this point. We talked earlier about how honesty is a synonym of virginity and innocence. The body has a language that is sometimes much more powerful than the spoken language. When we speak lustful lies with that language we corrupt our integrity or our honesty. When I opened up to Dianne and was honest about my past it brought us closer together because she was merciful toward me. She forgave me and consoled me and I felt relieved that I was finally able to be honest and open with a part of me that I kept hidden out of fear and embarrassment. God wants us to reveal what we have hidden out of fear and be honest with him. This is why reconciliation is so important. Making a good, honest, confession is an act of honesty which serves to restore integrity, and therefore innocence, back to a person. I don’t recommend that anyone reading this article run and tell their girlfriends, wives or friends all of their sins (I do recommend running to a priest to do so). This was something Dianne and I discussed. She wanted to know and I wanted to be honest with her. This must not be a forced act. The listening party may not be ready for that sort of information so a couple should pray and discern before revealing sensitive details about their past. However, we should all move toward sexual honesty in an attempt to restore lost innocence. Lust often leads us to lies but as the saying goes… the truth shall set you free.
The truth is that God wants to love us. The reality is that we have a very difficult time allowing God to mercifully love us. The good news is that we have a perfect example to look to for help. If you are looking to experience the restoration of innocence than devotion to our Mother Mary is an invaluable part of the process. The Catholic Church holds Mary in such high esteem. This is something that is very hard for Protestants and others outside of the Catholic Church to understand. The reason why we love Mary and hail her as the perfect example is because of her simple and faithful “yes” to God’s offering of love. She was perfectly receptive to the love of God. She allowed the word of God to become a part of her own flesh – an integration of her body and the spirit of God. Her intellect and her will were perfectly ordered towards God. Her body and soul were completely integrated. Remember that this is the definition of virginity. This is why one of the most honorable names for the Mary is the Virgin Mary. It’s not a name that indicates that she was strong enough to resist the temptation to have sex. It is a term that indicates that she is the example of purity, chastity, honor, integrity, virtue, sinlessness and innocence. Praying to Mary, asking for her help, admiring her simple and powerful faith and total humility was a very big part of my journey to restoring lost innocence. I realize that this might sound counterproductive to those outside the Catholic and Orthodox faith. I may write an article soon concerning praying to Mary and the Saints. For now I’d simply state that prayer and worship are not the same thing. One can worship through prayer but one can also pray without worshiping. Prayer is spiritual communication. Praying to Mary does not entail any kind of worship. Rather it is a dialogue with our Mother and the Mother of Jesus.
In closing, I would like to thank John Reyna, a good friend of mine, for giving me a great add on to my earlier analogy of the glass pitcher. A glass pitcher can be shattered but once you gather up all the pieces it is possible to melt the glass and blow it into a pitcher again. Do not lose hope. You were created perfect and you can be restored back to perfection just by allowing yourself to be melted and reformed by love. Realize what is your fault – your sin – and what is not. If you have been raped, molested, manipulated or forced in any way than you are not at fault.
That is not your fault.
Forgive yourself if you have to for your own sin but realize that only your sin is your sin. Do not take on the sin of another. Work to forgive those who have hurt you and be merciful. Accept God’s mercy and be honest with him. You are God’s Dulcinea and he will never give up on you no matter what you do.
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