Saturday, August 18, 2012

Marshmallows, Chastity, and Wineskins

Stanford, a secular university in California, performed a study promoting chastity....and they may not even realize it. Yesterday, the Wichita Eagle (our local paper) had an article on page 2 of the main section, which was grabbing--revolutionary, in fact!


Whoa. Dear Wichita Eagle, this is mind-blowing headline. Delayed gratification can be a good thing? Who knew?!?!?! But let's move forward a bit more, and learn more about this study before mulling over the shocking factor of this headline.

The article went on to detail the study that Stanford performed...using marshmallows and a bunch of 4-year-olds. Take a look at this video, which explains the study:

Here are a couple main points which I would like to direct you to about the study:

1. These 650 kids were 4-years-old. Meaning, they haven't been brainwashed by the media and/or advertising yet. So they are acting by way of natural law (or bribery. But honestly, what 4-year-old could be bribed when a marshmallow if within grasp?).

2. While this study is not perfect, it fairly reasonably proves its claim.

3. This study was done by a secular university. In 1968 and 1974.
Secular university+crazy times of 1960s and 1970s=most likely NO religious agenda.

With all of this in mind....Stanford makes claim. Proves its claim. Wichita Eagle writes article about it.
"Delayed gratification is related to the elusive quality of will power, but it's framed to be attainable," said Emily Bazelon in the Wichita Eagle. The article also referenced Tanya Schlam, from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health (a woman involved in the study): "We know that when the marshmallows are hidden by a tray or when the experimenter tells the kids to think about the marshmallows as 'fluffy white clouds,' the kids are able to delay much longer." But Bazelon continued, "Kids who picked up the marshmallow and smelled it, on the other hand, soon gobbled it up."

Since the studies were performed so long ago, follow-up was done on the children as they went through life. The kids who waited to eat the marshmallows ended up getting higher SAT scored and higher social competence, as well as handling stress better. So...waiting to eat that marshmallow CAN have good effects...and Stanford proved it. Gosh, they are SMART! It's almost like waiting for a good thing is an overall better choice...Whoa, that sounds like CHASTITY!

No, a secular university's experiment surely could not be promoting chastity, could it?
Well, even if that was not the intention, look at the proven point: delaying gratification is a good thing. So waiting on marriage for certain behaviors is a good thing.
Yup, connection made.
See, as we grow and mature, certain natural desires enter our hearts. Desires pertaining to relationship, the yearning of our hearts for an intimacy with the opposite gender. As a pre-teen/early teen girl, I definitely had my moments of "crushes" and daydreaming about relationships...okay, I must confess, I designed my wedding dress in 4th or 5th grade. So we desire relationship. And it's a great thing! But what do we do with those desires? Well, look in our culture today to see what many young people are doing: pregnant middle schoolers, single moms, and elementary school kids that are "in relationships." In fact, the actions of many young people are being encouraged in a way by a safety guard that the state of Oregon is providing, thanks to Obamacare:

Under Oregon law, girls from 15 years of age and up are given complete control over whether to be sterilized or not. The parents or guardians of a minor girl--between 15 and 18--can neither grant nor deny consent for a sterilization.
The Oregon law says: "'Informed consent' means consent given by an individual 15 years of age or older for sterilization that is: (a) Based upon a full understanding of the nature and consequences of sterilization pursuant to information requirements set forth in ORS 436.225(1); (b) Given by an individual competent to make such a decision; and (c) Wholly voluntary and free from coercion, express or implied."
Oregon defines "sterilization" as "any medical procedure, treatment or operation for the purpose of rendering an individual permanently incapable of procreating."
The Oregon Health Authority has created a special consent form called "Ages 15-20 Consent to Sterilization."
"When I first asked for the information, I was told that the decision to be sterilized is completely up to me," says this Oregon form for 15-year-old children. "I was told that I could decide not to be sterilized."
"I understand that the sterilization must be considered permanent and not reversible," says this consent form. "I have decided that I do not want to become pregnant, bear children or father children."

So this is what we get with people acting on their desires immediately. Instant gratification is the battle cry of our world today. But this study from Stanford--as well as chastity, a virtue and gift from God--would plea an alternative method. Delayed gratification. Yes, we all experience certain desires. Especially when you become close to another person, desires intensify and, depending on the relationship, they can be very deep and beautiful. But acting on those desires may not be the most prudent thing, depending on the relationship status. A dating couple may experience desires for a more intimate union. But to form such a union outside of marriage--to engage in the act of fornication--is a lie to each other, a lie to themselves, and a lie to God.
Fornication says "I give you my body, but not my commitment for life."
Chastity says "I give you all of myself--my body, and my commitment for life--by NOT engaging in fornication, but by saving myself to be a greater gift."

By offering our desires for intimacy to God, we recognize that these are natural, beautiful desires. We need to give these desires to God, and seek to grow in love of others as our brothers and sisters first and foremost. But if we have a deeper desire, a deeper love for another, it is a beautiful thing. Say a man meets a woman, and they deeply love each other. The man has a great desire to be united to the woman through sexual intercourse. It's a natural desire. God made us that way; men are aroused by beauty, women are aroused by deep love and devotion. The man takes this desire to God, places it at the feet of Christ, and tries his best to serve the woman he loves every day. He may have that strong desire for unity, but he isn't acting on it through fornication. And he isn't trying to throw his desire out the window in an over-zealous, rather Puritan attempt to be pure.
No, he is embracing purity--loving and respecting the woman for who she is, growing in love of Christ with her, growing in their relationship, so that when God ordains, they may marry--and have those desires for true unity be fulfilled. Because the man and woman gave their desires to God, and focused on loving him and each other more, their relationship benefited. Their self-control, their self-mastery caused their love and devotion to God and each other grow.

Chastity is a beautiful virtue, by which we prepare and save ourselves to be a beautiful gift to God for our vocation (including our future spouse). Chastity means more than strict abstinence, meaning, not engaging in sex outside of marriage. A person can be abstinent--he or she does not engage in sexual intercourse--yet it does not mean that he or she is chaste; he or she can be very immodest in words, actions, letting his or her emotions fly haywire, or numerous other things. Likewise, a chaste person does not necessarily abstain from sex. Married people are called to chastity, but they are called by God to become one flesh, to create a unity with God that is open to the procreation of new life.

As I alluded to, we can't let our emotions fly haywire. That's just asking for trouble! Emotional Chastity was first mentioned to me a couple years ago by a good friend who had heard a talk on it. And over the course of this past year, I had the chance to talk to a lot of friends about emotional chastity. The basis behind emotional chastity is ordering your emotions, giving all of them to God. It is not healthy or very emotionally chaste to mentally and emotionally throw yourself on every man that you are attracted to or have a crush on. The daydreams that ensue, the picturesque scenarios that we create--they are not reality. Typically, they are based on a very brief (maybe a "hi") from a guy that we may like. It is good and important to be emotionally chaste. However, there is danger in getting carried away. Just as modesty is not wearing a tent, emotional chastity is not closing off our emotions!
Recall what I stated in a few paragraphs earlier: emotions are a beautiful thing, a gift from God. Women in particular have many emotions revolved around bonding and relationships. We thrive off of relationships! So what should a woman do if she's attracted to a guy friend? Well, give those emotions to God, and ask Him to help her love the guy--as well as all people with the sacrificial love of God. As well as asking God to 1. Help guide those emotions so that, while she experiences them and acknowledges them, they are not ruling her life, and 2. Help her to pray for the man, that he discern whatever God's will is for his life. I'm going to be perfectly honest, in the past, there was a man--one of my very best friends--who I began to be very attracted to. I loved him as a sister loves her brother, I would do anything for him. But I noticed that I was desiring a deeper, more intimate relationship with him. So I gave it to God, knowing that he would take care of everything. And a very wise priest gave me some sage advice: "Cultivate the relationships that God gives you." God gives us relationships for a reason! So cultivate them, grow in love greater love of God together!
Ultimately, I had to reach the point where in prayer, I was ready to "give up" my guy friend for the convent...and then, when I discerned that I wasn't to be in the convent, I was ready to "give up" my guy friend for another girl, if that's what God wanted. Still having emotions and attractions present, but holding them back until God and my friend opened up a deeper, more intimate relationship. And now, that friend and I are in a beautiful dating relationship, actively discerning God's will, striving to bring each other, our families, and all others closer to God! Now that we're in a relationship, our chastity draws us even closer together, because we sought to reserve ourselves for each other.
As we reserve ourselves for each other, we must keep in mind that we are both body and soul. So while emotions a lot with the soul, it is important to remember the body.
I have heard extreme sides to the modesty issue:

1. Some women claim that we can't baby the men, they have to learn to hold themselves in check. Ergo, wear what we think is cute without the intention of being immodest, and it's all good.
Example: a woman wears a short skirt and layered tank tops, because it is hot outside and she thinks that it is a cute outfit. She is not trying to allure men, she just wants to be cute and comfy!
2. Others jump on the opposite end: they believe that hiding the body is the only good, pure way to both respect the woman and help the men to be pure.
Example: a woman wears a "potato sack." Meaning, a long, loose, shapeless garment that has the slight resemblance to a dress, though it seems more like a tent. 97% of the woman's skin is showing, the only parts of her skin visible are her hands, the few inches in between the hem of her dress and her crew cut socks, and her face (above the tall neckline of the dress).

And there are lots of other views, too.

Some women believe that "as long as the skin is covered and the clothes aren't TOO tight, it's okay." Great, so let's all wear snug (but they aren't as tight as they COULD be) jeans and shirts, showing off every curve to every person we see. Like all those men, who already go through their days actively seeking to grow in purity and fight lust WITHOUT immodest dressing.

Others believe that "Well, modesty is just for day-to-day and church. But formal wear and swimwear are entirely different." Great. So as soon as we exit church, let's just toss off that jacket to show off our strapless formal (and did I mention that the bare, rounded of the shoulders of a woman are very much potentially sexually arousing to men? A man told me this, so I'm not making it up. And God designed men to be aroused by the curves and beauty of women. But more about that later.), or head to the pool or beach in that little 2 piece swimsuit that barely covers anything. And I guess anything that's covered is pretty easy for the human mind to imagine and picture, when so much is already uncovered.

With modesty, we shouldn't try to picture men as unruly monsters, unable to keep themselves in check. So we shouldn't go the whole "potato sack" route. But men aren't these stoic, emotionless beings, unaffected by immodest dressing (so let's not wear that tank top-short skirt ensemble).
Virtuous men stumble and fall, but they get up again, and strive for virtue. And no matterwhat women are wearing, men will be attracted to their beauty, virtue, and confidence. So why wear something that needlessly makes the men struggle more against lust and impurity, something that distracts them from who you really are? Men have told me before that it's really hard when good friends dress immodestly, because the guys want to be able to enjoy the company of good female friends. But the immodest clothing is extremely distracting, making it difficult to enjoy good conversation and hang out time.

And I realize, it is very difficult to dress modestly with the fashions in the stores. Heavens....those prom dresses are SO HARD to shop for! With styles that feature plunging necklines, no straps, and much cleavage, modesty seems to be out the window. Or how about swimwear. Two piece swimsuits (especially bikinis) surround us in the stores. And the modest one piece suits are given the appearance of "frumpy" and "unfashionable" and shoved to the back of the rack (or found in clearance, because no one wants them). And even if you chance to find modest clothes, who wants to wear them when "no one else is doing it"? I have grown a lot in my understanding of modesty and chastity, because I have fallen into the culture before. I have fallen, and continue to fall. I'm just giving y'all what I've grown to love as I have developed my faith life and grown in love of God and others. Because it's not easy.
But where does God tell us that it's going to be easy to be virtuous? Where does He say that dressing modestly and acting in a chaste manner is going to be simple? I seem to recall a lot of places in the Bible where he talks about the road to salvation being a narrow road, being a challenge, etc. So is it going to be easy to find modest clothing? Probably not. Is it possible? YES. Is it worth the effort, in order to create more of a gift of yourself for others and your spouse? YES!

So what is there to wear? I place a challenge before all of you women out there (and challenge you men to hold the women to a high standard of femininity and purity): Embrace womanhood. Dress with the dignity that you--and your body--deserve. Not to mention those around you. And your future spouse, because dressing with respect and love is helping to save you for your spouse--hand-in-hand with chastity.

Last summer, I began wearing skirts more (I had only really worn them to Mass previously), around the house, out in public, etc. I did this because one of my girlfriends wore skirts ALL THE TIME and I thought it was really cool how she rocked her own look and style with various random skirts. This past year at college, I think I wore jeans for a total of three times, and all of those occasions were part-day occasions. My wardrobe was crammed full of skirts, all different styles and occasions: black skirt (goes with anything), white skirt and tan skirt (also, goes with anything), hippie skirts (my free spirited self LOVES hippie clothes!), gypsy skirt, flowered skirts, brown skirts...and this is just a sampling. Not to mention dresses...but you get the idea. And my girlfriends and I noticed something at school: at our swing dancing nights (every Sunday evening), you were more likely to get a partner if you were wearing a swishy skirt. One of my friends came for the first time in classy dress slacks or a pencil skirt, I can't remember which. And she had fun, but she later told me that she hadn't gotten to dance with a lot of guys. I recommended that she wear a swishy skirt, and after the next couple weeks, she gleefully told me that she had been asked to dance by a lot more guys! In fact, one time when I was dancing with a guys that I had just met, he complemented me on my skirt, and told me how much he liked the swishiness of it. So let's face it: men are attracted to beauty and femininity. So pull out that skirt, or hit Goodwill. Just wear a skirt a couple days each week, and see if you're treated differently, or carry yourself differently (many times, skirt-wearing helps my friends and I to act more feminine and to carry ourselves with more confidence).

It is possible to find modest pants, as well. For jeans, try to find ones that don't hug the behind or legs, but ones that have more "give" and have a "looser" look. Or, pair those skinny jeans or tight flair jeans with a cute skirt! For shirts, nix the cleavage. Even a little cleavage is very distracting. I'm a woman and I find it distracting. I don't want to be looking at that! So think about what it's like for the men! If you have a cute low-cut shirt, pair it with a camisole or tank top (make sure that those aren't low-cut, though) underneath for a cute, fashionable look.

And on shirts, remember: the curvy, bare shoulders of a woman are very arousing for men. The body of the woman is created to attract her husband, as God creates a unity between spouses.Take a look at the Song of Songs in the Bible:

How beautiful you are, my friend,
how beautiful you are!
Your eyes are doves
behind your veil.
Your hair is like a flock of goats
streaming down Mount Gilead.

Your teeth are like a flock of ewes to be shorn,
that come up from the washing,
All of them big with twins,
none of them barren.

Like a scarlet strand, your lips,
and your mouth—lovely!
Like pomegranate halves, your cheeks
behind your veil.

Like a tower of David, your neck,
built in courses,
A thousand shields hanging upon it,
all the armor of warriors.
Your breasts are like two fawns,
twins of a gazelle
feeding among the lilies.
(Songs 4:1-5)

It's a beautiful way that God created man and woman, so that they experience that deep attraction and love together...but personally, I don't want to be arousing every man out there. So I took all of my tank tops and now use them under cap-sleeved shirts. My prom dress was strapless, so I had a woman add adorable straps that covered my shoulders, and it was GORGEOUS! (And I got tons of compliments from different guys at Prom for my dress, which was cool. It showed me that they really had an appreciation for beauty and modesty)

So hopefully I haven't lost you in all of this.
Marshmallows==delayed gratification means better benefits in life. Relate that to chastity, and the one-flesh union that we are called to. Which leads into emotional chastity, which leads to making ourselves a gift for others. Which leads to modesty. All of which pours into the great basin of desire.
We desire communion, we desire unity. But by delaying the gratification of our desires--by having mastery over ourselves through a good practice of chastity--we grow in our capacity for God's love! St. Augustine put it extremely well:

"The entire life of a good Christian is in fact an exercise of holy desire. You do not yet see what you long for, but the very act of desiring prepares you, so that when he comes you may see and be utterly satisfied.

Suppose you are going to fill some holder or container, and you know you will be given a large amount. Then you set about stretching your sack or wineskin or whatever it is. Why? Because you know the quantity you will have to put in it, and your eyes tell you there is not enough room. By stretching it, therefore, you increase the capacity of the sack, and this is how God deals with us. Simply by making us wait he increases our desire, which in turn enlarges the capacity of our soul, making it able to receive what is to be given to us. So, my brethren, let us continue to desire, for we shall be filled." (St. Augustine, Sermons on 1 John)

So go eat some marshmallows, and contemplate the great gift of chastity that God has given us. And ask him to help you stretch that wineskin of your soul, so that our desires for unity with Him and others may grow. Then, we will be able to receive a far greater gift than we could ever have dreamed of, all for the glory of God!