True Love Waits: a retrospective look years later

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By Erin Roach

NASHVILLE (BP) — God is the goal of purity promises and of life itself, an author says after removing her True Love Waits ring and penning a blog post that resonated with thousands of young adults wondering where those pledges had left them.

The True Love Waits movement, which began in the early 1990s, has impacted countless lives by its message of purity in a culture that emphasizes the opposite, but somewhere along the way some believers may have focused more on waiting on true love rather than on God.

“When I was 16, I got a purity ring. And when I was 25, I took it off,” Grace Thornton, author of I Don’t Wait Anymore, wrote in a 2012 blog post that logged more than 2 million views and was shared more than 10,000 times on Facebook.

Evidence of the impact of True Love Waits, even globally, was on display in Athens, Greece, during the 2004 Olympics when more than 460,000 abstinence-until-marriage pledges were on display from teens and young adults in the U.S. and 19 other countries. BP/Special

Churches today see the symptoms of single church girls crashing in their late 20s and early 30s, disappointed that “the God of their youth group years just isn’t working out,” Thornton wrote, adding, “Some of them have prayed their whole lives for a husband, and he hasn’t shown up.”

Many young believers made abstinence-until-marriage pledges and trusted that if they would just wait to have sex they’d receive the gift of true love in the form of a husband, but now they’re finding that time has passed and they’re still waiting, Thornton wrote at gracefortheroad.com.

In comments to Baptist Press, Thornton reflected on how she arrived at a place in her 30s where she has contentment and joy even as the plans she had for herself did not unfold.

“I realized I had set up my own worldview from things I had grown up with and heard in church or seen around me as far as people getting married, that that was just the inevitable next step, and I think that I had God in that box and I was expecting that from Him,” Thornton said.

She started noticing some people who “exuded what it looked like to really, really love God more than anything else,” and she realized she would rather trade the things she wanted for that kind of relationship with God. She started digging into God’s Word, and in the process He changed her heart to receive His best for her.

The popularity of Thornton’s “I Don’t Wait Anymore” blog post led to the book of the same title, which led to speaking engagements where she now has the opportunity to influence girls who are deciding what they will pursue in life.

“It’s not a ‘God-is-your-consolation-prize’ kind of thing, but this is actually the best thing your life could be — the way that God wants it is the one that’s going to get you more of Him, and that’s better than anything you could have dreamed for yourself,” Thornton told BP.

The True Love Waits movement, Thornton said, taught her the importance of purity, and, looking back, she said she wishes she had done a better job as a teenager of grasping the idea that “purity is so that you honor God and know God better.”

“You are maintaining that purity because of your love for God, not because you’re going to trade it in one day for a different gift,” Thornton said.

‘Why we still need True Love Waits’

Blogger and author Erin Davis, who has spent 15 years ministering to young women, has watched talk of abstinence subside. “Stadiums are no longer full of teenagers promising to wait. As I’ve watched the pendulum swing, I’ve had simultaneous urges to cheer and to sound the alarm,” Davis wrote in a blog post on the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty website last August.

Leaders today should “broaden the conversation about sex, marriage and intimacy beyond the ‘finish line’ message [that teens] sometimes hear when we ask them to wait,” Davis, a pastor’s wife in Missouri, wrote. “As the church rides this next wave of the sexual revolution, we must teach our young people a sexual theology that goes beyond a few ‘thou shalt nots.’

“But at the end of the day, abstinence still matters and purity and chastity still need to be taught.”

Davis, in the blog post titled, “Why we still need True Love Waits,” described the devastating effect casual sex has had on college-aged women. She noted that the top two prescribed drugs at one state university’s health center were anti-depressants and birth control pills, and she quoted an author who said this is a world “which welcomes every sort of sexual behavior except chastity.”

“These are future wives and mothers, future Sunday School teachers and pastor’s wives,” Davis wrote. “They will sit in our pews and in our women’s Bible studies. The men who make up the other half of this sexual equation will also come into our churches as walking wounded.”

Despite a culture so far off course, Davis wrote that “we must warn the next wave. We still need to beat the drum of purity. We still need to teach young people to wait.”

Words like “purity,” “chastity,” and “virginity” should still be in the church’s vernacular, Davis wrote. “In this department, perhaps it’s time to teach like it’s 1999. Because true love still waits.”

Lifetime of purity is TLW emphasis

Richard Ross, cofounder of the True Love Waits movement, told Baptist Press the phrase raises a pivotal question: Waits for what?

“One answer stands supreme above all others: True love (meaning a life of purity) waits until one approaches the throne at the end of life on earth,” Ross said. “There a Christ follower presents a gleaming gift to His Highness – a gift of a lifetime of sexual purity in mind and body.

“Some will present a gift of lifetime purity before and during marriage. Widows will present a gift of purity before, during, and after marriage,” Ross, a student ministry professor at Southwestern Seminary, said.

“Lifetime singles will present a pristine gift of purity in all the seasons of their lives. Everyone before the throne will have faced temptation. Everyone will have stumbled in some ways and will be covered by grace. And everyone will believe that only the King is truly worthy of their gift of purity.”

As the sexual revolution marches on, most churches now have one or more young believers confused about their gender or about their affections, Ross said, noting that church leaders are scrambling to know how that impacts the True Love Waits message.

“Without question, most of those confused persons will need biblical counseling for some time,” Ross said. “But even during that process, the message to them is the same as to other believers: For the glory of the King, do not lust in your mind. Regardless of the gender you are tempted to think about, the command is the same– keep your mind pure. Similarly, for the glory of the King, do not do anything with anyone’s body sexually outside a biblical marriage. Anyone.”

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