Help, I'm freaking out here! I just found out that my boyfriend of almost two years had a sexual relationship with a girl about two years before we met. He said it only happened once, and he then ended the relationship and confessed his sin.
He told me this because we are planning to get engaged, and he wanted me to know so that I would have the opportunity to end the relationship.
I have no desire to break up with him — I feel he is the man God has for me to marry. However, I am freaking out over the fact that he has been with someone else. How can I overcome this? We have talked about this a couple of times during the past week, but we live 3,000 miles apart, and it's easy for me to pretend I don't know what happened. I understand that he is forgiven and that this sin is no different from any other sin, but I feel betrayed by something he did before we even knew each other.
If you have any advice I would really love to hear it!
This is a really great question, and ironically, it came on the same day that I got a question from a woman who wants to know how to tell her boyfriend (a virgin) about her past sexual sin. So the situation is pervasive. Not surprising given the high rates of self-reported pre-marital sexual activity.
Whatever the degree of past sexual sin, learning that your beloved once treated someone else as intimately as you want to be treated — and this outside the bounds of marriage — is a blow. Tragically, it's become quite common due to all the relational shrapnel in our culture. And the stats aren't that different among Christians. In one survey, 77 percent of self-described "fundamentalist Christian" men admitted to premarital sex. With numbers like that, it's hard not to wind up dating someone who hasn't waited for sex, even if you have.
Further complicating things is the emotional and spiritual investment you undoubtedly put into saving yourself for your future mate. Countless women have sung, "Cause, I am waiting for, praying for you darling," along with Rebecca St. James, imploring their future husbands to "wait for me too, wait for me as I wait for you." It's understandable that you would feel disappointed with your fiancé, and possibly even with God, that the one you waited for wasn't so patient. When a young believer makes a chastity vow, the often unspoken part of the bargain is an expectation that God will return that faithfulness with a spouse who has been similarly chaste.
Statistically, however, that's not often possible. With such high rates of premarital sexual activity, the math just doesn't work out for all the virgins to marry virgins. Thankfully it's not the presence of past sin that is a deal-breaker, but how it was and is being dealt with.
So where does that leave you? As I see it, you have two options, the first of which probably flashed through your mind, if only for an instant. You can take this admission as a sign that he's not the right one after all. If the knowledge of past sexual sin is more than you can forgive and forget, then it's your prerogative to graciously break off the relationship — even if that means canceling a wedding — and waiting for someone else and another chance at marrying a virgin. There is a possibility that you will meet one, though it's not a guarantee.
The second takes its cues from David's words in Psalm 25:6-8 where he prayed,
Remember, O LORD, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old. Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you are good, O LORD.
David acknowledges the foolishness of youth but doesn't excuse it, requiring a turning away from it — repenting and running the other direction — replacing those sins with mature and godly behavior. That is the measure of whether someone who has admitted past sexual sin is a good candidate for marriage. Not so much what is in his (or her) past as what is in the present. Is he repentant for what he did? Is he living in a way to ensure purity now? Does he avoid temptation and flee when it appears — or is he prone to encourage it, pressuring you to do the same in the process? The answers to these questions will tell you a lot about if he has moved away from the sins of youth into the kind of maturity that marriage will require.
If your boyfriend has repented and moved on to a more mature faith and walk in Christ, if he has godly sorrow over his sin and over the pain he has caused you, you have a foundation for hope.
So far the advice I've given applies broadly to men and women who find themselves in similar situations. Now to your specifics. You said you "feel" your boyfriend is God's intended for you. Though you may have used that word casually — when what you really meant to say was you "believe" it to be so based on lots of reliable evidence — I want to encourage you to be very intentional about what you base this conviction on. Feelings alone won't carry you in marriage when things get difficult. And at points, they will ("... those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this," 1 Corinthians 7:28b).
Assuming you do have evidence that the two of you are a good match for marriage — things like the witness of your family and friends, the blessing of your pastor and faith community, a shared commitment to God's will for your lives as a couple, etc. — then I am mightily encouraged by how he responded to his sin. In your case, he did it only once, repented of it, and esteemed you by waiting until an appropriate time to tell you about it — and then for the express purpose of giving you the opportunity to not proceed with the relationship. From what you've told me, he has behaved honorably. That is no small evidence of his character.
You also mention you live far apart. Will you be able to live in the same city at some point before getting married? I think it would be helpful in that it would create the opportunity to go to premarital counseling together. This would be a good issue to talk through with your counselor, pastor or another mature Christian you trust. Do you have a mentor you could confide in? That would help a lot, and yes, I do think it's appropriate to discuss this together before getting engaged. (I'm not suggesting talking about the details of what happened in the past, but to discuss how he has turned from sin and what he's doing now to remain pure in is thought life as well as his actions). Ultimately, you have to decide if you can forgive him and then move forward without constantly looking back to the sins of his youth.
We know that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Thankfully, we have a remedy for that sin — scarlet letters aren't designed for believers. When we repent and turn away from our sin, we receive "salvation that leaves no regret" (2 Corinthians 7:10). We can rejoice in the truth of Psalm 103:11-13 that says,
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
As a father has compassion on his children,
so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;
Now the test is if he's walking according to 2 Timothy 2:22, which says, "Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart."
One of the issues you could talk through in that context is your grief over your unrealized expectations as well as what it means to forgive and move forward, restored, together. If you need the name of a biblical pre-marital counselor or counseling program, feel free to call our counseling department at Focus on the Family for some recommendations.
I think we all know at some level that our hyper-sexualized culture may have a toxic effect on our own relationships, even as we do our best to avoid it. I suspect that's why Rebecca St. James didn't just say wait. She also allowed for restoration singing, "Now I know you may have made mistakes/But there's forgiveness and a second chance/So wait for me/Darling wait for me."
There is great redemption to be had at the foot of the cross. It's a matter of discernment for every Christian contemplating marriage if the one he or she is planning to marry has grabbed hold of it.
May God give you that discernment.
Copyright 2008 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.