What is the Process for Starting Over?

From the book, A Case for Chastity, read the complete chapter on starting over for those who have done the worst imaginable to those who simply have gone too far.

What If I’ve Already Lost My Virginity?

Tom didn’t live chastely as a teenager. Now in his thirties, he often speaks to teens to let them know about the pain he experienced, the regret he carries, and how freeing life became for him when he stopped having sex before marriage and chose chastity. One of his concerns, however, is that some people consider him a hypocrite. “It affects my witness to other people, some of whom might not listen to me talk about chastity because for some of my life I didn’t live it. If, however, I told you that I had once shot myself in the foot, and then encouraged you not to shoot yourself in the foot, I hope you would listen. Why? Because I experienced it—I know the pain firsthand. I promise you—in having sex before I was married, I shot myself in the foot.” But more important, Tom often asks those currently not living chastely if they want to continue to shoot themselves in the foot. Today is a good time to start over and begin to experience true healing and freedom. Tom has many regrets from his unchaste decisions but no regrets for choosing chastity.

We all make mistakes. No matter what our past experiences are, we can still choose chastity. Remember that virginity and chastity are not the same. Chastity is not about the past; it’s about the present and the future. Whether we’ve experienced regret or not, whether we’ve committed major or minor offenses against chastity, we can choose to grow in this virtue from this day forward. People are not destined to alcoholism because they have been drunk once or even ten times. We all have the ability to stop unhealthy behaviors. By choosing chastity now, we can start over. Choosing chastity from this day forward may be very difficult, especially if sex has been part of our lives, but it is possible and worth the challenge. We will gain far more than we will leave behind. “If you’ve already given away your virginity, do not despair—trust in God’s tender mercy…and rewrap the gift. Sins of impurity cause deep scars, but Jesus can heal all of these. Start over now, and make the decision to persevere in purity.”

The Offer From God

Although God’s call to chastity might be challenging, it brings more peace and fulfillment than any plan we can imagine. “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope” (Jer 29:11). His plan for our lives is one that is full of joy, meaning, and love. When we choose to walk away from God, it becomes very difficult to experience the immense love God has for us.

But all is not lost. When we ask for forgiveness, God will forgive us. It doesn’t matter what we’ve done or how much we’ve sinned, God is willing to forgive us. All we have to do is let God love us. Though none of us are worthy of his mercy, God still bestows it.

As clearly described in the biblical story of the prodigal son (Lk 15:11–32), our heavenly Father literally runs to us when we turn to him and to the plan he has for our lives. After the prodigal son left his father and wasted all his inheritance, he chose to return home and seek forgiveness. Jesus told this story so that each of us would know how God, our Father, responds when we walk back into his plan. He patiently awaits our return and then extravagantly fills us with love and acceptance.

Turning to God

If we want to grow closer to God and commit to chastity after an unchaste past, it’s important to start with forgiveness. Seeking forgiveness from God allows us to take responsibility and begin to put the past behind us. Personal prayer is a simple way to start dialoguing with God again. We can ask for God’s help to start over and even to have the courage to humbly ask for forgiveness. Catholics can seek the powerful and merciful sacrament of reconciliation. Through absolution, Jesus (in the form of a priest) whispers in our ears how much he loves us. The cleansing graces we receive in reconciliation make the sacrament a wonderful and necessary experience which helps us commit to chastity and restores our relationship with God. “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2Cor 5:17).

Corey (whom we met in the chapter “Attitudes and Approaches,” page 1) writes: “I refused to acknowledge this incident anywhere close to the presence of God until a retreat experience at my school almost a year later. I hadn’t gone to confession in that entire time. I couldn’t. What would the priest think? But during the retreat activities, I felt this need to let it out; I just couldn’t fight anymore. God had put me on a retreat, a safe and welcoming environment. He made everything just right. I just had to take the first step.

“I eventually made my way into the confessional that night, and I’ve never been the same since. I walked out, planted myself under a chair, and felt so overwhelmed that I cried until the tears wouldn’t come anymore. God had purged me of all of that pentup shame and embarrassment and disappointment and guilt and fear. Now, every time I feel afraid to come to God openly and honestly, I remember that night. I remember lying in bed that night with a comfort and joy and relief that I hadn’t ever felt before. God lifted from me the burden of regret and shame. I will admit that there are aspects of God and of the Catholic faith that I question from time to time. But one thing I no longer doubt is God’s forgiveness and healing—because I’ve felt it. It’s real to me.”

Starting over with God does not need to be complex. The sacrifice of Christ on the cross is perfect, and the mercy of God covers all our faults. When we are forgiven, our souls are wiped clean and we are blameless again in the sight of God. Forgiveness, however, is different from escapism. We cannot expect all consequences to disappear because we are forgiven. For example, a teen who contracted a STD might receive God’s mercy and healing, but the disease does not disappear. Likewise, our sexual choices have emotional and mental consequences that may linger even after we’ve made amends to God and others. Therefore, it is important to realize that starting over in living chastely will take more than one prayer or one trip to the sacrament of reconciliation. God can work miracles in our lives with a simple prayer, but we must also be willing to cooperate with grace. Repentance—turning around and walking in the other direction from our sin—must occur for us to receive the fullness of God’s mercy. We can’t just say, “Thanks, God. Now, I’ll go do as I please again.” Our ability to receive his mercy and grace is inhibited when we slam the door. However, when we remain close to and trust in God, we can receive the graces necessary to live chastely.

Making a Commitment

A commitment goes beyond having a strong desire; it means doing whatever is necessary to achieve the goal. Chastity isn’t a project we finish or a place at which we arrive. Instead, we can compare it to a journey. Growing in the virtue of chastity requires that we stay on the road of purity and honor. If our car swerves, we quickly try to get back on track. The more we practice, the easier it becomes to stay on the road. Once we’ve chosen to live chastely, we must tell someone we trust—a mentor, a supportive friend in faith, a priest, or minister. We give this person an opportunity to support and pray for us on the journey. It’s also important to choose friends who encourage us in this commitment, such as those in a youth group. Through this time of transition, it is important to find “God in skin.” God will give us the support we need through other Christians and friends who uphold the same morals. It will be very difficult for us to be pure if our surroundings are not. For more on living chastely, read the chapters “What to Do,” page 133, “How Can Women Live Chastely,” page 138, and “How Can Men Live Chastely,” page 144.

After choosing not to inflict more pain on others or ourselves with sexual sin, we must now deal with the scars that remain. It is important to learn from our scars and heal them in the best ways possible. Many of us have memories or responses to sex and members of the complementary sex that are far from healthy, holy, and beautiful. The next chapter discusses the healing that is possible with God’s grace.

This page is a chapter in the book, A Case for Chastity.