Valentine's Day / by Sarah Schwartz

I started Tuesday the way I begin most work days; wading through a seemingly endless amount of unread email.

"Hello, Sarah! Unlike my usual emails, this has nothing to do with the department. I am emailing you to see if you would ever be willing to speak on my floor at a Valentines event..."

I immediately squinted my eyes, making sure I had read that last line correctly. Was this supposed to go to another Sarah who works at the university? I double checked the recipient line.

"I think the girls would love to hear from you as you are one step ahead of us all, knowledgeable, and so vibrant..."

I let out a laugh far too deep and loud than is appropriate for my work place, slapping my hand over my mouth to contain my amusement as I finished reading. She was serious. She wanted me, Sarah Schwartz, to come and speak to a floor full of young Christian girls on the topic of Valentine's Day, God's love, relationships, and how those things intersect.

One step ahead of you all in what? I thought to myself. I'm almost 23 years old and have been in a grand total of one short lived relationship. Do you want me to share how I think most Christian rhetoric about relationships is actually bull? Perhaps you want me to talk about how my conservative Christian education turned me into a feminist? Yeah, I'm sure everyone would love that, my snarky inner monologue concluded, as I clicked out of her message, moving along to the long list of unanswered mail beneath it.

The timing of her email was funny, however, as there has been a lot of talk recently among my friends about how wildly unprepared we feel to navigate anything concerning relationships, dating, love, etc., now that we are young adults. How so much of what was told to us growing up has turned out to be shockingly empty, and in some cases, really damaging to our quests to be whole, healthy people. The well intended messages of our youth pastors and Christian authors were wrought with themes of fear and shame, rather than encouragement to listen to the Holy Spirit, to honor God, value ourselves, and respect others.

And so, while I got a good laugh out of this speaking invitation, it has got me thinking— what do I wish we had been told?

Something like,

Your heart is not a finite resource. Loving someone you don't end up marrying doesn't leave you with less of a heart to give to someone else. That is insane.

You do not have to be less so that your significant other can be more. You can both be more. If you're with someone who makes you feel like you have to shrink yourself, be less funny or less intelligent, who doesn't do everything they can to catapult you into being fully, wildly yourself—run.

You do not have to give up your opposite sex friendships when you are dating someone. I don't know where you first heard this, but forget it, and fast. You are better and braver and more free because of your friendships with men, and that benefits everyone.

Your virginity is not, I repeat NOT, a gift you are saving for your future husband. That is a crazy idea, and I don't know where it started, but it needs to go die. Waiting to have sex until you're married is about your whole self, sexuality included, being submitted in obedience to Christ. (For more on this, read Emily Maynard's, "The Day I Turned in my V-Card", Jamie Wright's, "Sex", and Rachel Held Evan's, "Sex and the Path of Holiness")

If you become a wife and mother, awesome. But if you don't, that's fine too, because, spoiler alert, that is not the primary call on your life, nor is it the apex of human flourishing. The primary call on your life will always be discipleship to Jesus Christ. Don't let your pastors, professors, or mentors skip over that when they speak of you and other young women like you. Always speak up and remind them.

So while I am barely 23, with almost no relationship experience, maybe I have more to offer than I originally thought. Maybe it's my job to find my 18 year old self in the the eyes of these girls, and pass along the messages that I'm so grateful eventually found their way to me—that they can be more, they can be brave and wild and free, that they can listen and follow the wild whispers of the Holy Spirit over their lives, and that they can love and let themselves be loved, without fear of running out or giving themselves away.

Maybe I'll respond to that email after all.