I sat there and watched. A little frustrated. Two emotions going through my mind - frustration and guilt. Frustration because it was all external rules. True, those rules had value and weight to them. But they still all focused on the external. What about the heart? What is going on inside your heart? Are you even aware of your heart?
Then guilt. Because I break many of those rules.
Ok, there are locations where those rules are critical. But even in those places, once or twice I broke them.
Once "over there", I was in a car with a man alone. I was taking a removed body part to a special pathology lab, and it was in an unfamiliar location, so a friend came along to show me the way.
(Honestly, developing a romance while transporting body parts just wasn't on my radar.)
But we are not "over there" now. We are here. But as I listened to her, I worried.
Am I that wrong?
Another older lady chimed in with how good her rules were. She told a story about a time when she was alone with another missionary, and he grabbed her and forced a kiss. Honestly, that is awful, and he should have been confronted by people in authority and stopped! But does that make what she did wrong? I don't know that I would even want to say that. That was an assault, and it was his fault, and his alone. She can, perhaps, protect herself by never being alone with a man anywhere again.... but, sadly, there are men everywhere, and there will always be the few who will assault women. Being assaulted is not your fault. It did not happen because she was alone with him. It happened because he was an abuser.
But I break rules. I often drive people places. I am the errand/go-fer person in our office, and it makes sense to send me on airport runs and other things. My husband can easily nod off on drives - part of his health problems, and I am a better driver. I've been left alone in my house with different friends when they stay with us. I've been staying with different other people and been alone for a few hours with another man. I have checked with my husband about this. "Look, this happened, or this could mean that could happen. Are you ok with me being in that situation?" He smiles. He trusts me.
This woman continued on with the rules that we shouldn't have any significant relationships with men that are not our fathers, husbands, or sons.
Hmm. I like a lot of different men. I'm friends with quite a few. Some are older than my parents, some are my age; some are closer to my son's age. As I think back over my life, I smile when I think of the men I have been close to who have influenced my life. Men who cared about me, and still do.
I don't know if I would be who I am without those friendships.
I volunteered a few years before I was married with a group who prepared and shipped things overseas. Most were older, and I was primarily their muscles. I lifted the boxes for the ladies and moved things. There was another man - ok, he was older than my dad, but younger than the women. He worked with me moving boxes around. We became good friends. We talked a lot. He told me stories of his life, and stories of his wife's life during WWII. I learned a lot from him. Lessons about patience, choosing to be grateful, of tender love of others, of serving with joy, of choosing joy after being dealt a life of severe pain. He listened to me - to my doubts, to my fears, to my small joys and small worries of being a college student, of the news of my wedding, and plans to move to another country. He helped me hide my car during my wedding so my unique family of engineers wouldn't "rig it up" like they had other cousins. He teased me about my honeymoon. We had a close relationship. Sometimes, he would drive me home from the volunteer center since he lived three blocks from my house. I only met his wife three times, the last being when they both came to my wedding. Was our relationship wrong? No! But it was close, and we were alone occasionally together. I count his friendship still as a stabilizing, good influence in my life at that time.
I struggled with what this woman said. I was not at peace all that afternoon and evening. So instead of settling down to my homework, I played two hard games of ping-pong.... with two men from our team. (I am an incorrigible sinner.) That evening, my husband and I talked. We talked about relationships - ones I have with other men and ones he has with other women. We set them out to be discussed and questioned in a safe environment. I asked him what he sees as a man, and does he have any concerns or worries. I told him what I was aware of as a woman with his relationships. I told him I was feeling guilty and burdened by this woman's rules which I am breaking. He just smiled and said he has no doubts about me and most of those rules I "break", I break not only with his express permission, but even at his request. He's the one who often will say, "Why don't you do that airport run, so you get a chance to talk?" or say, "Why don't you phone so and so and talk, I'll keep the kids for awhile. I think you could use a chance just to talk."
What bothered me about this woman's rules is that they were all superficial. All on the outside. As if sin is only on the outside. They might make good guidelines for a youth mission event, but as standards of moral purity, they fell short for me. Rigid and shallow. Judgmental in some ways. As if every relationship with someone of the opposite sex is immoral. God help us if we have become people who automatically think that just because two coworkers are talking alone outside that there is something wrong. (It could be something wrong - with the new computer system, and she is just not getting the new layout.)
Now, I fully agree that every relationship with the opposite sex has the potential to be immoral, and that fact always needs to be held in view. I am always aware of it, and cautious of it, but not always living in fear of it. There are a lot of good men out there, and I am proud to be friends with several of them. I'm thankful, too, as a mother of boys, to have good relationships with different men. It helps me and it helps my boys see godly men with different personalities and interests that they can model their lives after.
But for me, moral purity has to go deeper than just not being alone with men. It has to be in my heart, deeper than my actions, even deeper than my thoughts. It has to start with my needs and my wants and my lacks, and what I chose to do in reaction to those. It is deeper than whose company I keep because, quite honestly, I can sin in the area of moral purity alone with another girl or in a crowd or all by myself. It is in where I let my mind go, what I dwell on, what I speak about, and where my heart is. Sin begins in the heart, and that is where I would rather focus on than a set of rules.
Also, having lived all around the world, I am aware that the "rules" change so much within culture that trying to navigate rules as a global citizen would be difficult. I have been both naked as a child in a village on bath day by the river and covered head to toe with only my eyes peeping out out to go shopping - and been totally "decent" in both according to the situation. Different cultures, different lands, different expectations. Interestingly, I got more "looks" from men when completely covered than I ever did as a naked child playing by the river. Proof that sin is in the heart, not in the rules or even the clothes.
So after a good discussion with my husband and two good male friends of mine and two good female friends, I shook off the guilt for not following this lady's rules. The question then remained for me, "What constitutes good moral purity and how do I address this in my life?" I still believe that we need to talk about it and think about it, but the answer didn't lie in rules that deprive us of the blessings that God has given us in varied relationships with different people in His family. The answer may be much harder than a set of rules as I was going to find out.