The sexual revolution had been sweeping across America for some time. It even reached the small town where I lived. To be honest, few of us valued our innocence, and our virginity was no badge of honor. It was actually a source of embarrassment. So most of my friends treated it like any embarrassing thing — they got rid of it as soon as possible.
The revolution seemed to be passing me by, however. In part because of my shyness, I was continually amazed at how my friends convinced girls to have sex with them. It never occurred to me to apply a concept like a double standard to myself or to my friends. We still lived in the make-believe world where the good girls didn’t, but the ones we went out with did. Someday we’d settle down and marry one of the good girls and live happily ever after. As I said, it was a make-believe world.
There was something besides my shyness that held me back. Try as I might, I couldn’t hide the fact that I knew it was wrong. If I was to take my part in the sexual revolution " and so far I felt very left out and deprived â€” I was going to have to deal with this "right or wrong" thing. There had to be some way to take away my personal responsibility.
Maybe there was a liberated woman who would sweep away all my inhibitions. My conscience could then shift the blame onto her and off of me. It was a pretty tall order, but as it was my only hope, I kept looking. And as an old and wise saying goes, He who searches after evil, it will come to him (Proverbs 11:27).
I didn’t quite find her. I told the one I did meet that I loved her. I wanted to mean it, and she wanted to believe it. As I had no intention of marrying her, I was nothing but a hypocrite. I was too young to have ever applied that word to myself, however. The dullness of alcohol allowed us to slip by our screaming consciences, or so we tried to tell ourselves. The charade of marriage we played — without its commitment — soon came to an end.
Our friendship had no power to survive our "passionate" romance. Since it was painful to be around each other, we chose not to. We ended up lonelier than when we started, cut off from yet one more human being. And not surprisingly, from one another’s family and friends as well. People have this gut-level response about their friends being used that is hard to get past. I didn’t learn my lesson however. What was different was that my conscience bothered me a lot less. I had faced the issue squarely and I knew I didn’t want to change. Anyone can silence his conscience.
In spite of my attempts to keep the word love out of future relationships, some significant part of me became attached to each woman I knew. That was obvious each time I suffered through the pain of breaking up. Wasn’t free love supposed to be without cost? How come it hurt so much to break up?
It always took me by surprise, the fiery pain of another failed relationship. Like a burn that takes a long time to stop hurting, my life would be a haze until the scar tissue had formed on my heart. Then I’d be ready to try again. As scars lack feeling, it was easy to forget the permanent damage they cover over.
Finally, I met the woman of my dreams. I fit hers pretty well, too. We married, had children, and I’d thought we would live happily ever after. We’d followed similar paths in life and we’d both come out profoundly affected. I’m sure you can fill in the details. Selfishness comes in many forms, but the worst is when you don’t even know you’re being that way. This was a woman I did love, at least I thought I did. The actual practice of love, however, interfered with my ambitions and demanded the time and energy I already didn’t have enough of.
I had long since learned to put relationships second and myself first. However glittery it once looked, the sexual revolution did nothing but legitimize selfishness. Being excessively or exclusively concerned with yourself pushes others away. So right where I sought refuge from loneliness, it had followed me. Or rather, I had brought it with me. The walls around me weren’t destroyed by my marriage certificate. It was just a piece of paper. It had no power to change my heart.
That was what desperately needed changing. Selfishness had captured the core of my being because, really, it was easier that way. The costs of friendship, of commitment, and of love, were all too high. And if people were willing to meet my needs without a corresponding return on my part, all the better. I was living for myself — wasn’t everybody? Isn’t self number one today? The sight of my weeping wife pleading for help and compassion under the load of the house, the children, the diapers, and â€” if she would have said it â€” my lack of affection almost made me see how selfish I was toward her. "What was going on here?" I wondered to myself. I never saw Mom treating Dad that way. I put up a strong front and let her know those were her responsibilities. Three times we came to this standoff until she stopped asking for my help. My world intact and my hard heart untouched, I never thought of what bitterness my callous answers may have buried in her soul. Selfish people usually don’t think of such things. They are too selfish.
Time passed and we settled down into a normal existence. There were times I sensed that things weren’t right, but I could see well enough to know that everyone else was in the same boat we were in. Even at church on Sunday, where everyone was so nice, it wasn’t hard to catch the strained looks and the brief, whispered arguments. What went on at home in their lives I couldn’t tell. But I could guess. The way they avoided my eyes matched the way I avoided theirs.
Several years later, we met some people who weren’t so easy to dismiss. As we got to know them, I came to an unsettling realization: they had something I didn’t. When they looked me in the eyes there wasn’t challenge or suspicion or calculation. All those things I knew well. There was compassion, and that made me uncomfortable. Me, need compassion? Me?
It took me a long time to admit the obvious. They were right. I was a hurt, fearful, lonely man. I had done many things that I was ashamed of. The memories of them were vivid and stinging. Yet here I was, being offered that for which men ache — a second chance, a clean slate. I couldn’t deny what I saw in their lives nor what I saw in mine. So I surrendered to the Savior — not the one I heard about in church, but the one who dwells in His people. I was actually forgiven. It is the most wonderful thing that can ever happen to anyone. It sets you free to love. That is the cure to loneliness.