Once in a while you have an experience that is seared into your soul. Hearing Elaine Dalton speak years ago was one such experience for me.
It was no surprise that Voices for Virtue (a non-denominational group designed for youth and young adults to strengthen each other in choosing sexual purity) invited Sister Dalton to speak at their fundraiser. After all, virtue was her watchword throughout her service as Young Women General President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (She served from 2008-2013.)
Sister Dalton gave some background on how the value of virtue became part of the LDS Young Women program. She talked about how even as the prophet’s call was still ringing in her ears, that one word pressed incessantly on her mind.
She pondered and researched the word virtue. She found one definition online calling the concept “obsolete” (meaning outdated, no longer useful). With the boldness and immediacy that comes when a woman (or young woman) of God follows the Spirit, Sister Dalton brought the word back into relevance. She spoke about virtue in General Conference in 2008, and less than two months later, the value was added to the Young Women theme and to Personal Progress.
I had heard Sister Dalton speak about virtue before the Voices for Virtue dinner. But I’d not fully heard her. I’d not understood what was was happening through her. At that event, however, God stopped me in my mental and spiritual tracks. I felt a strong witness that our Father had spoken directly to Sister Dalton, giving her clarity about what her presidency’s clarion call should be.
And I felt so strongly that the message “return to virtue” was not just for the young women of the Church. It was for the world.**
Of course, within the Church, the concept of sexual purity (a key meaning of the word as used in Personal Progress) has never been obsolete. But outside of conservative religious communities, relatively so few youth (or adults, for that matter) can even comprehend the idea of sexual purity before marriage, in large measure because no one has ever modeled or shared the concept. Or if they have, perhaps it seems too unusual to consider.
I can still remember the unmistakable shock on my doctor’s face when I went for a premarital exam and she learned that neither I (almost 27 years old) nor my then-fiancé (age 31) had ever had sex. I’m sure many of you, whether youth or adult, have similar stories of people reacting to the idea of chastity with shock (or perhaps even mockery).
A few years ago, my sister shared a story I couldn’t get out of my mind. My sister helped me connect with this young woman, who recorded her experience so I could share it in an online celebration of the Proclamation to the World on the Family. I chose this topic for my post today because I wanted RubyGirl readers to hear it, too. Sarah’s story captures the power of virtue in a simple and beautiful way.
Every day in my art class I sat by a group of girls who had never really heard of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I would be tired when class started because I had been to early morning seminary. The girls had a lot of questions about my morning church class. They asked about polygamy, dating, drinking and many other things—because I was the only “Mormon” they had ever met.
One of the girls and I became good friends. Even though our lifestyles were very different, our personalities clicked and we had fun together. Every time we would hang out, she would ask more questions about the Church. When my older brother got engaged, I told my friend about him and his fianceé. She asked me about them and asked if they were both virgins. I said I was confident they both were. She asked why they would do that. I told her we believe that a sexual relationship is sacred, and that they had saved their love to be given only to their spouse. I had only offered her a simple explanation. I didn’t feel like I had taught any sort of spectacular lesson or shared a new insight.
But, after I said this her countenance dropped. I will never forget the look of sorrow and remorse on her face when she said, “Wow. . . . I wish I’d thought of that.” The fact that abstinence and fidelity was a new idea to her shocked me. I was given a new appreciation for what I had been taught since I was a child.
These conversations did more than plant a seed of knowledge about chastity in the mind of this young woman. Sarah’s friend ended up joining the Church. As is often the case with missionary experiences, Sarah came to more deeply appreciate the commandments and the Atonement of Jesus Christ as she watched her friend’s life change.
Again, from Sarah’s account:
My friend, who was once so tied down by the weight of her sins has since joined the Church. Her imperfections were washed away and Heavenly Father remembers them no more. Her sexual transgressions, though they were serious, are no more, and she is now leading a virtuous, wholesome life.
I am so grateful for the protection of the commandments and the grief it prevents me from carrying. Not only am I grateful for the sin the commandments save me from committing, I am even more grateful for the cleansing power [of the Atonement]. I testify that virtue truly is power. I know that being virtuous—though it is not always easy, and it is certainly not popular—is truly the way to happiness.
The older I get and the more of life I see, the more I appreciate why God gave us the law of chastity. Our world so often only portrays sex in superficial ways—objectifying women in the process, transforming something sacred into crass entertainment, and unabashedly making money on the notion that “sex sells.” Popular culture and political forces want to transform sexuality into a right to be explored and expressed without limits, rather than respect it as the divinely-given stewardship that it is. With an eye primarily on reactively reducing or removing negative consequences of sexual promiscuity, secular policies and programs will always fall short of helping youth find what their immortal spirits crave—the sense of clarity, power, and respect for self and others that comes with deliberate, chaste living.
What better way to hasten the work of helping the world return to virtue than to have millions of LDS young women speak the word every week as they recite the Young Women Theme! I think also of how visionary it was to make reading the Book of Mormon the Virtue Value Project. Not only does immersing oneself in this “book of books” strengthen spiritual muscles and deepen the roots of faith needed for virtuous living, but it also was the perfect preparation for the thousands of young women who were surprised when the missionary age change came. (This explosion of missionaries prepared by virtue, who will teach the world of virtue and of the Savior, gives new meaning to the concept of a virtuous cycle!)
I believe what Sister Dalton said. Virtue is a virtue that can change the world, if we will live it and share it. I believe cherishing and sharing the importance of chastity is part of what will help prepare the world for the Savior’s coming. In the meantime, living virtuous lives and sharing our values with others can help millions more people like Sarah’s friend understand truth about who they are, and about how much God and the Savior love them.
We are so blessed to know what we know.
**The significance of the “aha!” that I had as I listed to Sister Dalton runs deeper than the content of the message she received. The process is profound and instructive as well. God didn’t give the word virtue to President Monson. The revelation came to the woman the prophet felt inspired to call, who then invited young women the world over to live the value and share the concept with the world. I know these reflections are for another day, but I couldn’t share my experience at that dinner without saying that to me, this is all a beautiful example of how restored priesthood keys, delegated priesthood authority, and the individual and collective power of priesthood covenants and ordinances work together in the hastening of the work.
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Questions for discussion:
How does the law of chastity help guide you in your personal and social life?
How has the standard of virtue helped you identify false messages in popular culture, marketing, and entertainment?
How do you talk about your sexual standards with others who don’t understand or share them?
The Personal Progress program invites young women to read the Book of Mormon as the Virtue Value Project. How does the Book of Mormon help you understand God’s commandments and have strength to live in a virtuous way? How does it help you better understand and access the Atonement of Jesus Christ?