The strength to say no

Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life

Searching for a particular television program, it's easy to slip into some kind of story – a sitcom or movie or talk show – that portrays sexual encounters of all kinds as inevitable and acceptable. Whether the promoters call it fantasy or real-life drama, the couples involved are often married to someone else, and it hardly seems to matter. The bottom line, if you believe some writers and producers, is that the public is getting what it wants, and TV merely mirrors behavior standards of our culture.

Viewers can, of course, turn the TV off. People can also challenge the assumption that morality is based on what everybody does or everybody wants. No one says it's easy to adopt an uncompromising code of behavior when it comes to moral issues, whether these involve a decision to cheat on an exam, borrow a car without permission, lie to the IRS, or have a sexual affair.

Years ago, when I was a teenager, I was impressed with this statement: "Once conform, once do what other people do because they do it, and a kind of lethargy steals over all the finer senses of the soul." I no longer know the author's name, but this message had such a ring of individuality and courage that I wrote it in all my notebooks. At that time, a good many college students were conforming to experimental sexual standards (Do whatever you want!) but I was certain I would never give in to that kind of lethargy, any more than I would cheat on an exam.

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Also, I had always accepted Bible teachings, including, "Thou shalt not commit adultery" and "Do to others as you want them to do to you" as basic and to be obeyed.

So it was a surprise to me when I was suddenly in a situation where I very much wanted to conform to what everyone else was doing, and my personal morality seemed no better than a sweet philosophical theory.In my junior year in college, I was a guest on a 10-day cruise. The first evening, I met a delightful couple. The husband and I discovered we had the same interests in academia, in language, in music, and in drama. He was bright and charming; I was naive and flattered by his increasing interest in me. The two of us spent hours talking and walking the decks.

By the third day I was completely infatuated, and he was making sexual advances that felt irresistible. On the ship, there were many opportunities to be alone together and, he assured me, his wife really wouldn't mind.

At that point the words "chastity" and "adultery" seemed archaic and unrelated to anything real. All I could relate to was the desire to give in to feelings I had never before dreamed of. What would give me the strength to say no to him?

Finally, the thought came to pray. So I did, rather desperately, pray, "Father, help me." My thoughts went to my parents' marriage, and I began thinking of the advice – the commands – in Exodus "Thou shalt have no other gods before me.... Thou shalt not commit adultery." The words provided authority in this struggle with myself, a mental place that began to feel safe and trustworthy. I wasn't alone and vulnerable after all. The presence of my Father-Mother, God, felt real to me.

At some point during a long, tearful night, I flipped open my small copy of "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" by Mary Baker Eddy, and these words stood out: "Christian Science commands man ... to hold hatred in abeyance with kindness, to conquer lust with chastity ... and to overcome deceit with honesty" (pg. 405).

The ideas took on importance. It felt natural to want to conform to what was morally and spiritually real; the Bible's guidance seemed practical and vivid.

I decided it must be possible to focus on the kind, pure, and honest, on what I intuitively knew was my true identity as God's child – spiritual, and therefore moral.

The next morning, I had no hesitation about saying no to this friend. And the parting was kind, definite, and an enormous relief to me. The lessons from this interlude have remained strong and useful.

The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer;

my God, my strength, in

whom I will trust.

Psalm 18:2

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