Red yarn, purity and my misplaced worth

7782343794_4a8c280005_cI was 21 years old, just, when I found myself sitting in a tiny counseling office trying to recover from a painful breakup. The woman in the chair across from me was praying passionately as she called upon the Holy Spirit to free my heart from my ex-boyfriend.

From the aching of being dumped… over email.

The focus of our session was all about freeing my heart, which was intrinsically linked to his, because we’d had sex.

She opened an old, metal drawer and took out some pre-cut, crimson yarn. She held the ends between pinched fingers and held the taut strands between us.

She handed me a pair of scissors and told me to cut the yarn as a representation of my cutting my heart free from my ex.

Through snipping this yarn, the Holy Spirit would set me free and disconnect us. Although I was told my heart was forever damaged and would be messy and incomplete because of my transgressions.

I remember getting into my raggedy blue Saturn and wondering… “Would cutting the yarn really do it? Should I feel different now? 

And for that matter, would this painful breakup be easier if we hadn’t… “gone there?”

I turned it all over in my head for months, like you do when you’ve been dumped. I took to rollerblading around my parents neighborhood while I listened to Dashboard Confessional on my disc-man.

Was it true that I had superglued my heart to his, never to be whole again?  Had I robbed my future husband of something special? Was I forever demoted because I proved true the age old cliché of “looking for love in all the wrong places?”

The more I rolled around the neighborhood, the more I realized that I hadn’t had sex with this guy out of love, or even for physical pleasure.

I’d done it because I needed to believe that someone had wanted me completely, just as I was.

you see, my problems went far deeper than my lost virginity. I had an incredibly screwed up sense of who I was… and whose I was… and what I was doing with my life.

I thought that I needed to belong to a man to feel complete and that belief was far more damaging than my sexual mistakes would ever be.

I’ve spent a lot of time this week thinking through all the clumsy, awkward steps that led me to ultimately “losing it.” All those concessions I made, one by one that ended with me tucking my purity ring in my jewelry box and hoping my Dad wouldn’t notice its absence on my ring finger.

If all the girls I’ve ever mentored as a youth worker were sitting across from me and I could tell them one thing about their sexuality, what would I say?

They’ve heard thousands of words from hundreds of sources, what would I add?

It’s this: Your worth cannot be found or taken from you through sex.

You were created for a big, bold beautiful purpose. If you go have sex to feel better about who you are, you will only be taking steps backward.

I would tell them that I regret having sex before marriage, but that I regret all the years that I lost believing that I was worthless even more.

I regret looking for my worth in sex, because it only ever left me emptier.

I would tell them that if they’ve already had sex, God loves them and values them just as highly as he would if they had their “v-cards” in tact. I would let them know that they can still have a healthy, joy-filled, passionate, sexy and intimate marriage someday.

I would remind them that even though the church world seems to see sexual sin as weightier or dirtier than the rest, that God sees it all the same. And that he loves the virgins and the non virgins equally.

That he’s close to the broken hearted, even the ones who didn’t wait.

Then I would tell their parents that when it comes to “the sex talk” that they should spend most of their time teaching their children who they are and who they belong to. Because kids who value themselves and have a solid send of self worth are less likely to go looking for it in all the wrong places, Like in the backseat of their cars.

And then I would go home and kiss my husband and cry a little. Because there is nothing easy about this jumbled mess of human sexuality. I would lay my head on the pillow and thank God for infusing my journey with so much grace… for leading me to this place, this day, these words.

  • Defining Moments

    Leanne, I would dare say that your words of inspiration is encouraging to both young and old folks who have made this decision in their lives (me included). Thanks for your honestly! May God continue to bless you.

    • leannepenny

      Thank you, I hope so.

  • Katherine W. Pershey (@kwpershey)

    Brave and wise and wonderful. Thank you.

  • Jill –

    Great words Leanne! Our church is doing a “purity” series soon and I am hoping what we hear as a community is as wise as this. xo

  • Emily Wierenga

    i love this. and i agree. there is nothing easy about it. but God is grace. xoxo

  • Forest

    Wise words, thanks for sharing.

  • Mark Allman (@Vaderalman)


    I do think to be wanted is something we all desire and it is a powerful need in our lives. I am thankful my worth is not tied up in what I have done or the things I have failed to do. I do think the church treads on dangerous ground when it makes this issue of being a virgin(which may or may not be about purity) a signature issue. It pushes it towards being the measuring stick of Christianity and away from the acceptance of Christ and all He did for us. It certainly has it’s place but not as a hinge point in life. We can not try to force people to be defined by their mistakes. We can not lock a person at some level of Christian worth based on their mistakes and missteps. People are redeemed; people are changed; people are forgiven; people become more than they were through their relationship with God. You are not who you were when you were 21; not who you were 5 years ago and not who you were 1 year ago. Hopefully we all are changing and growing. May God give us the grace to extend worth to people because He made them and to ourselves because he formed every fiber of our being.

    I hope what you and Sarah Bessey wrote ( is read and reread often by those in the church and without.

    Well said Leanne and needed.

  • hopefulleigh

    Such wisdom here, Leanne. For many years, I questioned my worth and believed I wouldn’t be “someone” until I had a boyfriend. I have so much compassion for the girl I used to be. I often wonder what my life would look like if I’d learned this lesson earlier on.

  • Pingback: About My Promise Ring: A round-up on sex | Accidental Devotional()

  • Leelee

    Yes. Our worth supersedes our sexuality, however broken it may be. However, it is far harder to hear anything substantial about finding our worth in Jesus than hearing the same tired reasons why we should wait, or should have waited. And like you said, if we shared the truth about our worth freely, then… “kids who value themselves and have a solid send of self worth are
    less likely to go looking for it in all the wrong places, Like in the
    backseat of their cars.”

    • leannepenny

      absolutely, not an easy journey but I pray as a church we can bring it more to the forefront.

  • Tanya Marlow

    “I thought that I needed to belong to a man to feel complete and that belief was far more damaging than my sexual mistakes would ever be.”

    This is SO important and true – I think you’ve really hit upon the core issue for so many people, particularly women. This is such a helpful addition to the recent flurry of posts on the subject – thanks Mark Allman’s for highlighting this!

    • leannepenny

      Thanks Tanya and thank you Mark too! I agree, we have to fix the source of the issue here, it won’t solve the problem, sex will still be sex but a perspective shift here could be of such value to our children and those we mentor.

  • perfectnumber628

    I really like this post and how you examine the issues BEHIND premarital sex. You talk about how it’s a bad thing that has consequences, but the bad consequences were because of your belief that you didn’t have worth without a guy- NOT because having sex just makes a person less valuable or something.

    It seems like a lot of women have the mistaken belief that their life doesn’t have value if they don’t have a boyfriend/ aren’t having sex. Purity culture attempts to argue against this by saying, “no no, your life doesn’t have value if you DO have sex.”

    “Your worth cannot be found or taken from you through sex.” Well said.

  • jack

    Well, as a man who has been left without a wife because the women of his generation went chasing after exciting bad boys, I guess I have to say that I can sympathize, however, I think that this generation will end up like the children of Israel in the desert.

    Many will die in the desert of singleness because they believed a lie, and will not enter the promised land of marriage.

    I, for one, do not think I could marry a woman with a past, but not from a standpoint of “not forgiving”, but from a standpoint of compatibility. I just can’t.

    Not having kids and a family is very painful to me at times, and not having a wife to grow old with sometimes gets me down. But I have to be true to myself, and that means that I cannot be with a woman who first chose someone else. She gets all of me, but I do not get all of her, because someone else got her first.

    Best we both remain single. Maybe a future generation will be less steeped in feminism and the idea that women can go “get some experience” or “have a little fun” and remain unchanged.

    Personally, when I read stories about how women feel so awful about their previous sexual experiences, I really doubt their sincerity. They talk about how “awful” it was, yet they kept going back. I imagine the sex was actually quite fun for them, up to the point it did not turn into a commitment.

    Worse, these women seem more worried about “feeling judged” than they do about defrauding their future husband of their virtue. Well, I don’t know what changed in these past few decades, but for some reason, Christian men are no longer able to get a virgin bride, a privilege that even non Christian men used to enjoy.

    Now, Christian men are told to “suck it up” and marry them anyway. No one cares about Christian men ONE BIT. We are wage mules and servants, placed on this earth to ensure that when Christian women sleep with non-believers that there is still someone to marry them.

    Well, this is one many who will not be a slave.

  • Gigi McMurray

    These words ran through my soul like fresh oxygen through my lungs. I’ve been reading the conversations and love the honesty but despair over the vitriol. How do we talk about sexual purity? As spouses? As parents? As believers? How do we teach purity and not condemn or heap shame? You have so beautifully shared your story and therein grace. God bless you for your courage.

    I have 3 boys, 21, 12, and 7. I want to teach them their worth and whose they are. And then to have the courage and relationship to stand with them through mishaps, slip-ups, and bold-faced rebellion. Lord have mercy.