Note: Melanie Pritchard is a renowned Catholic chastity speaker. A few years ago she nearly died in childbirth, but underwent a miraculous recovery. Read about her near-death experience here.

August 27, 2012 (MelaniePritchard.org) - One evening in my college dorm room, I saw myself in a mirror and didn’t like the reflection looking back at me. I began college a strong Catholic young woman and four short months later I was looking in a mirror not able to recognize myself. The decisions I made in college were drastically different from those I made in high school. I began wearing revealing clothes, going to parties, dating guys who had nothing to offer me but good looks, and listening to music, reading magazines, watching TV shows and movies that didn’t correspond with my dignity. I didn’t realize that all these little decisions would add up to this moment looking in a mirror hating who I had become, not realizing how I even got there.

I called a mentor and friend and revealed to her my inner longing to find joy again, to find me again. She asked me a question that opened my eyes to what was going on in the culture. She said, “Whose plan are you following for your life?” It was a soul awakening moment because naively I did not realize there were people in our culture who had plans and agenda’s for my life, for my relationships, and for my sexuality.  I remember feeling like a fool not recognizing that there are groups of people who don’t have my best interest in mind whether it is for their selfish, social, or financial gain. After much thought, I made a list of all the things I was allowing to influence me…guys, friends, movies, magazines, music, etc. Then I began to think about the source of those things. I thought, “Who wrote those Cosmo and Glamour articles my friends and I read as if they were the gospel of fashion and relationship success? Who were those musicians singing the songs we danced and listened to? What were their lives like? Were they happily married? Were they joyful and content? Did they come from good families? Did they practice a faith? Who has formed them?”

That was the day I decided that I would no longer let some unknown person sitting in a cubicle in New York writing some article they had to get in on a deadline tell me what was in. I was no longer going to let them tell me how to dress, function in a relationship, or teach me about sex. It was then that I took a look at the culture and saw three plans people are choosing to follow in their relationships, for their sexuality, and in their lives.

Plan 1: People who choose to live morally objectionable lives. They set their own standards. They have several sexual partners, they cheat, hook-up, are addicted to and promote pornography, pre-marital sex, alcohol and drugs. They view sex as just a pleasurable act that should have no boundaries. They are selfish, careless and use people and things for their own fleeting pleasure. They have abandoned God in order to do whatever they want. They object to the idea that there is any real truth. Some might call them moral relativist. They reject the idea of sin and often talk about no rules, no morality, no Heaven and no Hell. It’s a really easy plan to accomplish because it takes no act of virtue, discipline, sacrifice, or act of faith.

Plan 2: People who choose to live “seemingly” morally acceptable lives. They set their own standards and fit God into their life plan when they see fit. They are fine with just being average in their faith and values. They may not have sex before marriage, but they will do everything but that. They wear a cross as jewelry while wearing booty shorts and revealing cleavage shirts. They party hard on Saturday night but do their best to be a regular Mass go-er on Sundays. They live with one foot in the world and one foot in Church, often seeing how far they can push the limits. They desire to have values, but aren’t willing to commit fully to making good choices. They want to go to Heaven, but are willing to settle for Purgatory in order to satisfy their earthly desires. They may try to master some virtues but give up on the ones that are too hard. They can sacrifice, be disciplined, and act in faithful ways, but choose to only when it fits them best. It is a hard and confusing plan to follow because they are living between two opposite worlds often feeling a tug-of-war in their hearts.

Plan 3: People who choose to live morally exceptional lives. These are the people who know they are weak and broken and need God’s strength in order to live exceptionally. They follow God’s standards and believe He is the Way, The Truth and The Life and that He created them in His image and likeness. They believe God created them uniquely masculine or feminine and designed their sexuality for the specific purpose of bonding two people together and allowing them to co-create with God. They believe they and others have value and worth. They believe that choices have consequences and they seek to form their minds to make decisions pleasing to the Lord. They choose to have sex within marriage alone as their sexuality is a gift to be given to one person. They find their worth in God and not in fleeting things. They do what they ought instead of doing what they want, not because it confines them, but because it is what frees them. They seek to serve and be Christ-like and their ultimate goal is to get themselves and others to Heaven. They pray daily, are in relationship with God, they sacrifice on a regular basis, and they seek the Sacraments to help them stay strong. They believe that God allows them to love as He loves which is always exceptional, and His grace is what allows them to live up to His standards. They know they can’t do it on their own. They wake up daily trying to live to their fullest potential knowing they may fail but knowing there is always tomorrow to try again. This is the hardest plan to follow, but the one that brings the most joy and peace.

Reading through the “Plans” you may be asking yourself which one you follow, but I must warn you, one of them is a figment of the follower’s imagination. Revelations 3:15-16 tells us “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth.”  “Plan 2: ‘Seemingly’ Morally Acceptable” doesn’t really exist because either a person is in a relationship with God allowing Him to set the standard so they can move toward exceptional love or they are in a relationship with sin choosing a morally objectionable life. Sadly the plan I see many follow is a “seemingly morally acceptable” one where they are always in great danger of falling more and more into sin, sadness, and loneliness instead of a life of grace, joy and freedom.

If I were to ask people if they want to live a morally exceptional life, I feel their response will be one underlined in fear. They might say, “I don’t want to be a saint; saints are exceptional!” When what they are really saying is, “I don’t believe in myself enough to live to my full potential.” These were my own thoughts as a freshman in college when I chose to believe I was living a morally acceptable life, only to find myself…lost, doubting my own potential for greatness. Those of us who have believed it possible to live a “morally acceptable” life can tell you it is a constant tug-of-war, sliding into objectionable decisions (sin), but desiring to be exceptional (in relationship with God).

There isn’t a famous athlete or musician in this world who would walk on a field or stage and say, “Today I am NOT going to play to my full potential. I’m NOT going to go out there and give it my best. Today I will settle for third.” No, instead they say, “Today I am going to try to be exceptional. I will try my hardest.”

We have it in us to play, sing, dance, study in exceptional ways, but why is it some of us cringe at the idea of being morally exceptional. We choose passions where we have to make healthy choices, be disciplined in our regiments, and sacrifice, but when it comes to our morality, we don’t know if we are capable.

And, maybe that is just it. When it comes to morality, it is harder, and we just aren’t capable…on our own.

Every day we walk out the door of our homes in a battle: A battle to protect our purity, dignity, chastity and virtue. Peers, billboards, magazines, music, TV shows, movies, books, boyfriends, girlfriends will tempt us, bombard us, and pressure us to make dangerous decisions that may negatively affect our lives. We are in a battlefield. Where is our armor?

Our armor is the sacraments and the Holy Spirit! In addition, making a habit of all the four Cardinal Virtues of prudence (wisdom), justice, fortitude (courage), and temperance (self control) strengthens our armor and prepares us to combat a culture that is getting ever more morally objectionable. A culture which is willing to settle for mediocrity instead of exceptionality! We weren’t created for mediocrity. As Pope Benedict said to a group of young people, “The world promises you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness!”

And, those who choose, regardless of how many times they fail, to be morally exceptional, are the game changers! We can change the world with our yes to the Lord, with our yes to being loved rightly, and with our yes to the sacraments. We will change the world by rejecting conformity and inviting Christ in to transform us. We will change the world with our joy.

And, when people ask us whose plan we are following, we can say, “The Maker and Creator Himself. The One who wrote the original plan. The plan that lets you look in a mirror and like what you see. The plan that brings you joy and secures your spot in Heaven for all eternity.”

Remember, God doesn’t need you to change to come to him. If you are far from God or living your faith with one foot in the world and one foot in Church, go to God without changing. If change needs to be made, Christ will inspire it within you. We can’t be morally exceptional on our own; it takes God’s grace. The Holy Spirit is our strength. We must live our lives with intention and choose to live to our fullest and greatest potential, seeking to be exceptional knowing it is God that makes us perfect through His Son.

“I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” –John 10:10

Reprinted with permission from MelaniePritchard.org