In this post and the next one, we are going to look at some ways that singles can build their own family. Today we are going to explore the idea of giving ourselves to others. Here are a few steps to get us on our way…
Step 1: Lift your eyes up to the mountains (Psalm 121:102) and away from your navel.
As singles, it is tempting to focus on ourselves and on our lack of love and family. We think about love, we talk about love, we read about love, we listen to love songs, we watch movies about love. No wonder we are semi-obsessed with the idea that romantic love is what will fill our insatiable desire for value and worth.
On one hand God is incredibly gracious towards our pain. He doesn’t question or downplay the difficult process we are walking through as singles. He knows that a desire for a companion comes from an incredibly deep place, and he validates how hard that is for us.
On the other hand, he knows that wallowing in our loneliness on a regular basis is destructive to our well being. Even more importantly, it distracts us from being our best, beautiful self to a world that desperately needs the love that we have to give.
In the book Singled Out, John Stott says,“The greatest danger [singles] face is self-centeredness. We may live alone and have total freedom to plan our own schedule, with nobody else to modify it or even give us advice. If we are not careful, we may find the whole world revolving around ourselves.”
It is important that we start doing the hard work of thinking about things other than our love life or lack thereof. We need to take active steps towards giving ourselves to others.
Step 2: Determine to understand God’s heart towards the lonely people that are around you and the poor throughout the world.
A few years ago, I did an exercise that shook me out of my self-absorbed bubble and made me realize how deeply God cares about the poor. I was listening to a teaching on biblical justice by Rob Morris, founder of Love146, a wonderful organization that fights child exploitation. He asked us to flip through the bible for ten minutes and write down every verse we found about loving the poor, the outcast, the orphan, or similar sentiments. He asked us not to use a concordance or go to verses we already knew, but to just skim the pages.
I flipped to the Psalms and thought that maybe I should go somewhere else, because of course the Psalms were all about worship and wouldn’t have anything about biblical justice. But the first verse I read was “Blessed is he who considers the poor; the Lord will deliver him in time of trouble” (Psalm 41:1.) I kept reading through the Psalms and found verses about the poor everywhere.
It made sense that they were everywhere, because there are about 2,000 verses on this topic. It is one of the most talked about topics in the Bible. I have never looked at the bible the same way again. Verses about taking care of the poor are everywhere I look.
If the God that I love is this passionate about loving the lonely, maybe I would be wise to for me to be passionate about it as well.
After your read this post, consider doing this exercise yourself, either with friends or on your own. You will be amazed at what you find.
Step 3: Pick one or two causes that you will devote yourself to.
I know there are a million causes that want your resources. A million different ministries vying for your attention. It can be overwhelming to hear all of the statistics. Sometimes you don’t know where to look. You don’t know if you can make a difference, so you don’t look anywhere. You look away.
But behind these causes are real people with real faces and real voices and real senses of humor and real tears.
My advice for you is to prayerfully choose one or two of these causes and be passionate about it for the rest of your life. Learn about your cause. Introduce yourself to the people that are behind that cause. Find out what you and your friends can do to make a difference.
Don’t just feed at a soup kitchen, come out from the serving line and sit and eat with the precious people you have served. Don’t just give money to an organization that fights child exploitation, find out how to write to the kids in the safe home and get to know them.
Shane Claiborne says in his book, The Irresistible Revolution, “What our world is desperately in need of [is] lovers, people who are building deep, genuine relationships with fellow strugglers along the way, and who actually know the faces of the people behind the issues they are concerned about.”
Over the last years since doing the poor verse exercise, much of my life has been spent thinking about and acting on taking care of the poor. The two issues most dear to me are homeless travelers and inner city youth. I have done outreaches all over the country to bring love to traveling people, especially new agers. I have taught music classes and made CDs for homeless youth. I have chosen to be “homeless” for 3 days to understand what my friends go through. I have played music for homeless church services and with homeless in the park and for homeless funerals. I have done advocacy work with homeless women, helping them find jobs and housing and medical help.
I just moved to San Diego to live in a missional community (beta communities.org) and I also plan to teach music classes to teenage refugees. I am so excited about this. I don’t have my own children, but I can give love to these precious souls.
These things have become some of the deepest joys of my life. They don’t exactly fill the void that I feel because I don’t have a traditional family, but they bring me joy and meaning in a different way. I desperately need to be less lonely, and so do they. But I had to take the initiative for these things to happen.
In conclusion, you can’t really control your love life or lack thereof. But you can control the love that you put out into the world.
As Mother Teresa put it, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten we belong to each other.”
Let’s remember that we belong to each other. Let’s love other people enough to remind them that we belong to each other. Maybe then we would finally have some peace, even if we don’t yet have the traditional family we’ve always wanted.
You don’t often think that a visit to Mcdonald’s will change your life. Your cholesterol levels? Often. Your stomach digestion experiences, a given. But your life? This is rare.
I never used to go to Mcdonald’s, but every other Tuesday, right after work, I go to a contemplative spiritual formation group in Denver. I don’t have time to eat dinner until after the 9pm meeting, so I am usually starving afterwards. I inevitably end up at this Mcdonald’s and practice the brilliant trick my homeless friend taught me: order a double cheeseburger, hold the ketchup and mustard, add Big Mac sauce and lettuce, and voila! A semi Big Mac that is $1 instead of $4. I like to call it the swindle burger.
This particular Mcdonald’s is newly renovated, with a coffee bar and trendy lampshades. It reminds me a little bit of a mutt wearing a tutu.
Despite this Mcdonald’s shiny facade, the people that frequent here are anything but fancy. There are many homeless people that eat their swindle burgers here just like me. Every time I have been at this particular Mcdonald’s I have gotten into a conversation with a homeless person while I’m eating.
But the conversation this week was more than just interesting. It made me examine my life.
It was with Feather, a high cheekboned Native American man with a beautiful smile, even if it was a smile that was lacking a few teeth.
We talked about his life and his experience being a native American. The conversation took a more emotional turn when he told me that he had 7 kids from 4 different women.
“The youngest, he’s 16….how I love him. My sweet David. We just love each other so much. When we spend time together we laugh and laugh. But I’m an alcoholic, you see. I am so addicted. I’ve been on and off the streets for years because of it. And I hate it. I just hate it.
That’s why I’m going to rehab tonight. For my son. Because I love my son. Because I promised him I would.”
Now I have worked with a lot of homeless people and I love them. I really love them. But I know from past experience that a homeless person you are talking to will often say they are going to rehab or getting religion just because they don’t want you to see how broken they are. It makes sense that they have this defense mechanism in place because pretty much everyone judges them.
So I didn’t believe that he was going to rehab that night. But I still encouraged him.
“Feather, I would really admire you if you did that. You are a strong, strong person. Your son deserves to see you better, and you deserve to be better.”
I was reminded of a story in the Bible. The parable of the Wheat and the Tares.
The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from? ‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’’No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’
If you asked most Christians about this parable, they would probably say that it is about the afterlife, God separating the good from the bad people. Maybe that’s true. I don’t know.
But maybe there is another lesson in this parable. Maybe it is about each of us, our good sides and bad sides. Our very own wheat and tares. And maybe one day God will burn away all of the things that are not of him and keep all of the things that are beautiful in us. Maybe that’s even the way he chooses to see us now; beautiful.
I wrote a poem about this parable when I was working full time with homeless people in San Francisco. (The names have been changed to protect my friends.)
The Wheat and the Tares
The beautiful and the ugly.
The holy and the evil.
The eternal and the temporal.
All of us
Every one of us
We are weak and strong at the same time.
The way she loves so deeply and the way she hates so deeply. Her fierce humor and fierce capacity to live. Anger and passion and goodness and pain mixed together in a complicated beautiful bundle.
Like Big Jim
The way he smiles and laughs and brings child like faith and light to Paige street and to my heart
But who covers his ears and yells because he is so, so scared.
Like Pretty John
Who is so gentle and so kind that when I got to know him I was shocked that he is one of the most violent gangs in Golden Gate Park. The way he makes me laugh until my belly hurts when we are playing cards.
But he won’t love himself enough to stop drinking. He thinks he is so engrafted in his life on the streets that the name of his gang is tattooed across his forehead.
The way he turned himself in to the police because he thought that it was the right thing to do. He inspires me.
But he alway feels like people hate him, like they are out to get him, like no one would ever love him.
Her sweet voice and her warmth and her smile that lights up everything around her.
But she feel like she needs a man to tell her she is beautiful. She doesn’t know she is beautiful without that. Yet he never tells her and she is always empty.
Who tells me he’s my big brother and makes me laugh by saying “Elvis just walked into the room!”
But he also says that the only mistake God ever made was making him.
Who has so much wisdom in his small voice with his lisp that it brings tears to my eyes every time I hear it.
But he knows that his dream of going back to Detroit and having a house and a wife and children….he knows it will probably never happen. He has so much love in his heart and no one to give it to.
Who is so tenderhearted that he cries every time I sing. His six foot frame immerses me in love every time he hugs me. But he has so much rage that he can’t stay out of jail.
The way I bring beauty and passion and new perspectives of God to everyone around me
But I have such deep sadness and I hold on to the past and I long for a different life and I feel like I am not lovable. Even when God has told me again and again that I am.
The wheat and the tares. The beautiful and the ugly. The holy and the evil.
The enemy comes and plants the tares among the wheat.
And for now, they grow together.
But one day
One glorious day,
Jesus will come.
He will tie up the tares in bundles
And burn them
Until the smoke blows away
And all that is left
Is a beautiful, golden
Field of wheat.
As I was talking to Feather and thinking about the wheat and the tares, I suddenly saw an ambulance in the window.
“There they are, Kate! They’re here to pick me up!” Feather said. “I’m scared. Do you think I can do this? Do you think I can start over again?”
He hadn’t been lying. He really was going to rehab. In that moment, I did not see an alcoholic. I did not see a homeless man. I saw a man who was so brave that he would face his biggest fear so that he could be a better father to his son.
I looked him in the eyes. “Yes Feather. Absolutely. There is no doubt in my mind that this night will change your life forever.”
“Ok, I believe you! Pray for me!” he said as he walked out the door and into the ambulance.
Feather, like all of us, are weak and strong at the same time.
But God is so good that he sees the strong in us every time. God is so good that he burns away the dross and looks in wonder at a beautiful, golden field of wheat.
(The picture above is not actually Feather and Feather is not his real name.)
Yesterday, in Mexico where I am teaching at a YWAM base, I went to a rescue home for labor trafficked girls from 6-8 years old and sex trafficked girls from about 10-20 years old for about 8 hours. Me any my team were giving a well deserved break to the ladies that worked there.
Putting these beautiful faces to an issue I have long cared about was both heartbreaking and hopeful, in that these girls still laugh and play and love despite the atrocities they have lived through.
After playing tag and cards and eating with them, they asked me if they could wash and cut my hair.
As I stuck my head under a sink with freezing cold water and had four little hands gently massaging my scalp and pouring shampoo over my head, I almost started weeping. One of these girls had burns on her arm where cigarette butts had been put out.
These hands had every right to bring violence to anyone they touched. It would be completely justified, as touch has been such a horrible part of their history.
And yet, here they were….Bringing healing with their touch. Touching each others hands as they sat and talked, their arms around each others’ shoulders. Touching my heart by welcoming me with such open arms. And then gently touching the head of a stranger as if I was their good friend.
The words from the prologue of my book came to me as I was with these girls, with new clarity:
You are stronger than you think you are.
You, your hands dirtied with the soil where you till up the rocks of generations gone by. Your tears watering the ground, making the roots grow deep and wide while you are unaware. You labor, you dig, you claw this tiny piece of land where others buried their dreams and gave up trying.
But not you. You keep going.You never give up. You see the tree in the seed, and you will fight until that tree is standing before you, it’s long willowing arms grasping your hope in its branches.
You are stronger than you think you are.
You, covered in all your scars. Where your face was grazed with false imaginings that you were not beautiful enough. Where your hands were caught in fields of cotton when you didn’t believe you were free. Where you were marked across your chest the day you thought that they left because you weren’t worth it. Look closely, love. Look closely because those scars are gilded with gold. Those scars have become your crown.
You are stronger than you think you are.
You, dancing there with your face against the wind. Not a pretty dance, but a wild dance. A hold on for dear life to the hope dance. An I will never stop believing in your goodness dance. A shake the sadness off your skin dance. You, with your feet pounding against the ground to the rhythm of your unsurrenduring spirit. With your knees soiled and bleeding from the prayers and the longings and the times you almost gave up. With your arms thrown up in surrender and beckoning and awe. “You are my love!” you yell, “And I will never stop believing!” There is burning against your back as you lift up your face, because your wings are returning, love. Your wings are returning.
Look at me and believe now. You are stronger than you think you are. Stronger than you think you are.
As they washed my hair, these girls were draining the dirt off of my often apathetic heart. A heart that often only looks at pain when it is my own pain. That I often pay attention to only when it is my own small tragedy that I am praying about.
As has been pretty evident in my last few posts, I have been struggling a lot in these last few months. I have realized that I need to accept that I might not ever have children or a husband. It might not be true, but I feel like it is time to accept that it very well may be true.
But the hope of these girls, who still love those around them despite the incredible pain they have endured, is the fabric that heaven is made of. That hope softened my heart and helped me to see the power that God has to restore, to wash clean. I remembered for the first time in a while that I have a truly beautiful life, and I was thankful.
I was completely struck by this quote from Cheryl Strayed because it is so appropriate for what I am going through right now.
“Suffering is a part of life…I know that. You know that. I don’t know why we forget it until something truly awful happens to us, but we do. We wonder why me? and How can this be? and What terrible God would do this? The very fact that this has been done to me is proof that there is no God!
We act as if we don’t know that awful things happen to all sorts of people every second of every day and the only thing that’s changed about the world or the existence or non existence of God is that it happened to us…To use our individual good or bad luck as a litmus test to determine whether or not God exists constructs an illogical dichotomy that reduces our capacity for true compassion….it fails to acknowledge that the other half of rising- the very half that makes rising necessary- is having first been nailed to a cross.”
It is true: focusing completely on my pain deadens my capacity for compassion. To take on one another’s burdens like Jesus did will truly change our lives.
Today, on Thanksgiving, even though it is a lonely day without a family and is really difficult for me, I will look beyond my own pain and remember how truly blessed I am.
God soften my heart. Allow me to touch people in beautiful ways like this. Allow me to pray for pain even when it is not my own.
I just finished one of my favorite books for the second time, Tattoos on the Heart. You can read some of my other thoughts on this book here. I cried almost as much the second time reading it as I did the first time.
The book ends with the story of a “homie” (what the gang members call themselves) who was trying to get his life together being shot and paralyzed from the neck down until he died not too long after. Papa G, the priest who has loved these homies for decades, buried this young man and four others in as many weeks.
The night before I read this story, I had watched Million Dollar Baby which I was expecting to be a feel good sports movie. Instead, it ends with the main character paralyzed as well and dying soon after.
These two stories shook me. I was faced with the reality that there are people in the world who live like this. There are people that are blazingly, startlingly strong enough to keep on living in the midst of unspeakable pain.
The story of Papa G helping these gang members get employed and out of the gang life inspires me and tears me apart at the same time. Papa G is one of my heroes, because he lives in a duel world. He sees young people he loves like sons and daughters die on a regular basis from blind violence. And in the midst of that, he chooses and chooses and chooses to believe that God is good. It’s as if he is saying Without God, these acts are senseless. With God, death is not final. Death leads way to life.
The big book used by alcoholics anonymous says something to the effect of When we are faced with a crisis we can no longer control we have to believe that either God is everything or else he is nothing. Choose.
In circumstances like this, we can either sayThese horrible things are happening, so God must no be good. Or we can choose to change our perspective, saying These horrible things are happening. What do I have if I don’t have God?
I have days where I don’t choose to believe in God’s goodness simply because my finances are low or my job search has been hard. Other days I struggle with God’s goodness because of more difficult things, like my not having a family or my struggle with depression or a friend having cancer.
It helps me to think of people paralyzed, chronically ill, chronically poor, trafficked, who are so strong that they keep on choosing to live. I am blown away that many of them say If I don’t have God, what do I have?”
Oh God, I want my perspective to change. I want to believe that you are good in my limited perception. I am so tired of doubting your goodness because of the bad things that happen to me, the bad things that happen to other people. I want instead to say Whom have I but you? You bring meaning to the most meaningless things. You bring hope to the most hopeless situations.
I read a verse today that I don’t think I have ever noticed before. A vision from the prophet Zechariah…
During the night I had a vision, and there before me was a man mounted on a red horse. He was standing among the myrtle trees in a ravine. Behind him were red, brown, and white horses. I asked “What are these, my Lord?” Then the man standing among the myrtle trees explained “They are the ones the Lord has sent to go throughout the earth.” And they replied to the angel of the Lord who was standing among the myrtle trees “We have gone throughout the earth and found the whole world in rest and peace.” (Zechariah 1: 8-11.)
I love this, because it feels like the end of the end times, doesn’t it? After all the crazy weird psychedelic things that happen in Revelations, things that are awful and beautiful and impossible to understand, after all of that, what if it ends here? What if it ends with the whole world seeing all of the death and sickness and sex trafficking and slavery swept away into unspeakable, unfathomable love? A place where the whole world lives in rest and peace?
God give me the strength to believe that. Give us all the strength to believe that.
Sorry if this picture is graphic. It just cracked me up so much I had to use it.
(Before I start this post, I am trying to get out to Mexico City to teach a YWAM base there. Does anyone have connections there where I could play music, lead worship, or teach? You can contact me through my website, katehurley.com. Thanks!)
When I tell people that I am writing a book about being a single Christian, we inevitably get into conversations about the challenges of dating in the aftermath of the Christian Dater’s Hell that was the 90s. About our fears of getting older and still not having a family. About how Christian guys would rather clean every bathroom in grand central station with a toothbrush than ask us out on a date because of the pressure they feel to get married too fast.
Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
These conversations make up about eighty percent of my communication with other human beings lately. Which is not really that bad because women talk about men seventy percent of the time even if they are not writing a book.
I have also had my heart broken pretty badly in this season, which makes me infinitely more aware of my singleness and the loneliness that became so evident after that happened. Right now, I am not just love sick, I am sick of love. Of thinking about love. Of talking about love. Of reading about love. Of writing about love.
So today I am protesting. I don’t care if this is supposed to be a blog about dating and not dating and all of that. I am talking about something else.
Let’s talk about the pope. The pope’s hat is so tall, isn’t it? Is it because they inevitably choose short men to be the pope and less than 3% of CEO’s are under 5’ 7”? No one but the pope could wear a hat that looks like a huge christmas tree ornament to make him look tall. Why not wear a two foot hat? I would if I were the pope.
Hmm remember that time that my x-boyfriend was having a job crisis and said “Kate, maybe I will just go to school to be the pope so I can stand in a little glass box and wave at the people. That would be nice.” I wonder where he is now? He was so fun. We had a hard break up but he was a great guy. Maybe I was being too picky???
Oh dang it! I am talking about love again!
Okay, how about we talk about France? I got to go to Paris during an eight hour layover on the way to Germany and it was fabulous. The people were not as mean as everyone said they would be, but that might be because a clever friend gave me a Canda patch to wear on my backpack.
Speaking of France, I wonder why they are called French fries? The national food of America is All Things Fried so you would think that those were invented here. I also wonder why they call it French kissing. Man it’s been a long time since I’ve been kissed.
Ahhhh! No no no!
You see, even if I make a conscious effort to stop thinking about love, it seems impossible. Love is freaking everywhere. Almost every movie has some form of a love story in it. Most songs are about new love, wishing you had love, love that lasts forever, love that kicked you and your dog out the door without your boots on. It is difficult for us singles to have this love saturated culture around us because it makes us so aware that we don’t have it.
If we are not careful we can become very self absorbed.
Okay, I’ll just say it: I have become very self absorbed.
I soak in all of the love culture like a sponge and then it absorbs into me in forms of jealousy and heartache and loneliness and not understanding God’s will. And I am becoming more cynical and more sad and more absorbed. (I wonder what the word absorbed means in latin. Let’s see, what are some other words with ab in them? Above, absence, absolve, abdominal. Wow, that guy jogging past certainly has nice abs. Oh no! Hold yourself together Kate!)
Ahem, sorry about that. Back to my post.
I am reading a book called Tattoos On the Heart right now. It is the memoir of a priest they call Papa G who started Homeboy Ministries in LA. He is like a father to countless gang members. Former enemies will work side by side at Homeboy Bakery or Homeboy Silkscreening. It is amazing. It is the best book I have read in a long time. I am crying crying crying almost every page. Each story touches a deep place in my heart. The part of me that really wants to love rather than to be so blatantly aware that I am not loved.
Papa G is surrounded by the same love stories and love culture that we are and he is a priest. He will never have a traditional family. But he chooses to be absorbed in a different way than my own self absorbing. He absorbs the pain of the gang members around him. Like a sponge. Because there is no one else in their lives to care about the extraordinary abuse and pain that they have endured. Over and over again, these hardened men come into his office breaking down, telling him their real names that no one else knows, letting him love them.
Papa G has not allowed himself to be surrounded by the absence of love, he has chosen to surround others with love.
This book came at a very appropriate time in my life. I have been crying on a regular basis lately. I have had a lot of time on my hands as I have not gotten many shows and am home almost every day alone writing this book and songs for my new album. I am often so lonely. I hate it. I have even gotten to the point of getting angry at God.
But I have been inspired by this book. I am looking into doing a lot more volunteer work with inner city kids and am even thinking about finding a part time job working with at risk youth or the homeless. I’d have to give up touring to do this most likely, but I think it might be worth it right now.
Because I am not just sick of thinking about love. I am sick of not loving.
I cannot control whether I have a husband or not. It’s not like getting a degree or a job, something that you can achieve if you work hard at it. I have worked hard, and it just has not worked out.
I can’t even control God and make him give me what I want. Not if I pray enough, not if I fast, not if I do enough good things to earn myself family. I don’t understand why, and I can’t understand why right now.
The one thing that I can control is that like Papa G, I can wake up tomorrow and take steps towards building my own family. This is kind of scary for me because it makes me think that I might be giving up on a blood family. But there are a lot of people out there whose blood family has left them. And they need love. If I do end up having a blood family, I will have learned to love in ways that I could not have if I had holed myself up in my room and watched stupid love movies all day.
It’s time. It’s time to stop thinking about the love I don’t have and give the love that I do have.
Tell me about your own experiences with this. How has culture made you struggle more with your singleness? Have you found ways to build your own family?