“I was determined to sit in his presence until I had an answer. He said, ‘Stay my son until the questions don’t matter.'” –John Redenbo
I have a friend who, like any good Christian boy raised in the 90’s, listened to Michael W. Smith, the most popular Christian artist of that time.One of Michael’s most famous songs said
Go West young man….go West go young man….go West young man….when the evil goes East.
This friend mis-heard those words to say
Question man, question man, question man….and then wondered “What does Jesus being a question man have to do with evil going East?” (which was a line I didn’t quite understand even with the normal words!)
I heard this story and laughed. It was almost as good as my mishearing “Won’t you take me to…Funkytown!” as “One jinx on Nixon….Funky town!”
I had forgotten the story for years but it came to mind the other day because of some of my current life journeys. Maybe the mishearing of that song was dead on, I thought. Maybe Jesus was even more of a question man than he was an answer man.
So I decided to do some research. If you look purely at the numbers, Jesus was definitely a question man. According to Martin B Copenhaver, in the New Testament Jesus asks 307 questions. He is asked 183 questions. He only answers three of those question with a direct answer.
Does Jesus’ lack of giving concrete answers mean that he doesn’t offer meaning and reason and hope? Of course not. It just means that he is not a God that I can put in a little box and make into my own image.
The vastness of his character and love and wisdom is so big that it enfolds eternity. No matter how much I think I know him, there is an element of unfathomable mystery. No matter how hard I try, I will never be able to “figure him out” like an algebra equation.
Mystery has been a theme in my life lately. About a year ago, I went through a depression and the worse crisis of faith I have ever had. My dad had died, and I was struggling with some questions about what the afterlife is like. I had endured a string of rejections, such a strong pattern that made it made me wonder if someone was playing some kind of cosmic joke on me.
These circumstances threw me into a bout of sadness, but the sadness got infinitely worse when I started deeply doubting the goodness, even the existence of God. Men rejecting me? It’s hard but I’ve made it through before. A death? Also full of grief but with time it will get better.
But the thought that God I love, the one stable thing in my life, my reason, my everything….the thought that he is not good? That he might not even be there?
That was too much for me. That was earth shattering. That almost killed me.
Since I am human, I began to try to figure my suffering out. Here are some ways that I tried to put a label on my grief:
God is good, but there is sin in the world, so bad things happen. (Anger at other people ensues.)
God is good, Satan is bad. I must fight Satan! (Exhaustion ensues.)
God is good, but I have free will, so I can screw my life up. (Self hatred and fear ensue.)
My will and God’s will are constantly at odds. (Exhaustion and self hatred ensue.)
If I’m sad like this, I just need to praise God more! (Disappointment ensues.)
God is playing golf. (Anger at God ensues.)
God allows me to suffer so that I can learn. (Muffled, hidden anger at God ensues.)
God doesn’t exist. (Deep despair and meaninglessness ensues.)
Somewhere in the midst of this crisis, my view of God started changing. I wasn’t getting any more answers to why suffering happens. On the contrary I seemed to have less answers than when I started the asking.
But I began to shift my posture towards these questions. I started to try to sit quietly and reverently in the mystery of God. I slowly allowed myself to say these three magical words:
I. Don’t. Know.
I do not know why my suffering happens. I do not know why the world’s suffering happens. I probably will never know this side of heaven. Trying to get solid answers was becoming a control game.
It was time to let go. And letting go of the answers left me with two choices: giving up on God altogether or choosing to believe in his goodness even when I didn’t see empirically that it was real.
I decided that even if I didn’t understand him, I needed to choose to believe in him. Where else could I go but into his arms? A life without him would be no life at all.
I was tired of fighting Satan or myself or God or circumstances or the people that had hurt me. Battle language had been in my vocabulary for a long time and I was so tired.
It was time for me to let go, to rest in Jesus’ arms like a child. Trusting in his goodness, loving the sound of his heartbeat, cherishing the warmth of his arms around me. No more fighting. Just choosing to believe in the midst of the questions.
I am willing to embrace the mystery, if that means embracing him. I am ready to live at peace with the questions. I believe that is a mark that my faith is growing.
A quote by Donald Miller that has intrigued me lately is “I don’t know if there’s a healthier way for two people to stay in love than to stop using each other to resolve their unfulfilled longings and, instead, start holding each other closely as they experience them.”
In this season, I have been able to turn this towards God, saying “I don’t know if there is a healthier way for me to not run away from this whole Christianity deal than to stop blaming God or Satan or myself for my suffering, but to let God hold me close while I experience it.”
Today I went to the gym (aka going on the elliptical and watching netflix on my phone for 45 minutes, then going in the hot tub and amazing massaging waterfalls and water slide for an hour and a half.)
The lady at the front desk said “are you a mother?” “No,” I said. “Why do you ask?” Mother’s get in free today! “Oh,” I said. I felt a pang of sadness.
She looked at me again. “Do you have pets?” I was didn’t understand why she was asking me this. “No.”
“Hmmm, ” she said. “Oh, wait a second!” I replied. ” I forgot that I live on a farm! I literally have hundreds of pets!” “Well, it looks like you’re a mother, then.” She stamped my hand and let me into the ghetto spa for free.
This little gesture meant a lot. Because in a small way she was honoring me on a day in which non-mothers do not often get honored.
First and foremost, every mother’s day, I try to not feel sorry for myself and remember my own mom. My amazing, kind, quirky mom.
Who used to feed us liver powder and v8 juice and yeast in kool aid when we were growing up because her love language is to keep us healthy.
Who has had 200 books from the library out at a time, for a six months at a time, until they made a rule up that you can’t do that, probably solely because of her.
Who looks 55 even though she is almost 70.
Who has worn spandex every day since 1982.(Because spandex are not a right. They are a privilege. My mother has had that privilege and has looked really good using it.)
That is my epic mother. And she more than deserves to be honored today. As does every mother in the world.
Every getting -three-hours-of-sleep-to-take-care-of-a newborn,changing-620 -diapers-per year, listening-to-a-million-questions, figure-out-three-freaking-meals-a-day-to-make, trying-not-to-yell-at-your-teenager, figuring-out-how-to-teach-a-human-soul-how-to-live-on-the-place-we-call-earth, incredible, selfless mother deserves to be honored today.
But once the honoring of my own mother and all the other beautiful mothers is over, my eyes inevitably look back on myself and I start getting sad.
I have always loved kids. I worked at day cares all through high school, college and after college. I work at an after school program now and live with 3 young children, all of whom I adore.
I worked at a camp for something like 5 summers, and have spoken at that camp for another 12 or so. At that camp they called me the legend. Because I was really, honestly, an awesome counselor. Every Friday we would have princess night where we would put on trash bags and talk in English accents during dinner, then we would let loose during dessert and give each other chocolate pudding facials followed by the best food fight ever. I would come up with really fun hands on devotions. I would spend one on one time with the girls, talking about their lives and praying with them. I would sing to them every night before they fell asleep. I had some of the girls for all five years, watching them grow up. We would write to each other all year, and I would sometimes visit them outside of camp.
I don’t know if I ever felt more in my element at any job. Ever. Not singing. Not writing. Not speaking. It felt like loving those campers was what I was made to do. Even now, I have dreams about camp on a regular basis. My counselor says it was because my psyche considers it home.
I would make a good mom. A really, really good mom.
But for some reason, motherhood has not been in the cards for me.
The older I get, the more I have to accept the fact that I might never become a mother. I might have to look for other ways to love children, like working with inner city kids or at an orphanage. That might be the path I have to take, one that I have seriously considered taking lately.
I have so much in my life. I have a wonderful career. I have good friends. I live with people that are very dear to me. I have lots of time to do things like get a $4.00 spa. If there were no such thing as a husband and children, I would probably be really content. But there are such things, and I have always wanted both of them. Not having them is perhaps the most difficult thing I have ever been through.
Sometimes I think about how much I would give to have someone call me “mom.” To call someone “my baby.” I would give up almost anything for this.
And so I grieve today, and maybe that is all right. Maybe it is not selfish. Maybe it is human. Maybe it is my right.
Years ago on mothers day at my church, a friend of mine stood up who has struggled with infertility her whole life. She said “mothers, you are amazing and wonderful and needed. Today, I want to honor you, but I also want to honor other women. I want to honor all the women that have had miscarriages. All the women who have been infertile. All the single women who haven’t even had a chance to get pregnant. All the women who have had stillborns.”
She had everyone in the room who fit that description stand up. I was amazed how many women stood up.
(She didn’t say this and I know this will be a controversial thing to say, but I want to include women who have had abortions. I am not saying what they did is right, by any means. But there are probably more women than you think there are in your circles and in your workplace and in your church who have had abortions and hide it because there is so much shame. They are possibly grieving today more than anyone else. We must remember them too.)
So all of you that fit into that category- this is what I say to you today. You are beautiful. You are strong. You are not forgotten. You may never bear children, but that doesn’t mean you are any less of a woman. And you are mothers in your own way-to the children in your life, to your friends, to the people you mentor.
I honor you. And so does God.
I’d love to hear from you….is mother’s day hard for you? Why are why not? What has infertility/ the death of a child/ unmarried with no children / abortion been like for you? How can the church love you better in this?
Letter From Cinderella to Peter Pan
We have now been on three dates. I loved our time flying to Never Never Land. (I especially liked it the second time, when Wendy didn’t tag along.) Flying with you was so romantic. My heart has been fluttery for days. I must admit that I got my hopes up.
I have given you all the right hints and flirty moves. But today when I texted you, it took you two hours to text me back!
So Peter, you need to get your act together. Either you want me or you don’t. I am beautiful and a great catch and UNDERNEATH IT ALL I AM A PRINCESS!!!
The bottom line, Peter, is that you need to GROW UP!
Your Lady in Waiting
Letter From Peter Pan to Cinderella
Let me give a you a peek into my heart. In my world, people expect really intense commitment really fast. This scared me. So I habitually stayed in the “friend zone” with girls…spending lots of time with them and getting them to like me so I could feel good. I was afraid of getting out of the friend zone because according to my culture, that meant I should be ready to get married.
I would much rather stay a boy than to face this much pressure. I was very stunted in my dating life. I wasn’t really growing up.
I finally decided that my rules were not working well for me, so I took a plunge into the dating pool. I have gone out on some dates to get to know people, and even to challenge myself to get out of the friend zone.
One lady had seven midgets living with her. I found that to be a little strange, so I decided to move on. Another one was sleeping the whole time. I could tell she wanted me to kiss her to wake her up, but I was not ready to kiss someone that I hadn’t talked to yet. Plus she was sleeping with her mouth open. Awkward.
You have been my favorite so far. You are beautiful and strong, you love animals, and you have a great singing voice. You’re a lot taller than me, but I can work with that.
Cinderella, here is the problem. I feel so much PRESSURE from you and all of these other girls. The I Kissed Dating Goodbye culture taught me that I should only date someone if I know I am going to marry them. This put enormous amounts of stress even on a first date. It has scared all of us men out of even wanting to date anyone at all.
When you say to me “either you want me or you don’t” that makes me feel backed against a wall. I DO like you, very much, but I need good time with you to really know whether we are a good match or not.
I am not into dating casually, but I am into dating slow. Can you see the difference?
P.S. I think you left a shoe at my place.
Letter From the Fairy Godmother to Cinderella and Peter
Dear Cinderella and Peter,
Oh my sweet dear little naive funny human children,
Cinderella came to me in tears asking for advice, so I thought I would write to both of you. Navigating dating can be as difficult for humans as turning pumpkins into carriages.
Cinderella, you had no father figure growing up. (You also had an evil mother figure. Like almost every Disney character. But I digress…)
You have been in the ashes for so long, berated by people telling you you are not beautiful, until you told that to yourself. You have longed for someone to sweep you up out of those ashes and make you the princess you know that you are on the inside.
I can understand this, sweetie. You have had a hard life. In your fairy tale world, romantic love is the happy ending, the thing that rescues the girl. No wonder you want someone to love you.
But can you understand how unhealthy it is to believe you only have worth when a man tells you you are valuable? It seems like you often date someone just to prove you are valuable, something you weren’t told enough as a little girl. You are using him if you do this.
You might want to go on a few less dating websites and few more counseling sessions. You need some healing.
Dan Allender says “Every woman will labor with loneliness; every man will struggle with futility. It is written into the plot of the earth.” I think this is true for both you and Peter. It will take a lot of work for you to overcome the lie that you alone (even with a husband,) and it will take a lot of work for Peter to know in his heart that his life is worth something.
Part of the curse in Genesis was that a woman would “long for” a man. I know in my younger days, I would long for romantic love with every sinew in my body. I thought it was the answer.
The truth is, you are already intrinsically valuable. No one can take that away from you, and no one can prove it to you. The more you know that now, the less you will demand men to show you your value, which will be especially life giving if you get married. It will put less pressure on your husband and allow a more healthy love to grow between you.
Peter, I can understand your points. The pressure from Cinderella is not helping anything, it is just scaring you. It is way too early in the relationship to put that kind of pressure on.
On the other hand you are not totally innocent. You have led Wendy and Tinker Bell on for years when you know you are not interested in either of them romantically, and I don’t want to see that happen with Cinderella.
Like you said, you need time to gather good information about Cinderella regarding whether or not you are a good match. The trick here is that after a good amount of time and lots of good information, if you do come to the conclusion that you are not a good match, you need to set her free. She deserves that. Even if it hurts her at first, it will be better in the long run. Don’t hold on to her because you are afraid of hurting her, and DON’T hold on to her just because it feels good to have someone like you. You are using her if you do this.
If you do realize that you would be great together and that you really can see a future with her, it’s time to take the next step and commit.
There are special fears that come up here because you also did not have a good father (or sometimes mother) figure. You have wanted to stay a boy because deep down you don’t really know if you have what it takes to be a man.
A lot of identity questions come up when there is a possibility for commitment. Am I good enough for her? Can I provide for her? Will I feel suffocated? Am I ready for children?
Commitment and responsibility go hand in hand for you, which makes the thought of getting serious a little more scary for you than for Cinderella.
It will help you grow up if you believe in yourself more. The more you believe you have what it takes as a man to be responsible, the less scared you will be of commitment. Ask God to show you how proud he is of you and how he sees you as a man, things you might not have heard from your father.
My advice for you? Talk to Cinderella about these fears as they come up. Allow these conversations to help you navigate whether you are a good match or not.
Cinderella, same advice. When you have that insatiable need to be loved come up, talk to him about what you are going through rather then pushing him against a wall. Don’t command him to fill that desire to be loved in you, but converse with him about your struggles in this area.
To both of you, don’t feel like you have to hold in your feelings forever, making it nebulous and scary. If you are attracted and wanting to learn more but scared of going too fast, just say that. It is much better than staying silent. Set a precedent from the beginning of your friendship to be open with each other. Whether you end up together or not, good communication will be invaluable.
Cinderella, commit to praying for Peter’s insecurity when it comes to his identity, and Peter, pray that Cinderella will know she is beautiful intrinsically.
Both of you, remember who you are by looking in the face of your True Papa and letting him tell you every day.
As Donald Miller says in his book Scary Close (my second favorite of his next to Bibbity Bobbity Boo for Beginners)
“I don’t know if there’s a healthier way for two people to stay in love than to stop using each other to resolve their unfulfilled longings and, instead, start holding each other closely as they experience them.”
Your Fairy Godmother
P.S. This letter went so well that I am thinking about quitting this Fairy Godmother stuff, which doesn’t pay well, and becoming a Life Coach. You might have a fee next time. Just a heads up.
***This post was inspired by a teaching of Dr. John Coe
Glennon Doyle gives us this remarkable bit of wisdom in her post called The Lie and the Truth about Marriage.
Love Does Not Just Happen. It’s Forged.
Our romantic love drenched culture tells us that you fall in love. Falling is not something you do by choice. It happens to you. Falling is even kind of a mistake, something that you didn’t control. It implies happenstance. It hints at destiny. Falling is euphoric and dreamy. It starts out exhilarating and makes you feel alive.
But falling ends. Often abruptly and with a lot of pain.
Forging is such a different verb than falling. Forging’s definition is to form by heating and hammering; to beat into shape. Forging involves taking something that is broken and making it beautiful by putting energy into it time after time. Every day it is work. Some days it is a fight. You have to go against the grain and challenge your own comfort in order to forge.
I read this salient sentiment, loved it, and put it in my mental file marked things to remember if and when I finally get married. I didn’t think I would have to use it sooner than that.
But I went on a radio show recently and mentioned the love isn’t something that happens to you idea. Later in the interview, I talked about how even though singleness was difficult, I was fighting hard to make my life beautiful.
A listener emailed me and said something to the effect of “maybe the work of the single person is not to forge love for a partner, but to forge a beautiful life even when life is nothing like we expected it to be.” This resonated deeply with me.
We can then reword Glenon’s phrase to say
A beautiful life does not just happen. It is forged.
I am in a season in which I am forming my life by beating and heating hammering. For over a decade, I had what most people would call a dream job: traveling all over the world to beautiful places like Hawaii and Italy and Switzerland and Brazil to play music and teach. Even though I love traveling and I love playing music and teaching, I realized it was not going to be sustainable much longer. I was going on these beautiful adventures, and I was grateful for that, but I was always alone. I would come home to roommate situations much like every roommate situation in America: people I barely ever saw. And I had tons of free time on my hands to write, again an alone experience. I was deeply, crazily lonely.
Like most of us, I thought that the fault of my loneliness was my status as a single. Some of that was justified: married people, especially those with children, simply do not spend as much time alone as I do. They have different problems, but being alone 80% of their day is not one of them.
After many, many years waiting day after day after freaking day for my partner to finally come to me, I realized that I was going to have to find a family some other way, or else I would be miserable. I realized that I can’t get a husband the same way I got my degree. No matter how hard I worked at it, it just was not happening for me to get married. Those were not the cards I was handed. They might be someday, but not yet. I realized that my present life had been a series of moments where I longed for a future life. What kind of life was that? The waiting had taken over. Something had to change.
I had learned from my al- anon meetings (for family members of alcoholics) the life altering adage that the entire group repeats every week: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
I took a good hard look at my life, and tried to figure out what I couldn’t change. I can’t make anyone love me. I can’t will myself to get married unless someone chooses me. I can’t have children without a partner unless I adopt.
What could I change: I can find work that is not so lonely. I can spend time and energy and even money to get as emotionally and spiritually healthy as possible. I can figure out ways to have children in my life even if they are not my own children, and can start organizing my life in such a way that I could potentially adopt. I can put myself in situations where I could meet potential partners but try my hardest not to be devestated if they are not interested romantically. I can minister more consistently to spiritual seekers, something that has brought life to me for years but has been sporadic. I can live and be in fellowship with people who deeply care about intentional community who can be kind of a surrogate family for me.
And so I changed everything. I started working at an afterschool program, giving up most of my traveling and making less money in order to have human contact and moved onto a community farm. A year later, I took a further step my moving to San Diego in order to work with an organization that centers their lives around intentional community. (betacommunities.com.) I started volunteering to tutor and teach dance and music classes to teens at a refugee center.
My plan is to start a similar team in Asheville, North Carolina where my brother and sister in law live so that I can continue to live in community, continue to minister to at risk teens and spiritual seekers, and to be near my nephews and niece so I can have blood children whose lives I am deeply involved in. I will not travel as much, which is hard for me, but I will have consistency in community, something I desperately need. (If anyone might be interested in participating in a team like this, let me know.)
This move wasn’t easy. I had to give up an impressive, fun job where people don’t know me but are impressed by me. That felt good, but it wasn’t valuable in the long run. I had to give up a life of familiarity in a hip town with dear friends. But sacrifices needed to made for me to forge a new life.
We live in a society that is obsessed with comfort and independence, which can often lead to isolation. If we were left to bob around in the ocean of singleness, it would be very easy for us to end up in jobs we don’t like, living with roommates we barely know, going to churches that may look like community but where one on one relationships aren’t invested in, watching TV and diving into Facebook to ease our deep hunger for contact. That is the path of least resistance, and eventually we might drown in that reality.
We need to go against the grain. We need to swim against the waves to the shore of interdependence.
We need to stop asking for a good life to fall on us and start trying to forge a good life.
Cheryl Strayed says “You don’t have a right to the cards you believe you should have been dealt. You have an obligation to play the hell out of the ones you’re holding.”
And so God, give us the serenity to accept the hand that we have been given, but to do everything in our power to play the hell out of those cards.
To all of my friends on Valentine’s Day….may you remember how loved you are today.
I have loved you I have loved you with an everlasting loveI mended you together and I hemmed you into me
When you were made in the secret place
I loved you since your first breath I will love you to your last
From the cradle to the grave
I have always loved you deep and wide
Like the east to the west low and high
And I will always love you deep and wide
Like the east to the west low and high
If you make your bed in the depths love
If you make your bed in the depths
Even there I’ll be with you always
If you rise on the wings of the dawn settle on the far sea
If you’re there that’s where I’ll stay
And oh love take strength keep walking
You can lose it all but you’ll never lose this one thing
And oh love take strength keep walking
You can lose it all but you’ll never lose never lose
Kate Hurley- Piano, vocals
Dave Wilton- guitars
Keith Thomas- Cello
Hey friends! I thought I would repost this from last year because it still makes me giggle.
By the way, if you would like to try out the first few chapters of my book Cupid is a Procrastinator: Making Sense of the Unexpected Single Life for free, you can download it on noisetrade.
On to the post!
It’s almost Valentine’s Day—again. Reminders are everywhere: People kissing in public more often than usual. Co-workers gushing about the surprise dates their spouses are planning. Facebook is laden with people professing undying love for their new girlfriend, their husband of 20 years, or even their favorite dog. (I wonder if these people think they’re off the Valentine’s Day hook because of a post that took them 35 seconds to write.)
You are probably thinking something like, I would rather clean all the bathrooms in Grand Central Station with a toothbrush than be single on Valentine’s Day.
But wait. Let’s be optimistic and think of all the reasons it totally ROCKS TO BE SINGLE on this most cherished “lovers” holiday of the year.
Reason #1—We don’t have to celebrate what is a very, very confused holiday….
You can read the rest of this post at the really great online magazine Single Matters…
Side note: my book Getting Naked Later is now being published by a major publisher, Harvest House, under the new title Cupid is a Procrastinator: Making Sense of the Unexpected Single Life. The new book has a book study in it that would be a great way to build community with other single friends. Buy the book as a gift for yourself or a friend for Valentine’s Day!
In my last post, we looked at how singles can build our own family by giving ourselves to others. Today we are going to look at another way to build our own family: being a part of a community.
To illustrate how powerful community is, I want to look at the life of St. Patrick. This famous saint understood that the Gospel is beautifully communicated through family, whether a traditional family or a body of believers.
According to the book The Celtic Way of Evangelism, Patrick was an Englishman in the fifth century who was sold into slavery to Ireland when he was sixteen. He escaped after six years and returned to Ireland. Many years later, he came back to Ireland to bring the good news to the people who once held him captive.
Patrick decided to try something different than the Roman model, which looked like people who already believe come to church and listen to a priest. Patrick would travel with a small group of believers and ask the leaders of a an Irish community if they could set up camp near the town center.
Patrick’s small group of people, which would include singles, marrieds, religious leaders, normal citizens, and artists, would live in a shared space together. They would eat together on a regular basis and worship together. They would attempt to learn a lot about the culture and befriend people, praying for them, and being part of the greater community.
They would invite their new friends into the missional community for meals and, if they were ready, worship times. The people were not told that they had to believe before they belonged. Patrick and his community brought about a message that said “you belong even before you believe.”
If you were part of Patrick’s core community, you were paired up with an anamchara which is translated as “soul friend.” These pairs would listen to, counsel, and challenge each other.
What were the results of this new way of doing things? Patrick and his peopled planted at about 700 churches. Within Patrick’s lifetime, thirty to forty of Ireland’s 150 tribes considered themselves Christians. Quite impressive numbers considering there were almost no Christians in Ireland before Patrick came.
Community is powerful. It allows you to feel like you are a part of a family, something singles desperately need. But even more importantly, it shows the world the love of Jesus. As the old song says they will know we are Christians by our love.
Here are some steps to take towards community…
Step 1: Ask yourself if your “independent” life is worth it.
This is the world most Americans have created to keep ourselves as comfortable as possible: we wake up and turn on the radio so we don’t have to think. We eat our cereal alone so we don’t have to cook. We drive to our jobs so we don’t have to interact. We nod to our roommates when we get home and hole ourselves in our rooms so we don’t have to invest. We put fences up so we don’t have to connect. We participate in social networking so we don’t have to communicate anything deep. We check our iphones as often as possible to saturate our minds with information so we don’t have to contemplate. We watch our televisions so we don’t have to feel. And in these days that blur into months that blur into lifetimes, we are incredibly comfortable. But we are also incredibly unhappy and lonely.
Ask yourself, is my independence and comfortability worth living a life without community?
Step 2: Look for a healthy place to be in community.
If the answer to step one is no, it’s time to start looking for community. In my own search, I have ended up living on two farms that were intentional communities, and other organizations that are built around missional community. (Jacob’s Springs in Boulder, CO, Beta Communities where I now live in San Diego who actually pattern themselves after Patrick’s way of evangelism, Innerchange in San Francisco, and YWAM all over the place.) These were situations in which I actually lived in the same house or farm with other people who have committed to live life, eat meals, and worship together.
If that is a little too much for you, look for churches where there are very strong cell groups put in place. If you go to a big church but never go to a small group you run the risk of thinking you have authentic community when all you really have is a place that you go to listen to a sermon and have surfacey conversations about how cute your new shoes are. God’s desire for family runs much deeper than that.
Step 3: Figure out ways for you and your friends to foster community, especially if there is nothing yet in place where you live.
Start a book study that will bond you with a group of people. Start a small group with your church, either incorporating other singles or a mix of people of different family backgrounds and age groups. In those groups, go consider going beyond bible studies by asking good questions about each other’s lives and dreams and frustrations. Create a space where people can be vulnerable.
Something as simple as people talking about the high and low points of their weeks or letting one person tell 15 minutes of their life story each week fosters a feeling of community.
Other ideas that go beyond church are to start a community garden so you can meet your neighbors. Or you can start a weekly potluck, even one with no bible study attached to it, where you can invite friends and people who don’t yet know Jesus so you can build good relationships with them.
Personally, I would rather have covenant than independence. I’d rather make meals that take time and effort with my friends than eat a bowl of cereal, go to my room, and watch YouTube videos alone. I’d rather have a house that is full of love and companionship with a few dirty dishes in the sink than a perfectly ordered, spotless house with no one in it.
I’d rather have family.
It’s not good for us to be alone. No matter how much freedom we have when we are alone, it is not good. God himself said that.
It is good for us to be in a family, even if we have to build our own.
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.
I am writing this letter to tell you how I feel. I have been bottling up these emotions for most of my adult life. It is time to show up and tell my truth to you.
To put it bluntly: I love you and I hate you.
The early years with you were so memorable. We would get together with my mom and make wheat-germ and whole-wheat cookies in your honor. (Just because you were in the room didn’t mean she was going to give up her health fanatic ways.)
We would go with my dad to cut trees together, a memory I still hold close to my heart now that he’s gone.
When I was a teenager, Christmas, we were so mischievous with each other. Every year I would get the big box of presents from Aunt Susan. My parents were divorced then, so it was my responsibility to wrap her presents for the family. Inevitably, Aunt Susan would give my brother Will really nice pairs of jeans, and I would get shorts sewn together to a tank top like a 90s teenage onesie. We would wrap the jeans and write on the tag that Aunt Susan gave them to me. Sometimes we’d even give the onesie to my brother. We would laugh. In fact, we were laughing all the way.
But then I started getting older. College passed, and I still didn’t have a family of my own. The gift of a family was still there, wrapped with a bow, under the tree. But I wasn’t allowed to open it yet. For years, my anticipation would grow like a child on Christmas Eve. “Maybe it will be this year!” I would think. But years passed, and that present was still there, unopened. I grew from excitement to frustration to barely even caring any more.
During that season I would go to my brother and sister-in-law’s house for Christmas since they were the closest thing I had to my own family. Will and I would put on puppet shows for my nephews and niece, complete with Latino accents, while singing No Tacos For Christmas. The kids would belly laugh for a full hour. I loved it because I loved them. But I also kind of hated it because it made me want my own kids so much.
Years passed. You sang “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree” to me over and over and over again. And then you would sing it some more. On the radio, in the mall, on TV. “Please, please get a new song!” I would yell at you. It drove me crazy. That’s when I really started to hate you.
But then you would quietly sing “Silent Night” to me, candles lit, with all our friends around, and it would never get old. I would start to love you again.
Every year, I would love your season, because I had friends to be with and parties to go to and concerts to put on.
I would love thinking about the incredible miracle of the incarnation—that the God who could not be contained by eternity placed himself in a little baby so we could hold him close to our hearts.
I loved that. So much. It gave me hope. It made me realize I wasn’t alone.
And in that space, I would almost love you again. But then your actual day would come, and every single time it would make me feel so lonely. I would have to scramble to find somewhere to go. This was the day that you would remind me, more than any day of the year, that I didn’t have a husband, that I didn’t have kids. It felt like you were scoffing at me.
I would love to tell you that I have finally learned to love you. I would love to tell you that remembering Jesus is enough for me to feel peaceful again. I would love to tell you that I like fruitcake.
All those things are true and not true at the same time. For the most part, I am more peaceful than I used to be. I see that gift of a family, still wrapped under the tree, and I am not as angry that I can’t open it yet. I have even accepted that I might not ever open it. I am not happy about it, but I am seeing more and more that I can still have a beautiful life.
But then, after all that emotional work is done and all that acceptance occurs, something happens. Like when I watch the kids at my after-school program exploding with excitement and anticipation, and I wish I could have my own children doing the same thing. Like when I see a couple kiss under the mistletoe. Like when I am shuffled around to households by people whole love me, but am painfully aware that I am not in their first circle of family. I can’t help but feel like a nuisance at times.
So Christmas, I can’t tell you that I will ever come to love you. Perhaps it’s good for me to choose to love the beautiful side of you as much as possible. Perhaps I should let myself grieve the bad parts of you and not be frustrated at myself for being sad. It’s okay to love you, and it’s okay to hate you.
As Cheryl Strayed says, “Most things will be okay eventually, but not everything will be. Sometimes you put up a good fight and lose. Sometimes you’ll hold on really hard and realize there is no choice but to let go.
“Acceptance is a small, quiet room.”
P.S. I really appreciate that you stopped singing “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree” so much. I see that you have tried so hard by replacing it with the more “modern” Mariah Carey song, “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” But I have news for you: 1994 is not modern. And that song is getting almost as annoying as the other one.