Like country music, Facebook, or prom night, it’s one of those institutions that celebrates romantic love for those who have it, and acts as kryptonite to the contentment of everyone else. It threatens to bring to the surface all the self-pity and frustration that besets the honest single who doesn’t enjoy being single.
But this Valentine’s Day…I’m cool.
That’s been a choice.
We are all in a season we didn’t choose. Some of us are in hard financial straits. Others have been hit by injustice. Perhaps you’re just dying to be finished with high school. Some of you don’t need to be in high school to be fighting tooth and nail for your self-worth.
For others, the frustration is their singleness. Especially around this time of year. I know – it sounds silly to compare that frustration to the true suffering others face. But the longing is real, and it’s too readily sniffed at by those who are a different kind of person and value different things in their lives. So you won’t hear me dismissing any longings, even if it does overflow its banks. Some people simply don’t enjoy being single, and weren’t designed to. (That’s why this isn’t another tired treatise on why Jesus is your valentine. “That’s just weird,” as a single female friend once said.)
Unchosen seasons can seem overwhelming. Our emotions are a bully, dictating that we must be laid low, that we have no way to find peace or joy in these moments (or that we’re not being “honest with ourselves” if we do).
But we have a choice.
On my journey in singleness, God has brought me (kicking and screaming, I admit) through stages of contentment. I’ve observed in many others these postures towards our difficult season.
1. We fight it. Complain constantly, let it dominate our thought patterns and Facebook feeds, allow it to sink us every February 14. The envy is allowed to run amok in our minds with little resistance. But it’s hard to resist; how can we pretend we don’t want something we want?
2. We endure it. We accept the current season, but with some shade of grudging. “God, I’ll do what you want.” It’s a step forward. We want to please God, and we’re starting to learn that real joy comes from looking to him in the thorns. Slowly, we push into the battle, gaining back shade by shade, like the sunset coming a tiny bit later each day of February. But is it joy, or simply resignation?
3. We embrace it. We accept that God might have positioned us here for a very good reason, and that there truly is joy – perhaps even immense joy – to be found right where we are. Steven Furtick compared it to having fun on your vacation in Holland even though your plane was actually supposed to go to Italy.
This is hard.
Surrendering a desire always is. It feels like we’re being untrue to ourselves. We panic a little at the prospect of not wanting something anymore, worrying that God will then withhold it even longer.
And frankly, there’s that rebelliousness that just wants to salvage a little bit of its dignity, that doesn’t want to admit that maybe God’s plans and timing have been better all along. My flesh shoves a sock into my holiness’s mouth and yells, “NO. I don’t want to enjoy Holland. I never wanted Holland. Holland is so lame. God, can’t you just let me obey with groaning, as long as I’m obeying?”
I’m not going to lie to you. Embracing the current season is hard. Hard, hard, hard.
But this is the road to holiness. There is no other.
If you want to become truly one with Christ, if you want to get as close as you can, you must identify with Christ’s mind in every matter. Until you see things through his eyes, there is distance between the two of you. And distance from your fountain of life isn’t what you want.
For me, getting close to Christ involved acknowledging that he has a purpose in every season. When winter breaks too soon, crops freeze and forests are deprived of the deep snowpack they need to avoid summer dryness. I may like it when winter ends early. I can saunter outside without three layers, and I don’t face slick death on the roads. But my nagging worry over forest fires reminds me that a premature spring can bring other forms of death.
Instead of seeing the present season as a curse, I have come to see it as a rescue. God’s actions are always for our good. Each season must complete its purpose.
I fear you see and resent me at this moment as some lofty spiritual giant, beatifically dropping impossible tasks upon you and floating back to my higher plane without lifting a finger to help. Like I used to do when Christian teachers urged me to surrender.
Nothing is further from the truth. I’m a fellow learner. It’s taken time, a lot of repetitions, and it’s taken a lot of grace from God.
In fact, this contentment isn’t something I could have achieved for myself. God’s own power was necessary to instill it in me. And it must be cultivated and fought for.
As Valentine’s Day comes, dear singles, I’m not suggesting that you suddenly make singleness your heart’s desire. But enjoy the candy – and protect your contentment. My goodness, it’s fragile enough already – why chip away at it with romantic movies, sarcastic rueings, and constant daydreams of your future married life?
Same with any season you didn’t choose. Sometimes God asks us to fight it. But don’t fight it if he’s asked you simply to wait. Instead, choose to accept the grace of now. God is offering you joy and grace right now. Choose this joy. Choose the road less traveled. Trust me – there is life to be found there. It will never disappoint.
And it may turn out to be just the living water that irrigates your summer.