When Singleness Gets Ugly

treeI’ve been getting a little mail from Christians struggling with singleness.

I have a heart for them. Long-term singleness is a delicate, heartfelt matter. If my journey has taught me anything, and if I may be honest, I’ve found the Kingdom’s singleness teachings…lacking. Not always deep enough. Frequently written by people who married at 21. Often rushing to deny that it’s even a struggle (for various reasons).

I may not be John Piper, but I am a single Christian, and you know the saying: write what you know.

Okay. For some believers, singleness is…a longing. They could use encouragement. But that’s as far as it goes. They’re okay. They wouldn’t call it their foremost trial.

For others of you…it’s something more.

You find yourself thinking about it often. It’s what you usually mean by phrases like “unspoken prayer request” or “I’m just struggling”. You used to take comfort in having plenty of time before you reached the age of the married people you admire. Then you look around and they’re all younger. Perhaps you’ve ground through three or four committed relationships (that wasn’t in the manual) and wonder what it will take for one to finally stick. Or you haven’t had a date in six years.

This stuff matters to you. You’ll not catch me looking down on you for it.

It’s not about just your “plans” (which is how the church often responds), thank ya kindly. We wanted this. Some people don’t want to vacation on their own. They just don’t. We want a witness to our lives, someone to share a ministry or thunderstorm, a Netflix series or an ominous newscast. We want someone waiting at home, to laugh and cry with us, to know our favorite words. Just getting to say “we” instead of “I” sounds amazing.

Instead, your faithfulness seems unrewarded. Singleness involves rejection. In what universe is that not supposed to sting? After a while, singleness feels less like a season and more like a statement. This is beyond campfire cliches. Anyone who’s carried a hope deferred for ten years qualifies for better spiritual aid. (Even college students can feel this ache pretty keenly.)

Singleness landscapes life. You’re walled out of ministries, less sought after by married friends who still love you but want to celebrate and grow with those in the same season. You realize families have a bigger footprint at church. Ever noticed how couples can make friends just by swapping stories of their kids? You don’t have that. Depending on the crowd you run with, it takes a greater effort each year just to keep up. I doubt that’s what Hebrews 12 meant by “run the race”.

Some judge you. They’re annoyed to see someone struggling with something so “minor” and “escapable”. They assume some dysfunction or immaturity that’s driving all your dates away. (We even assume this of each other.) Or they might just not know what to tell you anymore.

I know chaste singles who no longer wear their old purity ring. It’s long ceased to be a promise and become only a reminder.

At the end of the day, it is a profound test of faith. We don’t talk about it anymore because it never changes anything and others are tired of listening and we’re wondering whether it should be this big a deal, but honestly…nothing else seems as hard. Wisely or not, some of us staked large parts of our hearts – even the question of God’s goodness – on the dream of getting married. We feel blindsided by how bumpy and lonely and ordinary life has turned out instead.

There have been long nights, tears, clenched teeth, or abandoned purity. You’d be amazed at how often someone leaves their faith and some failed romance (or no romance at all) shows up on the autopsy. Depending on the person and their story, this season can be debilitating and scary.

You’re welcome on this blog. You’re not nuts. You’re not pathetic. You’re a child of God (or can be), target of his patient love, beneficiary of his endless strength.

Singleness is the journey I took (or was given), and know this – God has not run out of things to say. Even if the church has. We’ve only just begun to tap into the depths of his resources. When he offers to lift us through any trial – well, I have much to say about what that looks like.

For now, come back to this: he still loves us. He still pursues us. He is still for us. He has not left our side. Despite the disappointing weight of the years, he still knocks on the door of our hearts, hoping to share a meal. No new teaching is better than that.


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Just Keep Showing Up, Young Dads

fatherDuring my second year of teaching at that remote rural high school I’ve spoken of, one of the school’s premiere couples broke up.

They’d produced a son by then. His mother carried him in her eighth grade. As a toddler, he liked to crawl around on my classroom floor (it was that kind of school) and tear his mom’s algebra homework riiight down the middle, with an evil grin directed right at me. Pretty cute.

Then his father changed girlfriends. He broke the news to her halfway through the school day. The sight of her face coming down the hallway will stay etched in my memory.

I lost track of them once I left the school; I don’t know whether this young man stayed in his son’s life. I’d like to think he did. He certainly seemed to adore his little boy whenever I saw them together.

The story played out again at a job a couple years ago (this film’s been remade more than Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and like most remakes, it never gets better). This teenage couple had a baby girl early on, and the dad always seemed to have one foot outside the relationship. Recently I learned the mom is single. I’d like to think the dad is still playing a role (I didn’t know this one at all), but I don’t know.

I’m happy for the successful families celebrating Father’s Day. But for me, when the holiday comes, it’s these little ones I think about.

Like many singles, I used to think I’d be a natural at the family thing. I’m a Christian, I’m a nice guy, I don’t waste my money…put me in the game, Coach, I’m ready!

Time has cautioned me. Time, and seeing my friends have kids, and the extraordinary slate of unremitting work it takes to raise children. Your attention span is forfeit. Your schedule is carved in stone. Your gross-out reflex…well, it’ll just learn to deal. And suddenly, the future is ominous. It’s not just you on the line as you pivot and adapt. Now there’s a little one dependent on everything you do.

And that’s for older dads.

For a father in his teens, who’s barely figuring out the world to begin with, who has no idea where to start…wow. I can’t imagine.

So I’m rooting for young dads today.

And I’d humbly say, just keep showing up.

If you don’t know jack about being a dad, just keep showing up.

There isn’t some shining manual resting on a mystical perch somewhere, emblazoned with all the ancient fatherhood wisdom, that you haven’t read. Truth is, even older dads are freaked out by the responsibility. They don’t know what they’re doing, either.

But they’re showing up.

When the medical bills pile on, keep showing up.

When the fights with the baby’s mom wear you out, keep showing up.

When you buy all the wrong crib materials and want to punch your steering wheel, keep showing up.

When you see those other guys killing the dad-craft on social media, keep showing up.

When the wisdom eludes you and the energy leaves you and the future seems set against you, keep showing up.

Everything else will come. Eventually the fog will clear, you’ll look down at your own two feet and realize, you’re still running. You’re still in the fight.

As I think of all the little tykes in the world giggling and looking around for their dads, I’m rooting for them. To keep showing up – as God does for us.

Yes, You Learned Math You’ll Never Use After High School. Here’s Why.

mathI see it all the time – some character on the internet asking why they were taught (fill in the blank algebra) they never used after high school instead of (fill in the blank practical math like budgeting or taxes or mortgage math).

Having served in the teaching profession, this question is really mine to answer. I now oblige.

Beyond the fact that many schools do offer alternative courses in such math (I’ve taught them)…

…or the fact that practical math is far easier for someone to self-teach, so we reserve algebra for professionals…

…or lines like “it’s about problem-solving” or “we could use more trade schools” or “because federal agencies are dictating our content #lessgovernment #murica”…

…the answer is simple.

You learned math you’ll never use after high school – because your teachers believe in you.

You’re welcome.

Contrary to popular opinion, teachers have no crystal ball revealing exactly what each student will grow up to be. We have no way of knowing a future environmental researcher or mechanical engineer from a future office receptionist or restaurant manager.

And since we don’t know, teachers labor to equip students for as many choices as possible. Perhaps for when that space exploration video smacks your eyeballs in junior year and launches your imagination into overdrive, or when you read about that ecological crisis brewing in the Solomons and suddenly feel driven to find solutions. Darned if teachers are about to bar you from those possibilities by not teaching the basics.

Students might think we should know. “Can’t you see the loser I am? Can’t you see I have no capacity for that great stuff?”

No. We don’t. That’s not our job. Teachers believe in every human that sits before them – even when they don’t believe in themselves. How can they do their jobs with any passion otherwise? We will not count you out, even when you count yourself out.

Even if you do become a stay-at-home mom, had you chosen a path of research at Cal Tech, you at least had the option. That is not a waste of your time. For you were not a waste of their time. You may not have understood the lesson then, but it gives you limitless options later. 

You could say much the same of God – except he knows exactly where you’ll end up.

Perhaps you’re currently wondering, when on earth am I going to need these heartbreaking lessons I’m learning? Perhaps your current circumstances are stretching you to the breaking point, beyond what you thought you could bear. The fear and depression don’t lift. Money stays suffocatingly tight. The loneliness bears down like a fog. Month in and month out, year in and year out, no matter how many “things are about to change!” sermons you hear, nothing ever does.

Know that it is not in vain. Nothing on God’s blackboard smartboard is ever wasted. 

Imagine being admitted to a NASA engineering internship only to find out you haven’t the slightest math skills. It’s the stuff of nightmares.

God is averting you from that fate. He loves you fiercely and is arranging the strength and knowledge, professionally taught, that you will need for your destiny. When it arrives, you will be ready.


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Cheer On Each Other’s Races

Occasionally, social media proves it’s actually good for something, and a fine example is when someone mocks an overweight person working out.

Take this guy:

This is inspiring. It puts to shame most of our excuses. Who cares where his starting point was? He’s heading in the right direction. And decent people cheer him on, as they should.

But there’s always some shock-value specialist, lurking in the drifting shadows of the Twitter wasteland, who decides it’s all just too positive and rushes in to kick sand into the goodwill oasis – with words of mockery.

Mocking his size. His pace. His form. His progress. His skin color. Whatever is attackable. With cruelty they wouldn’t dare

runnerThen comes the rare instance where Twitter can be relied upon to make itself useful: they’ll blast this cruel peanut gallery. Knock them back a few pegs. This man is taking charge of his life, they’ll say. He’s bending his mind and body to improvement, no matter the grade of the hill. Why should he be shamed for that? (I’m making these defenders sound polite.)

They’re tilting at windmills, of course, because the peanut gallery’s appetite for brazen tastelessness knows no bounds (they’re what keeps Family Guy and the Deadpool franchise going). It’s easy to get angry with them.

But perhaps we should feel sorry for them, too. As one of Dre’s respondents said,

“Dawg u lapping everyone who’s sitting on the couch rn keep up the hustle”

Or perhaps Jesus said it best:

The Pharisee took his stand, and was praying like this: ‘God, I thank You that I’m not like other people — greedy, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get.’

“But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even raise his eyes to heaven but kept striking his chest and saying, ‘God, turn Your wrath from me — a sinner! ’

I tell you, this one went down to his house justified rather than the other; because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:11-14)

Jesus argues that the slow man who humbly runs his race is closer to God than the speedy man who criticizes from the bleachers. 

Cheering on each other’s races is in diametric opposition to judgmentalism. There’s just no room to do both. When we look down on struggles that we are not experiencing, we join the peanut gallery.

And we reveal our own lack of spiritual fitness: pride.

And our blindness: to the pride, and to our other sins, and to Whose power lifted us out of the sins we have beaten. When we see our sin, how can we possibly judge?

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us (Hebrews 12:1)

Let’s leave the peanut gallery for the great cloud of witnesses. Gyms and Christianity should be judgment-free zones.


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Don’t Resist Gratitude

Brandon J. Adams

Don’t fall for the lie that supports your discontent: that gratitude is a cliche.

That “counting your blessings” is a wispy, Hallmark-level cop-out thrown out there to distract you from how you’re really feeling about things.

That it’s God’s consolation prize given in place of just fixing your problems.

That it’s God’s passive-aggressive way of telling you he’s not concerned with your struggles.

A grateful posture this Thanksgiving really can do you enormous favors.

It can calm the storm in your heart. I mean, how wonderful would it be to go an entire day emotionally ironclad, completely unperturbed by anything going on in your life?

It can make you more attractive to people. Gratitude shows on your face. It gets people wondering how you do it, how you maintain an attitude of thankfulness in the serenity while everyone else rags Jesus about how the boat’s being swamped.

It can drive…

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Fostering a “Let’s Pray Right Now” Culture

prayerIt is under the vaguely pleasant tingling of a mild sunburn (youth group car wash) that I write to you this morning, dear readers, and I wish to talk about a “let’s pray right now” culture.

The other day, I walked past this guy speaking with a friend in church and saying “…let’s pray about it right now”. Heads bowed, eyes closed, right there.

I don’t know what the need was, but I know this is quite commonplace in my church. Right there, right then, in the middle of everything going on, we will often pray for each other’s needs, even if it is a remote uncle with an optimistic minor surgery. Not just because it comforts the person whose uncle it is, but because we believe prayer makes a difference. It is one of my greatest joys in belonging to this church family.

I used to think it was commonplace throughout Christendom.

But during my travels, I discovered differently. I found churches where apathy met even dire prayer requests. I found believers who, trying far too hard to sound smart, waxed philosophical in debates about whether it actually bore any power to pray for someone you didn’t know.

But most of all, I found countless promises of “I’ll be praying about that”.

Why say that? Why not do it right there? Embarrassment? Inconvenience? What great cost is charged to you to obey God’s command to pray without ceasing? And are we so boorish that we won’t drop a friend (or even a stranger) the slightest goodwill?

The other big problem with this, of course, is that we rarely ever do pray. We forget. We go on with our daily grind and forget. Don’t we?

My father taught me to keep a prayer list so that I wouldn’t forget. So, of course, I forget to keep a list.

Which is doubly ironic given that we all have electronic list-making tools in our pockets these days.

I don’t want to live in oblivion any more. I want to be intentional, determined, and opposed to laziness in my prayer life. We owe it to our brothers and sisters in Christ as an obedience to our command to love; we owe it to the lost as a witness; and we owe it to God, for it proves that we actually take gifts like prayer seriously.

Let us foster a “let’s pray right now” culture in our own spheres. It isn’t going to kill us. In fact, it might save someone.

Can Christians Serve in the Military?

I was recently asked whether I believe military service is Scripturally permissible for believers.

Full disclosure: I served in the Air Force in the immediate post-9/11 months. (My father served in the Army National Guard during the 1990s; his father was a sailor in World War II, had a destroyer sunk from beneath him in the Battle of Guadalcanal.)

Though there was patriotic fervor even amongst civilians following 9/11, it took a different form within the military ranks: aggression. Many soldiers took up a kind of enthusiasm towards vengeance. I vividly remember the videos that circulated through our email inboxes in those pre-Youtube days (this was one of the first and a rather tame example).

I didn’t get into that mindset. I still reject caustic jingoism and delight in death. Though combat requires a resolute and focused mindset, I do not think the Christian can justify bloodlust in the heart.

But the question remains: is violence, even without aggression, conscionable at all for believers? Some (like my Mennonite brothers) do not believe so.

I’ll stick to the Scriptural arguments I know and let you decide. Any other talking point (such as society’s perception of veterans) is secondary.

* There is reason to infer a Scriptural teaching against self-defense for state-persecuted Christians, following Jesus’ model (e.g. “He will not cry out or raise His voice, nor make His voice heard in the streets” (Isaiah 42:2) and that of the saints down through the ages.

* Personal revenge is Biblically difficult to justify – “Do not avenge yourselves, beloved, but leave room for God’s wrath. For it is written: “Vengeance is Mine; I will repay, says the Lord” (Romans 12:19).

However, these two are far from the only situations that might require force.

* Romans 13 is largely about submission, but theologians have traditionally homed in on verse 4 as justifying force to maintain order:

But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. v.4b

Its simple thrust is this: there are wrongdoers in the world, God does something about them, and he uses human agency (the “sword” specifically, flawed though it be) as his instrument. He does not ignore it, nor command soldiers in this case to stand aside for judgment from heaven.

* In 2 Timothy, Paul promotes a soldier’s qualities as admirable and imitable for Christians. In Ephesians 6, he speaks of spiritual equipment at our disposal and uses military equipment as the most comprehensible analog. These are not explicit endorsements of military service, but using military imagery to address Christians doesn’t exactly rule it out, either. Paul could have contented himself with the runner analogy, and he must have been aware of how praising a soldier’s qualities might have been taken. If God explicitly wanted pacifism for his people, it is unlikely that he would have left these verses as they stand.

(The passage is not meant to portray soldierhood as a competitor to Christ. As a matter of good exegesis, we should avoiding reading into a verse things that aren’t there.)

* God used war to conquer Canaan. Though this was a specific dispensation and not permission for wanton violence in our own lives, God still used the sword, not the bargaining table.

* Ecclesiastes 3:8 teaches that there is “A time for war, and a time for peace.”

But for me, the strongest evidence that Christians can join the military in good conscience is God’s command to protect the innocent. 

Some might point to Jesus’ command to love your enemies. But Jesus actually commanded us to love all men, enemies and their victims alike (such as the Guatemalan poor).

What happens, then, when one group turns upon another? If love means non-violence, we would thus be choosing a party not to love. Inaction would then be loving the strong at the expense of the weak, the criminal at the expense of the innocent. And the divine command to love would be rendered impossible to follow.

When an evil is clear and present, inaction is complicity. That seems to be the stance of Proverbs 24:10-12:

“If you do nothing in a difficult time,
your strength is limited.
Rescue those being taken off to death,
and save those stumbling toward slaughter.
If you say, “But we didn’t know about this,”
won’t He who weighs hearts consider it?
Won’t He who protects your life know?
Won’t He repay a person according to his work?”

I believe we thus amend our definition of love to include all of Scripture’s implications. We are commanded to love our enemies. We are also commanded to deliver the weak and needy from their hands (Psalm 82:3-4, Prov. 31:8-9, Isaiah 1:17). It should be noted that the belief that Scriptures outside the four Gospels carry a lesser authority than Jesus’ words is a position this blog does not entertain.

It is fair to question the righteousness of any war. It is proper to pursue every possible alternative first (and America has historically done so, including in WWII). It is right to remove all hatred and bloodlust from our hearts. And if you cannot stomach war, it’s possible that military service is not part of God’s will for your life.

But at the end of the day, Scripture also tells me that part of my Christian duty is to safeguard the innocent from those who trade in violence themselves. It is naive to think that such men will always respond to the gavel or the negotiator. I believe it is justifiable for Christians to serve in the military under the right circumstances.