Over the years, we have all received guidance on how to life the Christian single life.
Some of it has been good. Some of it never should have seen the light of day. And there is a great deal, I am growing to suspect, that has yet to be said at all – and very much needs to be.
Tooling along a forest highway in the middle of nowhere a couple years ago, headed to a job interview, my breath catches a little. My eyes have just spotted the engine temperature gauge pointing in an unpleasant direction. I pull over and open the hood. The coolant reservoir is hissing, bubbling and trembling like a Yellowstone geyser.
Perfect. Interview aborted. Hope I can limp the 50 miles back to my mechanic. (Welcome to Montana.)
I get back in and start waiting for the engine to cool down. After five minutes spent listening to the double blinkers (“uh-oh, uh-oh, uh-oh“), the sweltering heat forces me out of the car and into the shade of a nearby tree.
Standing there, one thought inexorably seeps in: my bank account is going to feel this. Again.
And an answering thought on the heels of the first – harder to put words to, because it’s one of those deep-soul thoughts, more feeling than word.
This is pitiful.
If you’re single, you’ve probably been advised at some point to make a “list” of qualities you want in a spouse.
If you’re a Christian single, you’ve probably gotten this advice even more often, given that we Christians have added spiritual criteria to consider (must be in the Word, must be committed to church, etc.).
Lists are fun to make; they make that future feel right around the corner. And they’re valuable, with caveats. Having to sit down and ponder what really matters in a partner, what would best fit our soul and personality, and how God might want to sanctify our list – all good stuff.
But there was a pastor I once followed for about a year whose congregation consisted of singles of varying ages, and he suggested this:
Make a second list – of things you can live without.
Like, actually sit down and write that second list with the same pencil and paper.
The timing of our Czech Republic mission allowed us a unique and rare experience: being at 35,000 feet over the continental United States on the evening of the Fourth of July.
As you might guess, the view was spectacular.
At first, I had guesstimated that we’d be both too early and too far north to see holiday fireworks. But as the sun set a couple hours out of Chicago, I opened the window and glanced down, and my breath caught. Pinprick flares of multicolored light against the dark land in every direction, as far as the eye could see, intensifying around a small town just to the south.
I alerted the others and we stared out with delight. I briefly wondered if we actually were over Canada and maybe they have their own Fourth fireworks just for the heck? But after consulting the onboard computers, we realized that the town to the south could only be Albany, NY. We were seeing the Fourth from the air after all!
Then we looked ahead of us and beheld a massive web of light terminating along a solid line: a coastal city. It was Boston. Where it all began. The tea party, the Boston Massacre, the first clashes at Lexington and Concord. The city obviously knew its history that night (or they were celebrating because I was leaving, I dunno). The only comparison I can draw to the view that night is Star Wars space battles: Boston was ablaze with tiny flashes of light. And as we flew over the coastline, still more fireworks: cruise ships off the coast were hosting their own professional displays. It was a sight I’ll not soon forget.
I must confess. Over the years, I’ve grown a bit cynical about the whole America deal.
I was reading through Romans from the beginning while I was in the Czech Republic. The first thing I ran into? An apostle Paul who very much shares my mind on the desire for a harvest.
First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world. God, whom I serve in my spirit in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you.
I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong— that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles. – Romans 1:8-13
For all Paul’s reputation as a man of echoing words and fist-pounding exhortation, it’s a little surprising to see him opening his letters in such a tender and plaintive way.