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.

 

I’m glad you tuned in today. If you consider this post to be of value, please feel free to share it on social media. Thanks a bunch!

His Peace Must Be Chosen

jordanEver heard psalmists and David Crowder sing unabashedly of God being “everything they need” and wondered, What on earth are they talking about?

Me, too.

One of the chief comforts of Scripture when we are disappointed, discouraged, or heartbroken, is that the Christian’s highest goal is not that dream or achievement or milepost you’ve fallen short of, but knowing God. Making him your peace, your joy, your contentment, your soul’s richest food and water. He, the Bible tells us repeatedly, is the only thing that will truly ever satisfy.

But you might have noticed it doesn’t just drop in with the mail.

Where is it then, God? Where are you?

Or as a friend put it recently, “Why can’t I appropriate for myself what God has promised me?”

We know God is faithful. His side of the deal is inerrant and unfailing; there is no lie or failure with him.

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Find a Savior Who Looks at You Like He’d Die For You

5661613189_65be533432_bLife has a way of breaking down your categories. You leave home and discover that Christians aren’t always decent people, nor atheists villains. You get a job and find out that some of the people out there with the foulest mouths and quickest tempers also have the very biggest hearts. You go through an election cycle. I’ll say no more about that. Whatever the case, our black-and-white definitions of things and people are constantly being broken down by life. It’s really a huge favor, if you think about it.

Same thing with marriage.

I’ve longed to be married for quite a while. I have many friends who can say the same. The world around me, too, seems convinced that this is the answer. You can tell by what they say, what they post, what they pursue. They just don’t talk about anything else. “Find a man who looks at you like…” Continue reading

Was Your Mind Made Up?

stormWe were expecting life to be pretty smooth.

High school graduation, maybe a college degree, maybe the family route instead, all falling into place in our twenties without that many bumps.

And when heartache started calling instead, when our plans for life folded like a cheap suit and God was nowhere to be seen, some of us just shrugged and walked away. “If God won’t be there for me, why should I be there for him?”

Maybe it wasn’t quite that total or explicit. We still love him…kinda. We believe…that he exists. We certainly get riled up on his behalf when some atheist starts talking.

But we’re not really on fire for him otherwise. Continue reading

The Many Shades of Singleness, Part 1

road (2)(Part 2 and Part 3 of this series.)

Recently, I’ve become aware of past controversial comments made by Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, on Christian singleness.

In previous years, Dr. Mohler has directed heavy criticism at kingdom singles. He has labeled as sinful the practice of delaying marriage by those who lack the “gift of celibacy”.

Singleness is not a sin, but deliberate singleness on the part of those who know they have not been given the gift of celibacy is, at best, a neglect of a Christian responsibility. The problem may be simple sloth, personal immaturity, a fear of commitment, or an unbalanced priority given to work and profession. On the part of men, it may also take the shape of a refusal to grow up and take the lead in courtship. There are countless Christian women who are prayerfully waiting for Christian men to grow up and take the lead. What are these guys waiting for? (Link)

Hailing from a Baptist paradigm that appreciates marriage’s Biblical shine (and having actually read the qualifiers in Mohler’s comments), I get what he was aiming for.

Nevertheless, if you ask me (and I know you didn’t), he’s left a lot out. Mohler’s comments are only a sliver of the much bigger message that Christian singles really need to be hearing. And that message is difficult, because not every single is created equal. God in his sovereignty is painting with a great many shades.

We singles are…complicated. A diverse bunch. Far more than is commonly recognized. We land somewhere on a spectrum best described so: I want someone, yet at the same time, I’m not sure I do. But I totally do! Yet…am I sure?

Some are tired of being judged entirely by, and being asked only about, their marital status. They feel unseen for themselves. That matters to millennials.

Others feel they lack the tools or a conducive personality (e.g. introverts) to move towards marriage.

And still others have tried to find a mate, spent countless nights bedside in tears praying for someone, and…nothing. They’ve put real effort into finding someone – and been resisted so serendipitously and relentlessly that they can only conclude God is the one keeping them single. Relationships buckle. Peace evaporates. Parties are called to move away. Or…nobody notices.

One friend, a passionate youth pastor who has served God far harder than some marrieds, lives in a formidably atheist country where kingdom singles are slightly more plentiful than unicorns (to say nothing of quality). Others live in rural areas, where they start wondering whether God has left them to the rules of probability.

This is the reality for singles at the street level. Needless to say, it might be a disservice to fall short of honoring these stories. Lack of pursuit is hardly the sole generator of singleness.

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Christmas is Bigger Than Your Opinion Of It

catIt was on a December 27th (long enough ago that I got the news over a corded phone) that my family was ending.

At least the blow waited until after the 25th, but is there really ever a “good time” for such things?

The result was a double whammy for Christmas. Not only was the month now historically connected with tragedy in my mind, but every family gathering since has screamed its ongoing incompleteness. The count in the room is always short.

Others have similar stories (and I’ve heard a lot worse). Christmas has a way of reminding you of what you’ve lost, or never had to begin with. A brief week of sanity before going back to the grind, fear, and disappointment.

So I’m the last person to tell anyone to “just get over it and celebrate”. The Bible defends our grace-given ability to approach God with our pain. Psalms is full of it. Jeremiah vents to God even though he knows exactly why God is inflicting his nation. Even Jesus does not try to hide his sweat and blood from his Father.

So please don’t hear me saying that God doesn’t care about our disappointment. It matters to him.

BUT.

But.

It eventually occurred to me that instead of taking my disappointment to God, I might instead be letting it usurp his throne.

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Is Your “God’s Love” Tank Critically Low?

meterI pray that the right people see this.

I’m thinking tonight of the main characters in stories that would tear your heart out. Ordinary Christians, drained by disappointment and hardship. They no longer feel any love or peace from God. He seems all but absent. Just when hope seems to be rising, life kicks them again. They’ve been faithful for years, slogging through Scripture and the spiritual disciplines, staying a “good Christian”. They could recite the Biblical reasons behind suffering until the cows come home, but it’s no longer lifting their hearts so much as a whit. And then the cows kick them.

Seeing a brother or sister struggle in this way is one of the things that truly knocks down the door of my apathy and sets me ablaze. I get angry at Satan. I get – well, I would say “fearful” if I didn’t know fear was a sin, so I don’t do that – but certainly deeply concerned for the person. They stick on my heart. I don’t want them to be separated from God. I want so badly for them to know, to rediscover the love of God.

But…it isn’t easy.

My own experience says that, and surprisingly, Scripture says that. It grants that cultivating a relationship with the Unseen is counter-intuitive and hard. Especially once you step back and see all the obstacles arrayed against it, the spiritual opposition, the inertia from our unsaved days, the shiny lies about where we should be looking for our joy.

Start with this: do not accept the way things are. There is no Scriptural basis for the idea that God’s love and joy should be limited, blocked, or withheld from us. Indeed, other than salvation, an ironclad peace and joy in any circumstance is the greatest treasure of the kingdom, the very thing Christ died to give us! The Bible does not speak of this stuff in terms a scarce trickle, but of plenty, abundance, overflowing. He meant you to have it “to the full” (John 10:10).

So, you ask…why is it not flowing?

Ultimately, it must be God doing the answering. I do not know your particular situation, which could be varied as the stars are many, and I don’t have a lot of power in myself anyway. But I can offer my own story, and some Scriptural thoughts God has taught me.

1. You can’t do it alone.

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