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 with you today, even the Kingdom’s best singleness teachings are…lacking. Rarely deep enough. Or they’re written by people who married at 21.

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

Okay. For some believers, singleness is…a jonesing. A longing. They could use encouragement. But that’s as far as it goes. It’s not really their foremost trial at all.

For others of you…it’s something more.

You find yourself thinking about it a lot. 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 your age. And then 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 ten years.

This stuff matters to you. And I don’t believe in looking down on you for it.

It’s not about just your “plans” (which is how the church often responds), thank ya kindly. You 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 like less of a season and more of a statement. This is beyond campfire cliches. Anyone who’s carried a hope deferred for a decade or two qualifies for better spiritual aid. (Truth be told, even college students can feel this ache keenly.)

Singleness landscapes life. You’re walled out of cliques and ministries, less sought after by married friends who still love you but want to celebrate and grow with others 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 stay on their radar. 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 singles who no longer wear their old purity ring. Chaste though they remain, 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 secretly 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. Honestly, depending on who you are and you handle things, the season can be hazardous, debilitating, and ugly.

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.

We could all use a “hey – I get you”. This is the journey I took (though thankfully not the abandoned purity), and I can tell you this – God has not run out of things to say. Even if the church has. We have only just begun to tap into the depths of all he has to offer. When he offers to lift us through any trial – well, I have much to tell later about what that looks like. The deliverance…it’s real.

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

 

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!

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.

 

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

 

You Matter

Just the other day, Neil deGrasse Tyson dropped this pearl of morbid nihilism in his Twitter feed:

Well, thank you, Neil. You have a singular talent for brightening everyone’s day.

The greatest tragedy, though, might be how many likes that tweet got. If you read enough (forgive me, Lord) internet comments from the agnostic, scientifically curious types, you almost see a perverse delight in their rejection of anything significant about man. To hear them talk, we’re just another species adrift in the dark, clinging to a pale blue dot in its dance across the blackness, one that’s quite indifferent to whether we maintain our grip. Nothing special about us.

Anything to reject God, I suppose.

God is another matter.

You matter to God.

“I pray that the perception of your mind may be enlightened so you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the glorious riches of His inheritance among the saints” (Ephesians 1:18)

We studied this last night and marveled. Our teens shared a bemusement: “Gee, God, couldn’t you have picked someone slightly better to gift with an inheritance?”

Perhaps. But he chose us.

When I observe Your heavens,
the work of Your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which You set in place,
what is man that You remember him,
the son of man that You look after him?
You made him little less than God
and crowned him with glory and honor. (Psalm 8:3-5)

Unbelievable. He cares.

…casting all your care on Him, because He cares about you. (1 Peter 5:7)

You are not an accident or a leftover; you were planned.

That thing that happened to you in high school, the one you’ve never told anyone? He saw. He is furious. And he has plans to make it right.

The trial you’re undergoing now that’s lasted years with no end in sight? He is the God who produces solutions out of nowhere long after hope has surrendered.

Those sins you committed? God wants to forgive. He arranged for it, through the blood of his son, if only it is accepted.

Behold the black hole, one of which was first finally imaged by mankind yesterday:

hole

Amazing, is it not? I’ve waited my whole life for such a vista.

You are more than this.

You are more than just a failed star, more than just a void surrounded by cosmic detritus. That weird phenomenon, that collision of the most exotic, bizarre properties of our universe, endowed with power to anchor galaxies…God has done far more intricate work on you. Your body, your life, all stamped with his seal, bound up as a testimony to his love and care.

Amidst the energy and matter that collide hourly across the universe, you matter to God. Will you not accept this?

 

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

Snow and Suffering Can Melt Fast

evergreen-1802157_1280The last two winters have been brutal.

More specifically, this last one was mild and forgetful of its job right up until February and then got brutal to catch up (reminds me of the Seahawks offense). Constant negative temperatures, almost daily blizzards. Considering my fifteen-mile daily commute, this was immensely tiresome. I’d say something melodramatic like “I nearly died three times a week in this weather”, except frankly we Montanans are so used to roadside near-death experiences that they’re routine now.

But I was amazed by this: weather can change awful fast.

Theoretically, fall and spring are transitional seasons. That’s not really how it works here. It’s summer, summer, summer, then BOOM maybe a week or two of something in between before the snow comes. It’s winter, winter, winter, then BOOM it’s pretty warm and the flowers start blooming.

All of a sudden, this week, the brutal cold just evaporated. The sun was suddenly shining, the average temperature jumped by twenty degrees, and not even the highest heaps of snow in parking lots are withstanding the healing radiation. It is melting swiftly, and soon the world will look as if winter never happened.

God can do this, too – with suffering.

Jesus heals people whose winter of discontent has lasted over a decade. It just comes out of nowhere. Long after they’ve exhausted every avenue and come to the end of themselves, these people find Jesus on their doorstep and dive for the hem of his robe. BOOM. No gradual change, just…sudden wholeness.

In Acts 3, Peter heals a man crippled from birth. The man had never even known how to walk, yet there he is after his encounter with Peter, leaping and praising God like he’d never missed a day of ambulation.

How surreal, how stunning such sudden transformation must have been!

God does not always bring such whiplash-inducing changes into our lives, but these stories serve to teach us that sometimes he does. And it needn’t be instantaneous to bring whiplash. Change that comes in weeks or months can be just as dizzying, just as joyful. As some say, “once God does move, he hits the throttle.”

God makes up for suffering. These people had remarkable faith to remember it, to dive for Jesus’ robe even after years of disappointment. May their example teach us.

Talking to a Generation in Pain

storm-3329982_640A childhood bouncing between foster homes, never once getting to stay and just be “gotten”.

The friend whose sibling just stopped talking.

Years of chronic pain from, of all things, falling out of a chair wrong.

This week has been a rough reminder of the valley through which an entire generation is slowly plodding en masse. My friends’ stories are piling up.

Feeling invisible because your siblings on either side get more attention.

Miscarriage.

An occupational disease from an employer that obscured working conditions to save money.

Loneliness – not just that of being single, but of being single without family or friends because of something “off” in the personality.

A denomination shifting doctrine (or shifting back) and leaving some behind, unsure of  their place in God’s kingdom despite how hard they’ve served.

Being attuned to poverty in every direction and unable to stop it all.

Coming home from the battlefield and wanting to end it all because of the carnage witnessed and the brothers left behind.

A knot of emotion, manifesting physically in the stomach, that just will not stop screaming lies hour after hour, week after week, year after year no matter what medication is tried.

And to top it all off, a Christianity that tells them – truthfully – that God has no obligation to make it end.

I would not pretend that previous generations have lived and died on a flowery bed of ease, but this is something else. Millennials are the grandchildren of the sixties. Enough said. Compound familial brokenness upon itself down through enough generations and you get…well, what we’re looking at now. God did say it would get worse towards the end. Even if that doesn’t explain all the trials I mentioned, it does make them harder to undergo.

And instead of love, only judgment often comes – “why can’t they just snap out of it?” Things like the recently revealed college admission scandals don’t help. The character problems of some give the entire group a bad name. Some of our pain, to be sure, is on us.

It’s tough to impart spiritual truth to millennials. Did you know that words like “glory” or “salvation” will shut some millennials down almost instantly? They’re priceless words, but the only thing they see is stern, detached buzzwords from a previous generation who don’t get what they’re going through. No, that’s not fair. No, I’m not willing to leave those words behind. But it highlights the difficulty of revealing Jesus to this group. Most want nothing to do with a God of pain.

We’re not dumb. We’re not (all) entitled. We’re not (all) seeking a victim complex.

But the swells do keep coming, and we’re tired of getting rolled.

A speaker I once heard said, “I believe the healing God wants to do in this generation is emotional.” Perhaps hearts, not issues of blood or withered hands, are what Jesus will pursue this millennium.

And perhaps we can be part of it. Consider God’s infinite patience for any person, his ability to convert even Paul to the side of the kingdom. If we simply embrace, listen, forgive, and weep with those who weep. Those are the foundation to the trusses of deep spiritual truth.

A bruised reed He will not break and a smoldering wick He will not extinguish; He will faithfully bring forth justice. (Isaiah 42:3)

5 Encouragements for the Long Road to Finding “Your People”

Silhouette Friends Happy People SunsetIt took me a while to find “my people”.

Returning home after the Air Force, I found friendmaking difficult. I’m far from a natural.

First I tried the church’s college group. Never really fit in. Then I latched onto a Bible study of older singles. They were good people but had grown up with more money, and therefore with hobbies and pastimes I struggled to get into. Regardless of where I turned, I found myself on many D-lists.

And just when I was finally starting to feel at home, God called me away on a four-year mission. I still traveled back and forth, but building friendships in that situation is constrained.

Honestly, those were lonely and confusing years.

It’s part of life. I don’t hold grudges; not everyone will like you, or needs to. And honestly, there are people I’ve regrettably put on my D-list.

Eventually, God turned things around. At this point I’d say I have found “my people”.

I tell this story because I know other believers in the same boat, and I want them encouraged. It can be a long trail to finding “your people”, the ones God gives us to share the steep or muddy stretches with, beyond the randomness of a small group. Our band of brothers, our caravan, the human-shaped blessings who “get” us and are healthy for us.

You think you’ve found them (high school); you lose them (college); you have to find new ones (adulting). I didn’t start gaining altitude again until about age twenty-five, and even then, the climb was barely perceptible.

But God was in it. He never leaves our side.

A few thoughts if you’re in the valley now.

 

1. Forgive.

It does no good to hold grudges towards those who didn’t connect with you. It only cuts you off from both God and others. Most of the people who politely turn down your friendship mean no harm, intend no ill messages, and wish you the best. Wish them back.

 

2. Ignore the messages.

Isolation will lie to you. Satan is quite happy to exploit such seasons with messages that blind you to your identity in Christ, messages of worthlessness and self-doubt. Fight that poison tooth and nail. Get into Scripture and find the antidotes. You are God’s.

 

3. Don’t settle.

I am 1) an introvert and 2) picky when it comes to people. It’s hard to regret these qualities, because they drastically cut down on the drama quotient in your life. But they can make friend-finding a longer process.

But 2) is Scripturally mandated. “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals'” (1 Cor. 15:33). “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Proverbs 13:20). Like dating, the temptation to just go along with those who “get” you, even if they’re not wise companions, is real.

Don’t settle. The wait is worth it.

 

4. Enjoy those you do find.

Sometimes our squad sneaks up on us. I was sometimes so focused on one person or group that I didn’t immediately notice the one or two loyal, interesting, high-character types that God was picking off each cluster for me. This is great. Trust me. They’re now my best mates, even from states or countries away. Relish them to the fullest.

 

5. Don’t give up.

God sometimes sends us on roundabout journeys to even his purposes (and we know life certainly isn’t accommodating). Don’t give up. You have not been abandoned. You’re not hopeless. You’re not globally incompatible.

Keep hitting your knees in prayer. Good things are coming!

 

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

Come At Me, Brethren

4933411158_d307f2590e_zIn a world that seems to be all about pulling out the red carpet for one’s ego, I say this: I need criticism.

I wouldn’t say I love it. But I’ll tell you this: the worst feeling in the world is not criticism. The worst feeling in the world is fearing that people have criticisms of you but won’t tell you.

Sure, I’m a sensitive soul. Perhaps folks want to protect my feelings.

But I’m not going to grow that way. The saying is “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another”. The saying is not “as silence sharpens iron”. Silence doesn’t sharpen anything, except perhaps the cut of my mistakes.

Then I stumbled upon this passage and went yes, yes…this is exactly what I’m talking about!

Do not let my heart turn to any evil thing
or perform wicked acts
with men who commit sin.
Do not let me feast on their delicacies.
Let the righteous one strike me—
it is an act of faithful love;
let him rebuke me—
it is oil for my head;
let me not refuse it.
Even now my prayer is against
the evil acts of the wicked. (Psalm 141:4-5)

Amazing. David would rather be rebuked by a brother than sin against God. How many of us have those two priorities reversed?

My mission teammates once sat me down and informed me that I was behind on my lesson-building preparations. A prominent woman and friend pulled me aside to tell me that a facial expression I’d used while speaking about her husband could be taken the wrong way. And just last year, a looongtime friend sat me down to explain to me how one careless comment of mine had thrown my loyalty into question.

None of these people were wrong.

And I need this stuff. It’s hard to hear, but it’s better than having no idea where I really am, how I’m really doing. It’s better than not growing.

And if I’m ever going to be raised into higher levels of life – ministry, marriage, parenthood – I’m going to need it even more. Every one of those arenas features heavier fire. Even blogging has required stronger discernment and the occasional gentle correction of others.

So I would say to those who call me a friend – if I need refinement, let me know. I welcome it. I need it. We cannot be sharpened if we have thin skin.

And let us all seek out friends, mentors, and spouses who can challenge us kindly and tactfully, but powerfully. It is one of the greatest gifts of Christian community.

*ducks and braces for the firestorm*

The wounds of a friend are trustworthy, but the kisses of an enemy are excessive. (Proverbs 27:6)