Saturday, September 24, 2016

To the One called Single

I don't know your story or why you're here. But I just want to say that I'm glad you're here. And I hope, I pray, that whatever you read here resonants with your heart and is able to encourage you, to give you peace. Because I know the tiring sorrow that comes from being single. I know the breathless anticipation that is felt each day, wondering if someone will ever find you. I know the silent agony of feeling like you're standing in a line and everyone else is getting picked but you. I know the discontent, the impatience of wanting to have a relationship now, the fear of being alone, the fear of being inadequate, of being not enough. I know.

But I also know, in this moment as I type, the deep satisfaction that comes from being content in Christ, content in where I am in life and content in the peace I have knowing that He has given me a gift. So could I share my story? 

I grew up in an amazing family, one that nurtured a relationship with Christ. My parents were an incredible example of what a solid, Christian marriage should look like - real, honest, vulnerable, sweet, compromising, serving and always focusing back to Christ. It was a beautiful, tangible picture of what I dreamed of having one day. My two oldest brothers had healthy dating relationships that lead to beautiful marriages. My extended family, of whom I admire to the hilt and am quite close with, all seemed to get married one right after the other, each to amazing individuals. Marriage was such a good, beautiful and right thing that exemplified the unity Christ shares with the church and having good examples of it around me made me yearn for it on a level that felt overpowering. 

Along with this strong desire to be married, to have a family, to be a wife and mother who created a home where lives could grow and flourish together, came this love for Chick-Flicks, for Rom-Coms, for cute stories, for wanting to be in a relationship so bad that I could practically taste it. However my middle school and teenage years didn't help with the process. My best friend growing up was incredibley beautiful and would tell me about guys asking her out or being interested - never in a mean way, but just as friends share what's going on in their life. I was proud and happy for her, never envious. But I remember one day when we were putting on make-up, looking in the mirror, lacing my eyelashes with mascara that... Wow. No one had ever asked me out. 
How come? 
 I glanced in the mirror at my friends reflection standing beside me. 
Was I not pretty enough? 
I looked back in the mirror. 
Was I not funny enough? Smart enough? Talented enough? Outgoing enough? 
Was I just not... enough? 

It's horrific to think about the reality, but even as Christian women who know our Savior gave His life to show us our value, we still question: Am I enough? 
And more often than not, our insides cringe because we don't always feel like enough. 
And this hurts. 
A lot. 

So even as a 17 year old, claiming Christ as my Savior and having wonderful models of healthy relationships around me, I dove into thinking a relationship would help quench my thirst for wanting something to be enough. Over the next five years I was either dating a boy, talking to a boy, interested in a boy or looking for a boy. At age 22, it was always something about a boy. And it took breaking up with and hurting a friend deeply to realize that there was something wrong. There was something in my life that I just wasn't understanding. So I took a year off of boys. I decided to not date, decided to not spend alone time with guys and to put up boundaries. 

I learned so much in that year. I learned that I had fallen into habits as a woman called flirting and that I justified it by telling myself I was being friendly, all the while engaging men to talk to me but then rejecting them because I wasn't actually interested in a relationship. I learned that I preferred having guy friends to girl friends because I liked the way they made me feel and I felt pursued by them, all the while realizing that it was a cop out for wanting attention from guys. I learned that I didn't know how to set up healthy boundaries with guys about things that we talked about so here I was wearing my heart on my sleeve, allowing them to know me intimately but never considering a relationship with them. But mostly, I learned that I was so focused on the idea of being married, that rather than viewing men as friends, or simply as beautiful human beings, I was viewing them as potential prospects to be married to. I was making marriage the goal and God called me out on it when I realized how much I was hurting others just to quell an insecurity in my own heart. Marriage became the goal... and I forgot that God was the goal. 

And this is where I want to encourage you, friends. I don't know what your story is; I don't know if you see yourself in any part of what I've written, but I do want to validate what you are feeling. 
It is real to be single and to be hurting. 
What you are feeling hurts for a good reason because as humans we desire companionship. 
You are frustrated and that's okay. 
I get that. 
 But I would wager to say that if you are discontent in singleness, then you aren't fully aware of the Sovereignty and goodness of our Father. Now that might sound harsh, but it was true in my case, and perhaps it's true in your story.  I knew what Scripture said about God, but I wasn't believing it enough to have peace where I was in life. 

While it is often hard to think that anyone knows us better than ourselves, God knows us far more intimately than we could imagine. He knew us before the foundation of the earth (Eph 1:4), He knit us together in our mothers womb (Ps. 139:13) and He has a plan for our lives that we could never fathom (Jer. 29:11). 

Therefore if He knows us most intimately, He also knows what gifts to place in our lives that will bring us closer to Him, that will foster deeper intimacy with the Trinity, and ultimately bring the most glory to His name by being the most edifying to our body, mind and spirit. 
Marriage is a gift. 
Singleness is a gift. 
Let me just repeat that. 
Singleness is a gift. 

While I am overwhelmingly thankful for how my life has played out and how God has taught me amazing things through my mistakes, I also look back and realize how much I missed out on embracing being single because I never considered it to be a long-term option. I intrinsically felt that God had placed a desire to be married in my heart, so by golly I would follow that desire. But I never for a second wondered if it was my flesh that craved security and that maybe God had given me a gift I had never considered unwrapping, using or even enjoying. Singleness is a good gift, and so often it is unwanted, so we shove it back at God and scramble after relationships or sulk in our singleness. 

But the best gift that God can give us is the scenario of being closest to Him. Elizabeth Elliot commented on this by saying, "It is within the sphere of circumstances He chooses for us - single, married, widowed - that we receive Him. It is there and nowhere else that He makes Himself known to us. It is here that we are allowed to serve Him." 

And this is where we find peace. Because He is a good, good Father. And He gives not only good, but perfect, gifts that shouldn't be tossed aside because we think we need another kind of gift. 

Katelynn Luedke said it best when she said, "Understanding the gift of singleness is understanding the relationship between service and joy. That when a life is devoted to the service of a holy God, there is joy. That when there is joy found in the presence of a holy God, service will overflow. Like a marriage, these truths are two separate experiences that daily come together as one. When service and joy collide, there is less room in my heart for discontentment or loneliness, because the face of my heart is turned outward and upward. When service in Christ and joy in Christ are married in me, I am able to see that every gift He gives is good - even when it does not come in the shape of a diamond ring." 

Friday, September 9, 2016

When the Heart Grows Cold

Summer reading lists are great. You might not always read everything on your list, let alone a single book on your list, but it’s nice to put something together, to strive for a goal. As a college student nearing the end of spring semester, reading a book for pleasure sounded like the most magical and wonderful experience I could look forward to in the summer. I’d had enough of textbooks, and yet the reality of exams made me have to endure reading copious amounts of school related material. All I wanted was time with God and time to sit down and read Scripture or gospel related books. I found myself peeking at C.S. Lewis’ words or reaching for the pages of my most recent John Piper purchase, only to realize I still had to focus on exams.

So you’d imagine my surprise when exams were ended and I was happily sitting down to dig into my gospel goodness when I discovered it wasn’t there. The desire to be close to God simply wasn’t there.

Have you ever had that happen to you? Everything seems well and dandy with your relationship with Christ until one day you just don’t feel like loving God. Or, you just don’t feel like you really love Him at all. I assumed that it was merely a moment of apathy, that it wasn’t serious, that it didn’t need immediate attention. Perhaps I was just so exhausted from exams and the school mind set that I needed a break. So I let it go and decided I would try again tomorrow. However, the next day came, as did another, and another… until a week went by and my “desire” hadn’t returned. It’s so easy to make excuses about our apathy, to assume that our feelings will come back; we need only give it time but not actually take any actions ourselves. Because let’s face it, doing something when we don’t feel like it is not exactly our cup of tea, or at least it’s definitely not mine. I’m supposed to enjoy my relationship with God all the time, right? It’s supposed to feel right all the time, so if I’m not feeling it, it must mean I’m just not supposed to do anything… Right?

My assumptions couldn’t be farther from the truth. This is not what the Gospel tells us. Second Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold new things have come.” As Christians, we’ve entered into a holy covenant, a beautiful union and a redeemed relationship with the most High God. And as we’ve become His, we are also bound to a covenantal promise to stay faithful to Him, to pursue Him as new creations. Second Corinthians goes on in verses 18 through 21 to say that, “Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

Reconciliation is mentioned five times just in these few verses, and its repetition isn’t in vain. It’s important, but what does it mean? The Greek word used for reconciliation in this passage is katallassó and it has three meanings, which correspond to the progression in the text. The word katallasó was originally used for the proper exchange of coins for debt payments, so when it was applied to people, it typically meant to change from a position of debt or even enmity, to a position of good terms or friendship. So when verse 18 says that God reconciled Himself to us through Christ, it’s reminding us that our position of enmity and debt has been reconciled to friendship with God.

The second meaning of the word is seen in 1 Corinthians 7:11, being applied to marriage partners. A woman, had she been unfaithful to her husband was to either divorce him and be cut off entirely from him, or she was to be decisively reconciled, recommitting her vows, her love and her life to her husband by allowing him to forgive her and welcome her back, forgetting her past. Christ provided us, His Bride, with the option of coming back to Him even when our hearts cheated on Him. He made reconciliation possible so that our pasts and our sins could be forgotten.

The third meaning comes from looking at the root of the word, katá, which means “down to the exact point”, which magnifies katallassó to not merely mean exchange a price or decisively reconcile, but to take on a full change, to completely morph into something else – such as two people with differing opinions who decide to reconcile, they come to the exact same position, in perfect unity with one another. So at the end here it makes sense that Paul is pleading with the Thessalonians, on behalf of Christ, to be reconciled to God. He is begging them to be fully changed, reminding them that they truly are new creatures. Creatures who have been radically bought at a scandalous price by an overwhelming love from God.

As new creations in Him, apathy is simply not an option anymore. There may be days when I don’t feel like being in the Word or it feels harder to pray than normal, but on those days I must remember that Christ reconciled Himself to me at a high price so that I would have the freedom to reconcile myself to Him, so that I would have the freedom to pursue a relationship with Him. As a new creation, I must choose Him. I must choose to die to the flesh and live by the Spirit.  Even if it means going through the motions and not feeling like it… because the truth is, there will be plenty of times when we don’t feel like pursuing Him, when we will be like Hosea’s wife, Gomer, looking to other pleasures to wet our appetites. And because He is our Bridegroom with unending love, He still desires our affections and our lives, even if our affections might be half hearted at times… He still wants us to try because He is holding onto every piece of us, wanting a relationship.

So in these moments of not feeling like it, don’t be discouraged, but also don’t brush it off as nothing. Left alone, we can allow our hearts to grow colder and close our ears to His voice. These are opportunities to choose to love Him and respond to the Spirit that beckons us closer, even when we don’t feel like it. Isn’t this love? To choose Him, again and again… because He has chosen us, again and again.