Love them more

As a single person, sometimes my friendships with married people can feel a little uneven. My friends don’t have a lot of time/emotional energy left over after caring for spouse and kids. I, on the other hand, have time and FEELS in abundance that I’m only too eager to offer my friends. But when my efforts aren’t matched, that often leads to me feeling like I like them more than they like me, or that I need them more than they need me. That can hurt, and it’s … embarrassing somehow. In love or friendship, we don’t want to be the needier one in the relationship.

So my inclination is to pull back, to deliberately not love my friends as fully as I’m able, and to match what they bring to the friendship, all under the guise of “guarding my heart.” That way, I’m not the needier one, and I’m not expending my emotional energy on someone who can’t return it. Sounds sensible, until I consider a couple of uncomfortable truths:

  1. Jesus loves me freely and generously, even knowing I cannot love him back with the same intensity or to the same degree that he loves me (he will always love me more than I love him, because he is perfect, and I am not). Our Bridegroom is lavish in his love for his Bride.
  2. He commands us to love each other the way he loves us (John 13:34)—that is, to love each other “more,” without keeping score.

Marriage is not the only way to learn to love selflessly. Even in our awkward, one-sided (or what can feel like one-sided) friendships, God is calling us to holiness, to imitate Christ. He is working our singleness for our sanctification. He has freed us to love others lavishly and without reservation. And when you think about it, a lot of our relationships are “uneven.” Parents generally pour more love into their offspring than their children return. Dating couples may find that one person is a little more invested in the relationship than the other at different points. Even married couples may have seasons where one is more eager and ready to do the work of marriage than the other is. We should not be surprised, then, when married-single friendships follow this typical pattern.

Friendships, like anything else, endure seasons—times to pluck up, break down, mourn, refrain, lose, cast away, or keep silent (Ecclesiastes 3). Singles, we may not necessarily be called to “over-love” our married friends in every single season, and certainly some friendships and acquaintanceships require discretion and discernment in how much we give of ourselves. But by and large, fellow singles, take heart. Be like Jesus: give and love the most in your friendships, even knowing it won’t be returned “evenly.”

What it’s like to be marginalized

Or, Why I’m not offended by #TakeAKnee

Disclaimer: Being hard of hearing is not the same as being black in America. I’ve never feared for my life when being pulled over by the cop (though maybe I should be?). If anyone’s ever called me an unkind name because of my hearing loss, well, I didn’t hear it. And it’s entirely possible that I’ve been hired at a few places because of my hearing loss and the company’s commitment to inclusion. That said, when I read about the black experience and the emotional toll it takes on an individual and a community, I think, “This sounds familiar. This sounds like what hearing loss has been for me.” I don’t fully understand all the nuance surrounding Colin Kaepernick taking a knee, or not standing for the national anthem. Mostly because unless the Royals or Chiefs are winning, I don’t know much about the sportsballs. But I do understand that #TakeAKnee, in the minds of the protestors, is taking a stand against racism. Those who disagree with the protest are speaking out in defense of the flag. “How dare they disrespect our soldiers?” You can google elsewhere for an analysis of either argument, but over here, I want to talk about the lack of a common American experience. Whites and blacks have lived in vastly different Americas. Some of us have had it easier than others, and we ought to be “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry” (James 1:19) with those whose experiences have been for the worse. I do not know what it is like to be black in America, but I do know what it feels like to be marginalized. Here’s a small sampling:

  1. Being marginalized means other people and/or institutions make decisions for you. I am considering going to seminary next fall. I looked at several different institutions inside (and even slightly outside) my faith tradition. I originally considered moving, but my parents aren’t getting any younger, and my nieces and nephews are getting older. I don’t want to miss out on either, so I asked these institutions about the format of their online courses. Were they delivered via video? Did the videos have captions and/or come with a transcript? Are students required to participate in conference calls? Two of my top prospects said, “No” to videos being captioned. That’s it. Just “no.” They weren’t sorry to lose me as a prospective student. They didn’t offer to look into it, or suggest any alternative solutions. Just straight-up “no.” They’re no longer on my list, and the one currently sitting at the top is the one who said, “Yes, we have captions, and if those don’t work, we’ll work with you to figure something out.” Bless them, but note that both the “no”s and the “yes” ultimately make my choice for me.
  2. Being marginalized means that your experience and feelings often go unacknowledged. I posted something about Deaf Anxiety on my Facebook page the other day. I shared some personal thoughts before linking to a video from Ai-Media, featuring Artie Mack. I wanted my hearing friends in particular to understand a little better why I act the way I do in certain situations, and I hoped to spark further conversation about hearing loss with people who may not know much about it. My post to date has 25 reactions (likes and loves), and all but five, or 80 percent, were from family, Deaf/hard of hearing friends, or friends in the Deaf/hard of hearing community (like sign language interpreters). I heard NOTHING from my hearing peers—people who go to church with me, who grew up with me, who have worked with me, who live in my community. Now, Facebook has some weird algorithms, so it’s entirely possible that due to the nature of the video, more of my Deaf/hard of hearing friends and community members saw the video than my hearing friends did. The slight may or may not be personal, but if Facebook is to blame, the slight is then institutional. Facebook thinks only my Deaf/hard of hearing friends—aka, people who more or less already know about Deaf Anxiety—would care to know about my experience, rather than assuming the topic was of interest to a broader audience.
  3. Being marginalized means always observing, rarely participating. I have lost count of the number of times when I’ve been in a group setting and said something out loud, only to be totally ignored. No one looked at me when I spoke, or responded to my question. This may not be anyone’s fault—I suspect I lack sufficient hearing to determine whether my voice was loud enough to be heard. It’s very possible that no one heard me, literally, but it also means that I feel powerless to ensure they do. I may be able to follow some of the conversation, fake a smile when everyone laughs, or nod in agreement now and then, but my voice is not there. My opinions and feelings aren’t brought to light. My passions and interests gather dust. I feel unknown and unseen. James K.A. Smith recently tweeted a quote by William James detailing what happens to a person who remains unknown:
    The depths of despair can be a real place for the marginalized. If I, a white woman with all the privileges that affords, feel this way regarding my hearing loss, how much more must my black brothers and sisters feel, who testify to tangible threats against their lives and dignity? So no, I’m not offended when someone takes a knee. After a while, you run out of energy to muster the fake smile necessary to stand for a symbol of an America that has been unkind to you.

Go to church anyway

I don’t know about you, but there’s a part of me that just doesn’t want to go to church tomorrow.

Perhaps you are tallying all the reasons in favor of staying home, like I am. For one, I have the house to myself—a rare occurrence!—and I want to wring every drop of solitude from this blessed event that I can. Second, I don’t think I’m in one of those “dark nights of the soul,” but I’m definitely in the season where reading Scripture doesn’t seem to “land” the way I wish it did. Not to mention, relationships are hard, and the ones at church are no exception. Finally, my sign language interpreter won’t be there this week. I will make it through the singing, since the words are projected on a screen, and even the prayers, since they’re printed in the bulletin, but once we get to the sermon, I’ll lipread the best I can, but will most likely miss most of it. All of these seem like good enough reasons to me to take a bye week.

This is not the first time I’ve been tempted to skip out, and I doubt it will be the last. Playing hooky can feel so good, amiright? But I hope that you, like me, can hear the Spirit niggling at you—go to church anyway. Go for all the gospel reasons—because Jesus is better, because we’re commanded to not give up the habit of meeting together, because corporate worship is the high point of our week. But heart of mine, also go because where else is there to go? Go, because if you don’t go tomorrow, that only increases the likelihood of skipping next week, and before you know it, you’ve just kind of … dissolved away from the body of Christ. Go, because sometimes as with earthly love (so I’ve been told), all you can do is put one foot in front of the other, with nothing but a promise to hold on to. Married couples bring to mind the vows they made before God, friends, and family. With the Lord, we remember only his promise to us (because our promises to him? laughable)—that he’ll never leave nor forsake, that our weariness and wounded hearts are only for a while, that he’s coming back to make everything right again.

So go, even when you don’t feel like it. The solitude will be here when you get back, and if it’s not, trust that the Lord will grant you alone time when you need it. Take your apathy with you to church, and sing old gospel truths to it, let it hear gospel truth from your pastor, from your fellow beggar-sinners. Break its defenses, little by little. And look, people disappoint, are careless with their words, and just sometimes flat-out don’t get it. You may not make up all in one Sunday, but like with apathy, restoration sometimes comes little by little. I get not wanting to settle into a pew when things aren’t right between you and the person two pews over … but settling in with your Netflix queue isn’t the solution (I’m speaking here of the kind of conflict that is fairly typical to most relationships, not abuse. If you are facing abuse at your church, then don’t go! Stay home! Tell somebody!).

If you’re like me and feeling kind of tucked away in the margins because of your disability, marital status (or lack thereof!), skin color, or any other marginalizing force … I feel you. Oh my, do I feel you. This is, for me, the most plausible reason to stay behind, and the hardest to put aside. But here’s what’s bringing light to my distress today: Jesus is the Man of Sorrows. In her book, Same Lake, Different Boat, Stephanie Hubach (2006) writes in regards to disability, but I think this passage could apply to anyone feeling marginalized:

I have often wondered if one particular way in which Jesus was a “man of sorrows” was in the grief he experienced when the call “follow me” fell on inattentive ears. Who better understood the truth and urgency of the gospel he proclaimed than Christ himself? And yet, “He was despised and rejected by men …” (Isa. 53:3a). Families and individuals touched by disability who begin to understand and embrace the pathway of discipleship experience great sorrow when others will not come along on the journey. Beginning to find their lives by losing them, they want others to know the richness of the experience, but the call often echoes back to them unanswered. (p. 143)

The people around you may not always understand, but Jesus does. He is with you, he is for you, he weeps with you, intercedes for you, and will come back soon to make it all right again.

This is my conviction for this week, but I can recall a few Sundays over the years—all on one hand—where I really did not want to go to church, went anyway, and regretted it. In retrospect, I recognize the call to stay home was perhaps not my own, but the Spirit’s. The few times I have disobeyed this call, relationships were further hurt, not healed. When the Spirit calls, you obey him, OK, not some hack blogger. Also, as someone who has regularly volunteered in the church nursery, let me add a vigorous head-nod to what I’m sure the church nursery staff at your church already tell you—don’t come if you or your child are sick. And again, “go to church anyway” does not apply in instances of abuse. Get out, get help, and get into a healthy church.

But if you are feeling “meh,” sorry for yourself, lonely, or a little disgruntled … go to church anyway. It may not feel like it’s doing anything or helping your heart, but God is always up to more than we can see. Every time you go, you’re sowing, investing in your soul and in the people around you. Sow in tears. Reap in joy. That’s how the promise goes (Psalm 126:5-6).

Weep with me

I’m about 100 years behind on pop culture, but I finally watched Me Before You last night. Based on the book of the same name by Jojo Moyes, Me Before You is about a young man, Will, who ends up paralyzed after an accident, and his caretaker, Lou(isa). You know the drill: boy is standoffish at first, but girl manages to worm her way into his heart, they fall in love, yada, yada. Until she learns he’s planning to end his life, and concocts a plan to get him to change his mind. Spoiler alert: he doesn’t, everyone cries, the end.

The Big Theme of the movie, of course, is right-to-die. Will believes that dying is better than living with a disability, and aside from a few heartfelt pleas, no one in his immediate circle takes any meaningful action to convince him otherwise. How tragic. How deeply, horrifyingly tragic. Joni Eareckson Tada and Samuel James have more on that here and here.

As a person with a disability myself, I’ve been thinking lately about the people who love those of us with disabilities, and how disability affects relationships. So I was most intrigued Lou’s response to Will’s plans. And by intrigued, I mean disappointed. First, she didn’t hear it from his own mouth—she just happened to overhear a conversation between his parents. Rightly horrified, her next step is not to talk to Will, but to take matters into her own hands. She decides that if she plans a few fun trips and outings, surely that will restore Will’s zest for life, right? Right? Right?

The assumption she makes is the same mistake of many: she assesses the situation for herself and determines a solution, despite not living with a disability herself or asking Will his thoughts. She never asks him why he wants to end his life, pushes back against him to consider another way of viewing life with a disability, or enters into his pain. She does not hurt along with him. She might hurt for him, or for her own loss, but she is not in the thick of it, grieving his former life with him, sharing his tears or his heartache.

I don’t know what it’s like to live an active lifestyle and suddenly find myself unable to move from the chest down, as Will did, but I do know what it’s like to live in a world that I cannot maneuver as effortlessly as my hearing peers. I know what it feels like when people look at you funny, when you have to ask for help (again), when you just straight up have to miss something special because you couldn’t participate. Sometimes embarrassing and awkward, often frustrating and unjust. This is not the kind of heartache that can be resolved with a few vacations and a little flirting. This is not a minor annoyance that can be fixed, glossed over, or ignored. No, this is a pain that clobbers you, demanding to be felt, and never fully goes away. When loved ones brush past this agony or rush to fix it without paying respects to its depths and complexity, that only rubs salt in the wounds and threatens to tear the relationship asunder.

Now, it’s not always like this, and not for everyone. Some have made peace with their disability, or don’t consider it a disability at all. Others, like me, go back and forth. Sometimes OK, sometimes not OK. Something I’ve learned about those times when I’m not OK is that I just want someone to weep with me. Alongside me. Next to me. It’s not that I want you to hurt with me because if I’m miserable, then everyone else has to be. It’s just that getting burned up by pain is lonely business, kids, and I wish so badly to not have to bear every part of it alone. I want you to listen, to step into the hurting with me, not away from me. Please, won’t you remind me what God says about me, about my inherent worth as someone made in his image, to tell me all is not lost, that God is good, and maybe even that I’m loved, still?

All of that has to start with a hard conversation, maybe an uncomfortable question or two, and that’s what Me Before You completely misses.

When Lou finally confronts Will about his plans, she mentions nothing of his inner turmoil; she simply begs him to change his mind. When Will refuses, she screams that she wishes she’d never met him and storms off. Like trying to clean up a knocked-over cup of milk by wiping the drips off the floor before mopping the spilled drink on the counter above, Lou’s attempts to convince Will to live fall short of any real help. She says she loves him, but here’s the thing: love doesn’t avoid, doesn’t pretend, doesn’t ignore what’s right in front of it. We seem to think that love only feels good, but I say it’s not love until the giving of it hurts.

Weeping with those who weep means just that—weeping as if their pain is our own, because it is. By his own gruesome suffering, to spare us a worse fate, Jesus made us a family, and charged us to bear each other’s burdens. We may not know how to do this, but we need only look to him, because he shows us how. Jesus does not merely tolerate us or heave a sigh and force a smile. He doesn’t “there, there” our pain at arm’s length. He suffered in our place on the cross and comforts us now. He will not ask us to do less than this for each other, for him. When someone is suffering, “they” are not suffering, over there, in the corner, away from us. No, when a brother or sister is suffering, we should be split open, too, because “they” are not suffering; we are. We’re a family, and to borrow from a completely different movie, family means nobody gets left behind. So get to weeping, fam.

Seven things to know about hearing loss

Sometimes people treat me differently when they find out I’m hard of hearing. Their smiles freeze in discomfort, they find an excuse to leave the conversation, and they limit further interactions with me to “hello,” “how are you?” and “fine, thanks.” (I know we, as a people, just kind of do this to each other sometimes, regardless of our degree of hearing loss. But this happens too frequently to me and my deaf and hard of hearing friends to be a coincidence.) Please do not do this thing. I’m hard of hearing, yes, but I’m also a human person who wants to know and be known. Just like you.

Here are seven things I wish you knew about being hard of hearing.

(I wrote this with my local church family in mind, because that’s my most immediate context. But big-C Church family, this one’s for you, too. And you, gentle reader, with the grandma who’s losing her hearing or the co-worker who’s deaf, this is for you, too. Just keep in mind these are coming from my own experiences and preferences, which may or may not align with those of your congregant, grandma, or co-worker. When in doubt, just ask.)

Hearing loss isn’t only the absence of sound. I have severe-to-profound hearing loss, but with two hearing aids, I can hear some sounds but not understand them. For example, in a crowded restaurant, I’m not able to pick out the distinct sounds of clattering silverware, patrons talking, or the TV blaring. They all blend into one buzzing white noise. Sounds don’t make sense to me unless I have some kind of visual to go with it — closed captions, lipreading, and sign language help me make sense of the noise and feel included. Even technology meant for the masses, such as texting and email, have been a godsend (and hearing loss is a handy excuse to not make phone calls. And all God’s introverts said “Amen.”). What a time to be alive.

Please don’t feel sorry for me. I’m not less of a person for being hard of hearing. I’m actually OK with hearing loss itself. I hear nothing at all with my hearing aids out and silence IS golden, my friends. Turning my hearing aids off is like having my own personal mute button, which is exactly as amazing as it sounds. Y’all are LOUD sometimes.

You don’t have to know sign language to communicate with me. Yes, I sign, but I use my vocal cords more than my hands to communicate. If you know sign language and want to practice with or show it off to me, please do. If you don’t, just talk to me. I’m a lipreading ninja, but I need your help! Speak clearly. Don’t cover your mouth. Don’t over-enunciate. Don’t yell. Don’t mouth something unintelligible and then ask me what you said (I will side-eye you so hard.). Just make sure I can see your face when we’re talking and we should be good. If I can’t understand you, I’ll let you know, and if I’m just not grasping something, try rephrasing rather than repeating. That might do the trick.

Please include me in the group conversation. I communicate well one-on-one, but it’s a lot of work to keep up with a group larger than three or four people (so, most groups). I’m slow to speak up because I’m constantly trying to figure out if it’s OK to talk or if I’ll be accidentally interrupting someone.  And I’m rarely 100% confident that I’m following the conversation topic correctly, so it means a lot if you ask me specific questions to include me (“We’re talking about the Royals game last night. What did you think of that play by Hosmer?” is super helpful.).

Along the same lines, please don’t assume I can’t participate in an activity. If you’re not sure how to include me, ask! I will make it easy for you; here’s a simple script to follow: “I’m planning to do XYZ at Bible study; is there anything I need to do or be aware of in order for you to participate fully?”

Sit with me. At church, or any other kind of lecture-style gathering, I almost always sit at the front, closest to the speaker(s). Will you join me there now and then? It gets lonely up there.

Head’s up. Most of us instinctively bow our heads to pray, but if I’m around, please keep your head up when you pray so I can read your lips.

I know there’s a lot more I haven’t covered, but I hope this prompts some meaningful conversations in your own circles. If you are D/deaf or hard of hearing, what would you add? If you are not, what else would you like to know? To the comments!

The love planted by God

From Joel Beeke, on the Puritans and marital love:

It is an entire love, a fulsome love, a love that pours itself out between spouses constantly and without reservation in a variety of expressions, gestures, looks, and actions. This love, Daniel Rogers (1573-1652) wrote, is not “raised suddenly in a pang of affection, ebbing and flowing…but a habitual and settled love planted in them by God, whereby in a constant, equal, and cheerful consent of spirit they carry themselves [towards] each other (Rogers, Matrimonial Honour, 137-138).

The whole thing is worth reading, but what jumped out at me was the “love planted in them by God.” As a single lady approaching her mid-30s, it’s easy to let the fears in. I must not be attractive. I’m too old. I don’t have the right body type. I’m too much. I’m not enough.

The underlying assumption: If I could just figure out and fix what is “wrong” with me, then dating wouldn’t be so hard. Now to be sure, we may carry certain attitudes or perspectives or habits regarding dating that ought to be addressed or reconsidered. There may be times when we need to take a long, hard look at our lives and what our constant video games or Netflix bingeing or general laziness might say about us. But if, after working through all of that, we’re still single, what then? What’s left to do?

Nothing, really, as infuriating as that may be. I can be friendly and open. Be active at church. Be brave and try online dating. Realize that’s not really what I want and delete my profiles that are way too easy to restart. Ask friends and family to keep their eyes peeled. Stay busy. Press into the life I have, not the one I thought I’d have. When no one materializes despite my most reasonable efforts, I’m left with one conclusion: God has not planted that love in my heart for someone, nor has He planted love for me in a man’s heart. He may yet, or He may never.

I don’t have nearly as much say in dating as I want to believe I do, because my life isn’t my own. Like I said, infuriating. But also comforting—it’s not me. It’s Him.

On being afraid of God

Someone told me once that thinking about God’s wrath helped them not sin, that every time they were tempted, they just thought about how mad God would be at them if they followed through. That fear was enough to nip temptation in the bud. Our conversation ended shortly after, and while I’ve wanted to quell the observation with a pat theological answer about God’s wrath toward us finding its end in Jesus, it keeps coming back, like water you can’t push away.

I started reading through the Bible with my women’s group from church last fall, and as we traverse the Old Testament, I keep thinking, “God is not to be trifled with.” A lot of people—including his own people!—die by God’s hand. There is blood—so much blood—involved in the Levitical sacrificial system. Regularly, God’s anger is kindled against the Israelites, over matters of the heart that you and I are regularly guilty of ourselves, namely, of not believing God’s ways are best, and for thinking we can come up with  better ways to obey him. And that’s just in the first five books! Spoiler alert: it doesn’t get better. Not even for Jesus. There’s no getting around it—God is terrifying. Even the New Testament warns us that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:31).

Whenever I consult the Google for an explanation, I often find answers that attempt to redefine this kind of fear as respect or reverence of God. Some really smart guys went to some really smart seminaries to be able to say that, so I guess they must be right. But I can’t shake the feeling as I contemplate the blood and gore that maybe I actually am afraid of God. Not so much that I’m afraid of his wrath toward my sin—maybe I should be more afraid of that, but I’m assured of the blood of Christ atoning for my sin. No, this fear is more a sober dread that God will do what God will do, in my life, in the lives of the people I love, in my neighborhood, in my nation, in all the universe. I cannot reason with him, because his reason is beyond my understanding. I can’t plead my own case, because apart from Christ, I’ve got nothing to stand on—no good works, no gifts, no nothing. But that’s the key, isn’t it—”apart from Christ.” But I do have Christ, and doesn’t fear have to do with punishment and perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18)?

Maybe I’m afraid the way we are when we fall in love (so I have heard)—vulnerable and helpless, exhilarated and terrified all at once. Am I afraid of God both because he is far better than me and because he will destroy my old self, with all its prides and insecurities and lusts and greeds? The very things I hold too closely, for no reason at all, really, except that they are mine, my preciouses.

I understand better why the disciples were afraid after Jesus calmed the storm. You’d think they’d be relieved—bye, storm!—but they are terrified (Luke 8:22-25). Who is this, that even the wind and the seas obey him? Who indeed? If we ponder that without our souls quaking, then maybe we either haven’t encountered the true God yet, or we’ve forgotten him.

I’m still not sure my friend had it right—shouldn’t it be God’s kindness and not his wrath that leads us to repentance? But maybe there is a kind of fear that is appropriate in the Christian life.

When life is not what you wanted

I didn’t write as much as I thought I would last year—I count exactly four posts in 2016—but a common theme among those and all the posts I didn’t write is loneliness. I wonder now if I was trying to prove something, like, see, Lord, I have learned All the Lessons, so please relieve me from this pain. Because we tend to do that, don’t we? We think God gives us trials and suffering and unwanted life circumstances to teach us lessons, and the sooner we learn them, the faster the pain will pass, and we’ll be rewarded for hanging in there.

But life is—God is—not so transactional. We are not characters in a video game—shoot enough poison flowers, get an extra life. Gather enough coins, get a new weapon. Defeat the Big Bad, free the princess. A good theology of suffering is not about what we do, or how well we bear it, but about what God is doing with it. Who can know exactly why he does what he does? The Sunday School answer, of course, is “for my good and his glory,” but why sickness for this person and health for another? Why singleness for this one and marriage for another? Why this, why that? I am tired of asking such questions, for they offer no answers, and possibly never will, because despite my best efforts, I’m actually not the one running the show here.

Ecclesiastes says that even wisdom and knowledge are ultimately meaningless, a chasing after the wind. I don’t think that means it’s wrong to be wise or to know facts, but that answers are not the goal. Job didn’t get any; why would we?

Sometimes I think, I did not sign up for this. This life feels arbitrary, or like I got gypped, or even like God has forgotten me. But a few things the Spirit keeps impressing upon me:

  1. God loves me the most—not that he loves me more than he loves others, but that he loves me more than any person ever could. So whatever he does must be borne out of that perfect love, and be good.
  2. He will bring us to a place of abundance. A few verses that I have meditated on over the last year, sometimes through tears, are from Psalm 66:
    For you, O God, have tested us;
        you have tried us as silver is tried.
    You brought us into the net;
        you laid a crushing burden on our backs;
    you let men ride over our heads;
        we went through fire and through water;
    yet you have brought us out to a place of abundance. (v. 10-12)
  3. Better this life, with all its aches and pains, came from God than from Satan, or from myself. Many words have been and will be spilled over God’s sovereignty, human responsibility, and Satan’s role in suffering. This isn’t the place to rehash all of it, but my hot take is that I am more at peace believing that my suffering comes from the hand of God himself, because he loves me and wounds to heal, not kill. If suffering came from Satan or my poor decisions apart from God’s direction, then God would merely be a paramedic who rushes in after the damage has been done, not a wise, trustworthy, in-charge Father.

Rolling into 2017, exactly zero things in my life look like I thought they would at this point. I can’t analyze the one I want into being, or learn the right lesson in order to move on to the next level. All that’s left to do is to just live my little life—the one I’ve been assigned, my portion.

Life is hard. God is good. Let’s roll.

Call it suffering

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I have a weird threshold for pain. Pinch me lightly and I will scream bloody murder. But break my arm and I will tell you it “feels a little sore.” It wasn’t until a few years ago, when I was writhing in pain on my living room floor over what I would find out a few days later was  gallstones and would require surgery, that I finally conceded an important principle of pain — if it severely interferes with your ability to enjoy an episode of Parks and Rec, something is capital-W Wrong. It’s time to call the pain “pain,” and go to the doctor.

Up until that point, I was stubborn about physical pain and sickness. I showed up to work sick. I powered through migraines and more than one asthma attack. I thought I was being noble, but really, I was just being stubborn. Not acknowledging the pain didn’t make it better — it made it worse! I should have been home resting and drinking lots of fluids instead of going to work and passing my cold along. Trying to go about my business with a migraine — answering emails, watching TV, carrying on a simple conversation — only prolonged the migraine and affected the quality of my work.

I have a weird threshold for suffering, too. The light pinches — changing plans, miscommunications, a torrential downpour the same day I’ve schedule a pedicure — set my mind racing and put me on edge and invite all manner of first-world problems! admonitions. But the arm-breaking stuff — ending a relationship, hearing loss, depression — I deal with it by essentially trying to shame myself out of it. I think of all the ways something could be worse, or I think of people who I know have it worse, and scold myself for feeling any pain at all.

Why should I be sad about being single, after all, when so many marriages around me are struggling? What right do I have to days where being hard of hearing is draining, when there are people whose disabilities limit their very mobility? And maybe I’m not really depressed — there are people with actual problems out there, so just get over it, self. This isn’t really suffering.

But in the middle of one of these rants to myself recently, it occurred to me that by not calling my suffering “suffering,” I was missing out on the blessings of suffering. Yes, the blessings.

Consider what God tells us suffering is for:

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. — Romans 5:3-5

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. — 2 Corinthians 1:3-5

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. — 2 Corinthians 1:8-9

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison… — 2 Corinthians 4:17

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. — James 1:2-3

If I don’t understand my circumstances as suffering — if I write them off as unlucky, or just a part of life, or if I determine they can’t possibly be suffering because other people have it far worse — then I’m only hurting myself. Refusing to acknowledge the pain keeps me from going to the Physician who heals. Not calling suffering “suffering” robs me of hope, glory, comfort, steadfastness, and blinds me to the power of God himself. How tragic would that be, to completely miss out on God because I’m too stubborn to admit that I’m hurting?

Our suffering isn’t just for our own selves, by the way; it’s for each other, too, “so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” Our suffering helps us to comfort each other, to help each other make it home. Not only do we need to stop dismissing our own pain, we ought to be extra wary to not dismiss each other’s. We’re all in different places in our own walks with the Lord and what seems like suffering to one person may seem like nothing to another. But we bear with one another in humility and gentleness and love (Eph. 4:1-3).

So let’s be slow to say things to each other and to ourselves like, “At least your pain isn’t this,” or “at least there is this good thing about it.” Let’s be reluctant to compare our pain to someone else’s, or each other’s pain to our own. Let’s not play the “Who Has It Worse?” game with each other at all. Instead, let’s be quick to call suffering “suffering” in all its different forms and trust that God is using the suffering for good in each other’s lives, for his glory, and for the building of his Church.

Call it suffering. Press in to it. Be blessed by it.

Accepting the limitations of singleness

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I’m seeing more compassion, an increased willingness to engage, and more mindfulness of singles among gospel-centered bloggers. A common theme of some of the posts is that the Church is a family, and we should all be family — mother, father, son, daughter, sister, brother — to each other.

“What if the Church,” Scott Sauls posits, “was filled with unmarried people but had no ‘single’ people, because unmarried people were as family to each other, and surrogate brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers and sons and daughters to the rest of the Church?”

I love this train of thought, and have taken it to heart and seen its fruit in my own life. But as I’m delighting in this truth, I have to watch myself that I don’t take it too far and expect my friends and church family to be the same thing as having a family of my own. I have to remind myself (sometimes in a Captain Obvious way!) that there are relational limits, especially with married friends, that come with being single.

So here are three (more) truths for the (my) single heart:

Even singles are called to honor the marriage bed — to respect the boundaries of marriage. Christ is the Bridegroom of the Church, the elect. He is not the Bridegroom of every single person who has ever lived. He is narrow in his pursuit of his Bride.

This is reflected in the exclusive nature of marriage. Husband and wife vow to forsake all others, to commit to each other above all others. They do not automatically lose friends as a result of this union, nor are they forbidden from having close friendships outside of their marriage. But marriage and family do reorder priorities.

My friendships with families, while lively and loving and familial to some degree, are marked by boundaries that respect their commitment. I’m not over at their house every night for dinner. The mom/wife isn’t out every night with me. Even during my most social weeks, I rarely see the same person or family twice. We spend a couple hours together, and then we go our separate ways for the night, for the week, for the month. This is appropriate, and normal, and right. I am not their primary ministry; their family is. That’s their assignment (1 Cor. 7:17), and they need to be faithful to that call. The way I love them is to get out of their way sometimes, so that they can serve where they’ve been called. That’s my assignment.

Being single means being single. It does not mean fabricating an intimate family life. Being single is a calling, and sometimes that calling means being the only person who pays the bills, takes out the trash, and makes the Major Life Decisions. That’s freeing some days, crippling others, but it is the lot of the single person to bear it all. As much as I love my church friends, and they me, there are limits to how present we can be in each other’s lives. We might get front-row seats or backstage passes to each other’s daily living, but we’re not actually in the intimate, mundane, on-the-road moments together. Married people are called to Do Life with a partner; single people are not. Those are our assignments, and we ought not deviate from them by trying to pretend singleness is something other than what it is.

Being single means a lot of waiting, longing, some tearful moments, and loneliness. But heart, don’t rush past any of that so quickly. They matter. They’re working for you an eternal glory that far outweighs the light and momentary pain. So don’t throw yourself into the nearest family in a vain effort to pretend singleness doesn’t hurt. Let it hurt. It is precisely in the waiting, in the longing, in the tearful nights, the loneliness, the wondering if it will always be like this (spoiler alert: it won’t), the uncertainty, the fear, the very alone-ness nature of singleness that increases my dependence on God who raises the dead, that hems me in so that I have no other recourse but to go to Him, that exhausts all my other idols so that I can say with Peter, “Lord, to whom shall [I] go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). This is a blessing, even on the days it feels like a burden. Singleness, in this season, is how I get more of Jesus. When I ignore this and try to make other people my family in a way that they are not, I miss out on God’s good gift of singleness to me.

Being single doesn’t mean being friendless, and I’m not advocating that singles give up and become hermits. Be part of the church family. Roll up your sleeves and labor alongside them for the sake of the gospel. Love widely. As long as it is your assignment, be single, and be single well.