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.”

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.

Rethinking singleness

Have you heard about this? The brouhaha about whether pastors should be single? I wasn’t going to give it much thought – I’m not a pastor, nor do I intend to be – but then I read this thoughtful post by Steve DeWitt. I encourage you to read the whole thing because he makes several good points, but I was edified by his paragraphs on being single well:

“… There are practicalities about marriage and ministry that advantage the married pastor in some categories. Every married pastor would affirm that a godly wife is a wonderful blessing both personally and pastorally. We should recognize and celebrate that a married pastor’s marriage is a tremendous asset in both his personal growth into holiness and the resources it generates for shepherding a flock.

But we must also recognize that a pastor’s singleness is equally valuable in different ways. Speaking from experience, singleness has its own anvil on which God shapes character and pastoral gravitas. In addition, single pastors have some tremendous gifts to share with their congregations. When I speak of my loneliness, how many hearts leap with hope identifying with my trial? When my voice quivers as I describe life lived with unmet and unfulfilled expectations, what heart can’t hear the echo? A normal red-blooded, sexual, single, Christian man battling all the normal desires yet pursing contentment in Christ is a living sermon that Jesus alone is sufficient. These strengths, combined with the greater energy and time that single pastors can pour into their churches, should lead us to conclude that singleness ought not be viewed as a negative. If Paul was serving on the search committee, I think he’d argue for it as a positive.”

I may not be a pastor, but I could resonate with the tension he describes. Being single is a blessing. I rejoice that I can be the flexible one and serve my friends by adjusting to their schedule and needs. I’m thrilled to have time to pursue the things that God has given me to love, like blogging, reading, the church and (other people’s) children. I’m relieved that none of my kitchen “experiments” are causing my family to starve – I’m grateful for this time to refine my culinary skills. 😉

However, I admit that it’s not without its pangs. I want to be married. Being single is lonely. I’m blessed by the friendships I have, but my friends and I don’t often have the opportunity to love each other by calling each other out on our sins. We encourage one another and lift each other up, but when we’re done sharing our meal, we go our separate ways. While it’s our natural state to be selfish creatures, I worry that being single makes me more selfish. I’m slower to be thoughtful of others simply because my daily life requires me to think only of myself. I’m finding it harder to be vulnerable because I’ve gotten used to taking care of myself. There’s no one to offer a hug or a listening ear at the end of a long day. I love to cook and I buy all this food only to eat it by myself. It’s weary. Marriage, on the other hand, is a beautiful picture of the Gospel – grace and love and faithfulness and hope in action. And that’s what I’m aching for – to be living out the Gospel.

But God, in His grace, is always faithful. Even in my alone-ness, He is quick to lovingly convict me of sins I can’t (or won’t) always see. God never turns down my pleas for opportunities to serve. And I’m not trying to go all mystical on you, but there have been times, some particularly low times, when I can almost feel Someone holding my hand or enveloping me in love. I don’t understand it or know how it works, but I do not doubt that “the Lord is close to the brokenhearted.”

I’m gaining, I hope, a keener insight into the truth that all things come from God. I cannot do anything to redeem myself or make myself content. I can’t force myself to be a thoughtful person, but I can pray that the Lord would stir my affections for others and have a genuine love for them. I am often unwilling to deal with my sin, so I pray for a teachable spirit that won’t ignore the Spirit’s conviction. And when I feel like my soul might shatter from the weight of being alone, I cry out to Jesus and He never fails to comfort. A godly husband, while wonderful, cannot make those claims.

This, I am learning by not being a wife.

Isn’t that the Gospel? That I can’t do it on my own and that Jesus is enough? Marriage tells a sweet story of grace – so does being single. I’m delighted and relieved and rejoicing in this – Christ is glorified in my singleness. It bears repeating:

“When I speak of my loneliness, how many hearts leap with hope identifying with my trial? When my voice quivers as I describe life lived with unmet and unfulfilled expectations, what heart can’t hear the echo? A normal red-blooded, sexual, single, Christian [wo]man battling all the normal desires yet pursing contentment in Christ is a living sermon that Jesus alone is sufficient.

Yes, only Jesus… only Jesus.

Why I do what I do

I feel like a pretty aimless blogger these days. I suddenly find myself unsure what to write about. Mostly because I care way too much about what people think. If I blog about hearing loss too much, will people get bored? Will words like “Jesus” and “faith” and “Reformed” and “pray” and “conservative” and “Scripture” scare off the readers who don’t use those words much? If I share my opinion on Modern Family or cuss here and there, will my more church-y friends flee the scene (and return with pitchforks)? I wish I had the spine to say psh, who cares, I am who I am and I’ll write what I write and not worry about making other people happy. To that, I say, “Bwahahahahaha, do you not know me at all?!”

Ahem. I’m working on it.

Anyway, Jami writes one of my very favorite blogs. She’s HUH-larious, crafty and HISSS-terical. I know I pretty much said that already, but trust me on this one. It bears repeating. She wrote an awesome post about why she blogs and even though I have no offspring, I found it inspiring and even a little convicting. Basically, Jami blogs because as a mother, it’s her job to preserve her family’s memories and blogging helps her do that. She’s so noble and holy, y’all.

So I started asking myself why I blogged. I’m clearly not preserving memories for the fruit of my loins (that’s an awkward phrase. It just came to me. Go with it). I don’t have a niche blog centered around one subject. A lot of what I say is more along the lines of blah blah blah than wow! deep! funny! good! So what exactly am I doing here?

Psh. I wish I knew, that I had some pure and selfless reason for logging on to Blogger every day and word vomiting all over the screen. But really, my motivations tend toward the ordinary.

I like words. I like putting them together and taking them apart and experimenting with fragments, punctuation and structure. My idea of a good time includes thinking of creative ways to say regular things. Blogging helps keep me accountable. I write more intentionally and carefully if I know people are reading than if I’m just having a heart-to-heart with a Word document.

And I’ve said it before, but writers write to be read. Artists paint for people to enjoy their work. Composers and musicians want people to come to their concerts. We were born to create. Some of us create complex computer code, some of us pottery, theories, stories, rockets, clothes, etc. We all do something for other people to enjoy or use. It seems pointless – to me, anyway – to write without an audience. Is that narcissistic? I’m always trying to decide is blogging is an exercise in narcissism or not.

Another theme I’ve noticed lately is one of loneliness. I read a few posts this week where the blogger confessed feeling lonely. I wonder how many people blog out of a desire for connection. Something seems missing in our “real” lives, so we seek a virtual connection instead. I know that’s one thing that’s spurred me to share my thoughts – hoping somebody, somewhere in the big, vast internets would get it.

And finally, I think I’m just looking for a voice. Sometimes with my hearing loss, I feel overshadowed. It’s hard to speak up in a group because I’m not sure when to speak up. Plus I’m just an introvert. I tend to sit back and observe and think (and think and think and think) before sharing my two cents. So I guess blogging is just a way for me to communicate with a very loud world and a way for me to share my thoughts after all of the hullabaloo has died down.

I don’t know, it feels a little narcissistic now. Someone get me some babies so I can enter the ranks of holy mommy bloggers, stat!

How about you, my friends? What motivates you to publish posts?