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Posts Tagged ‘Loneliness’

A little note before I start off on this post: this blog has officially been up for a year! Woohoo!

Ergo, I decided that what better way to celebrate my first blogoversary with a post on a hot topic in Christian circles when it comes to singleness: sex.

Back when I first became a believer and was reading books like “When God Writes Your Love Story”, sex was something I honestly didn’t think about all that much….or at least, I didn’t think I did, anyway. Even though I was a teenager, I tended to think about all of the other things I wanted about marriage: companionship, someone’s affection, someone to come home to, and and, oh yeah, someone who thinks I am attractive (very much something I couldn’t fathom at age sixteen). Sex would just be a byproduct, an added bonus.

Now, I realize that it was actually more important to me than I had thought, because, of course, for women it is in many ways a fulfillment of feeling connected to our husbands. Although obviously I can’t speak directly to men’s experience, I’ve talked to some and read books/articles on the subject that indicate that it’s similar for men – but that sex is how they get a sense of connection with their wives. Just like most women need an emotional connection in order to give sex joyfully, so also men need sex to feel connected to their wives and feel fulfilled. Interesting.

Christian singles today do not live in the same culture as even ten, fifty, a hundred years ago. That is certainly obvious. The sexual revolution created deep undercurrents of social pressure in the name of ‘freedom’ that were repressed beforehand. In response, movements like True Love Waits that advocate celibacy until marriage, were put into place. These are well-intentioned programs, but in my opinion they do not take into account the fact that, for many young adults, prolonged celibacy is just not the norm anymore. Young Christians are told that they need to keep themselves pure before marriage because one day God will provide them with a sexy, adoring spouse to bless them for their behavior; that their wedding night and subsequent honeymoon would be mind-blowingly awesome. And sometimes He does. And other times – and more often, I would say – the reality is that some of those same people grow up to be 30, 35, and 40 with no sexy spouse in sight, wondering why God chooses to ignore the fact that they have been so faithful to Him with their virginity. It’s unfair. And unlike what some of these movements and often many Christian books suggest, sexual desire and passion is not just something to be repressed and stuffed down forever. One of the greatest tragedies of singleness is the inability to express ourselves sexually in a healthy way, and to be appreciated for that part of us. It is a realistic loss; and to some extent it is beneficial to grieve it each time we experience the pangs of loneliness and physical desire that, for the time being and perhaps for at least the near future, we are not able to act on in a way that honors God.

If I may be blunt, this is one of the things about following God as a single person that is really hard, and just plain sucks. It drives me crazy that Christian women who married at age 18 (!) write books addressed to young girls about the preciousness of sexuality, when they had to wait almost half the time that some of their readers do. And the real kicker is when they describe the doe-eyed virgins as a “lilies of the valley” and the ones who had made mistakes, “the thorns” (I’m talking to you, Leslie Ludy). What. The. Heck.

I am not by any means suggesting that having sex before marriage is just “going to happen” or that it’s not an issue that God cares about. Premarital sex is sin in God’s eyes, mainly because it wrecks us emotionally – and sometimes physically – and it is for our good and His glory that He wants us to follow this commandment. But. The reality is that there are many single Christians – myself included – who have made their own mistakes sexually. They have realized that their desire for sexual connection seems so natural, so powerful, that no book on being “lily white” will take it away. There have been times when my desire to fall asleep in someone’s arms has been so strong that I have cried myself to sleep. And other times, I have decided to take matters into my own hands and made decisions that settled for a counterfeit of the real thing, making me feel more bereft than over. Honestly, sometimes, I don’t know which is worse. I don’t think that thousands of singles of marriageable age going without sex is part of God’s idea of “good”. I think that, although there are no easy answers, it is a direct effect of sin, and that it truly is a tragic repurcussion.

I used to be very judgmental on the sex issue when I was younger, thinking people who couldn’t control their desires were beyond help. It was only when I experienced some of the things that I have that I realized that it’s just not that easy. It is not easy to stay a virgin if you have the means not to. And while God certainly does command us to do so, if we do make mistakes in that area, redemption is entirely possible. I’ve experienced it myself and seen it in countless other ways as well. But I am so angry with messages that the key to conquering sexual sin ispursuing some form of spiritual nirvana-esue “lily whiteness”. Bull. Yes, Christians are certainly commanded to have self-control. I’m not advocating sexual immorality or promiscuity in the event that marriage is not provided. However, all I’m suggesting is that the struggle is very real, and very difficult, and there are just no easy answers. Marriage is a safe haven for sexual desire to be expressed, and without it, singles will feel bereft and isolated. That’s just the way it is.

I’m sure that some people reading this will react with a “but sex is about glorifying God!” Of course it is. No one’s arguing that it isn’t. But, if this isn’t blasphemous, I believe that a single going without sex when desired feels a shadow of the kind of raw emotional that Jesus did when He expressed His anguish at feeling abandoned at the Cross. He had basked in the love of the Father up until that point, and when it was removed, He was left feeling bereft. Now obviously His mission was far more important than singleness and I’m certainly not trying to insinuate that they are on the same level, but I think that we can take comfort in the fact that He has felt such anguish. It also suggests that the power of connection and love that is established when we are one with someone – whether physically in sex or as Jesus is with the Father – is absolutely something that God values and understands our pain when we are cut off from it. It is, perhaps, what it most exciting about the idea of the new creation that will be established; the idea that unspoiled and lasting oneness will occur. Sexual desire, I believe, ultimately speaks to our deep seated desire for meaningful connection. But it also is an act of grace – created of course to enable the human race to continue producing, but also to simply give us pleasure. It is okay to crave that. And it’s more than okay, I believe, to feel a real sense of grief when we are unable to experience it.

 

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Today I’m going to discuss something that has been an issue of contention within my own heart, and also a huge topic of controversy when it comes up in general discussion. My thoughts have changed quite a bit when it comes to this issue, and honestly I think it is one of the things that I’m most confused by when it comes to Scripture, and specifically Paul’s writings in 1 Corinthians.

When I think about the “gift of singleness”, I think of what it was like to be a child at Christmas and receiving a Gap sweater instead of the doll I wanted. I felt like I was getting the short end of the stick, and that my mother really didn’t understand how much I desired the doll. My young heart misread her intentions, and felt like she was purposefully not giving me the doll because she wanted to teach me a lesson, or simply because she didn’t want to see me happy. Obviously, I know now that that wasn’t the case at all, but that apparently the doll had been in high demand and she obviously hadn’t been able to get hold of it. That wasn’t her fault, but the feelings of frustration and loss were still there.

In all honesty, I approach singleness in the same way twenty years later. I feel like I’m being handed the short end of the stick when it comes to lifestyles, and that I’m being given a gift that, while perhaps is more useful for the time period, is not what I really desire. The result is that I feel the Lord is purposefully doing it to make me squirm, or to test me into trusting Him when I’d rather just scream. The thing is, discussing the “gift” of singleness needs to go beyond my own personal feelings if I’m ever going to be able to look at it objectively. With that in mind, I’d like to go into a deeper discussion of why Paul’s statement on this is so controversial and why I either agree or disagree with general Christian thought on his writing. In order to do that, though, I need to reference the particular writing which causes the controversy. Here it is:

“I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, the other has that. Now to the unmarried and widows I say: it is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion”. 1 Corinthians 7:7-9.

To be bluntly honest, sometimes Paul really gets on my last nerve.  I find that this verse, and also this one, leads to my feeling frustrated and slightly confused as to whether my desires are things I’ve created on my own or ones that the Lord has given me. When Paul starts off, he does say that obviously we all have our freedom in Christ and that if we are not called to singleness, we should marry. I personally went through a stage after I first became a Christian where I thought that some people were given the “gift” of singleness in order to best glorify God and that if you were really truly holy, you would want to be single. However, once I discovered Boundless.org, I got to read articles and books that claimed that lifelong singleness is really something set aside for those who feel that they can go their whole lives without sex, companionship, and children that marriage brings and not feel bitter about it (see the context of this quote in this article). I do think that Paul is alluding to at least the sex part of this issue in 1 Corinthians 7. Obviously, God created marriage and it represents the sacred relationship between Christ and His church, so as an “institution” marriage should be revered and honored. However, I think what Paul might be suggesting is that people who do not have the “worries” of marriage are better able to serve the Lord.

I both agree and disagree. Considering I’m writing this blog, I come from a position that is much more on the side of Boundless. I personally believe that if you have a desire to be married and all the things that traditionally come with it, then it is better to get married than not to. I also think it is something that God is calling us to.  I especially believe that some of what Paul is saying leads to people being afraid of marriage and using it as a way to support their fear of commitment and real intimacy. However…

In our culture, the process of falling in love and getting in married and lifted up as the ultimate life experience. In the church and outside of it, we are all bombarded with messages of “If I only had this…” and “You’re missing out on this if you don’t have it!” and, perhaps the most poignant, “You’re not worth as much without this”. All of these messages, compounded with the desires that we are already experiencing, feed off each other and result in destructive self images and even more dangerous perceptions of God. We are led to believe that our Father is withholding something good from us to purposefully make us have a less-than-stellar life. So we go around His way and seek what we think is what will truly give us life – which in this case is relationships and marriage. Adam and Eve, anyone? When we as Americans Christians are so focused on thinking that the other person will fulfill us, our thoughts and devotion is indeed removed from God and placed onto another fallible human being.

Falling in love and getting married does not mean that you have received a special blessing from God that sets you apart from everyone else. While marriage is a huge blessing and a wonderful thing, it is also in many ways devastatingly intimate; our real selves are exposed and we really realize we have nothing to hold on to but God Himself. Western culture, egged on by the false representations given to us by Hollywood and music, only likes to think about the thrill of it all; the chase, the rose colored glasses that love gives. Real Love, however, is brave enough to take the glasses off, see the filth and grime that is our souls, and love despite that. I’m not at all saying that Paul is suggesting that the “grace” of singleness is to remove us from this situation, as we are called to love even when we feel and receive nothing in return. However, I do think it speaks to the fact that committing to marriage does mean that we need to be prepared for everything and anything, good or bad. For many people, the bad costs them too much, and they divorce. In Paul’s mind, perhaps he was thinking that if there are people who go into marriage with a mindset of self service, they would be better off staying single. I have to say that I would agree with that.

I certainly do not have any of the answers, let alone all. As mentioned above, I deeply desire to be married and I do believe that the Lord will call me into it – I grow the most when I am daily being in community with others, and marriage is the ultimate iron sharpening iron experience. I’m also just going to say that the thought of staying celibate and not having any children for the rest of my life honestly makes me a little bit nauseous. However, I do think it comes down to how we are willing to trust God and where we can learn the most from it. I don’t know why I don’t have the one thing I desire more than anything except God Himself, and to be told that it’s a “gift” to feel as lonely and overlooked as I do sometimes makes me want to scream. The thing is, God has told us to cast all of our anxieties on Him, for He cares for us, and that He will never leave us or forsake us.

I hope this post made sense, and if it didn’t, it’s probably because I’m still confused! I don’t know why some people are single and others aren’t. I don’t know why men aren’t asking the women in their church out. I don’t know why the women aren’t responding when they do. I guess my only real source of consolation is that whatever the “gift” of singleness looks like, be it longtime or temporary, God is always the ultimate Giver. Based on His standards of the Ultimate Gift (salvation for all achieved through Christ’s death and resurrection) I want to feel confident that He knows what He’s doing.

I think, though, that the path to truly obtaining that confidence is probably really known as that thing called life.

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I’m a certified Christmas nut. So much so that sometimes, I wonder if I was a Christmas elf in a past life! Everything about it makes me happy – the music, the drinks (with their 500+ calorie counts-yikes!), and of course, the snow and cold weather. All of this, topped by the real meaning of Christ’s coming to Earth and becoming a baby for us, makes this time of year really magical for me, as cheezy as that is.

I suppose that’s why it sometimes takes me by surprise when I’m overwhelmed with a profound sense of loneliness at the very time when my heart is rejoicing. It’s a paradox, a contradiction, and almost feels like I’m being ungrateful about this amazing gift I’ve been given (salvation through Jesus Christ alone), and yet I feel it. It’s taken me a while to realize that it’s okay to have these feelings; that they’re not some sort of indication that I’m a massive failure to God and He has no use for me anymore. The truth is, I have been given favor by God based on His love and not mine, so the very fact that He came down as Emmanuel, God with us, should strike me poignantly enough to get me through this time of year. But often, I find myself questioning, and crying, and quite usually both, despite this.

The holidays are wonderful, yes. However, the sappy love songs and couples who suddenly decide eskimo kissing in the middle of the street is acceptable again don’t make it any easier for someone who is reminded keenly that they are – in their own view, at least – “alone”. And don’t even get me started on the dreaded New Year’s Eve midnight kiss and the lack thereof. Many people, if not most, have something to grieve whenever the holidays come around. Some people grieve lost loved ones – mothers, fathers, siblings, grandparents, pets. The passing of another year often only opens the wound that much deeper. Others open their 51st unemployment check of the year, staring at the amount on the page and wondering if their worth is even equivalent to the $462 allotted to them weekly. Some children play happy in orphanages and foster homes, deeply wounded to the core that they seemingly don’t belong anywhere. And then there are the elderly, who especially in Western culture have been relegated to useless old fogies unless they have the blessing of having grandchildren to spend their energy and influence on. They are the wisest people, and often most vulnerable, and we pay them back by trying to make ourselves look and feel younger, because we can’t bear to grow up to be like “one of them”.

In light of all of these struggles, it is hard to admit my loneliness when it comes to being single. Generally, I greatly enjoy my life and I know I have been given numerous blessings this year – a wonderful group of friends that I get to see at least once a week, a church that admonishes and encourages me in my walk, an apartment that doesn’t smell like fish and old cheese. Christians are usually rebuked when we admit desires for something, because apparently we’re not being grateful enough for what we do have. I do agree with that to some degree, of course, because Peter does tell us to be thankful and use that as a basis to come to God with our requests. I also think that expressing gratitude can be a very good way to avoid bitterness and self pity, neither of which is beneficial for ourselves or anyone we come into contact with. However, I am angered when, specifically, the longing to be with somebody – to have someone love me for who I am and unconditionally – is not validated. I am saddened when I pass by the tie section at Macy’s and don’t have anyone to get one for (kind of awkward to give a crazy Santa tie to a friend, no? Maybe it’s fine…). I want to kiss somebody under the mistletoe, to get them a wonderful gift and see their face when they open it, and yeah, maybe I want to walk down the Christmas light-laden street and hold hands a little. I’m not saying that my life is not worth anything without this, or that having someone would make everything better – but it would enhance my life. Also, I don’t do well alone.

I’m naturally very selfish (I’m pretty sure being an only child doesn’t help things!) and being around people forces me to get out of my crazy head and focus on them. My friends and small group have been such a source of joy for me in this area, as they have loved me and supported me when I have been way less than perfect. I thrive in community. I also am made painstakingly aware of my sin and how much I need to depend on God; that is of course one of the reasons we are called to be in relationship with one another. So what does this have to do with loneliness? Well, there are times when I’m with my friends and still feel utterly alone. I often feel like I’m doing something wrong that I feel this way; that they are just moments away from deciding I am not worth investing in after all. This is all extremely difficult for me to admit. It is through these experiences that I have to come to understand that being in a relationship will not solve my ache for deep, uninterrupted companionship. But it can, and I believe does, create a path to work through that loneliness in healthy and God-honoring ways. If I am communicating with somebody that I feel like they are neglecting me in such and such way, they can let me know that no, in fact they’re not trying to do such and such, but rather this and that (did you get that? :P). They communicate that my feelings are valid but perhaps misled, and in turn and more importantly, I learn that my life experiences are not always expressive of the truth. This life is not about me. However, walking with other people through it helps me – and probably most of us – to deal with the times when this information is too hard to handle on my own.

My favorite name for God, if that isn’t blasphemous, is Emmanuel. First of all, I love the song “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” (and on a side note, if you haven’t done so already, please listen to the Civil Wars’ version of the song because it’s hauntingly beautiful). Additionally, the fact that God chooses to have “God With Us” as one of His names – or one of His characteristics – strikes me in the very deepest part of my soul. He takes His holy Self and attaches it with us, and uses the preposition “with”. I know it’s silly, but I looked up the definition for “with” on trusty dictionary.com, and found two amazing responses:

1. accompanied by; accompanying.

2. characterized by or having.

God accompanies us as part of His attributes made possible through the work of Jesus Christ, and He is with us because we were meant to be with Him. Because of Jesus, there is nothing else, no other thing, that prevents Him from being our Emmanuel. Sin has been eradicated for us when we believe in His Son and what He did on the cross, and that’s it. Then we can have our Emmanuel.

To be honest, as amazing as this is, I still find myself desiring to have that one special someone to walk my life with. To accompany him in his experiences, and to in some sense be characterized in terms of my relation to him. The thing is, I don’t think that this is a bad thing – and that’s why I started this blog. I think perhaps I feel the longing to be married because I have a Savior who had a longing to be our Emmanuel, our God with us forever. Perhaps that is part of the “mystery” that Paul alludes to when he describes marriage. Marriage certainly will not be perfect, and my future husband absolutely will not be so either – thank goodness, because I’m not! However, I do think that when both parties daily submit their lives to Jesus, it can become a daily taste of the Emmanuel-driven world that is to come. And it’s okay to want to love somebody, because our God first loved us. In my mind, I’m okay with wanting something that is so intricate to who God is.

With all of this in mind, I do want to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas! And to all of those who may be feeling lonely this time of year, you are not alone in your feelings and they are valid. Our Emmanuel God was acquainted with loneliness and sorrows, and it is through them that He accomplished what He did. I love that. I am hopeful that this means that for all of us, our pain will not in vain. His loneliness got Him to Resurrection. We have that incredible hope for us as well, because He did it first (hallelujah!). And in the meantime, maybe my loneliness will also lead to a husband :).

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