Thursday, February 19, 2015

When faith feels faith-less

I don't love being fearful. I'm weary, so weary, of the loneliness — of being single, of being hard of hearing, of being the new kid in town. I often chastise myself: Oh, you of little faith. Why do you doubt your God? Why is He not enough to defeat your fears? Isn't His presence enough for your loneliness? What is wrong with you, self? Faith up!

So I pray and pray and pray for my faith to be built up, for my fears to be overcome, for my loneliness to dissipate, for God to be enough.

I ask Him for the things I want, ask Him to give me what I need, ask Him for all my dreams to begin and end with Him. I ask Him for really good, deep and godly friendships. To teach me how to be a good, deep and godly friend. We have little chats about insecurities, budgets and even my hair. I ask for the right perspective on marriage and singleness. I go through the Lord's Prayer.

Every day, I pray this.

And every day, the fears persist. The loneliness abounds. And where loneliness abounds, the guilt of maybe I don't love Jesus enough abounds all the more.

Where is my faith, I wonder. Where is God?

I cry. I beg. I plead. Don't forget me. Where are You? What are You doing?

And for just a moment, the tears still wet on my face but no longer filling my eyes, I hear the still, small answer: Building your faith. Like you asked.

If it were up to me — if it were really and truly up to me to decide how to spend my day, what to think about, what to do — I would choose the things God says not to do. I would choose sin. I would pick the broad and easy way, not the narrow and hard one. I would do whatever I thought would make me happy, by whatever means appealed to me most in the moment.

When left to my own devices, I choose the lazy way through life. Every time. There is no way I can summon the willpower to pray for faith on my own. So how do I get to the throne of grace in the first place? How am I able to pray when, in my most base, natural state, I don't even want to?

I brag talk a lot about how I was an English major, but I was also a psychology minor, and one thing that stuck with me from Psych 101 was a discussion on motives. Why do people do the things they do? What drives us? What compels us? I learned then that we do what we want. In the classroom of life, I've discerned we also do what we have to.

Might there be a third option? We do the things we do because it is God who wills in us to act.

Faith — faith enough to pray for more faith — is itself a gift from God. Not all my wantings or all my having tos can bow my head or clasp my hands. This precious gift of God is a guarantee that our groanings aren't in vain. That He's present in our bewilderment, that our sense of feeling lost is itself proof that we are not. That He watches us always and knows exactly where we are and has promised never to leave us as orphans. If we look into the whirlpool of our sin and come away disturbed and fearful and concerned (as we ought to!), then it's only because He has let us know those things, and compelled us to call out for help, not because He has given up and left us for dead.

It bears repeating: If we can call out to God and express our fears that He's left, or forgotten, or overlooked us, that's proof that He hasn't, because we can't even ask for His help without His loving help.

If faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we don't see, then faith does not always come by way of answered prayers. God will not build my faith today by saying, Yes, here are like five new friends for your soul and also movie dates. My joy will not be increased today by Him turning me into a warrior princess who fears nothing and no one.

No, today, faith is being built in my helplessness. God persists me in prayer even as my hands are tempted to build walls around my heart. He sows His Word in my heart and sharpens my sword in the battle against sin, when I'd rather lay the shield aside and let sin have its way with me. His mercy pulls me out of bed every morning — because I can't even crawl out of bed unless He deems it so.

There's no such thing as a wasted workout. Even when I don't feel like going for a walk, I do anyway and my lungs still burn, because that's what they do when I walk. It's their very nature to burn when pressure is applied. So my feelings — or lack thereof — about exercise mean nothing to my biology. Muscles still stretch. My core still strengthens. My heart still pounds.

Maybe these mundane days of faith-building are like that, too. Even though I'm bewildered, even when my prayers are full of fears, when loneliness settles in next to me and threatens to choke, my soul knows no difference. God still incinerates my sin. Grows my faith. Increases my joy. And makes my heart (skip a) beat.
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. — Philippians 2:12-13 (ESV)

Monday, February 16, 2015

Ye fearful saints

Gosh, the last few months have had ALL THE FEELINGS. Mostly good. It's funny what moving just an hour away can do for the soul. Relief. Excitement. Gratitude. Discovery. Joy. So much loveliness abounds.

So does fear, though. I don't just mean the general anxiety of an introvert navigating her way through a busy church foyer, or the overall shyness that accompanies being the new kid in town.

I mean fears that wake me up in the middle of the night, taunting me until dawn comes. Fears that make me question my choices, and sometimes even question God. Some of the things I'm afraid of don't even exist. Others send my overactive imagination on an acid trip and that's how I end up waking up from dreams of trying to get the door locked before the zombies come.

I don't like this. And I know living in fear is not conduct becoming a follower of Jesus, so I've been thinking a lot this week about what my fears say about me, what God has to say about them and what He has to say about Himself in the midst of them.

I've learned four things so far:

1. God is always up to more than I can imagine.

This week, I've been worrying about the future, wondering why certain things aren't going the way I think they are, trying to guess what God is doing in the waiting so I can pretend I have some semblance of control. If I just knew what He was doing, then I'd be able to relax, right?? ;)

That, however, is the opposite of faith, which is itself a gift from God. And it occurs to me that never in my life have I ever been able to guess what God has been up to at the beginning of some trial or even adventure.

A couple of verses keep coming to mind:
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. — Epehsians 3:20-21 
When you did awesome things that we did not look for,
you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
From of old no one has heard
or perceived by the ear,
no eye has seen a God besides you,
who acts for those who wait for him.
— Isaiah 64:3-4
It's only been until I covered enough ground to gain some hindsight that I was able to even hazard a guess at what God was doing ... and even then, because He is infinite and I am not, I am sure I don't get the whole story. I just see bits and pieces woven together in a corner here, a stitch there. And He almost always does things I wasn't even looking for in the first place. Like salvation. Now there's a story I could never have dreamed up on my own.

So rest easy, soul of mine. Ask for a thimble full of water and you'll get the whole ocean, because He loves you.

2. He knows what I need. 

I'm usually more concerned with what I want than with what I need. I'm anxious for dreams to be realized, for phone calls to be returned, for my days to be convenient.

But those aren't always what I need. Sometimes delayed dreams lead to greater patience. Sometimes unreturned phone calls teach me to endure. And always, inconvenient days are opportunities to die to self.

I don't always get what I want, but when Jesus teaches the disciples (and us) how to pray, He doesn't counsel us to petition God with all of our wants, but to trust our heavenly Father to provide us with what we need: "Give us our daily bread." Give us what we need to endure the day. To finish this leg of the race. To press on.

Shortly after, Jesus also says:
"Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble." — Matthew 6:25-34
So why should I be fearful about what happens tomorrow, or the next day or next year? I only know what I want, not always what I need. Praise God He knows both! He is wiser than me, and loves me even more than I love myself (which is saying a lot, considering how self-involved we sorry sinners are!). He knows that ultimately, what I really and truly want is to be happy, and that real and true happiness is wrapped up in Him. The things I think I want may give fleeting pleasure or brief reassurance, but what I need is more of God Himself, and He is only too happy to give that.

3. He only gives good things. 

When I'm fearful, I'm most susceptible to falling for the lie that God is holding out on me. That there's something good that He's denying me just for kicks.

But how can that be, when Scripture is just dripping with evidence of His goodness?
"Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!" — Matthew 7:7-11 
As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. — 1 Timothy 6:17 
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. — James 1:17
One of the best ways I'm learning to combat fear is to know that God is only ever up to good, even in the prayers it feels like He isn't answering, or isn't answering the way I want Him to. It would be impossible for God to not be good, to not always be working for the good of His kids.

It's just that His idea of good is sometimes different than mine. Things like patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control are good but I don't come by them honestly or easily. The fruits of the Spirit don't come about through circumstances that I would always call good, but in hard and mundane days, in situations I tend to go out of my way to avoid.

God's kind of good — my holiness and sanctification, His glory being revealed — is infinitely better than my version of good, which usually just means convenience. Do I want easy, or do I want good? Do I want a convenient earthly life, or a joyous eternal one? The way is hard, and narrow, and fraught with danger, but it. is. good. 

4. He us delivers from our fears. 

I "happened" upon Psalm 34 the other day, and almost laughed in delight and relief:
I sought the Lord, and he answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant,
and their faces shall never be ashamed.
  — Psalm 34:4-5
HE delivers me from my fears. Not that I bring my fears to God and ask Him to vaporize them. But that I look for Him, and He answers, and HE delivers. Can you imagine? Being surrounded by your worst enemies, being pelted by rocks and insults from every direction, with no way out? At least no way out alive. And lo, in the distance, a roar from the Lion of Judah. He comes charging, swiping the cruel taunters aside as he barrels toward his harassed and helpless sheep to rescue them from danger.

Or for maybe a picture that's less C.S. Lewisian, more biblically literal, consider Peter, a boat, some waves and Jesus.
Immediately [Jesus] made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” 
And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” — Matthew 14:22-33
I never noticed until recently, but when Peter starts to sink, Jesus response is not first, "You of little faith." I always thought it was. Aren't all our sermon illustrations along those lines? "Peter never should have looked away from Jesus," we say smugly, as if we would have known better in the same situation. "See, when we look away from Jesus, that's when we fail."

There's an element of truth there, and the typical admonition to not lose faith and sink by always keeping our eyes on Jesus isn't a bad one.

But when I reread the story, I realize that maybe we've got it a little out of order. When Peter starts to sink, Jesus doesn't get in his face and yell unhelpful things like, "Just look at ME, buddy! Look into my eyes, and you'll stop sinking!" No, Jesus immediately reached out and took hold of him.

Look how orderly and steadfast our God is, how He doesn't change from one Testament to the next:
I sought the Lord,
But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.”
and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.
Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. — Psalm 34:4, Matthew 14:30-32  
I'm such a Peter these days. I'm flailing in the sea, all the while admonishing myself for not having enough faith, for not trusting God harder, for not believing Him more. But why do I do that, when God isn't doing that? He's stooping, hand outstretched, waiting for me to call, not on my own faith, but on Him.

The same God who saved David from his enemies is the same one who pulled Peter out of the waves. And He's the same God who'll snatch me out of my fears today. I need only follow David and Peter's examples, to seek the Lord and cry out, "Lord, save me!" And He will!

Sometimes my fears are silly and absurd. Sometimes Satan wields them as weapons for my destruction. Never does God abandon me to my anxieties. Sometimes He enters the fears with me. Sometimes I can hear Him gently chiding, "you of little faith ..." But always I can count on his strong hand to sustain.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

I need you

You guys. I have so, so many half-written blog posts just idling in my drafts folder. I haven't published or worked on them because they're almost all variations of a theme — singleness. And I don't want to be that lady who is obsessed with being single, obsessed with finding a husband, obsessed with defining myself by my marital status (or lack thereof).

But the more I think about it, the more I'm convinced I need to be brave and share those thoughts. A couple of reasons come to mind:

1. The blogosphere that I love truly, madly and deeply seems comprised mainly of mommy blogs (which I do enjoy reading!), food/decorating blogs or general "Christian living" blogs. They're all good and feed my soul and my brain in different ways, but there seems a dearth of resources for singles — at least for resources that don't try so hard to convince me that being single in my 30s is Living. My. Best. Life. Now!

Oh, I've stumbled across a few here and there. Desiring God and The Gospel Coalition sometimes have good resources for singles. For single women in particular, Fabs Harford is my new favorite because she's faithful in pointing all women — single, married, engaged, widowed, whoever — toward our first Love, Jesus. I often read and re-read her posts when I'm in need of some perspective. And yesterday, I stumbled across this series of blog posts on singleness by Gimme Some Oven.

So, people are talking about singleness, and that's good! I just don't know if we're talking about it enough, or with the right audiences. We singles talk to each other, but in my experience, the church — comprised mainly of married couples and families — seems like it doesn't know what to do with us post-30 singles. I have felt lonelier as a single at church than as a single among my married and coupled-off friends who don't go to church. I hope by shedding a little light here and there, we all, as the body of Christ, might learn together how to love each other well.

2. This is just where I'm at in my life right now. I realize the longing for marriage and a family might sound trivial to someone starving in Africa or feeling trapped in an abusive or loveless relationship. And in light of eternity, maybe my longing is trivial. I sometimes wish I could flip a switch and get over it already, ma'am. But if the writer's decree is to "write what you know," then friends, this is what I know right now. I know nothing of diaper creams or the best light for photographing food. But I am certain there is a wealth of lessons to be learned and endured during this single season, so I deal with it the only way I know how — by writing about it.

Putting Sex in Perspective

Something that gave me confidence to blog this morning was a thoughtful post by Kevin DeYoung: Putting Sex in Perspective. He writes mainly to Christians who experience same-sex attraction, but it was good for this heterosexual single Christian's heart as well. I encourage you to read the whole thing, but a few points stood out to me and next thing I knew, I was mentally composing a blog post before I even got out of bed:

1. "Dying to self is the duty of every follower of Christ ... We all long for cre­ation to be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God (v. 21). This does not minimize the struggle of those who experience same-sex attraction [or late-onset singleness!], but it is does maximize the ways in which we are more alike than different."

2. "Singleness ... does not mean you must live alone, die alone, never hold a hand, never have a hug, and never know the touch of another human being ... Perhaps single is not even the best term for those whom we expect live a full life in the midst of friends and colaborers. If God sets the lonely in families, so should we (Ps. 68:6 NIV)."

3. "But, of course, none of this can be possible without uproot­ing the idolatry of the nuclear family, which holds sway in many conservative churches ... A spouse and a minivan full of kids on the way to Disney World is a sweet gift and a terrible god. If everything in Christian com­munity revolves around being married with children, we should not be surprised when singleness sounds like a death sentence."

4. "In the Christian vision of heaven, there is no marriage in the blessed life to come (Luke 20:34-35). Marital intimacy is but a shadow of a brighter, more glorious reality, the marriage of Jesus Christ to his bride, the church (Rev. 19:6-8). If sexual intimacy is nothing up there, how can we make it to be every­thing down here?"

I need you

One of the biggest things I'm taking away from DeYoung's post is that no matter how much I might try to convince myself, or even you, otherwise, I cannot do this singleness thing alone. I don't doubt there are worse fates than a life or season of celibacy. I don't doubt that marriage has its own pains and burdens. I don't doubt that everyone else has their own crosses they are busy with. 

I also don't doubt that God made us for each other.

So, church, just like I need your help with my hearing loss, I need your help with my singleness. Sometimes I feel like the weight of it, or both, will crush me. 

Not to put too dramatic a spin on it or anything. ;)

I know you didn't ask ... but here are some things weighing on my heart right now, for me and for you, especially you, my married friends and acquaintances who aren't friends yet:

1. I need you married friends to teach me, the clueless single, how to be a good friend and sister to you. My friend-making skills are rusty. Because of the way we do idolize marriage and family, I'm reluctant to intrude on your family time. I worry that you might think that I have nothing to offer because I haven't experienced motherhood. I shouldn't let those worries keep me from you, but too often, I do. Can you meet me halfway and show me what to do? Tell me what's helpful, tell me what's realistic, tell me what not to do or expect when it comes to relating to you or understanding the purpose and place of marriage. But please, don't leave me alone.

2. This singleness schtick, more than any other frustration, annoyance or trial I've experienced in my measly 31 years, has so far been the biggest temptation to walk away from God. (And if you are thinking that if that's my biggest problem, then I must have been leading a charmed life, indeed ... I would not argue with you) I already did once, and I'm sorely tempted to do it again. To call the shots. To trade the greater pleasures of God for the smaller, fleeting ones of the earth. To seek what I think is good and necessary for my life, only to lose my life in the end, instead of losing my life to Christ and finding my all in Him. 

I need you to get on my case when I do that. Text me if you don't see me at church. Check in now and then and ask how my heart's doing. Will you help me as we both work out this whole "dying to self" business?

3. For the love of all that is good and holy, please help me find me a husband. :) I'm only half-joking, friends! I know the odds are against us. There's a scarcity of single men in the church. It's true in my Presbyterian church in a college town, and it's true in your mega-church in a bustling metropolis. (As my brother — who works at a large metropolitan church — said the other day, "Where are all the dudes?!") But I'm over online dating. Not into the bar scene. My resources feel depleted, but maybe yours aren't. Wink wink nudge nudge. 

4. I am sure I will be tempted to compromise. To find a loophole that would allow me to be with a super nice, super great, but super non-Christian guy. Or sort of nice, kind of great, nominal Christian. I love Reformed theology, which means I love the doctrine of grace. And that just makes me confident that in my desperation, in my weakness, I'll be tempted to misconstrue it, to apply it in a way it was never intended to be used. To say, "Well, he likes Jesus, but he doesn't love Him, but that's OK because 1 Peter 3:1-2 says I can win over my husband. I'll just show him grace, and it'll all be good." That's not grace! That's twisting the Word to fit my agenda. 

Please, will you pray for and with me to resist the temptation in the first place? To value Jesus and His Word so dearly that I would gladly endure singleness instead of trading it in for something or someone that would keep me from the Very Best Thing?

Even if you're not single, even if I'm not married, we're all in this together. What would you add to the list above? What are some other practical ways that people who are married and people who are single can love each other well, especially within the church context? What do we each need to know about the other?

I don't have all the answers ... but I hope the questions take us to a place of sweeter fellowship and a greater grasp of the tender mercy of our God. 

Friday, January 9, 2015

For Narnia and for Aslan

The Charlie Hebdo killings hit a little too close to home for me. I worked for seven years in the comics industry. I was never a professional journalist, but it's near to my heart. When I read about the killings in Paris, I was chilled. First, because freedom of expression is stained with blood. Everything I've known for the last several years is under attack. Second, because this is war. I don't just mean between journos and extremists, satirists and jihadists. Evil is mounting. Can you feel it? There is something chilling about Ferguson and its aftermath, about Charlie Hebdo, even about the Sony hack, that goes beyond just the human component.

I want to shrug it off as, oh, stuff like this has always been happening, we're just hearing about it more because of Twitter

And that may be so. 

But it at least reminds me that the things we can see are only a tiny little fraction of what's really going on. If we could pull back the curtain just an inch, and see the forces that are actually at work ... well, I shudder to think what we would find. We — or at least I — forget so often that we're engaged in battle. Not just against flesh and blood. Not just against ISIS or al-Qaida or our frenemies on the other side of the aisle.
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12, ESV)
I already know every day is a battle. Not a battle through traffic, or a battle to find a parking spot. But an open field. Two armies: one good, one evil. Weapons gleaming in the sun. Quivers full. Shields raised, swords unsheathed. Think Helm's Deep. Think the battle with the White Witch.

It's on this kind of battlefield that I fight to love Jesus more than I love the idea of marriage. To treasure Jesus more than I treasure even the best and godliest of friendships. To desire to see God glorified more than I desire to see myself glorified. That every day, I have to beg the Lord, Make me strong for this fight. I cannot do this without You. 

If I'm at war with dark forces even in my cushy apartment, at my comfortable job and alongside my caring church, how much more are, say, the people in Paris? Christians under persecution? People of any religion under attack for not calling on Allah? What evil is this?

My heart hurts this morning. I realize it's not just Christians who are under attack on the surface — a Muslim policeman was among those killed on January 7, and hostages were taken at a kosher supermarket — but I do believe the terrorism we're witnessing is but a shadow of the cosmic battle between good and evil. More specifically, between the powers of Heaven and the forces of hell. And for those of us who do call on God as Father, we're conscripted into that battle. Our weapons may not be manhunts, no-fly lists or guns. We fight on our knees in prayer — for God's Name to be made great; for strength and endurance to put to death the things that would lure us away from our sweet Savior and from each other ("Be killing sin," John Owen said, "or it will be killing you."); for the encouragement and perseverance of our brothers and sisters all over the world who are watching the cosmic battle unfold in front of their very eyes.

Prayer is the battlefield. We love the imagery of the armor of God. Of suiting up to head into battle for our King. But after we've put everything on and taken up our swords, we're instructed to be:
... praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. (Ephesians 6:18-20, ESV)
My biggest fear for 2015 and beyond is not so much ISIS or whether our personal freedoms will be taken away (though those do make me nervous!). My biggest fear is that we'll become complacent. That we'll choose comfort and reputation over proclaiming the truth. That we will love ourselves and our safety more than we love and cherish our God. That we will forget that we are engaged in battle every day, or that we'll whittle the battle down to merely fighting the sin in ourselves and neglect the reality of the outside spiritual forces of darkness.

I think that's just what Satan would like us to do — forget he exists, forget he's still slithering around, inciting terrorism, hissing in our ears to get us to leave the God we love. After all, we can't fight an enemy we don't remember exists. If we don't fight him, Satan's got the advantage. And we love God too much to pretend His enemy, and therefore ours, isn't real. Our mighty, powerful and warrior King is not Don Quixote, tilting at windmills, and neither are we.

Make us strong for the fight, Lord. Make us brave. And come quickly, Lord Jesus. Come. Quickly. 

Until then ...

Monday, December 15, 2014

I trace the rainbow through the rain

I am not getting married, am I?

This is the question I pondered in the haziness of the morning, as I lay in my bed (alone), beleaguered by a night of grieving over dreams that haven't come true, and traced God's hand across the tapestry of my life. Especially since high school, maybe earlier, loneliness has been a common theme, as it is in so many lives and across so many circumstances. Being hard of hearing has not been an easy pain to bear. I've had seasons of my life where I've been able to roll with it, to embrace it and even be grateful for it. And I've had seasons where I've wrestled with it, wished I could kick it to the curb and spent more time crying over it than not. The hardest part about those hearing aids of mine has not been not understanding what a particular sound is, or trying not to feel embarrassed at having to ask for help.

No, the hardest part has been the loneliness, the feeling of being on the outside of everything, of not keeping up, of not belonging. But it has also been the best part when it has pushed me into the arms of my Father, who has never, and will never, leave me alone. My loneliness in my hearing loss has been my limp, my thorn in the flesh.

Right now, I'm in a season where being single is bringing me more anguish than joy; a season that brings a different kind of loneliness, a different depth of pain. I do not know what makes this season harder than all the other single seasons, except that being single at 31 is a far different beast than being single at 21. I see more readily in my own body signs of aging, hints that it won't always be up for the task of bearing or raising a child. The loneliness is more palpable somehow, as friends with growing families are less and less available, and as the pool of potential suitors seems to shrink with each passing wedding season.

As I trace God's heart through the bittersweet loneliness of my hearing loss, and as I traverse the painfully lonely wilderness of spinsterhood singleness, a new question emerges: What if I don't get what I want? What if this dream must die for God to work?

I want to believe I'm asking the wrong questions, that it's not for me to know yet, that I don't know what tomorrow will bring. I want to believe that somebody, somewhere might still find me desirable enough to agree to stick by my side for the rest of our lifetimes. But God did not redeem my hearing loss by making me hearing. He drew me to Himself in the pain and in the quiet so that I might hear His heartbeat more clearly.

Could it be that He will work in my singleness as He has in my hearing loss, that rather than redeem my singleness by making me a wife, He will redeem it by making me love Him more? Could it be that the most loving thing God has done and is doing for me, besides sending His Son to die because I am sinful, is to make me lonely in this world so that I can see more clearly how precious He is?

I think of Paul and Timothy, who recounted their afflictions in their second letter to the Corinthians:
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. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. (2 Corinthians 1:8-10, ESV, emphasis mine)
Far be it from me to compare being a little lonely to receiving the sentence of death (!). But the same God who delivered Paul and Timothy from deadly peril can and will surely pour out His grace in such a way that I can clearly see I have no hope but Him, nowhere else to go but to Him.

I have wasted so many years of singleness angry that I wasn't getting what I wanted. Angry at God because it felt like He was withholding good from me. This time, though, I will remember what He has done before, count on His goodness, and trust that His ways are infinitely better than my ideas of how my life should go.

I am tired of wasting my single years. No more. I will ask the Lord, sometimes daily, for a husband, for the mercy of not having to go through this life on my own. And then I will beg for the grace to bear this cup of singleness well, until I'm married, Jesus comes again or He calls me home; that my singleness will not be in vain; that it will drive me to the arms of Jesus, the Very Best Thing I ever will and can have, the Greatest Love that will never, ever let me go.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Very Best Thing

I have not decked the halls. There are no lights in my windows, or wreaths on my door. In fact, all of my Christmas decor is still safely tucked away in their (many) boxes in my closet.

But despite the lack of Christmas cheer, this season of Advent has been good. It's been a bit quiet, maybe even a little lonely, but it's in those quiet, lonely spaces where I find God. Or rather, He finds me. And He doesn't just find me; He meets me here and we sit, my heart in His hands. In all my years wandering this earth, I have never found anything better than that, and for however many years I have left, I don't expect I ever will. And friends, I've eaten Nutella with a spoon, so you know I mean it.

In Jesus, I have the Very Best Thing I could ever possibly have, a most precious treasure that can't ever be taken away from me. I can't say that about a husband, or a church, or a family or good friends.

It boggles the mind, really. God, who is perfectly perfect in every way, who has literally never made a mistake, a misstep or a faux pas, who is exactly who we mean when we say, "could have anyone He wants," has set his affection on me — and yes, you. Sinners of the worst sort. A sorry lot. An unfaithful, unruly mob. He woos and pursues. He knows precisely who we are and has wrapped us in His arms around us and pulled us close anyway. He loves us, as Sally Lloyd-Jones says, "with a Never Stopping, Never Giving up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love."

My jaw drops to think that not only do I know this passionate, perfect God, I am known by Him — known in the way we all want to be known: completely and without reservation. "Lucky" isn't a word Christians like to use. We much prefer our "blessed"s. Yet more often than not, I find myself thinking, "How lucky am I?" Of course, it's not luck — not chance and not a gamble. But lucky in the "what did I ever do to deserve this" way that leaves you breathless with awe.

And the answer, of course, is I didn't do anything to deserve Jesus. Neither did you. We were just bummin' around with our abusive ex-boyfriend, Sin, and Jesus came along and said, "You can do better than that," and rescued us ... because we always belonged to Him. We just didn't always know it.


I don't miss my decorations as much as I thought I would. Presents under the tree don't hold a candle to the Very Best Gift we've ever, and will ever, receive.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Single and Sanctified

I read a lot of mommy blogs. I don't know why. I am not a mommy. But one of the common themes of these blogs is how sanctifying motherhood is. For instance, you never really know how selfish you are until you have kids. Or, you have little ones looking to you to be an example every day. Or, some days are just so mundane and the kids are so whiny and you have to call on Jesus all the time.

Motherhood makes you holy, is what they're trying to say.

For a long time, I felt like maybe I wasn't as holy, or wasn't as "set apart" or just flat out wasn't as good as those married and mommied ladies. After all, being single means staying up late every night, watching my shows and eating bon-bons, right?

If only, friends. If only.

For me, being single looks more like running nonsense errands and spending money just for something to do. Being single means wasting a lot of food because cooking for one? The struggle is real, people. Being single after a certain age means a lot of weekends and evenings with only Netflix for company (I mean, OK, I am going to be real with you; sometimes that's a perk. But day in and day out? It gets old fast.). Being single means that sometimes, every bone in your body is aching to hold and be held, and it's almost physically painful, but there's really nothing you can do about it.

As it turns out, being single is its own sanctification. A long time ago, I pointed you to Steve DeWitt's post on being a single pastor. He's since married (you go, Steve DeWitt), but the way Jesus transformed Steve's single years still hold true. More recently, I stumbled upon Fabienne Harford's excellent post on the Gospel Coalition, "Sex and the Single Woman."

I don't know what to add to their wise words. Some tears, maybe, as I ponder both the weariness of the fight, and the assurance that Jesus is enough. That however intense my longings might be — for companionship, to be a little less lonely, to touch and be touched — there is something even better up ahead.

In Hebrews 11, we're presented a list of people we know from the Old Testament — people who didn't know about Jesus yet; they only knew that salvation was coming. They were confident God was faithful, and they hoped in Him, trusting that He would, indeed, make all things new someday. But all these people — Abraham. Sarah. Enoch. Isaac. Jacob. Joshua. Rahab. Moses. Gideon. Barak. David. Samuel. The prophets. And many more. — all of them died having never seen Salvation come. They didn't get to see the fulfillment of their longing, but they trusted that God was good.
All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. — Hebrews 11:13-16 (NIV)
And so God was not ashamed to be their God! He promised them a home, and He does the same for us now. In Jesus, in God's good plan, we have a refuge for our weary souls. Fellow singles, take heart. This means that even if we never get married, never become parents, or always feel on the outside as an unmarried, that God is still good. We can put our hope in something better up ahead — something better than committing ourselves to another person, or in coming together to create another one. Our hope is not just in our God who is, but in our God who is to come.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” 
And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. — Revelation 21:1-7 (ESV)
When I wish I had someone to sit next to on the couch, I can be at peace knowing the Holy Spirit resides in me. When I feel like the weight of being single and of living alone might be more than I can bear, I remember that Jesus has promised that His yoke is easy, and His burden light, and that God's commands are not burdensome. When I'm tempted to believe the lie that I am not enough because I am single, the Lord is good to remind me that He has called me His, He has redeemed me, and He loves me. And when I am tired — just so tired — of having to wrestle with not just my own flesh, but against the schemes of the devil and the spiritual forces of evil, I can rest on His promise that He is coming soon.

Has there ever been a relief so sweet as that?

Come quickly, Lord Jesus.