Thursday, March 17, 2016

"If you would just be content..."

"...then God would send you someone."*

This is, by far, the most frustrating thing that people have ever said to me, to anyone else, or even to themselves.

I can only assume that it comes from Psalm 37:4 - "Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart." But if you interpret this verse as "be content in Jesus and he will give you all the things you want today", you miss a key interpretation of the verse. What happens when you delight yourself in the Lord? HE becomes the desire of your heart. This verse is by no means an indication that God is a genie waiting to grant your wishes if you can get over the test of delighting in him.

That said... Marriage is a good thing and it's an appropriate thing to desire. God is a relational being; he created us to be relational beings. Marriage is a picture of God's relationship to us. There is nothing shameful at all about wanting marriage.

There is definitely a potential and a tendency to desire marriage for the wrong reasons, and perhaps this is what people mean when they say that you need to be content in Jesus. The challenge is this overlooks the fact that God's blessings are not dependent on us, but are an overflow of his grace in our lives. I've heard stories of people who found someone when they knew they were struggling, and I know single women who are at least as "content" as married women I know.

The tricky thing about contentment is that we live in the tension of the "already but not yet." We are at once in perfect standing with God because of the debt Jesus paid on our behalf and being transformed and renewed while we continue to live as fallen people in a fallen world. Contentment is available... but we are in a place where we are not yet what we will be.

The most contentment that I have experienced is something that the Germans call "Sehnsucht" - it is, paradoxically, "an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction." (CS Lewis, Surprised by Joy) There is a contentment that comes from knowing there is a certainty to the hope that I have in Christ. This comes with an intense yearning because I do not experience any of it perfectly today. I've experienced it on the drive to work on a beautiful fall day, where I want to bask in the foliage and know that it will all fade within a month's time. I've experienced it when I've been confronted with the sin in my life and it grieves me.

Given the reality of where we are, being here on earth, being in good standing but still not yet experiencing a perfect relationship, it is natural for us to look to the "tangible" things as the final answer to our contentment. "If I could just meet a nice man..." "If I could just get a good job..." "If I could just pay off my student loans..." We have all tricked ourselves that contentment lies just around the next hurdle.

It doesn't.

And when I find myself experiencing the desires and the longings that are inherent in singleness (and in being human), I see them as a gift. They remind me that all is not yet as it should be. The best is yet to come.

*Matt Chandler has an amazing bit on this

Monday, February 15, 2016

Blog Pivot: And now for my thoughts on singleness and entitlement

Oh Valentine's Day... I gave up hating it years ago. That said, I was a little dubious when I was asked to speak at my church's college ministry Valentine's Day relationship-themed lunch... about singleness.* Here's what I shared**:

Does anyone else remember growing up in the youth group purity culture? I can't even count how many youth conferences I attended where I learned such pertinent truths as "condoms are only 86% effective and HIV is significantly smaller and can pass through every day of the month!"

I probably could have been the purity poster child, if my hair were a little blonder and a lot less frizzy. I attended all the lectures. I read all the books. I signed the pledge cards. I had the ring. I kissed dating goodbye. (Note: the link is not a book recommendation.) I was intimately acquainted with the life of Christy Miller and all her friends, and figured I had my own Todd Spencer waiting for me. I figured that I would hold off dating until I was ready to get married, which I planned should happen at the age of 24.

24 came and went.

30 came and went.

Nearly a full decade has passed since my scheduled age of marriage, and my Todd Spencer is nowhere to be found.

And so I got frustrated. Hadn't I done everything right? Didn't they teach me that the reward for purity and "honoring my future husband" was that I would have a future husband?

It wasn't all that long ago that I was listening to a Tim Keller sermon on the drive to work when I was figuratively hit in the gut. He was talking about how our righteous deeds, done with the motivation of trying to earn God's blessing, are actually sinful because they are motivated by pride and self-righteousness.


This is actually good news. What does it mean that we are saved by grace? It means we can stop stressing over trying to get everything right, and rest in the work of salvation that he accomplished on the cross. It means that we don't need to pay off a debt that we can never repay before we get blessings that we do not deserve.

So where does that leave me in my singleness? One thing that I have learned in the ups and downs in life is that God really does give us what is best for us in every circumstance. I look back with fondness on some of the most difficult journeys I've gone through because I can see how I grew in them.

I am not single because God is punishing me for my self-righteousness. I am not single because I made the silly mistake to kiss dating goodbye in high school. I am single because this is precisely what is best for me right now. I am single because this is how God can be most glorified in me right now.


*Fortunately, I got over that. And as I was preparing what I was going to say and joking with my friends that I could write a book about my expertise in singleness, I started to think "maybe I should..." and then I thought "well, maybe just a blog..." and then thought "or maybe just use my existing dormant blog so I don't have to go through all the work of choosing colors and images and templates."

**Disclaimer: I do joke about being an expert at singleness, but I just want to emphasize that I by no means have things figured out. I do not live in rainbow-sunshine-unicorn land where I feel constantly #blessed because I am so content with being single. I live in the real world where we all experience longing, and sometimes that longing expresses itself as "well maybe if I weren't single". So don't read my blog if you want the secret to always having a smile on your face. I really just want to start a dialog rooted in grace and how the gospel transforms us in our singleness. Non-single people welcome to join in.