Category: Alone

A Single Window Pane

When I first moved into my 1920 vintage home, the kitchen had those crank-out sort of windows.  They didn’toutside looking in work so well, because the cranks kept falling off and eventually would not work anymore.  One of the windows would fly open in the wind and I had to nail it shut.  First big expense – double-paned windows.  A week and BIG chunk of change later, I had windows I could open and shut with ease and the double panes helped with my heating bill.  Rain would slam onto the screens and the outside pane but keep the inner pane dry.

Fast forward a couple years.  Moisture began to gather between the panes of those expensive windows.  Thanks to the warranty, another big chunk of change for labor, and I had airtight windows again.  I guess you could call that “labor panes.”  Sorry!  I couldn’t resist that.

So, why the thoughts about windows today?  Because for a few weeks now, I’ve been bumping up against a single window pane of the mind which causes emotional pain.  Advice for marriage and family abounds.  Some of my long-visited Christian websites have either discontinued their pages for singles, or have buried them under pages labeled “for women” with fewer and fewer articles for those without a life partner.  And, generally the articles there tend to be written by now-married women who focus on “what to do while waiting.”  Articles abound on “how to raise children” and “10 little things to brighten your husband’s day.”

Venturing onto pages “for men” is usually a different experience.  While there are articles for “5 things your wife wishes you knew,” it is rare to find any mention of singleness on men’s pages.  Maybe it’s because fewer men than women walk through life as a onesome.

I’ve come to realize that singledom, especially in the church, is an invisible village.

Sermon series for God’s design for sex and marriage are popular.  Onesomes are told to pray for their married family and friends, armed with increasing information on what marriage should be about.  I’m quite happy to do that.  I respect marriage highly.  I’m not blind to the endurance of many in this challenging place.  Why, however, is it not just as important for those who are married to understand more about the challenges of living as a Godly single, and to pray for us as well?  I’m here to tell you that being single takes a lot of hard work, too!

In the absence of attention at church-level in general, I’m aware that there is definitely an elephant in the room – and it seems to be me.  Well, at least, it is those of us who do not have a life partner at present.  Most unmarrieds who come to the church are those who have had the experience of having had a spouse.  Sadly, marriages end by death and divorce, both very painful situations.  I’m also here to tell you that never having had a spouse can also be a very painful situation that very few acknowledge, bringing loneliness most folks just don’t get!

I’m saddened greatly that most churches do not think about a sermon series – or even one sermon – on what it means to live a Godly single life.  There is an urgent need for even middle and high school students to know how precious their emotions and hormones are to God, and that He is very interested in helping them develop self-control and contentment.  College men and women are thrust into a world where many of them are on their own for the first time, and if they have not learned the value of faithfulness and self-control at a younger age, they may have trouble seeing the value now.  The term “single” is not generally used until they are post-college age.  Once again, they are on a huge learning curve of how to be self-supporting and responsible adults.  Too often, too many do not have a practiced discipline in their moral lives and may not see a need to gain one now.  Why not?

They have not been told how important and valuable their moral lives are to God, themselves, and those around them. 

Read this:  “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?  You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.  So glorify God in your body.  (I Corinthians 6:19-20)

The temple in Scripture is described as a visually spectacular place, full of color and lush fabrics, and gold, silver, and gems of every type.  Of course, its real purpose was not to be spectacular, but to be a place where people gave back to God from their crops and livestock, acknowledging their shortcomings – sin – and receiving forgiveness.  While the Temple does not exist in Jerusalem today, its memory does.  And, certainly the reality of Jesus’ sacrifice in my place for my sin exists!

In the process, He considers me as a beautiful temple which is furnished by the Holy Spirit within me!  How can I help but live my life glorifying Him as best I can!

However, I still find myself as a sort of Lone Ranger shouting a message few want to hear.

Are you listening?

Oh Soul Mate – Where Art Thou?

soul mateApologies to a movie with roughly the same name where an interesting set of escaped convicts in the 1930’s try to find a lost treasure while being pursued by a relentless lawman.  For many, finding their “soul mate” is a much desired treasure to be found on a path with many obstacles.

A friend told me a couple weeks back that a number of people are talking to her about having finally found their “soul mate,” and for some of these, this did not appear to be their spouse.  They were puzzled about what to do.  Hmmmmm.  Started me thinking about that term.

So, where did it come from?

Most www sites talk about it in connection with Greek mythology, and I found the shortest, clearest summary on Dictionary.com:

Though the phrase soul mate gained steam toward the end of the twentieth century, the idea goes all the way back to Plato’s Symposium, written in 385-380 BC.  In Symposium, when the two dialogists discuss love, Aristophanes tells Socrates that human beings used to have four arms, four legs, and two faces, and they were happy and complete.  But Zeus was jealous and split them in two with his thunderbolt, and now humans spend their lives searching for their other half.  This idea of an “other half” has been with us ever since.

Now, google™ tells me there are at least 800,000 results for “soul mates” and I did not attempt to explore them all.  But, the ones I did scan – even the ones which hold on to the theory of “soul mates” – warned of the heartache which can come from holding this belief to an extreme, and most call it a theory – a speculation, a conjecture, a guess.  The theory of “soul mates” falls into the category of myth, and the simple definitions most found for “myth” are fable, legend, fairy tale, allegory, illusion, invention, untruth, and the list goes on.  Myths are stories which usually involve beings with more than human powers trying to explain mysterious events or religious beliefs.

 So, why is finding one’s “soul mate” so tantalizing?

Now, obviously, no one today is looking to literally connect with another set of arms, legs, etc., as described above.  But, my guess is that the person one chooses to marry is often considered largely because they just seem to “fit together.”  They enjoy the same things.  Mutual love brings them to the conclusion that they are “meant for one another.”  They feel as if they “complete” each other.  Others look at them and think they are “perfect for one another.”  I think that our current view of marriage too often falls into the “I’ve-found-my-soul-mate” category.  And, too often it brings disappointment.

So, what happens to the ones who haven’t happened on to their “soul mates” yet?  I live in Colorado.  What happens if my “soul mate” lives in Maine, or Peru, or Bangladesh, or,, heaven forbid, has died ? ? ?  Well, you get the picture.  How am I to know if or where to look?  Does my singleness totally depend on whether or not I find “the one” and if so, what do I do with my heart desires in the meantime?  Will I never be “complete” if I don’t find the soul mate?

So, how does the “soul mate” theory compare with what the Bible teaches?

Some try to put the “soul mate” theory into what Scripture teaches right from the beginning of Genesis where we are told God created Eve from a rib from Adam’s side.  Adam’s response when he first saw Eve was, “Wow!  Bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.”  (Genesis 2:23)  Obviously the “Wow!” is my version of what I think Adam must have said after his work of naming the animals was finished.  Obviously, if there was only one other creature in Eden to whom he could relate and give himself totally to, they were obviously meant to be together.  This seems to be the only option in Scripture in which there was only one solution to being together.  But, there is nothing in the Genesis narrative which describes them as “soul mates.”

All through Scripture, the equation to describe God’s intention for marriage is 1 + 1 = 1

Genesis 2:24  That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.

Matthew 19:4-5  “Haven’t you read,” he [Jesus] replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘ made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh?'”

Ephesians 5:31-32  “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”  This is a profound mystery–but I am talking about Christ and the church.

Even when folks stray outside their marriage engaging in sexual activity, “they [literally] become one flesh.  (I Corinthians 6:16).  They do not necessarily “become one” in soul or spirit.  The oneness God intends goes far beyond what most of us think.  Paul continues to take this far beyond the physical realm, saying in verse 17:  “But whoever is united with the Lord is one with Him in spirit.”

Ah, now we see that mere body to body with another person – or even soul to soul – is not all there is for us.  This oneness we all seek is ultimately spiritual.  It is in God alone that we can really be “one,” be total, be complete.  Jesus prayed that for us in John 17:20-21.  “My prayer is not for them alone.  I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. . .”

So, here’s my take on the “soul mate” idea.

Out of the billions of people who have entered and left the world, I am blessed to meet any number of folks who become close friends.  While the “other half” and “one soul mate” idea is intriguing, I am not bound to that limitation.  For those of us like me, a “onesome” still hoping for another “onesome” with whom to enter into a mutual marriage covenant, life continues to be a great mystery.  The details of much of my future days remain hidden to me.  It is my privilege to simply keep walking one step at a time in the path God puts before me.  One thing I do know.  God has not promised marriage to me.  He has promised an abundance of living in Him, single or married.

Proverbs 3:5-6  “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him, and he will make straight your paths.”

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“God won’t give me more than I can handle.” – – – Oh, really?

aaahHas anyone ever said that to you when hard times come into your life?  My guess is your answer is a resounding “yes.”  Just over the past few months I’ve heard it said to – and by – folks going through terrible health issues, financial problems, grief, or relationship fractures.  It is meant to encourage – I guess – but it implies that if we just try hard enough and pull ourselves up by the bootstraps, we’ll get through whatever, because God thinks we are up to the task of “handling it.”

Well, guess what!  God knows we are NOT up to the task of handling a great many things – and we know it, too, don’t we?  The daily news is full of stories of people who yield to unbearable situations:

  •     **  Depression abounds, and some resort to suicide.
  •     **  Finances disappear, and some resort to crime.
  •     **  Relationships falter, and some resort to unfaithfulness.
  •     **  Catastrophic illness occurs, and some resort to soul-killing resignation and bitterness.
  •     **  Murder happens, and some resort to destructive revenge.

So, where in the world did this phrase come from?  Is it really in the Bible, which would make it true?  The internet has a number of articles and sermons which affirm this phrase as actually coming from the Bible.  Well, it doesn’t!  It just sort of sprang up as a re-combination of the words from this verse:

No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.  (I Corinthians 10:13 – NKJV)

Let’s face it.  When unbearable temptation comes upon me, God does not promise that my unbearable circumstance will change.  He does promise to always make it possible for me to respond to it in constructive fashion.

This faulty phrase also blatantly states that it is God who actually gives me the unbearable stuff.  Can we really think that God looks at “Joe” or “Sue” and decides to put incurable cancer into their bodies because “they can handle it?”  Does He decide that a percentage of folks can “handle” desperate poverty, so He makes that happen?  Does He decide that “Mary” can “handle” long-term singleness, so . . . well, you get the point.

You knew I had to apply this to singleness, didn’t you?

Some think that protracted singleness is unfair and just too heavy a burden to bear and they will take any way to make marriage happen.  Sometimes that works out well, sometimes not.  Some come to see God as One who withholds and not One who provides.  OK – I plead guilty to having these thoughts at times as I have committed to live life according to Scriptural principles – and have always been single.

  1.  Doing life alone is too heavy to bear!
  2.  Living a celibate life before marriage is unfair and just too heavy to bear!
  3.  God doesn’t care about my feelings, and that is indeed too heavy to bear!

Living with these three elements in the context of a Jesus-follower-life can be difficult.  But, I have experienced the truth of God’s provision in the midst of the varied mix of unanswered desires and joy-filled living.

  •     **  There is promise of God’s always being with me!
    • Hebrews 13:5 . . . God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”  (NIV)
  •     **  Jesus shares every aspect of my life – heavy and light!
    • Matthew 28:28-29     Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  (NIV)
  •     **  He considers all my feelings to the depths!
    • I Peter 5:7   Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.  (NLT)

So, my dear friends – unmarried and married:  Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.  Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.  (Proverbs 3:5-6  NLT)

Singleness – solitary confinement or solitary refinement

orange and bananasSolitary confinement is considered to be the toughest, most extreme form of prison punishment.  People are put into a small hard-surfaced space for up to 23-24 hours a day, with no personal human contact.  Even their exercise time is alone.  Depending on the prison, they may have very limited opportunity for any stimulating experiences, TV, radio, education, hobbies, and reading.  The length of time may be days, weeks, months, even years.  Research shows that if a person was not mentally compromised before this experience, they will almost surely be, following lengthy isolation which was thrust upon them.

So, how does this relate to singleness?  Well, when a person is single for a lengthy part of his/her life, it can sometimes feel as though they have been put into a box labeled “alone.”  And, many of them simply did not “choose” this solitary circumstance.  It may feel as if it is a room which becomes smaller and more confining the older they get.

God addresses the solitary part right away in Genesis 2:18 after He had made a huge variety of animals and birds and a man who was given the incredible job of naming all these creatures.  How interesting must that have been?  But, when all was said and done, God saw that it was “not good that the man was alone.”  Now, given that He did go on to provide Eve for Adam – you know the rib story – over the years many have taken that verse to mean that it is not good for man to be unmarried.  But, the meaning is far wider than that.  No one can survive in a healthy manner totally and always alone.

Being isolated and alone for long periods of time changes who you are!

Unfortunately, many singles go through a period where they make the choice to exaggerate their aloneness by removing themselves from places where they feel their singleness is exaggerated.  And, unfortunately many onesomes feel that church is a place where this happens.  When marriage is held up as the “normal way to live,” they may wonder, “what about me?”  Now, I love seeing little folks running, laughing and playing, and love seeing moms and dads with their growing families.  I love seeing little glances couples give one another, and seeing them hold hands as they stand for prayer or singing or scripture reading during worship services.  In fact, for me, it is often just those simple things which warm my heart with joy – and which bring tears at the same time.  For some singles, going to church alone is simply too hard, and so they find other things to do with their Sundays.  In short, many isolate themselves from anything which is uncomfortable when it comes to relationships.

Most folks think of singleness as being a period of waiting – waiting for the next romantic relationship, waiting for that special person to marry, who also wants to marry you.  It is also considered preparation time for marriage.  Now, there’s nothing wrong with that.  However, I can tell you that “waiting” has a whole different feel when you are 20 or 30 than at 50 or 60 and beyond.  The Apostle Paul and I would have an animated conversation about a couple verses in I Corinthians 7.

Paul:  (NIV) Now to the unmarried and the 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.  (verses 8-9)

Me:  I agree.  But I need more details.  Is there some sort of “marriage pool” for eligibles?  You make it sound so easy.

Paul:

Me:  Uh, I can’t hear you.  I’m burning here.  (Repeat this last exchange over and over until you realize Paul doesn’t have an answer for you.)

 Let’s face it.  Just deciding by yourself that you will marry is not enough.  Wanting, desiring, longing, wishing, hoping, and even praying are not enough.  Going to singles activities, joining a singles group, going on-line to meet others who want relationship, and making yourself as attractive as possible, may not be enough either.  After a number of years, energy may wane.  And, let’s also face it.  It takes two to choose one another!

For many, it feels like solitary confinement which isolates, separates, and disconnects.

So, what is the alternative?  Solitary refinement!

Solitary refinement integrates, joins together, and connects, as well as frees from entangling and hindering things – “sin” is what Hebrews 12:1 calls it.  And I John 5:17 expands on it by calling it any un-right-ness.  Solitary refinement focuses on love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – otherwise known as fruit of the Spirit.  Solitary refinement even rejoices when waiting is interminable, when broken relationship brings deep heartache, when God brings spiritual surgery using suffering as a scalpel.  “Consider it pure joy” is the way James 1:2 says it.  Faith-trials and testing bring perseverance, maturity, and completeness.

Solitary refinement brings freedom to serve the Lord in both body and spirit, bringing undivided fidelity to Him.  Note how strongly Young’s Literal Translation says it:  I Corinthians 7:35  “And this for your own profit I say, not that I may cast a noose upon you, but for the seemliness and devotedness to the Lord, undistractedly.

In other words, God through Paul is telling us that He does not want to confine us, but to refine us!

For more thoughts on I Corinthians 7, go back to the very first posts in this blog.

Lessons from a bird and a moth.

It was a sunny Colorado day; just the pleasant sort of day for errands.  I was getting groceries out of my car when I heard a little commotion behind me.

There was a moth banging over and over into the garage window – and on the other side there was a bird simultaneously banging over and over into the glass.  Now, the moth’s intent was simple.  “I just want out of here!”  The bird’s intent was simple, too.  “I just want moth for lunch.”  I watched for a couple minutes and neither of them gave up until I scared the bird away by walking out of the garage.

So, as usual, I began to relate these two little critters to my single life.

Moth perspective

  • ** I’m in a place I don’t like and I want to get into a better place.
  • ** I’m feeling very hemmed in and want to be freeeeeeeeee!
  • ** What in the world is this wall I can see through which keeps me from being freeeeeeeeee?
  • ** I want the grass and sunshine I see and not this gloomy garage!

Bird perspective

  • ** I’m just flying along being birdy and realize it’s time for lunch.
  • ** Should I go to arches of gold or hut of pizza?
  • ** In the meantime, here’s a tasty looking moth.  Here I go!
  • ** Bammety bam bam!  What in the world. . . . .?  (Repeat 10 times.)

I’ve often acted just like those little creatures.  How many times have I complained to God that I’m tired of where I am and tired of being alone?  Too numerous to count, I’m afraid.  For instance:

  •  ** It just seems that if I were married, I’d have a built-in companion to do stuff with.  Crash!
  • ** We’re attracted to each other.  We can work on the spiritual stuff later.  Bang!
  • ** Surely God wouldn’t deny me the desire of my heart.  After all, He promised.  (Psalm 37:4)  Wham!

I’ve discovered that my perception is often flawed.  Sometimes something looks good on the surface, not so good under.  When I was about 5, my mother was making bread.  I saw the rising dough and decided to snitch a piece because surely it would taste as good as cookie dough.  So, I took a small blob and ran outside to enjoy.  As Charlie Brown of Peanuts fame might say:  Aaaarrrggghhh!  In other words:  raw bread dough does not taste good!  It isn’t in its finished state – baked.

It’s all in the timing!

OK.  You get the picture.  The one who penned Psalm 73 hit it right on the head for potential birds and moths like me.

  • ** I know God is good – – – – – but I’m stumbling around here by myself.
  • ** Everyone around me seems to have things so much better – like money and companionship.
  • ** They are healthy and happy and trouble-free.
  • ** Now, I do see that they act in ways I choose not to – even violently with evil intent.
  • ** Oh yes, they have potty mouths, too.
  • ** But, they still have friends and are having a good time.
  • ** I thought following God would be happier and more comfortable.
  • ** Instead, I’m lonely and tired and don’t feel good.
  • ** Is following God worth it?

I find some comfort in the fact I’m not alone in the hard places!  I’ve learned a lot of tough lessons in the process of going from young to seasoned singleness.  Following Jesus is full of challenges – but the commitment is worth it!  If I could go back to talk to my younger self, I would say, “God’s word provides the guidance I need even – or especially – when I don’t get it – or even want it.  Meanwhile, keep talking to God about what your heart is feeling!  He can take it.”

Fortunately, the Psalmist brings us to a glorious conclusion in verse 28:

“But I’m in the very presence of God – oh, how refreshing it is!  I’ve made Lord God my home.  God, I’m telling the world what you do!  (The Message)

Little Big Things – another oxymoron. :)

I’ve been having “Kumbaya my Lord” flashbacks to church camp this week.

camp merrillThe original Camp Moses Merrill in Nebraska was located near the little town of Fullerton, and I remember several weeks spent there as a kid and then as a camp counselor.  It offered great places to hike, with the most daring being “Lover’s Leap” which overlooked the Cedar River and held a lot of American Indian and pioneer folklore.

While I remember evening bonfires with roasted hot dogs and s’mores, one memory stands out for the impact it had on my life for many years.

I was a 13 year-old high school freshman, and had enjoyed a week of Bible studies, hiking, crafts, and looking for arrow heads.  The highlight of these weeks was a Saturday night “banquet” such as one could have in a rather rustic building.  The girls wore dresses and the guys wore nice shirts, and the food served was a step above what we had gotten all week.  Often we ate by candlelight, and then had a special service in the chapel where we were challenged to make Jesus the Lord of our lives.

Now, of course, as young teenagers, we were interested in finding dates for this special meal.  There was a boy I really liked in many of the Bible studies and hiking groups, etc., and I dreamed he would ask me to the banquet.  And, then it happened!  I was ecstatic!  But then, as I turned a corner around the snack shack, I ran into a group of laughing boys – including my Prince Charming.  It seems that they were having a little contest to see who could invite the biggest number of “ugly girls” to the banquet – who would fall for the invitation, that is.

I felt as if I had been punched in the stomach.  Ugly girl?  Of course, no boy materialized on banquet night.  I still remember the black and white dress I wore.  I remember curling my blond hair and putting on my happy face and going to a meal which tasted like sawdust.  I let those words, “ugly girl,” haunt my thoughts for way too many years.  My guess is that many of you reading this may have similar little-big stories?

Fast forward a bunch of years – to 2015.

I was privileged to be accompanist for 28 years for The Greeley Chorale, an auditioned choral group which has gained fame with worldwide travels by singing in:

  • *  The American Pavilion on July 4th at the 1988 World’s Fair in Brisbane, Australia.
  • *  The jazz festival in Montreux, Switzerland.
  • *  The Mozart Requiem in the Votivkirche in Vienna, Austria and the Sheldonian Theater in Oxford, England.
  • *  Vespers services in St. Peter’s in Rome and St. Mark’s in Venice, Italy.
  • *  The huge outdoor amphitheater in Ephesus, Turkey – where the Apostle Paul preached a number of times.

Well – on to my point before I get totally lost in Memory Lane!

Being involved with Chorale brought healing in many, many ways as a musician/pianist and as a person loved by caring friends.  Week after week brought heartwarming rehearsals filled with music which challenged me as a pianist and often gave rise to personal worship in my heart – even during the stop and start nature of rehearsals.  Great choral music of all types was in our repertoire from show tunes to opera to American music to spirituals to large sacred works.

While I retired from that accompanist position several years back, they asked me to accompany two numbers in May 2015 to help celebrate Chorale’s 50-year anniversary.  What a privilege it was to sit before “my people” again to play Randall Thompson’s Last Words of David, and Rene Claussen’s At the Name of Jesus.

After lots of applause and lots of hugs, I was thoughtfully tiny-stepping my way in heels through a snow storm to my car.  Yes, it was snowing even though it was Mother’s Day weekend!  But, I didn’t mind because the warm glow in my heart far outshone the freezing night.

And then it happened!  A gentlemen came alongside me, took my arm, and said, “Let me escort you to your car.”  We chit-chatted our way through a couple blocks, and he made me sit inside while he brushed an amazing array of snowflakes off my car, and then left with a friendly “Good night.”  I had never seen him before, and will most likely never see him again.  But, that one simple kindness made me feel beautiful!

A marvelous example of a little big thing which will always make me smile!

I think it is God who brought the long-ago camp incident to my mind as I drove home, just to let me know that it has no power over my thoughts any more!

Colossians 3:12  Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  (NIV)

♥ The original Camp Merrill is now the Nebraska Broken Arrow Wilderness.

CELIBACY – Gift? Choice? Discipline?

wait hereA number of years ago as I closed a college women’s Bible Study, one of the students said to me, “I’ve never known anyone before who has the gift of celibacy.”  I can still see the admiration in her eyes – and can still feel the absolute gut-wrenching punch I felt inside.  I drove home in tears with this question:  “You didn’t do that to me, did you, God?”  I was in my early 30s.

I’ve wrestled with that question for what for some readers is more than their lifetime of years.  Earlier editions of Webster’s Dictionary define celibacy simply as the unmarried state, or as a vow made not to marry, particularly for religious reasons.  Somewhere along the line it also came to mean abstinence from sexual activity.

I find it interesting that while the Bible never uses the term, celibacy, it is well understood that abstaining from intimate physical relationships is the recommended way of life for those who do not have a spouse.

Gift?

Many Bible scholars use I Corinthians 7:7 as proof positive that Paul calls this way of life a gift.  “I wish that all of you were as I am, but each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.” (NIV)  He appears to be speaking of the practice of abstinence from physical intimacy in and out of marriage – limited abstinence by agreement of husband and wife if married, total abstinence if not married.  For the unmarried person, Paul goes on to say in verses 8-9:  “Now to the unmarried and the 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.”

So, what happened to the gift?  Is it returnable?  Is it acceptable in some cases, not in others?  Is it one of the more specialized gifts termed as spiritual?  Are the effects instant if you accept it?  When and where do I get it?  What if I am one of the “burning” ones?

Hmmmmmm.  I wonder.

Choice?

Now, my stance on Scripture is constant.  I believe II Timothy 3:16-17 implicitly:  “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.  So, that’s how I handle my frustration at times when I wish the Bible went further in some of its explanations – especially for the onesome.  Even though verses specifically for the single are few, they say exactly what God intended to say on the subject.

Our lives are rarely without choice in some form.  We choose to make God the center of our lives.  we choose modes of conduct, such as to steal or not steal, to envy or not to envy; to respect or to disrespect; to be faithful or to cheat.  We choose what to eat, wear, say, and do.

My personal opinion is that celibacy is a choice God leaves up to me.  Now, sometimes choices are made willingly – or unwillingly.  Both depend on what we conclude are the right things to do.  Why in the world would I choose celibacy when every part of my being desires that close connection with another person?

  • *  Well, first and foremost, I believe it is what God requests of me in order to serve Him faithfully.
  • *  I believe that physical intimacy involves giving of the deepest parts of my being to another.
  • *  I want the deepest parts of my being to be entrusted to my husband, not just anyone.
  • *  I want my husband to whom I give the deepest parts of my being to have mutual spiritual values.
  • *  I want to avoid distraction of physical/emotional complications caused by short-term intimate social relationships.
  • *  And so, I choose celibacy.

Discipline?

Personally, I believe a celibate life involves both well-considered choice and intentional discipline!  Self-discipline is one of the spiritual fruit mentioned by Paul in Galatians 5:22.  While this verse does not specifically connect it to intimacy issues, there are a host of scriptures which tell us to avoid unfaithfulness of all sorts, including sexual issues.  Where I used to rant and rave at God about the battle of hormones vs. faithfulness to Him, I find that disciplined practice brings a solid consequence of more consistent contentment with where I am now.  Let me illustrate.

I am a pianist.  I began piano lessons when I was about 4 years old because I would stand at the piano and pick out tunes I heard – mainly hymns.  My mother helped me begin to develop the gift of music.  Along with that came a bunch of choices.  I discovered along the way that my tastes moved toward traditional baroque, classical, and romantic composers:  Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven.  Hearing music by composers like these just blessed a depth of my soul unlike much of contemporary music.  And then came discipline.  I decided to major in piano performance in college.  I thought I was pretty good as an incoming freshman piano major.  And then, I met my piano professor!  He took me way back to some basics I thought I had far surpassed.  I had to learn every piece at a snail’s pace.  BORING!  Then, one day I discovered that when I could play pieces from memory up to tempo, it was almost as if I could read them in my mind.  Learning them very slowly to begin with brought freedom from memory lapses, and great confidence and fun in performance.  I learned that discipline, while is often not fun, brings great reward!  I’m sure great athletes think the same.  What we see in public is born out of thousands of hours of private repetition and practice and study.  Discipline enhances the gift and the choice.

That is exactly how I feel about the discipline of celibacy after practicing it throughout my life.  It helps manage my thoughts and actions.  Choice of what I watch on TV and how I exercise my love of reading is managed by the discipline of knowing what causes me to move into areas of intimacy which simply are not available to me at present.  You know all those Hallmark movies, especially at Christmas?  Girl always gets boy, even in the most impossible of circumstances.  Even those I have to watch with discernment, because sometimes they feed a yearning in my heart which is not one God has chosen to fulfill – so far anyway.  There’s nothing wrong with the movies.  But, discipline has taught me that I need to discern the vulnerability of my heart to choose whatever I read and watch and think about in order to cultivate the quality of my life.

So what do you think?  Gift?  Choice?  Or discipline?  For more of my thoughts on this, see the first posts of this blog:  “I Corinthians 7 – a new look.”

Casual glance, casual dress, and, oh yes, casual sex. What???

I’m back to my fave book, the dictionary, for a summary of the word “casual.”

  1. Happening or coming to pass without design.
  2. Happening without being foreseen or expected.
  3. Relaxed and unconcerned.
  4. Careless or offhand.
  5. Occurring by chance.
  6. Seeming to be indifferent to what is happening.

OK.  That’s plenty of definition which I believe makes the phrase, “casual sex” an unfortunate oxymoron – two words which aren’t compatible, like “definite maybe.”  In fact, if you search online for “oxymoron casual sex” you’ll find a lot of articles secular and faith-based which discuss this for what it is:  a twisted view of something precious.

Now, I’m all for good communication about all aspects of life.  From what I read, most parents find it uncomfortable to have “the talk” with their kids.  In fact, if you are brave, and you want to laugh uncontrollably, go to monastery.com and read this hilarious response to her kids’ questions.  Just a note:  while she draws some spiritual ideas in her blog which i do not hold, “Sex is tricky” has got to be one of the funniest articles of the year.  Now, my guess is that most of us did not gain this intellectual knowledge in quite the same manner or intensity.

What in the world happens to us?  Well, when we are babies and little tots, people are really protective of us – of every part of us.  Cute clothes cover parts of our anatomy considered precious and private.  Little kids are taught not to just disrobe anywhere they please.  We teach value and respect for the body, especially because the mature mid-body areas have the capability of bringing forth new life.  Think about that a bit.  Not only is pleasure involved, but the possibility of bringing forth new life is an incredible gift – not to be taken lightly.

Shouldn’t we have a large measure of awe and respect for something so powerful?

So, what in the world happens?  Where, here are a few things:

Little children are thrust into a sexualized world at earlier and earlier ages through things like beauty pageants where they wear makeup, fake teeth, hair extensions, and are taught to move provocatively.  Little children, especially girls, may see this on TV and learn at a very early age that the way they look is most important.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love to see little girls and boys in dress-up clothes.  But, forcing them to act in sexualized adult ways is not cute.

How is it that school children in younger and younger grades are seemingly compelled to experiment sexually with one another?  What has happened to the respect for all parts of our anatomy which should have carried over from baby and toddler days?  How it is that so many folks from high school on up make intimacy so commonplace?  How did baring their bodies to each other become so commonplace?

TV and the Internet have certainly carved deep paths into minds of all ages, giving access to a whole bunch of input for people who may not have anyplace to put it.  Along with that, many of us do not get compelling teaching that sexual intimacy is reserved for those who make the covenant of marriage with one another.  We are not told that we are precious and are not meant to give ourselves away with reckless imitations of intimacy.

People want to be important to themselves and others.  They want to feel good.  No one denies that sexual intimacy is desirable – it feels good.  But, even the best things are often made better by restraint.  Eating a piece of dark chocolate cake is enjoyable.  Eating the whole cake is not.

The Message puts it so well in I Corinthians 6:16-20:

There’s more to sex than mere skin on skin.  Sex is as much spiritual mystery as physical fact.  As written in Scripture, “The two become one.”  Since we want to become spiritually one with the Master, we must not pursue the kind of sex that avoids commitment and intimacy, leaving us more lonely than ever–the kind of sex that can never “become one.”  There is a sense in which sexual sins are different from all others.  In sexual sin we violate the sacredness of our own bodies, these bodies that were made for God-given and God-modeled love, for “becoming one” with another.  Or didn’t you realize that your body is a sacred place, the place of the Holy Spirit?  Don’t you see that you can’t live however you please, squandering what God paid such a high price for?  The physical part of you is not some piece of property belonging to the spiritual part of you.  God owns the whole works.  So let people see God in and through your body.

(Eugene Peterson’s translation of the Bible called The Message.)

Where did the river go?

useless bridge*Take a good long look at this picture and it will come to your attention that something is amiss.  There is a river and there is a bridge.  But, one or the other is in the wrong place.

This is the Choluteca Bridge in Honduras.  It is a well-designed and fully-functional bridge built in the 1930s.  But in 1998 Hurricane Mitch dumped so much rain on the area in just a few days that the deluge of water carved a new channel for the river around the bridge.  It now sits on dry ground.  It is a perfectly designed bridge that has no purpose anymore because the river moved.

I’ve pondered this picture a lot this week because it seems to say a good deal about how life often happens.  People are really good at having and following dreams and goals.  And, that’s not a bad thing.  Children usually have an answer to what they want to do when they grow up.  My guess is, though, that most folks do not end up doing what they thought they would do as a child – or perhaps even as an adult.

The river called “single life.”

  • * Sometimes our strongest dreams do not materialize because of circumstances totally out of our control.
  • * When we are single, and career dreams disintegrate, we may not have the opportunity (perhaps luxury) to be employed in our chosen profession because there is no one sharing the financial responsibilities and we must simply work to pay the bills.
  • * Having a deep relationship with someone, especially one which might lead to marriage, is not something we control by ourselves.  It takes two who agree.
  • * There is often a fine line between being able to do for ourselves and being too independent – too cut off from anyone who can walk alongside us to help us sort out daily living.
  • * Some single folks revel in the independence of financial and time flexibility.  Others struggle with not having someone to work out hard details of large decisions, and find their time is not particularly flexible because there is no one to share day-to-day responsibilities.
  • * There are griefs to be borne alone in every segment of singleness:  :those who lose a spouse to death; those who lose a spouse to divorce; those who must be single parents; those who never marry.
  • * Often our married friends just do not get it – not because they do not care, but because their life focus has totally shifted.  Personally, I can be very happy for friends who marry and have children, while realizing that our friendship will be harder to maintain – and maintaining it is usually up to me.
  • * Sometimes our married friends express fear to us because they cannot imagine how they would manage if they were alone.  We are a constant reminder of aloneness.

For everyone, the river shifts its course when crises hits.  Catastrophic illness, job loss, and broken relationships all carve new river paths.  Good things carve new paths, too.  New job opportunities, financial blessing, and new rewarding relationships also make our life-river strain at its original path.

The bridge called “single life.”

I find identifying the stranded bridge to be a bit harder than recognizing the nuances of life.  (Now, these nuances have no connection with “50 Shares of Grey.”  That’s a whole different post.)

For many of us – me included – the land-locked bridge may have a name like:  “Fellowship of the Ring.”  There is a beautiful partnership signified by a wedding ring, and for years I have been one outside looking through the clubhouse window yearning to be a part of that fellowship.

While this is a God-given desire, it is not a God-promised desire.

Whether I see it, think it, feel it, or not, it is a “working together for good” because I am called according to His purpose.  (Romans 8:28)

It has everything to do with life-long hopes and dreams and a deeper walk with a loving yet firm Heavenly Father Whose love exceeds our imaginations.  Over the course of this blog, I’ve expressed continuing desire for close relationship and deep conversation with those whom I can cherish and treasure AND who cherish and treasure me.  But, I have trudged over this particular bridge for many years, and have finally come to see that it doesn’t serve a very useful purpose.

I honestly long for the kind of intimacy the Psalmists had with God.  They cried; they hollered; they raged; they praised; they sang; they loved.  They met God in the trenches and on the mountain tops.

And you know what?  God met them there every time!

That’s the kind of intimacy which overshadows every attempt we make to find the closeness we crave.

I’m discovering that God is not so interested in a bridge over my life river as He is walking through the life river with me.  Now, that’s what I call adventure!

Singles and Church – are they compatible?

jigsaw puzzleThere are many online articles about the small number of singles in churches, the even smaller number of singles in church leadership positions, and explanations of why singles do not come to church.  Many churches see the need for singles ministry, but are puzzled as to how to begin and maintain.  Well, I guess it’s time for me to weigh in on some issues as I see them repeated online.

  1. The many differing aspects of singleness have similar, but unique, needs.
  2. Singles get lumped into “one size fits all” regardless of age and reason for their singleness.
  3. Family, family, family.
  4. Marriage is celebrated, singleness is not
  5. Many questions simply do not have answers, and may be trivialized.

“Single” is a simple designation for someone who does not have a spouse.  There are church ministries up through high school, and in some cases, college.  Where does the post-high school or college person, who is now called “single,” fit?  Suddenly they are faced with questions about independence as well as the realization that they are now “single.”  Where do they go?  The many categories of singlehood have the “single” thing in common, but physically, emotionally, mentally, and certainly age-wise, they may be worlds apart.  One thing is common:  Churches do not know what to do with them – with us – with me.

Categories as I see them:

  • *  Single but in a relationship; or single but not in a relationship.
  • *  Widowed – death of a spouse.
  • *  Divorced – separation from a spouse.
  • *  Single with children, whether widowed or divorced.
  • *  Never-married.

There is simply not a “one size fits all” way to deal with singleness.  While every person on the planet needs relationship to thrive, thoughtful consideration has a place in dealing with widely varied needs and desires.  Singles are thrown together with the assumption they will “bond” simply because they are single.  The ages may span 20s to 80s with the host of life-stages in between.  Many singles simply do not see a compelling reason to be in a church which does not speak to their own life.

Churches develop grief classes for those who have lost a spouse, and divorce recovery groups as more and more Christians walk that very difficult road.  The need arises for single parents to talk together so they can see they are not the only ones in that situation.  Something else arises which makes it uncomfortable for some widowed, divorced, and single parents to come to church, particularly if they were part of a former couple in the church.  They may no longer feel the acceptance they felt as a couple.  Where couples may have exchanged dinner invitations, it feels awkward to invite just one.  In divorce, one or both have decided not to attend any more because it is just too uncomfortable.

Many churches will not recognize that their important emphasis on family makes it difficult for some onesomes to fit in.  Of course, young families and children are necessary for the future of the church.  Too often, though, conversation is limited to children or family life, making some singles feel as if they are sort of pasted onto someone else’s family and not an important unit on their own.

Marriage is celebrated.  Singleness is not.  Now, these days, many single couples decide to live together and even have children outside of marriage.  The widespread practice has changed the complexion of the church as parents struggle because what they believed to be right is not followed by their children.  Celibacy outside of marriage is considered impossible and unnecessary – and even laughable.  Marriage sermon series abound, often without the realization that perhaps more than half of their congregation is in one of the single categories – and they are aching to be recognized with compassion and understanding.

Some questions are able to be handled in loving ways.  Who knows if/when I get home at night?  Who is there to talk to when I really need to talk?  I love Bible study.  Where can I find someone to go deeper with?  The answers to these and others like them all hinge around fellowship and relationship with others.

Other questions are not answered so easily, or they may be trivialized.  What do I do with the God-given desire for physical, emotional, and mental intimacy with another person – a spouse?  How do I handle desire for sexual contact?  Who mentors me in self-discipline to practice celibacy?  How can the desire for deep heartfelt conversation with a spouse be filled?  Apart from the Song of Solomon, romance is not particularly addressed in scripture.  But, it’s enough to bring up the question – Who chooses and cherishes and romances me?

Phew!  Now it is definitely time for a cup of coffee and a chocolate chip cookie!  I know this post is longer than usual.

I hope it has sparked some thinking – and I really want to know what you think about you and church.