As I sit here with my cup of coffee this morning thinking about the massacre in San Bernardino yesterday, the title seems most apt. For some unfathomable, as-of-now unknown reason, two people thought that brutally killing a number of others was an answer to something. 99.99% of us cannot even begin to wrap our minds around what that answer might be, and it does no good to ask “why?” We live in a broken world which continues to crumble. If we ever needed peace and innocence, the time is now! And so, on to the article which has percolated in my head the past 3 weeks.
OK, OK. I admit it. I am in love with the “wild” Japanese snow monkeys – especially the babies when they are in full fur and are running around like fluffy furbies. A photographer named Kiyo has captured hours of these creatures in all annual seasons and stages of life from tiny babyhood to the elderly. The monkeys in Jigokudani Wild Monkey Park are used to tourists getting right up in their faces with cameras, and yet they are not tame. They run, play, love, raise babies, and doze in hot springs while remaining wary of their human visitors. Most of the mothers are incredibly tender with their tiny offspring, becoming disciplinarians when necessary to teach them monkey politics. They rarely smack their kids – although an occasional bite happens. They also use very stern facial expressions to let a baby know when he/she has overstepped boundaries. Babies throw tantrums during the weaning process, and Mom just sits waiting for it to end, while training them to find their own food. The adults are small – not even 2 feet tall, and the babies are small enough to fit into even my cupped hands – and I have little hands! The year-old youngsters are about the size of a fuzzy loaf of bread with legs. They learn to hang on for dear life to Mama’s fur while she bounds through deep snow. I am especially drawn to their tiny faces which show a huge variety of little emotions.
Now of course, the epitome of innocence is found in people babies! Few can resist the little facial expressions, arm and leg motions, and little noises coming from such tiny living packages. They are quite simply, innocence personified! We do everything we can to protect these precious little ones. We make sure they are clean, warm and fed, and have a safe place to sleep. Now, sometimes Baby does not seem to appreciate all that, and moms and dads can attest to the decibels of noise which can come from these little lungs making sleep impossible.
Our protection of their innocence continues for a number of years into toddlerhood and elementary school. Where lines begin to blur may be when they enter middle, junior, and high school. Hormones begin to blossom, and while we do not want them to experience adult issues prematurely, the value of their innocence may begin to erode. Too often, we cave into what our society blasts at us with daily regularity: “we have to face the inevitability of the hook-up culture beginning at younger and younger ages.”
Our society seems to be under the impression that God is not able to comprehend the depth of physical and emotional passion and that innocence has a shelf-life. The Bible is just an interesting book written centuries ago and its admonitions to us about male and female relationships are outmoded and useless. Kids will do what they are going to do. Without realizing it, we’re unplugging innocence as futile and worthless. In moral issues, to use terms of an adult such as innocence and purity – and heaven forbid – virginity – becomes a laughing matter. Society fails to see that inexperience is not automatic lack of knowledge and understanding!
Inexperience is not automatic naivety!
So, when is it time to pull the plug on innocence? Is it when a child becomes 10? 12? 16? Certainly by 21? Society decries exploitation and trafficking, particularly of children and young folks, and winks at sexual activity between folks of the same ages during school events. How can we continue to live with double-mindedness? When will we say, “Enough!” When will we realize that only God can fix our messed up lives? When will we understand that . . .
God has already pulled the plug on innocence!
God is absolutely crazy about babies! He sent His son, Jesus – Emmanuel – “God with us” – in the little body of a sweet baby boy. While we do not know many details about His growing up years, we do know that He is exactly like His Holy Father. Hebrews 1:3 tells us Jesus is the “radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being.” Other Bible verses tell us that God is holy. Webster’s definitions say of “holy:” “unimpaired innocence and virtue; pure in heart; acceptable to God.” Adam and Eve fixed it so that no human could have that acceptable relationship with God on their own. But even that spiritual death sentence brought the blessing of Jesus into the world to make it possible for people to know God.
God pulled the plug on innocence when Jesus screamed from the cross: “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Mark 15:34)
God plugged innocence back in with Jesus’ resurrection from death and His gift to us of forever pure, holy, and, yes, innocent life with Him. Spend time this season pondering innocence and its rightful place in our lives.
Blessed time of remembering Jesus’ birth!
I’d love to know what you think about this. I don’t know yet what the next post will cover, but it may be some sort of sequel.
The whole “tolerance/intolerance” thing seems to be the buzzword of the day, doesn’t it? It’s easy to get to the place of saying, “Enough! I simply cannot tolerate intolerance any more!” Crazy, huh? When will we learn that fighting intolerance with intolerance just doesn’t work?
You know me well enough by now to remember that I love consulting my old friend, Noah Webster about definitions:
- Tolerance: the power or capacity of enduring; the endurance of the presence or actions of objectionable persons, or of the expression of offensive opinions.
- Intolerance: refusal to allow others the enjoyment of their opinions, chosen modes or worship, and the like; lack of patience and forbearance; unjust impatience of the opinion of those who do not agree with us.
Quite frankly, it seems to me that calling someone “intolerant” has become a reasonable excuse to be rude to one who disagrees. Words fly as opponents throw “expert opinions” at one another with attitudes of superiority. Facebook™ and youtube™ abound with all sorts of opportunities to bash those who differ with name-calling comments and disrespectful language.
I find it interesting that many opinions expressed by Christians are most vigorously and mockingly vilified. And, what I find even more interesting is that many times the ones on both sides consider themselves to be Christians. So, what’s up with that?
I also find it interesting that the opinions expressed about morality issues cause the most vigorous attacks. Now, fortunately, the majority of us can agree that important issues exist: child molestation; human trafficking and rape; bullying of any kind; and embezzlement. The problem comes when we try to place descriptive borders on these:
- Ultimate child molestation – abortion at all stages.
- Human trafficking and rape – coercing someone to go beyond what they want, particularly in sexual areas.
- Bullying of any kind – making fun of those with different personal standards and beliefs; taking advantage of the vulnerable – the ones most susceptible to being wounded.
- Embezzlement – appropriation of another’s possessions for personal use.
And, if you have read many of the posts to this blog, you know that I consider not engaging in intimate sexual activity apart from marriage to be a standard worth upholding as one way to honor God and to follow His word as given to us in the Bible. Various translations use prohibitive words such as: practicing sexual immorality or relations; playing the whore/harlot/prostitute; practicing fornication/adultery; being unfaithful to a spouse; promiscuity; and lustful acts. These phrases are unmistakably clear and the definitions have not changed much over the centuries. Adultery is understood as sexual activity including someone who is married; fornication is understood as sexual activity on the part of someone who is unmarried. No one is left out. If brought into the public arena, most people are embarrassed and feel shame.
Throughout scripture, to marry has been understood to take a husband or wife – a life-companion of the opposite sex. To remain single for life was rare, so few words describe that in the Bible, except for occasional uses of “unmarried” and “virgin.” It was understood that one who was not married was expected to refrain from sexual activity. While the word, “celibate” does not appear in the Bible, its meaning is clear.
While some of the women on the TV program, The View, can heckle and demean long-term celibacy all they want as an unreasonable and downright silly practice, I can look at Biblical folks like Paul and – well – Jesus – as examples of men who lived fulfilling and adventurous lives without marriage and its physical/emotional aspects. They also had close friends with whom they could confide the deepest longings of their souls. That gives me great hope.
How is it that our society can admire athletes who practice great discipline to sharpen their skills, and laugh at onesomes who practice the spiritual fruit of self-control to follow a life of abstinence? The society “how” is that we are trained in the science of taking, more than giving. As I’ve written in a number of previous posts, the life of an unmarried, committed Jesus-follower whose desire is to glorify Him in thought, word, and act, includes a covenant with the living God who created sex in the first place, and who gives His power to put it into proper context. Easy? Absolutely not! Possible? Absolutely!
Read how The Message presents some words of the Apostle Paul in the New Testament:
(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.”
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.
- ** 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!
- ** 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)
I’ve been having “Kumbaya my Lord” flashbacks to church camp this week.
The 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.
I’m back to my fave book, the dictionary, for a summary of the word “casual.”
- Happening or coming to pass without design.
- Happening without being foreseen or expected.
- Relaxed and unconcerned.
- Careless or offhand.
- Occurring by chance.
- 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.)
By now, everyone is aware of the book and movie titled “Fifty Shades of Grey.” I’m here to tell you that you can find out the plot, see still pictures, view the movie trailers, and read graphic quotations – and get all you need to know without reading the book or seeing the movie. This trilogy (with “Fifty Shades Darker” and “Fifty Shades Freed”) came out in 2011-12 and gained renewed energy in 2015 with the release of a movie – on Valentine’s Day – the supposed most romantic day of the year.
Reading the host of reviews is quite interesting. One said the trilogy will “possess you, obsess you, and stay with you forever.” Really? Do you really want the rest of your life to be affected by someone’s imagination? Some reviewers are saying “boring,” or “didn’t show enough detail.” Hmmm. I’m glad I don’t know what they have been watching. I have yet to find a review which says, “right on,” “what an inspiring story,” or “something I’d take my children to – or want them to read.” Unfortunately, a lot of teens and tweens are devouring this book, and even though the movie has an “R” rating, many are seeing the movie with – and without – adult permission thanks to creative ways to enter the theater, DVDs, and the internet. If the World Wide Web is to be believed, and in this case I think it is, even the number of Christian women reading this book is astounding. Sad commentary.
Now, sex is a good thing. In its simplest form, it is what differentiates us as men and women. It’s a big factor in what attracts us to one another. It is one of the most intimate forms of relationship which can be experienced. God created it to be all these things. AND He put it into the context limited to a man and his wife. (NIV) Genesis 2:24-25: “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.
The human anatomy has pretty much remained the same since the beginning. We know what we look like. We’re taught from the earliest age that certain parts of the body deserve the dignity and respect which keeps them protected and covered. Why? Because they have the ability to create new life – let alone create intense feelings. Let’s face it. Other parts of the body simply do not have that incredible function.
What in the world has happened to bring such focus to areas which are worthy of privacy? Why are we not ashamed? We all agree that violation of private areas of a child is wrong. So, when is a person not a child anymore? Why are younger and younger children experimenting with one another – and where do they get their ideas? How is it that teenage sex is becoming a normal thing? A lot of teens might pause if they think, “what if Grandma was watching me right now?” But, what if Grandma is preoccupied with reading books like “Fifty Shades?” If we accept everything we see on TV and movies, why do we agree that rape is wrong? I could ask a lot more questions, but you get the gist.
Well, the answer to “what in the world has happened” is that the enemy of our souls, the Devil, has taken something God meant for good and has made it into a twisted tool for over-satisfying imaginations and appetites. Purposefully inflicting pain on someone you love, especially during a time which is meant to express deep affection, is not an expression of the husband loving his wife mentioned in Ephesians 6:28. We agree that folks who hurt themselves and others need help! It is simply not the way it is supposed to be!
We all like stories. I find mysteries especially riveting – the ones which do not describe or show gore in disgusting and violent ways, that is. I like a good love story, too. I do find, however, that personally I must limit my reading or watching movie love stories, because they always end with boy getting girl and vice versa. While that is sweet, it is not realistic, and even the most G-rated movie can tend to feed my thoughts with growing unfulfilled yearnings – because in real life, boy does not always get the girl and vice versa!
One thing “Fifty Shades” shouts loud and clear:
“Abuse is not glamorous or cool. It is never OK, under any circumstance.”
This is a quote from an excellent article written by Mariam Grossman, MD about the destructive effects of “Fifty Shades of Grey” which deserves our attention.
Well, I’m sure this will sequel itself into another post. 🙂
*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!
There 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.
- The many differing aspects of singleness have similar, but unique, needs.
- Singles get lumped into “one size fits all” regardless of age and reason for their singleness.
- Family, family, family.
- Marriage is celebrated, singleness is not
- 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.
Remember times on the playground when you waited on tiptoes to be chosen for a team? Since I‘ve always been a bit sports-challenged, I was generally one of the left-overs. I don’t remember being particularly upset about it. It was just the way it was. Other memories of being chosen for a desired job, or a scholarship, or a nice dinner out or other special occasion, bring a smile to my face, because I cared very much.
.I have never been chosen by anyone as a life partner, though – a husband. (Wow! Did I just write that for all to see?) I wanted to choose someone a number of years ago thinking we were on the same page – but he didn’t choose back. Ouch! That crippled my soul for a long time as I fell into the trap of “What’s wrong with me?” It took years for God to rescue me out of that “slimy pit,” “to set my feet on a rock,” and “put a new song in my mouth.” (Psalms 40:1-3)
Webster says of the word “cherish:” deeply loved and valued; to treat with tenderness and affection; to nurture with care; to protect; to hold dear. That raises a couple massive questions.
“Who do I get to cherish?” and “Who cherishes ME?”
Being cherished, in my single experience, is spending time with another in deep conversation which speaks soul to soul. It includes things like soft touches on the arm or shoulder as you walk by someone in a group of people. It includes hugs and friendly hand holds and warm eyes. It includes someone you love saying your name in a caring manner.
It also includes limits when the other person is married. “Emotional mistress” is never a term I want to apply to myself!
In 2001, one of my brothers was very ill with liver failure. Our every-third-year family reunion was in June, and we all gathered at another brother’s home in Iowa. Dear Wally and my sis-in-law drove from Florida, and even though he ended up in a couple of hospitals on the way, his smiling face is etched in my mind as he helped spread joy and laughter at being together. Even though hugging and calling each other endearing names was not something my family particularly did as I was growing up, that reunion was full of both.
In July, 2001, I traveled to China as accompanist for a community chorale, singing the Mozart Requiem and a number of American songs for very responsive and friendly audiences in Beijing, Suzhou, and Shanghai. When I returned home, one of my first calls was to my brother who was in a Florida hospital waiting for a liver transplant. I told Wally I loved him, and his instant words, “Thank you, sweetheart,” are as clear in my mind now as they were then. Those words are a cherished and much treasured memory for the rest of my life as I imagine his smile in heaven now..
Of course, since my focus here in this blog is as a Christian single, I choose to go to Scripture to know the ultimate answer of Who cherishes and chooses me.
- * God chose us before the foundation of the earth to bless and glorify His name. (Ephesians 1:4)
- * God lets His chosen ones live with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience [cherishing] for one another. (Colossians 3:12)
- * God equips His chosen ones to work in faith, labor in love, and stand firm in hope. (I Thessalonians 1:3)
- * The clearest earthly expression of choosing and cherishing is meant to be in marriage.
- * Marriage is meant to reflect Jesus’ future relationship with His chosen, the Church. (Ephesians 5:25-33)
- * God’s love is everlasting and His choice is unfailing kindness. (Jeremiah 31:3)
I confess, however, that sometimes the ultimate answer doesn’t quite seem to satisfy the “I want someone with skin on” itch. How about you? .
“Good” is one of those words we use in a great variety of ways: good day/night, good food, good girl/boy, good job, good vibes, good hair day, good sex . . . well, you get the picture. Most of these give the idea of fulfilling and refreshing times which make you feel – well – good.
I was glancing through the TV schedule this week, and saw these movies: “The Good Sister,” “The Good Mother, ” and “the Good Teacher.” Hmmmmm, let’s see. The “Good Sister” pretended to be a long-lost identical twin who seduced her husband, finally killing him, and returning to her original identity and a new life. The “Good Mother” demonstrated Munchausen Syndrome by making her daughters ill so she could play the part of the perfect caretaker. The “Good Teacher” seduced at least one high school student.
Now, I do understand that the point of these movies was to demonstrate the opposite of “good.” But, too often in conduct these days, the meaning of what is “good” does get mixed into a crazy quilt of “what makes me feel good,.” but which may demonstrate the opposite. Sometimes, having a “good” day may come from having seen someone fail which made us feel superior – or “good.” Eating “good” food may include eating less than healthy stuff which admittedly makes us feel “good,” but which is not so beneficial for the body. Having “good” sex may be in the context of a couple of high school students having an experience for which they are not really prepared. But, if it feels “good” it must be OK. Right?
What is “good” anyway? Webster says: “possessing desirable qualities, promoting success, welfare, or happiness; kind, benevolent, gracious, polite, and friendly; clever, skillful, adequate, sufficient, competent and sound.”
Other definitions: “possessing moral excellence; real and actual; full and complete; honorable; unblemished.”
A man approached Jesus one day saying, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus’ first response was, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good–except God alone.” He didn’t define “good,” nor did he deny that this adjective actually correctly applied to Him. He just went on to demonstrate how the goodness of God might apply to this inquirer by listing some of the 10 Commandments: no adultery, no murder, no stealing, no false testimony, do honor father and mother. The man said he kept all those. Jesus then told him to sell all he had, exposing the man’s heart concerning the commandments He had not mentioned: no coveting, no gods before God, no idols, no taking God’s name in vain, and keeping the Sabbath holy. This very wealthy man went away sad because his real heart attitude and understanding about what is “good” was revealed for all to see. He had not kept all the Commandments after all. (Luke 18:18-23)
Now, of course, the question I often ask myself is “What is good singleness – as opposed to what is good about singleness? I have to admit that while I want my life to reflect the character of God, I do covet once in a while – especially when I go to a wedding and hear the words, “to love and to cherish.” While I do not have any carved idols in my home, there are times when my wants control my thoughts and actions as strongly as if they were idols. Frankly, there are times when I have not viewed singleness as “good” because it has not felt so good!
Well, here’s what I’ve decided. Good singleness is based upon the unwavering belief that God is the ultimate of goodness – far beyond what I can possibly describe. Even when I grieve over losses of what I’ve never had, or ache with the tension of unfulfilled desires, God is still good! It is my assignment from Him to pursue contentment and joy – in the condition I find myself – for the good set before me. Good singleness comes when I celebrate the life He gives to me.
Paige Benton writes in Singled Out by God for Good:
“His goodness is not the effect of his disposition but the essence of his person–not an attitude but an attribute. . . I am not single because I am too spiritually unstable to possibly deserve a husband, nor because I am too spiritually mature to possibly need one. I am single because God is so abundantly good to me, because this is his best for me.”