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.”

Would you marry someone at first sight? ☆

question mark 2A door opened and a bride began her walk down the aisle.  The thing which stopped my channel surfing and glued my eyes to the TV screen was that after she looked at the groom, her eyes teared up – and her face looked incredibly distressed.  This was not a movie drama.  This was a very real wedding ceremony which is part of an “extreme social experiment” called “Married at First Sight,” a very popular show which began in Denmark which has found its way across the globe to us.  We learn in voiceovers that this bride was not in any way, shape, or form, attracted to the person she saw standing at the altar.  Not a good way to start any marriage, I’d say.

Read this description:  “Married at First Sight” is an extreme social experiment that follows six brave singles yearning for a life-long partnership as they agree to a provocative proposal:  getting legally married to a complete stranger the moment they first meet. . . The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle and see each other face-to-face, for the first time, at the altar.  Over the course of several weeks, episodes capture each couple’s journey as they go from wedding, to honeymoon, to early nesting, to the daily struggle of working on their marriage.  After several weeks together, each couple must make a decision:  do they remain together or decide to divorce?”

Of this A&E channel show, Heidi Stephens for The Chicago Tribune writes (June 3,:2014):  “I love this idea.  Not because it will lead to three beautiful, blissful unions.  It won’t, obviously.  But because it forces us to reckon with, once again, our complete and utter hypocrisy about marriage.

I have to agree with that last statement.  We live in a time when marriage is still desired – and yet shunned – because it is considered by some to be old-fashioned, out-of-date, and unnecessary.  Lip-service is given to fidelity, and yet too often, common practice is anything but faithful.  Books, TV, and movie themes so often center on someone’s affair while attempting to keep a marriage “intact.”  Internet offers 24/7 access to whatever the mind can imagine.  Yet, so many who are addicted to spending time on explicit sites are often the ones we would least expect, and they would be embarrassed if it was known.  Hypocrisy ruins a lot of lives!

Thousands of men and women signed up to be considered for “Married at First Sight.”  Many have tried over and over to find “the one,” their “soul mate.”  They have tried online dating sites and some may have met a variety of possibilities; some have not.  Biological clocks are ticking and years are passing, and that special person is not showing up.  People are grasping at straws to find something to satisfy their deep longings and desires for companionship.  I understand that the numbers were pared down considerably when folks realized that it really did mean exchanging vows with someone they had never actually seen until the big day.

So, what about the ones who remained?  Who would actually put their lives in the hands of people they have never met – a psychologist, sociologist, sexologist, and spiritual director – to choose the one they could potentially spend the rest of their lives with?  Do they really believe this outside analysis can accurately decide who is compatible and will guarantee attraction?  Well, apparently.  For some things in life, it is easier if someone else makes the decision.

I can understand the loneliness and yearning in hearts of those who think they have waited long enough for Mr./Miss Right to show up.  It seems to be logical to try something which promises longed for results.  This program, however, offers an escape clause.  The cameras follow the couples around for one month.  ONE MONTH?  If they have decided not to continue, “Married at First Sight” helps them get a divorce.  Something is definitely wrong with this picture!

The whole concept makes me sad.  Nothing can replace building a strong relationship before making a lifelong covenant with one another.  Even then, the challenges of marriage are great.  It takes both people giving 100%/100%.  While this program does have a “spiritual adviser” on the panel, he is described as a “humanist chaplain” at Harvard, with the words, “agnostic” and “atheist” following his name – which shouts volumes about his interest in “spiritual things” –  minus Jesus.

So, who would I want to walk into the sunset with?  Well, of course, there would need to be mutual attraction and enjoyment in being together – on a foundation of mutual belief that the Bible does indeed provide instruction – which works – in all areas of life, regardless of marriage status.  We would have to agree in the truth of who Jesus Christ is – Lord of lords, King of kings, Savior – God!

That would take longer than a month!

Marriage is too valuable to be called an “extreme social experiment!”

 

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.)

One Shade of Black – The Sequel ☆

How we blow things out of all proportion, until a simple truth is no longer recognizable.

Isn’t that a great sentence?  I ran across it today in – of all places – a murder mystery.  I think it is the perfect summary of the sensational press for books and movies such as “Fifty Shades of Grey.”  Just take a look at movie titles and so many of them scream of seduction, infidelity, sexual crimes, violence, witchcraft, and making normal things abnormal.  TV shows make comedy out of sexual innuendos, affairs, teenage escapades, and activities which most of the general public still considers to be inappropriate.  And, yet, they also find them funny.  Go figure.

Going beyond the comedy are very graphic depictions of murder, kidnapping, violent crimes, crimes against children, and pornography of all levels.  The Greeks had a word for this:  porneia – the selling off or surrendering of sexual purity; promiscuity of any type.  Sound familiar?  And, that word is in the Bible!

So, what about Fifty Shades?

“To truly understand the success of Fifty Shades, one first has to revisit the book’s roots.  Despite a determined campaign of internet scrubbing by author E.L. James and her publishers, it’s still relatively common knowledge that Fifty Shades began its life as an online Twilight fan fiction serial called Master of the Universe.”♦♦

Author Kirsten Andersen summarizes the Twilight plot, and says Fifty Shades is simply the same teen story told for adults.  Both tell the stories of shy, innocent girls/women who are attracted to very attractive and magnetic boys/men who have an innate desire to hurt them.  The women agree to things they would not ordinarily agree to because of the intense attraction and the intense high from having a popular, incredibly powerful man seemingly interested in them.  That someone finds them that attractive, is enough to erase their inhibitions about intimate moral activity.

Let’s face it.  Heightened appetite for anything can overrule our best intentions.

Paul addressed a Greek audience in I Thessalonians 4:3-5 when he said, “God’s will is for you to be holy, so stay away from all sexual sin.  Then each of you will control his own body and live in holiness and honor–not in lustful passion like the pagans who do not know God and his ways.”  (NLT)  Now, the pagans he was talking about were those living in a Twilight and Fifty Shades mentality.  They were coming out of a culture which made sexual activity common place even in their religious temples.  Their appetites had been groomed to accept overindulgence as the norm.

Once you acquire a taste for something, it’s hard to stay away from it.

God knows the strength of our passionate feelings.  He created them – and they are good.  Our tendency is to single out sexual intimacy as our entitled right, and that is so much less than God wants for us.  Just look at the list of Spiritual Fruit in Galatians 5:22-23:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  And, there are no lows against any of these!  Imagine our lives if we took full advantage of all these things which are part of our inheritance in Jesus Christ!

Is it possible to learn self-control of body appetites?  Absolutely!

Is it easy?  Nooooooooooooooooooooo!

The pattern has been set.  The enemy of our souls has taken a God-given desire and turned it into an addictive frenzy which will not subside any time soon.  I’ve discovered the truth of Psalm 119:11 which is a life-long pursuit – that of hiding God’s word in the heart to keep sin at bay.  Now, understand that I am certainly no Pollyanna.  Just ask my friends.  This verse brings responsibility into focus.  And that is not easy!

I wrote to a very good friend recently, “Sometimes I feel like I’m in the deep end of the swimming pool because my experience is far below my knowledge – – – thankfully so!”  He wrote back, “Our culture has gone off the cliff, especially in our handling of our sexuality.  When you think of sexual desire simply as another bodily function like eating, why not indulge with whomever you want?  It is and will be a lonely walk for those living under clear biblical teaching.”

How true, how true.  So, fellow onesomes, stand firm!

  •   The Brutal Telling, Louise Penny, Minotaur Books 2009, page 179
  • ♦♦ Just search for “why is 50 shades of grey so popular” for interesting insight to some of what guides our culture.

A Bunch of Tiny Tadpoles ☆

tadpolesI like to think that I saved the common toad from extinction – well, at least one family line.  When I was about 10 years old, a big rain storm left big puddles all over the barnyard.  I noticed that one puddle was alive with all sorts of little tadpoles.  When the puddles began to dry up in the sun, I couldn’t let my babies dry up, too.  Every day after school, I would carry pails of water to that puddle, and loved watching the little creatures swim around in a bigger and bigger pondlet.  I would scoop them up in my cupped hands, and feel them tickling my palms as they swam around.  They were all heads and tails, big eyes and no mouth, and well – cute.  Then, one day I noticed that little legs started to stick out and their swimming became more energetic.  Their little heads started to change shape, and suddenly they had little mouths.  I kept carrying water to that puddle until every tiny tadpole had turned into a little toad and bounced its way into an adventurous life.  I didn’t tell my parents about my “children.”  When I was in college, I remember telling my mother about them.  She said my dad had asked her if she knew why all the puddles were drying up, but that one just seemed to get bigger and bigger.  She had seen me trudge across the yard with pails of water and looked at the puddle while I was at school, discovering it teeming with life.

Remembering those little toads always makes me smile.  And, of course, I have to figure out some way to connect them to real life, right?

FIRST, Momma and Daddy Toads are absent parents.  They do their thing and Momma lays hundreds of eggs and hops off to find another Daddy and repeat the process.

SECOND, little toadlets have to figure out how to do life all by themselves.

THIRD, No one teaches them how to face the challenges of life.

Makes you glad you’re not a toad, doesn’t it?

FIRST, for most of us, parents were not totally absent.  We can all think of things we wish our parents had done better.  But I have come to realize a very important thing.  Parents do the very best they know how to do – the very best they can – given their own growing-up baggage.  For the most part, they take good care of their kids.

SECOND, everyone wants to help cute little kids do things.  Like walk.  I’m told that when I was first toddling around, I would take hold of a piece of paper, and walk confidently across the room.  Take that piece of paper away, and I would fall.  Somewhere along the line, I got the walking thing down.  I loved school most of the time.  I went to a little country school for grades 1-8, and had the same teacher for 7 years.  I didn’t know I was 2 years behind in math and science until Mrs. Lawson came for grade 8.  I didn’t like it at the time, but came to appreciate her firm insistence which helped me in high school and gave good lessons for tackling college – and life.

THIRD, challenges of life.  The biggest challenge I have faced is being a singleton in a world which emphasizes coupledom – even in the animal and plant world.  Nothing multiplies without an opposite-other.  Of course, we don’t see warm hugs flower to flower or tree to tree.  But, without cross pollination, they would not survive.  Some animals mate for life while others don’t give a darn except for a few moments of intense physical activity.  But, the two-by-two thing is always before us.  Most people find their opposite-other fairly early in life.  However, for those who do not, the road gets increasingly rocky and full of forks in the way.

As a Christian single, I’m puzzled as to why there is not a well-used method of training us how to DO “single.”

It seems that the longer a person is single, the fewer the instructions on how to go about it well.  Well-worn phrases such as “sex is only meant to be exercised in marriage,” and “just don’t,” while true, have not been well thought-out by churches as to meanings which make sense to a waiting person.  It certainly doesn’t help that the easy access to all sorts of sexual materials and opportunities grow daily.  But, is this a new thing?

I ran across a verse recently in Ezekiel which shows that not only is it NOT a new thing, but that our society’s fixation on excess sexual acts is not a surprise to God!  Ezekiel 8:12 says . . . “have you seen what the elders [leaders] of the house of Israel [or any of us for that matter. . .]  are doing in the dark, each in his room of pictures?  For they say, ‘the Lord does not see us. . .'”  (English Standard Version)  [Italics mine.]

Some translations use words like “images,” or “idols,” or “at the shrine of his idol.”  Could this be a computer?  Hmmmm.

Well, this fun post is just a short step to a sequel to “One shade of black.”  Stay tuned. 🙂

 

One Shade of Black! ☆

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. 🙂

 

 

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.

 

Chosen and cherished . . . are you? ☆

Remember times on the playground when you waited on tiptoes to be chosen for a team?  Since Ifriends‘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?  .

What do I do with deep longings which feel like losses? ☆

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about longings which feel exactly like losses – even though I’ve never experienced the longed-for thing.

Can you really lose something you’ve never had?

Apparently a lot of song writers think you can because when I googled™ that question, a whole flurry of song lyrics came up.

I remember the exact moment when I realized that not one drop of my DNA would go beyond me.  I was at a family reunion and watched as my married brothers gathered their children and grandchildren together for pictures.  While my personal desire to have children has always been tied to husband first, children second, the realization was still quite like a sledge hammer blast to the heart.  I melted into a puddle of tears and fled to a quiet corner to be alone.

That awareness has served to give me great compassion for those married folks who ache to have children, but for varying reasons, cannot.  Some go through the heartache of hoping with expectations which are dashed to pieces over and over.  It brings some couples together in heart-to-heart ways they would never had anticipated.  It tears other couples apart as each person deals with grief in different ways which shreds their relationship to pieces.  Other couples struggle as one spouse wants children, the other does not.  Each of these bruising experiences has its roots in that fateful day in Eden when Adam and Eve disobeyed God.  Not only did they live their whole lives suffering the consequences, but they passed that legacy on to every one of us.

Paul understands those effects when he wrote Romans 8:35-39.  He asserts confidently that the love of Jesus Christ cannot be shaken by trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, violence [sword], death, life, angels, demons, present, future, powers, height, depth, or anything else in creation.  Well – that about covers it all, doesn’t it?

There are times when I allow some of these admittedly huge things to hide God’s love from my sight.  There is a line in verse 4 of Charles Wesley’s great hymn, “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing” which says, “He breaks the power of canceled sin, He sets the prisoner free!”  Think of it!  Even when we have Jesus as Savior and Lord in our lives today, we are living through the consequences of sins He died for 2,000+ years ago.

He wants us to live in the reality of canceled sin which has no power over us!

Read some more of Paul’s words in Colossians 2:14-15 from The Message:  God brought you alive–right along with Christ!  Think of it!  All sins forgiven, the slate wiped clean, that old arrest warrant canceled and nailed to Christ’s cross.  He stripped all the spiritual tyrants in the universe of their sham authority at the cross and marched them naked through the streets.

“Longings reveal something is missing in our lives yet our attempts to fill up the hole often leave us terribly unsatisfied.  I explore the question, “What if our longings are sacred, given by God for a purpose?” **

Longings come in all shapes and sizes.  There is no “one size fits all.”  More and more, I believe that my longings are truly designed to drive me deeper into knowing God with every ounce of my being.  Jesus alone is my Savior, is always with me, will never fail me.  No person on earth can fill those shoes.

So, what about you?  What are your longings?  I appreciate your comments, and invite you to read Janey’s thoughtful comment to the post, “really good resolutions for us all.”    I also see that I’m off on an internet trail of great thoughts from others about singleness and Godly longings.

** From website, “Deeper Devotion” by Elizabeth, a spiritual director

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