Love Vs. Loneliness
When once we get intimate with Jesus we are never lonely, we never need sympathy, we can pour out all the time without being pathetic.
—Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest
Reading Joy Beth Smith’s book on singleness, Party of One, I was pleasantly surprised when she slammed on the brakes after quoting this passage from Chambers that oft gets thrown at singles. “On this point, Mr. Chambers, I humbly disagree,” she writes. I didn’t even know we were allowed to disagree with Chambers!
It is easy to assume that because one is single, one also must be lonely. And that is true. But I do not think it is true because a person is single. I know plenty of married people that woke up one morning to find themselves lonelier than they ever were on their own. It would be so easy for me in moments of great longing to believe that if I were only in a relationship, this longing within me would be gone. But I know that’s a lie.
I think we get lonely because we are broken people in a broken world and loneliness is part of that bag.
I have been so fascinated by a thought from Mike Cosper’s latest, Recapturing the Wonder. He says, “We long for wonder, and we long for communion with God.” Building off a commentary of the fall from Matthew Myer Bolton’s God Against Religion, Cosper continues, “Genesis 3 isn’t fundamentally a story about broken rules but broken communion.”
How powerfully does that change our perspective of the Biblical narrative if we understand that the first sin was mankind deciding we were better off without communion—our relationship—with God? We see throughout scripture a God uncompromisingly after restored relationship with his children—his covenant with Abraham about the nation of Israel—a people of God and for God. God introducing himself to Israel on Mt. Sinai, giving them ground rules in order to have a semblance of relationship with him and a chance to pursue holiness. The ultimate coming of Jesus giving us a taste of what that unbroken communion with God is supposed to be like. Even his last supper—a picture of what he was about to do on the cross—what we now commemorate through communion—was a gathering of people around a table to relate and bear-witness with one another.
God has been after relationship with us from the beginning. He is relentless in his pursuit of that. But in order to save his people from broken communion for eternity, Jesus had to do something drastic and amazing. He had to come as a man and die in our place. And what did that mean? Complete separation from God on the cross.
Smith builds her rebuttal to the Chambers quote, “If nothing else, my singleness has taught me that you can be lonely and exhausted and in need of sympathy— even with God. Even Jesus felt this way, and in the days and moments leading to his crucifixion, we see this played out. I can think of no greater loneliness than hanging on a cross, dying for a world that despises you, and then feeling forsaken by the Father who sent you, but— glory be!— loneliness and exhaustion did not cause Jesus to crumble.”
On this side of heaven, we cannot escape loneliness. Single, married, parent, friend, child, elder—I don’t care what relationship you are a participant in, there will be moments, sometimes seasons, of loneliness. It’s part of our humanity. But how shall we respond to such deep and nagging longings?
Having an earthly relationship with Jesus does not mean I will never be lonely. (In fact, in some of my circles, I feel a loneliness because of my relationship with Jesus.)
Instead, I have come to learn that when I come to Jesus with my relational longings, he does not always meet the need relationally. When I have come to Jesus longing for human relationship, I have found that I am more in need of an invitation. Time in prayer and meditation in the word has become a sweet invitation to behold who he is and what he’s done in love. Loneliness is often an invitation into trust promise of the perfect communion to come.
The voice that rings from the Bible is the voice of the one we long to hear from, long to know, long to find our rest in.
—Mike Cosper, Recapturing the Wonder
The Metaphor and Blood-and-Guts Reality
For the last nine months I’ve been wrestling over the question, “If marriage never happens for me, will I be okay?”
And the answer varies day-to-day, I’ll be honest. But it struck me the other morning in a big way. I was lamenting the fact that I may never experience that kind of intimacy and then a new thought emerged. Maybe I was very wrong.
We seem forget that marriage is just the metaphor, reflecting a larger, universal reality.
Marriage is supposed to be a picture of Christ and his Church. But somewhere along the line, marriage became the reality—the concrete realness of things.
But marriage has become less permanent and the pretty picture seems to be fading, and here’s the problem with that:
Marriage is just the picture. It was never intended to be what Christ and his bride reflect. It is instead the reflection, the lesser figuration of something greater—something blood-and-guts real.
I experience a beautiful relationship daily, if I agree to enter into the fray and the messiness. I experience the heartache of surrender—of not getting my way, of discovering I’m wrong, of giving up my own dreams for the dreams of another. I experience that other giving himself up for my sake—sometimes with intensity, sometimes with a distance I try to manifest.
I walk the tension of trying to do an unbroken thing despite my unavoidable brokenness. I know the pain of having the one who claims to love me most let me walk through more darkness than I thought possible. I experience the shame and yet overwhelming joy of sitting beside the one I’ve hurt so deeply and having him still look me in the eye and not look away—to extend mercy.
There has been an undying commitment made to me—one with no escape hatch. And despite the temptations to fulfill my needs elsewhere, I have committed to staying.
For better or worse. For richer or poorer. In sickness and in health. As long as I live until death do we finally meet face-to-face.
I have never been married, yet I have experienced all of this.
Because marriage is only the metaphor. The real, ironically concrete, flesh-and-bone, blood-and-guts, no-way-out kind of relationship so many of us crave—within marriage or without— is that between Christ and his Church.
I don’t need a husband to experience the challenge and growth of intimate, lock-the-door-and-throw-away-the-key kind of commitment. That was given to me upon the cross just as it has been extended to you.
So we can rest assured that what hasn’t been granted us in marriage—or what we perhaps feel our marriage is lacking—is still ours. It’s ours in relationship with Christ.
What I Wish the Church Had Taught Me about Singleness By Gina Dalfonzo
When a friend who works at Baker Publishing sent me a photo of the cover of Gina Dalfonzo’s debut release last November, all I could think was, “Hallelujiah! It’s about time someone unpacked the relationship between singles and the church!”
Gina has graciously agreed to guest post this week. Her words were and encouragement to me and I know they will be for you. One by One: Welcoming the Singles in Your Church is in stores this week. You can purchase a copy here.
When I was in my mid-20s, I started work at a place where one of my colleagues was a 40-year-old single woman. She was a very nice woman—good at her job, easy to talk to, and pleasant to work with. But—true confession time—for a long time I felt a little bit freaked out whenever she was around.
Why? It’s hard and embarrassing to explain. Frankly, I’m ashamed when I look back at my own naïve and immature frame of mind. I felt freaked out simply because she was single and 40—and there were not many voices in my life telling me that this was a good or even an okay thing.
My mother, to be sure, had always wisely told me that there was nothing wrong with staying single if I didn’t meet a man I truly wanted to marry. But, though I appreciated the principle, I had never really taken that idea seriously. Of course I was going to find a man I wanted to marry—didn’t every woman? Just because my own dating life had been pretty sparse up to that point didn’t mean he wasn’t going to walk into my life eventually. That was how it worked.
Except that for this woman, that wasn’t how it had worked. And her presence made me think, “If it happened to her, who’s to say it couldn’t happen to me?”
But, remarkably, she seemed okay with her singleness. It was all the more remarkable because she was a Christian, and Christians, naturally, were marriage- and family-focused. That had been my experience my whole life. All the Christian dating books talked about how God would bring your destined mate into your life if you just did everything right. Rarely was the idea of permanent singleness brought up . . . and when it was, it was not usually brought up in a good way.
Like when Leslie Ludy wrote in When God Writes Your Love Story about her struggles to trust God before she was married:
I pictured myself trusting God with this precious area of my life, only to end up sitting in a long, gray, tentlike dress, staring forlornly out the window and rocking my life away in a rocking chair. . . . Looking back, I laugh at such a thought. That was before I learned what a true romantic God is. If I had only known what he had planned for me . . . I never would have doubted for a minute!
In her earnest effort to persuade people that God is in charge of our love lives—a great thing—Ludy inadvertently ended up painting a terrible picture of lifelong singleness—not such a great thing. If only she, and other Christian writers on the subject, had managed to convey that God is good and life is good whether you get married or not, what a blessing it would have been to many who started losing faith as time passed and no God-ordained spouse showed up.
If there is one thing I wish I had heard from the church in my adolescence and young adulthood, it’s this: Even if you never get married, you’ll be okay. Extended singleness is not some terrible wasteland where the unworthy are left stranded and forsaken.
Oh, it can be hard, don’t get me wrong. It can be really, really hard. But even if God mysteriously turns down your petitions for marriage, even if you go for years and years wondering why it just isn’t happening for you, that doesn’t mean He doesn’t love you. And it definitely doesn’t mean He’s left you alone. He’s not the kind of God who does that.
Today, I’m the one who’s in my 40s and still single. I don’t know whether my younger friends ever feel weird around me for that reason. If they do, that’s all right; I’ve been there, and I understand. But more than anything, this is the message I want to send them: Single life is just another kind of life. Sometimes it’s painful, sometimes it’s beautiful. Sometimes it makes you lonely, and then sometimes it brings moments that are gloriously fulfilling. It may not be the life you expected, but it can still be a really good life.
It’s true that, if you never get married, you’ll struggle and you’ll suffer—because that’s what life is like. It brings struggles and suffering to us all, in all kinds of different ways. But you can have help facing those struggles when you hold on to God and His promises—His real promises.
For, contrary to what all those well-intentioned writers and teachers and thinkers told you, God never promised that everyone gets a husband or a wife. There’s no divine formula that automatically makes it happen. God is not some cosmic Oprah who proclaims, “You get a spouse! And you get a spouse! Everybody gets a spouse!”
What He does promise is that He will never leave you nor forsake you. And with Him in your life, no matter what, you will be okay.
Gina Dalfonzo is the author of One by One: Welcoming the Singles in Your Church (Baker, 2017).
Bible College Spinster: Single, but Single-Minded
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
A pastor I really respect from my church made the statement that to have a pure heart meant that one was single-minded.
Coming out of a Christian culture obsessed with sexual-purity, my teenaged self had always just assumed the beatitude was connecting to saving sex for marriage. Hearing this new definition as a young adult struck a chord with me.
Single-minded. Having one single driving purpose. A lone resolve.
Had I ever been after just one thing?
I wrote previously about the realization that I have been pursuing things other than Christ. This has been the case for, well, forever. Encountering the question, “Have I ever been single-minded?” The answer was no, Definitely not.
This begged a different question, though: If I had other driving purposes competing for my attention, what were they?
There were multiple answers, but the biggest one was embarrassing to me.
I had read a book in high school that was very influential in me devoting my life to Christ. It was also very influential in cultivating some very militant thoughts toward dating, modesty, and culture that have take the ten years since reading to be set straight by scripture and patient, truth-minded people. God uses all things, I guess…
The author stated that she believed that if you truly wanted to be married in your heart-of-hearts, God would grant that in his time. She based this out of Psalm 37, where David writes, “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”
Listening to the pastor talk about single-mindedness all those years later, I was struck by the fact that I had been following God for all the wrong reasons.
I had literally been pursuing God in hopes that he would provide someone to pursue me. And that wasn’t happening and I was growing disillusioned.
I was following Jesus because I believed that if I followed him hard enough, he would give me the desires of my heart. Like he was a magic boy-friend producing genie.
Call me double-minded with impure motives. Color me foolish. Trust me, I felt it. By the grace of God, I felt it.
In the couple years since being presented with this, I’ve since had a chance to look at Psalm 37 again. And here is the question I have:
I was looking at that verse like God was in an infomercial. “Follow me in the next ten minutes and I’ll throw in whatever you want!” What if he is not promising to give us what we desire right now if we throw in our lot with him, but something bigger.
What if he is saying that when we follow him, he will give us something for our hearts to truly desire—that he will give us desire in and of itself?
As I have prayed for single-mindedness rather than an end to my singleness, I have found that the spirit is cultivating something new in me.
Yes, I still long for a partner, but there is a new trust that if that doesn’t happen, it will be all right. There is beginning to be a desire Jesus more than a husband. Delighting in the Lord becomes more and more the desire of my heart.
I still cannot say than I am single-minded, but by God’s grace, he has begun to change my tastes. He is cultivating a purity of heart that I am not capable of doing on my own. This cultivation reveals my desire for love and acceptance, and wholeness that my double-hearted nature wants me to believe will be fulfilled with lesser things. It is through time in the word, in prayer, and in community with the body of Christ that my heart sees what it needs to focus on and what it truly desires.
So yes, I may be single. But that also may be what God is using to cultivate single-mindedness.
Loving Ugly and Struggling Pretty
I’ve noticed recently that I take grace with a grain of salt.
I don’t know when this became the case, but for a while now, I’ve been behaving on the instinct that though I believe in God’s great mercy, I haven’t quite earned it, so I can’t quite rest in it.
Um…miss the point much?
But this has been the understanding I’ve been unconsciously shouldering! And as result of not understanding grace, I have not accepted grace, and not accepting grace, I have become terrible at offering it.
See, I have an unfortunate heart. We all do.
Ugly and scraggly. A little scabby, a little slimy. Small and dying—no life to pump in, no life to pump out.
When I’ve thought about surrendering my whole heart, I’ve always felt guilty about the parts I haven’t wanted to hand over. But those weren’t the only parts God wasn’t getting because somewhere along the line, I made an assumption.
I decided that there were pieces of my heart God didn’t want.
For so long, I have been handing him pieces as I’ve deemed them fixable, while feeling guilty for having parts I think are too far gone. I’ve been frustrated when I am unable to fix my own brokenness or clean my own heart-junk.
I’ve tried to hide it or compensate for it for so long, but I’m tired. And I just long for someone to love my ugly.
But he wants those bits just as badly as I want them to be loved! He wants this shriveled, crusty little heart enough to die for it.
He longs for our ugly, dirty, and broken. There is nothing to redeem in perfect, whole, and shiny. There’s no dependence on him in what I insist on healing myself.
Penny & Sparrow is a folk duo I’ve really come to respect. (Stick with me, it’ll circle back. I promise.) Their music is beautiful and at times surprising. Their lyrics are thoughtful and so damn honest it sometimes hurts.
As I’ve been wrestling in my brokenness over the past few weeks, it has become apparent that God has been trying to get my attention—he has been trying to ask for my ugly heart again and again. A stanza of their song ‘To Haunt, to Startle’ has come to mind during this wrestling, God reminding me of his invitation.
So, choke back smoke and cough up glass…
This whole place is ending; know that it’s not built to last.
When you hear nothing…
And you feel less…
Your struggle is pretty,
Sit still, and know that I know what is best.
The pain in the ugly both within and without are temporary. We are invited into something lasting. We are invited to hand over small, battered hearts in a daily struggle. It is that struggle that God finds pretty. It is in the wrestling he is well pleased. It is in the stillness he begins to bind our wounds.
This is the gospel I’ve had to preach to myself over and over in the past few weeks. It’s the gospel we need to preach to ourselves daily.
So on this Labor Day, as we pause and rest before plunging in again, I want to invite you in to stillness. I want to invite you to remember that your ugly is loved and your struggle is found pretty.
The Bible College Spinster: Greener Grasses
I write this post in the bliss of everyone else’s wedded bliss. I spent this past weekend at helping at the wedding of my sweet college roommate and will get to watch one of my dearest friends walk down the aisle next weekend. I have to say it: I am in love with love.
There is something so wonderful in watching someone you care so deeply about find their person. That person who treats them with kindness and respect. To watch their love story’s prologue end and the plot actually begin is such an honor.
I say this with no sarcasm.
See, somewhere along the line, culture decided that single women are angry and bitter and can’t stomach seeing someone enjoy being in love. But why?
I’m just angry and bitter about the fact that people assume I’m angry and bitter. Here’s the truth about being jealous:
It’s a waste of time.
As a fairy tale fanatic, I may have been fascinated with happily ever after for a little too long. But “I do” is not some magic shot to happiness and singleness is not a life-sentence to drudgery.
The grass is not greener in either camp—it’s just different. Married or single, you still have the same insecurities, same brokenness, same pet peeves, and hurt, and longings, and on and on it goes. Because you’re still you.
If you didn’t know how to handle your temper with anyone before, you certainly won’t with a spouse. If you struggled with your self worth on your own, it’s only going to be magnified in a committed relationship. If you didn’t know how to process tragedy in your single days, it will be no easier to weather the storm bound to someone.
The escape from struggle is not marriage—and there is a temptation to look for it there. We’ve read the novels and watched the movies and listened to the songs that tells us that all we need is to find that person that is going to make us feel strong and secure and without fault. And that that person is a human that just happens to be ridiculously good looking and wealthy to boot.
Here’s the real truth of it: a spouse was never intended to redeem you. That’s not fair pressure to put on any of your relationships and it’s not fair for that to be placed on you.
If that’s what you’re looking for in your relationship, then you are going to be sorely disappointed, my friend.
I am NOT saying that God needs to be your spouse first. (If you’re chasing after Jesus-is-my-boyfriend theology, then there is an even bigger discussion we need to be having.)
I am saying that before I can be jealous that someone gets to enter into marriage while I’m in a stage of singleness, I need to really swallow that neither camp is superior or inferior to the other. I also need to take account of what I’m looking to get out of a relationship.
Yes, I crave that intimacy and companionship. I also crave wholeness and redemption. Marriage can’t promise these things and I need to remember who can.
Married or not, you are loved by the giver of all good things. In this knowledge, anger and bitterness don’t stand a chance.
Bible College Spinster: The Longing Thwarted
I have been slightly suspicious that some people get engaged just to piss other people off.
Like that really socially awkward chick that creeped the crap our of you your freshman year? Yeah, Facebook just informed you that she’s engaged to that longhaired, greasy-faced goon that engaged in light-saber battles on the weekends when he wasn’t too busy staring for too long at the chests of other women.
And there is no way in hell you would trade places with her…frankly because you had a class with her fiance once and he always smelled vaguely of Cheetos and the air always felt a little moist around him and that was troubling…
But that gut-rot is still present. There is something in the moment of reading that post while taking a Netflix binge break in your sweatpants in your parents basement after berating yourself for polishing off the iced animal crackers only a couple hours after opening them that makes you feel jealous.
There is something in our deepest longing that rouses a passion in us. First the passion of fulfilling the longing at all costs, often followed by the passion of the longing thwarted.
If you ever want to feel like a longing has been thwarted, go to a wedding of a not close friend and bring a crappy attitude as your plus one.
Jealousy is not something we ever want to admit to, but it is that always lurking presence as a friend talks about a great first date, as you stand awkwardly waiting for the bride to throw the bouquet, as you buy diapers for your sister’s baby shower.
I think we’re too afraid to admit we’re jealous. It’s an unattractive and sinful thing—we’re all on the same page—but it’s still a reality. Jealousy is still something we need to own. To stuff it down is to let it fester and to let it fester is to let yourself become bitter.
We are to mourn for those who mourn and we rejoice with those who rejoice , it’s true. But what about when someone’s rejoicing brings our own mourning to light.
It can be painful to watch your girlfriends go down the aisle when you don’t even have a date at your side. Friend, I totally get this.
I also get (and had to get it the hard way) that ignoring the fact that it is painful can be harmful to you and your friendships. Please, as you start attending weddings and showers this spring, be honest with God and with yourself. Acknowledge the pain you may feel, but also don’t forget that this is a time to celebrate your friend.
Because here is another truth: The fact that your friend is getting married doesn’t mean you won’t. The fact that someone else feels joy in a season where you are experiencing mourning doesn’t mean you can’t rejoice with where they are at.
Acknowledge what you feel, yes please do! But also learn to maneuver the tension of joy and pain as they exist side-by-side.
I think Joy Eggerichs speaks into this really well. I’ve had a huge woman-crush on Joy for a while and have really appreciated the ministry Love and Respect Now.This ask Joy video addresses this topic really well. Watch to the end for some great sing-a-long fun.
Bible College Spinster
A couple weeks ago, I talked about how I’d like to start posting monthly writing samples. Blogging has always been practice of the craft for me and this week I’m stretching out a little. This is the start of what may be a blog series or may be a larger project. I’m not sure where this is headed, but I’m sharing it anyway. Enjoy!
I knew pretty early on that I did not want to get married right out of college.
During jr. high youth group one night, they split the guys off from the girls and panel of women talked with us about purity. As part of the introduction, they each shared how they had met their husbands.
“We met in our biology class in college.”
“He lived on the floor below me in our dorm.”
“We were introduced the first day of our freshman year.”
I distinctly remember thinking, that is a boring love story. I want to meet someone in a cool way. After school. After backpacking through Europe.”
Backpacking through Europe was the epitome of adulthood in my thirteen year old mind. I had just read Maureen Johnson’s 13 Little Blue Envelopes and knew that was the goal after college. NOT getting married. I wanted to live a little first.
And that was that. Until I encountered the horror of a freshman girl’s dormitory.
I never had questioned my dating status, let along my marital status until my first night at college when the question was thrown out:
“Do any of you think you’ve met your husband here yet?”
I am not. Kidding. This was the first night.
And from there it just felt like so many women were in a scramble to find that perfect fit somewhere on campus. For the most part, it wasn’t a race. I have plenty of friends who found their person in a normal amount of care and time and their wedding celebrations were such a pleasure to be a part of.
But there were some couples that were slightly more concerning. Some of them resulted in rushed marriages and even more rushed divorces.
Looking around in the aftermath of those years, it’s been interesting to observe longings that have surfaced in my life as well as in the lives of my friends through the first years of marriage into the early parenting stage from some of them.
I never thought I would get to 24 and be one of my only friends left rowing in the single boat. And I’d be lying if there weren’t moments I look around and wonder if I missed something—took a wrong turn or acted on introvert impulse when I shouldn’t have.
But I’ve been here long enough to know that the grass just isn’t going to be as green as it is on Fixer Upper. I’m thankful for that.
Honestly, I’m still trying to get back to Europe, let alone get down the aisle.
So much “spiritual” reading I did outside of the Bible was concerned with being a good girlfriend, or wife, or even mother. But I’m not using that info. Not really. I’ve found in this season a yearning to just learn how to be a person.
As part of this writing experiment, I’m trying to find out how to wring this season dry. I made it through bible college without the husband and baby I was promised with my diploma and I want to live into that well.
I’ve felt for a while that the church in general is not sure what to do with a woman in her mid-twenties who is unwed without prospects…Maybe not the church in general. Maybe it’s the church in West Michigan.
And as much as I want to be comfortable in that, I feel like I’m kind of alone here.
So I write this for you. To let you know you’re not alone…. or maybe just to confirm if I am. So in these posts, I’ll be unpacking some observations and throw out some thoughts.
I don’t want to spend this season waiting for what is next. What is here is next. And I’m owning it—The life of a Bible College Spinster.
A Triumphant Entry Into Longing
I wasn’t really prepared for what I walked into in yesterday’s Palm Sunday service.
I mean, I was. It’s been relatively the same service each year since I’ve attended this church. And not in a bad way.
The cast of the Easter play the church puts on every year reenact the triumphal entry with the kids in the front. There’s always the little girl mesmerized by the people in the audience who haven’t been out there in all the rehearsals. There are the little boys who wap each other with their palm branches and their mothers can’t get to them until the lights go down, so their reveling in the freedom.
It was beautiful to observe the reenactment of the joy of Israel. The celebration of their long awaited messiah arrived at last! But paring that with the tragedy of what was to come.
They would reject God because he had not come in the way they thought. He would be condemned and killed to atone for the sin of the world but then rise again in glory.
And yet the people of God missed this. So often I miss this.
See, on walking into the service, I became hyper aware of all the young families sitting around me. And also heavily aware of my longing for my own family one day.
I think in the feeling of longing, we’re tempted into our own pity party. I could have sat there questioning why. Why wasn’t I dating anyone? Why were so many people around me getting married? Why couldn’t I be one of them?
In the asking of ‘Why,’ the answer I tend to always gravitate towards tends to be that God is holding out on me. That God is not good.
My Eve-and-Israel heart spirals into discontent and bitterness starts to grow. I reject the beautiful character of God and totally miss what he may be trying to do in my life and the lives of those around me.
Sitting in the service, my heart was being pulled into what could be, but I was being called into a greater narrative.
And perhaps this was exaggeratedly pronounced yesterday morning. But in entering into that tension, I was entering into a beautiful time experiencing the character of God with his people.
I’ve said before that longing is an invitation to experience what we truly long for.
Yes, I may long for a family and someone to share the joys and struggles of that with. Yes, I want to give as well as feel that kind of love. But I’m being invited into a deeper and more beautiful love. All my needs have and will be met by the larger story I am beckoned into.
I can let my own longing try to feed itself, or I can look to the source that satisfies all hunger.
And that is the point of the passion week we are entering into. We mourn how sin and the desire for things to be our own way separated us from God. We celebrate how he came to fill the unmet longings and bring us into relationship with Him.
May you seek fulfillment in Jesus in this passion week.