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

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Heartburn and Heart Yearn

 

A couple months ago, I was preparing to leave on a writer’s retreat with some dear friends—a gathering that has become a beloved tradition at the start of every summer.

I ran to the grocery store to pick up the food items I was bringing for the weekend and I took a call from a friend while in the store. My shopping list was on my phone, but I figured I could freewheel it.

I had a great conversation with my friend, ran trough the check out with my items, took my coupons from the cashier (excited I had earned two instead of just one!) and left for home.

Half-way through the drive I realized I had forgotten the chicken breast—a key ingredient in grilled chicken. I decided not to turn around—chances were I would have to return to the store again before I was done packing.

Putting away the groceries, I found my not-one-but-two coupons at the bottom of a bag and was disappointed to find that they were both for heartburn medication. Not the buy-one-get-one ice cream coupon a bunch of friends had been talking about getting. I thought it was sadly funny and continued to prepare for the weekend.

After dinner, I ran to the store once more to pick up travel-sized soap and chicken breast. Again I managed to forget the chicken breast.

But guess what I came home with? A third heartburn medication coupon! Now it was just getting cruel. I have not yet had to experience the joy of heartburn. And, for the most part, the coupons from this store are based on your purchases…so what was in this soap that causes heartburn?!

Finally at eleven o’clock that night, I went to the store a third time along with a friend. This time I left with the chicken breast and my friend left with a buy-one-get-one ice cream coupon. Guess what coupon I got?

Yeah. 30% off heartburn medication.

And I had to laugh thinking back on this the other day because how much of my life is like this?

I didn’t go to the store to get coupons for heartburn medication or pints of ice cream for that matter. I went for chicken!

There are so many season in life where I have looked at what others are getting, upset with what I’ve been given all while missing the entire point. There are things that my heart wants that it is not getting, but in the midst of that, am I pursuing what my heart needs? (And no, I don’t mean chicken breasts!)

I confess that I loose site of the kingdom so often, caught up in hustling, achieving, and competing. Trying to have it all so often becomes the name of my game rather than slowing down and taking in what I really need: Jesus.

But once I have what I really need, what I want starts to change. What I was striving for starts to matter less and the circumstances I’m not pleased about become secondary. When my heart yearn is aligned where it needs to be, my longings begin to reflect the kingdom in proper ways.

Made for Elsewhere

freestocks-org-157863Being honest here. Being embarrassingly, shamefully honest: I expect a lot out of a new article of clothing.

There is a small part of my mind that thinks (and I wish I was not telling the truth here!) that maybe with the right jeans, or dress, or shoes, maybe everything will finally be okay. Maybe with that new pencil skirt, I’ll find professional fulfillment. Maybe with the right cut of jeans, he’ll ask me out. Maybe the perfect heels will actually satisfy.

And I know I’ve discussed this a little before, but just because I wrote about it doesn’t mean I solved it.

Here’s what I know: the lies we believe manifest themselves differently in different stages of life. I may feel more secure in my appearance, but there were other insecurities that were able to take a front seat in its place as soon as that began to vacate.

My good friend Bruce was right on when he sang that we all have a hungry heart.

We all have that thing. Yours may not be clothes. Yours may be attention, or food, or relationships, or travel. We all have something in our lives that we are trying to make satisfy that aching place.

Folding my laundry this week, I looked at the tangle of warm jeans and had to shake my head. This was just fabric. It is incapable of doing anything but covering my body. It provides nothing but warmth.

Nothing on this earth is meant to satisfy my insecurities or desires. Nothing is going to bring the level of satisfaction I ache for. Nothing is going to assure me that I’m beautiful or worthy of love.

Certainly a pair of jeans isn’t going to do any of that.

 

One of my favorite quotes from C.S. Lewis is

If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.

We ache for so much that will never be experienced this side of heaven. We battle brokenness daily. Seasons of darkness can weigh so heavily. We were not made for here. We were not made for this insecurity and toil and pain.

We were made to be satisfied and secure. To be completely fulfilled. To be happy.

For everything we will not have here, we do have love. We are so completely and incredibly loved. And it is because of that love that we can experience fulfillment, security, and happiness.

But only from the source—Jesus Christ.

I have gone for too long feeling like food didn’t taste as good as it could, relationships were not as fulfilling as they should, conversations were not as satisfying as I wanted. Everything was falling short.

And everything should be falling short.

It is only when I am seeking my fulfillment in Christ that life is put in its proper place. I am able to give to my relationships and receive all that is there. I am able to be fully engaged in conversations. My work is satisfying in a proper way. My clothing takes a proper place as mere material.

When we are rooted where we were meant to be, life takes on the deep meaning it was meant to have. We serve out of confidence and security. We give out of a pure heart and generous spirit. We love out of humility and selflessness.

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The Already and Not Yet

 

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I have a confession to make and I’m not proud about it.

I am a sucker for Hallmark Christmas movies.

Yes, I know exactly how they are going to pan out about five minutes in. Yes, I understand that there are gaping plot holes in nearly everyone of them. Yes, I get that the writing is terrible—I’m all too aware. But still, it’s a guilty pleasure for my sister and I.

We will watch tons of them each year, looking for both the most ridiculous one, but also, the sweetest one.

But this past weekend, I latched on to the formula—and yeah, I’ve always known there was a formula. There was something oddly familiar about this formula though.

In each one, a big-city woman working in marketing, or advertising, or brand management (this is apparently a bad thing) who has lost sight of her dreams, is thrust in to small-town life where she happens upon a handsome single father and his precocious child. Charmed by both the town and the child, she begins to feel at home, lets down her walls, and rediscovers her childhood dream. In this starry-eyed state, she begins to fall for the single father and he for her. Her oh-so-wrong for her, rich fiancé comes on the scene (they have been separated by winter weather, clerical mix-up, or other forms of hi-jinx) and stirs doubt and maybe conflict between our heroine and single-dad. But all prevails on Christmas eve when the woman and her fiancé decide they are not destined to be together because she loves the small town and wants to pursue origami, or water color painting, or whatever her long-lost aspiration has been. She and single-dad run into each others arms, share a kiss, and precocious child gets a puppy. The end.

These movies are fun to watch, but they are so not about Christmas. Not really. For all the obvious reasons, but also for some not-as-obvious ones as well.

We have an inherit sense of how things are supposed to be—how we so desperately want them to be. Just like in a Hallmark movie, we want everything to be tied up in a nice little bow in the next hour and a half.

No threads left untied, no relationship not brought to rights, no issues outstanding.

But this is not reality.

Advent marks a celebration. Years of anticipation resulting in a savior being born to a world so desperately in need of him. And yet it also marks a deep longing.

We are brought face to face with the knowledge that all is taken care of. Our fate is sealed—we are rescued and renewed. And yet, we are not yet.

This is a season in which we are to be more aware of the already-but-not-yet state of our existence. This place where we live covered in righteousness, and yet still so in need of grace. This place where we watch brokenness pressing in on all sides, knowing that wholeness is there to be had, but not quite yet.

May you find the space to mourn what is not yet and to find joy in what has been freely given already.

Have a blessed Advent season here in the Already but Not Yet.

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The Bible College Spinster: Greener Grasses

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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.

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.

Christmas: The Heritage of Longing

I love and hate Christmas.

I feel like most single women can echo the sentiment.

It’s wonderful to spend the time with family, to decorate the house, to enjoy the homecoming of friends you haven’t seen in a while. Candlelight services, caroling, advent. It’s a wonderful time of year.

And then there is also the awkward time spent with family, the stress of hosting get-togethers, crazy malls. The forgetting of the meaning of this season.

And I don’t mean the world forgetting to stop and celebrate Christ’s birth. We live in a fallen world where Christ’s sovereignty is denied on an hourly basis. Of course I don’t expect the general population to celebrate Christ’s birth.

 I mean what we forget within the body of Christ.

See, part of what makes Christmas a hard time of year for me is the longing. I long to share romantic Christmas dates with someone special. I long to have a family of my own to make Christmas memories with. I at least just long to say yes when the “are you seeing someone?” brigade intrudes on holiday gatherings.

It’s easy to let the unmet longing shade the season of hope and joy, but I think to ignore the longing is to miss something important in this season.

Because Christmas is a celebration of longing.

The world was in desperate need of the messiah and the longing for his presence throughout the Old Testament is unmistakable. In Christ’s coming to earth, that longing was met and through his death, fulfilled.

In this season of advent, we now long for Christ’s return.

I was reminded by a friend earlier this month that God has given each of us specific longings and needs to draw us in to him. We try to fill those longings with relationships, or status, or possessions, but of course that doesn’t work.

Having a boyfriend, or husband and family would not ease this hunger in my soul this season. Not really.

Because there is still great longing in me for what will not be met on this side of heaven. And so often I misdiagnose that longing and loneliness I feel to be that of a relationship with a man rather than my need for unbroken relationship with God.

But that longing is why we celebrate this season. We look forward to having this longing met in the second coming of our king. And we give thanks for the first coming and the sacrifice that makes our longing able to be met.

We are descendants in a heritage of longing. We are beautiful beggars waiting for our hunger to be satisfied.

This season is an invitation to face our longings head on and seek the truth of what we really desire.

So this is my challenge as we head into this week. As you experience the longing, loneliness, or discontentment of your holiday season, look at the feeling in light of advent. In light of the anticipation and desire of what is before us.

Rest in the knowledge that your longing will one day be met.

Until then, may you find joy and peace this Christmas season.