Chaos of Singleness and Marriage

A pastor and mentor is working his way through a sermon series on chaos. This past week was about chaos within marriage and asked if I would provide a perspective on singleness along these lines. The following is my response:
Our culture (and the church is not immune) is prone to elevate marriage or—in lieu of marriage—sexual fulfillment to the level of God.  But what happens when we elevate the pursuit of something over the pursuit of God? We were made to pursue his love, not the love of man. When we pursue anything other than the love we were intended to pursue, chaos ensues. We meet our brokenness head on. It doesn’t work. (I think that came through so clearly in your thoughts yesterday and I am grateful for it. It’s a word we all need and often!)
In the marriages of friends (or divorces of some), I’ve watched expectations that can only be fulfilled by God’s perfect love destroy what is there. The grass is not greener for my married friends—it’s just different grass. I may feel longing in wanting a companion to share things with or children to raise to love God. I may feel loneliness or feel forgotten. This is the burden I carry as a single woman. But this is one side of a coin.
On the other side, my married sisters also experience loneliness or feel forgotten within the bounds of their marriage. They have been blessed with husbands and children, yes, but that season carries it’s own hurts and burdens. They daily hurt and are hurt by their best friend and are constantly trying to extend grace and accept forgiveness and maintain love for that person despite this. Their desires are thwarted by helpless babies and willful toddlers that know no better than selfishness.
These are not the challenges of my world, but they are in fact challenges that I must remember to hold compassion for. Just because those in other seasons have blessings we do not, it does not mean we can ignore the burdens we are meant to carry for one another. It’s easy to forget the chaos others experience when we are consumed with our own.
In my own life, chaos can look like a lot of worry and a lot of anger. If God does not provide a partner for me, then will my life be valuable? Will I find community as my married friends fulfill their search for couple friends, for kids, for friends with kids, etc? What happens when my parents have passed on? What happens when I am old and my health declines and I do not have my own children to care for me? On and on it goes in the neurotic mind of this late-twenty something. I can become angry that I have devoted myself to God and his word and he has not provided the desires of my heart. I come to Him as a consumer rather than a worshiper and of course find dissonance where I expected I would get my way.
In the elevation of romantic or sexual love over the love of God in a church community, chaos can reign supreme. Couples and families are served—as they should be—but often this elevation of the nuclear family leaves the single, divorced, or widowed out of the community wondering if there is even a place for them. We do not look outside those of our own demographic to bring them into our homes, around our tables, or into our hearts because we do not see them. But the gospel—and ergo the church universal—does not exclude anyone. The body of Christ is so much the better when we embrace those different from our situation in life because we are united in Christ.
Families who have done this for me have provided the connection and stability I crave that is often absent when I am on my own. In turn, I am able to give another voice for their children, another walk with Christ to observe. I am able to challenge norms and bring a passion that has been lost in the shuffle of getting everyone between school, small groups, and sports practices.
I have received many a glimpse of singles who want to hold anger and point a finger at how the church has “forgotten” them. (I have been so guilty of this myself). It can be hurtful. It can be isolating. It takes a lot of risk to find a place in a community made for nuclear families made up of both husband and wife when you are outside of that.
So here is the ultimate question—the question not just in this type of chaos, but in all chaos: What is the telos here? What is the ultimate goal?  Is it to consume the love of man that I so often demand? To expect my relationships to fulfill me regardless of what I might or might not pour into them? Or is it to receive and extend the love of God? To live into and out of my kingdom identity?
The truth of Galatians is so clear here: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” We are people in need of God’s love and made to extend that toward one another: wives to husbands, husbands to wives, Christian brothers and sisters towards one another regardless of marital relationship, financial status, or season in life.
So I can rest in the love of God knowing he is a God who provides—if not a husband, then a community of believers—a God who sees—my longings, hurts, and weaknesses and loves me anyway—and a God who wants me to value him over all else—and patiently pursues my heart in this with tenderness. I was not created to consume, but created to love. He values my holiness over my happiness and it is in pursuing holiness that I find myself whole.
And this may not result in a husband. But it will result in a deeper knowledge and love of my father—a fulfillment of my purpose.
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Something Small, Something Simple

I shared a couple weeks back about feeling cranky with my faith. Some of this stems from some things in my church that may not be to my personal preference. Most of it stems from a personal pursuit of God that was too narrow and self-focused.

It’s easy for my heart to go from discerning and deep-thinking to cynical and critical, and I was seeing evidence of this in my relationship with God. So much felt like thrill-seeking—the next conference, the next bible study, the next coffee with a mentor—that would bring the insight, depth, or change I was aching for. But God is not a spiritual crack dealer.

God is found in the simple and small—the word, prayer, and community. And so a journey to find personal liturgy began.

…And slowly crashed and burned.

Reading James K.A. Smith’s You Are What You Love was insightful, bringing words to feelings and longings I’ve held in my faith life for so long. The book is a call back to small daily practices that realign us with God’s story. It’s a call to look at our habits and what they point our hearts to and retraining our habits to point to the gospel—what we truly want to love. It’s looking for liturgy in the everyday.

Thing is, the book was on the philosophy of this more than the practice. So what do daily liturgies look like for a single girl in an evangelical church?

Honestly, I still don’t know. What I do know is this:

I operate better under structure, though I try to avoid it to keep my autonomy

Autonomy is not biblical, and that is something I’ve had to examine and accept. Having a structure to my days and weeks helps me to function better and live healthier. Having habits to look to from the outset keeps me from feeling lost or purposeless. It instead brings focus and shape.

I love my job and the flexibility it brings, but I also acknowledge that it is an opportunity to steward my time and habits well and I want to do so in a way that welcomes community. Not in a way that hordes my autonomy.

Prayer is not passive, but is, in fact, the most powerful thing we can do

Prayer was something I did in a prayer journal when I had plenty of time to write out long prayers by hand in a prayer journal. So guess what was the first thing to go out the window when life got busy?

So, yes, I still love those extended times of prayer, but I’ve also found that I want to form habits that allow me to pray without ceasing. When a friend I haven’t talked to in a while comes to mind, I pray for them. When something on the news stirs my hear to be anxious, I pray about it. When I’m at a loss, I pray.

Not all the time, but enough that this is becoming second nature, rather than just some new thing I’ll try for three days and forget about.

The church is built when the body of Christ is down on it’s knees

Yes, spiritual formation can happen in big arenas with flashy speakers. But lasting change and discipleship happens in the quiet moments alone, between the word and prayer.

I can think I know what is right for myself, or the church, or society at large, but I am so often wrong. Starting my day with prayer and time in the bible rather than the news or my email inbox brings a different rhythm to my days.

I have started reading Seeking God’s Face each morning and am grateful for the reminder of who God is and what his heart is for every morning. The book pairs a psalm and passage of scripture with prayer prompts and excerpts from various books of prayer. It also guides you through the seasons of the Christian year—something very new to this baptist girl.

This habit has been refreshing and grounding.

I’ve found that seeking to live in God’s story is not something glamorous or earth-shattering—not in the day-to-day. It’s small, it’s simple, and it’s so very necessary.

How are you seeking small and simple habits to point you back to God’s story?