• Posted on December 25, 2010

about good plans & God glasses

I was seven. We were on a family road trip from Texas to Oregon. I pointed out the window and asked my parents, “Are those horses or cows?” Everyone thought I was kidding, and finally they told me, “Rebecca, those are hay bales.” So we figured out maybe I needed glasses, and the confusion among horses, cows, and hay bales became a running family joke.

I had glasses until seventh grade when contacts became an option. My eyesight is bad and has gotten worse over the years. I have a slight astigmatism, too much that normal contacts cause me problems but not enough that astigmatic contacts will do me any good. But I can’t stand to wear my glasses most days. Call me crazy, but having peripheral vision is something I value.

I remember gym class in elementary and having to take my glasses off, probably to play dodge ball or some other masochistic game they made us play. People looked like trees walking around, faceless and ominous. I knew what they should look like, but for some reason, at that moment, all I could see were trees.

We’d take class field trips to Palo Duro Canyon. If you’re not from around here, basically it’s like the Grand Canyon’s runt sister. I’d look over the edge down at the canyon, and I was terrified my glasses would fall off. I envisioned them crashing down on the rocks and busting into pieces as they tumbled. Looking back, I’m certain my glasses were high quality enough to have remained on my face, but at the time I kept holding them on lest they fall. Most of the pairs I had were thick plastic, wine red versions of Urkel glasses. Someone should have told me they weren’t cool, but I liked them and they got the job done for a while.

This past year my main prayer has been to maintain focus. Through spiritual attacks and human attacks and self-destructive attacks, I prayed to keep God’s perspective. I know that no matter what happens, if I can just keep seeing things the way God sees them, I’ll make it through. If I could just keep my God glasses from falling off my face and crashing down on the jagged rocks in the canyon looming before me, I’ll make it through.

But here’s the catch: when I was a kid, my glasses didn’t fall off my face. And God’s glasses? Way higher quality than wine red Urkel glasses. They don’t just slip off. The only time my glasses came off was when I took them off, usually to shower or sleep. And God’s glasses are the same way: they come off when (and only when) we take them off. We stop seeing things through God’s perspective when we stop seeking his perspective. And we get those Glasses (capital G for lack of confusion and redundancy) through a regular quiet time with God.

The funny thing about glasses is they’re eventually going to be taken off. And the further you get away from them when they’re off, the harder it is to find them again. At least, if your eyesight is as bad as mine, it is. I’ve accidentally knocked them off my nightstand before and had to crawl around, feeling my way for them, under the nightstand, under the bed, into the trash can, somehow across the floor. God’s the same way. The further we get away from him, sometimes the harder it is to get back to him. We get so used to feeling our way around, stumbling through each day, trusting our own senses and feelings, expecting to come across something to help us see. And it doesn’t work that way. When I start to get too lax in my quiet time, my perspective suffers as well. That’s when I know it’s time to fall on my face before God. Literally. I spend a significant amount of time on my face worshiping him. Not complaining about things that may be wrong in my life or praying for help or interceding for others. Worshiping him for who he is. Period. And almost like magic, I put on his Glasses and things begin to become clearer.

Sometimes we take off our Glasses when we think we don’t need them anymore, or when we don’t want to see what we know is there. One of my friends on Facebook posted a status about wearing her contacts while showering one day and realizing how dirty the shower was. I relate completely. Usually I shower in the mornings before I’ve put in my contacts, but on the rare days when the contacts come first, I’m suddenly overwhelmed with a desire to start cleaning things. Funny how that works. The dirty in my life is there all along, but if I don’t have my glasses on or contacts in, I can pretend it’s not there. That’s the problem with the Glasses. We know there’s dirt in our life, but we don’t want to see it. Once we put on the Glasses and trust God’s perspective, we also have to acknowledge the dirt or soap scum in our own lives that we’ve allowed to accumulate for way too long. And man, how that sucks. But if we trust God to show us what needs to be cleaned, we allow him to work in our lives the way he wants to. Or maybe we take off the Glasses because we don’t like what we see. The major thing God has shown me this year, the one idea he’s now pushed me to write an entire book about, is this: God’s good plan doesn’t always feel very good. But God is always good. When you read in Scripture about God’s good plan for salvation, you think it sounds fantastic. Then you realize the entire plan involved the excruciating suffering of an innocent being, and suddenly it doesn’t sound very good anymore. It’s so easy for us to celebrate Christmas as the wonderful birth of our Savior and yet completely overlook the fact that his sole purpose on this earth was to suffer and die. And no, I’m not saying we shouldn’t celebrate Christmas. I’m just saying sometimes we get so caught up with the beautiful parts of God’s plans that we refuse to accept the ugly parts. We refuse to believe something so ugly could be so good. But it was, and it is.

Lately there’s been a lot of disappointment in my life, and a lot of very hard decisions. And every time I spent significant time alone with God, listening to him, focusing solely on his perspective. That perspective led me to make decisions that hurt me deeply, decisions that hurt others deeply as well. But I am completely, 100% convinced they were the right decisions because they were made while wearing Glasses. I was looking down into huge canyons, clinging tightly to God’s perspective, lest it fall away from me.

That’s not to say I don’t lose focus, because I do. Daily. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be human. I’m still learning, but every time I get even a momentary glimpse through God’s Glasses, I’m reassured that his plan is good, always good. No matter how it feels, it’s good, and I can trust in that.

Merry Christmas, and I pray for God’s Glasses to be the one thing you seek most this holiday.

  • Posted on December 22, 2010

about a whisper

When I was in high school, I was a “good girl.” Sure, I was mean and violent and angry all the time, but other than that, I think I was probably every parent’s dream kid. I got myself up and ready in the morning, cooked, cleaned, did laundry, never snuck out at night, almost never broke curfew [with the exception of a few unforeseeable circumstances, like getting stuck while mudding (or muddin’ if you prefer) one night], and was just generally obedient to any of my parents’ rules.

What’s more, I didn’t drink, smoke, do any drugs (other than an unhealthy amount of over-the-counter painkillers for migraines), or have sex. I was way too insecure for the last one and way too self-aware for the first three. I knew the way I was about things, very easily addicted. Food, actions, games, people–you name it, I’d get addicted to it after one good experience. I hung out with people who regularly did all four, but my best friend and I didn’t get involved. We were smart, smart enough to see the consequences of such self-destructive actions, and we wanted everyone else to know them as well. So we created “commercials” to run throughout our high school’s closed-circuit TVs during homeroom to encourage people not to drink, take drugs, or have sex. The campaign was called, “Is It Worth It?” and even earned us co-Student of the Year awards from the Chamber of Commerce for our efforts.

I wrote a monthly column for our high school newspaper. In one edition, I very bluntly stated all the things I have never done: shot heroin into my veins, had sex, smoked, etc. I’m not sure now what the point of the column was, perhaps just to encourage people to stop doing any of those things and be as cool as me. (I was cool. I sometimes brushed my hair and wore makeup, and my attire was usually jeans, white wife-beater tank, plaid button-up unbuttoned over the tank.)

My column somehow garnered more attention and I spoke to a group of kids during Red Ribbon Week, encouraging them to Just Say No or Just Do It or something like that. I was on the news. See what I mean? Cool. Epitome of.

I was active in my youth group and church, sometimes walking the mile or so to church and back if I didn’t have a ride. I sometimes prayed before bed and, when I really needed answers stat, I opened up my Bible and pointed and that verse told me what to do next. Or I kept trying until one of the verses made sense.

Impressive, right?

Flash forward five years. I’m a full-fledged alcoholic. I keep bottles of vodka or rum in my trunk, glove box, purse, and sock drawer. I do shots throughout the day or mix the liquor with soda in what is usually a 1:1 ratio. I drink during my classes, at work, while driving, whenever, wherever. I’m no longer a virgin. I date potheads, sleazeballs, guys who call themselves Christians, guys who couldn’t find a church if it was built right in front of them. I smoke constantly and usually try to hide it from everyone. I try to quit, throwing my cigarette box into the dumpster. The next day, I climb into the dumpster to get it back out. I love prescription pills. I take Vicodin, Darvocet, whatever I can get. I’m Superwoman on Hydrocodone. I don’t do hard drugs. Something inside me always holds me back, probably the last sane part of me who knows if I start, it will kill me. I’m already trying hard enough to kill myself in other ways. I have a daily devotional I read every night until I feel too convicted. I hide it in my drawer and pray sometimes in moments of clarity.

So what happened?

For a long time I told people it was because I had gotten confused. The morals I thought I had got mixed up and I didn’t know what to believe in anymore. I had myself convinced that my behavior was Scripturally sound. I blamed my behavior on events, circumstances that happened around me or to me. It’s easy, very, very easy, for me to place blame. We didn’t have a lot of money, my parents are divorced, I was mistreated by friends, I wanted to feel accepted, I needed just to feel something, I wanted to perpetuate my suffering for the sake of my emo poetry writing that spoke to other people, etc. It’s enough to confuse, sure. But here’s the thing God just showed me, this morning, the truth about what really happened:

The world is louder than God.

Remember when Jezebel was hell-bent on killing Elijah in 1 Kings 19? He ends up at Mount Sinai, and he gets to talk with God. But the windstorm blows by, and God isn’t in it. And the earthquake comes up and God isn’t in it. And the fire burns by, but God isn’t it. And God’s used all of these things to get people’s attention before, but not this time. This time he comes after all the noise and destruction has died down, and he speaks. In a whisper. Elijah may have been expecting God in the windstorm or the earthquake or the fire. What if his ears were still ringing from the sound of it all? But God chooses to speak to him in a whisper. Elijah would have had to be listening for that. And me, in my case, I was so focused on the earthquakes and fires and windstorms of my world, I wouldn’t have heard God if he’d shouted at me, much less whispered. And he was whispering, all along. I know that now.

Ray VanderLaan is one of the smartest people I wish I knew. He talks in his Follow the Rabbi lectures (you can find them for free here) about spending time with the sheepherders in Israel. A shepherd’s flock relies on his voice to get from place to place. They stop when he stops and walk when he walks, using only the sound of his voice as a guide. At one point RVL spent the night with three shepherds whose flocks intermingled during the night. In the morning, each shepherd stood away from the flocks and called out, and each of his sheep came to him. The sheep that didn’t belong to him didn’t come when he called, as they didn’t know his voice.

Wow. This is what Jesus is talking about when he says, “the sheep recognize his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice. They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t know his voice.” (John 10:3-5)

As our shepherd, Jesus’ voice should be the only voice to which we respond. We learn to recognize his voice by reading his Word and praying. We learn to stop when he stops and walk when he walks, following only the sound of his voice and hearing only him. And this is the difference between where I was in high school and where I am now. When I was younger, I thought the Christian thing was going to church and knowing how to jump rope to the books of the Bible and closing my eyes when I prayed. But none of those things really taught me how to hear Christ’s voice. I learned to hear him over time, as I established a daily quiet time with God. It trained me to listen for the whisper among the windstorms of this world. And every once in a while, the world is shouting at me and I get confused and frantic. And this is where John 10:5 comes in: “They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t know his voice.” I have to be so focused on hearing Jesus that any other voices send me running back to him.

It’s not always easy to tell the difference between God’s voice, my voice, my friends’ voices, and the voices of the rest of the world. Because, like God said, the world is loud. My friends’ voices are loud. My voice is infamously loud. And God is whispering.

God isn’t going to force himself on us. That’s the awful beauty of free will. But he does promise that if we come close to him, he will come close to us. (James 4:8) That means if we’re seeking him, we’ll find him. If we’re listening for him in spite of fires and earthquakes, we’ll eventually hear the whisper. We may not hear it first, and we’ll doubtfully hear it loudest, but it’ll be there. And when the devil calls out to us or the world tries to get our attention, we will recognize it instantly as a stranger’s voice and run back to our shepherd.

  • Posted on December 19, 2010

about spiders in your chair; i.e., object lessons

Several years ago I had an awesome roommate friend named Misty. Misty and I were sitting in the living room watching TV and I wanted–no, needed–something from the kitchen. I’m sure it was a soda or snack or ice cream or something that wouldn’t take long to get, but I was feeling extraordinarily lazy at that particular moment. I asked Misty if she’d get it and, feeling lazy herself, she told me No. I waited a minute, then screamed and exclaimed, “There’s a spider on your chair! It’s right there!” She jumped up and spun around, looking for it. It didn’t exist. Oops. I said, “Oh, well, while you’re up, can you go get that from the kitchen?”

In case you’re wondering, she told me No again and sat back down on her principles. I still think it was a brilliant plan.

Now, there’s a lot to that story that has nothing to do with godliness. God isn’t lazy, he doesn’t lie about spiders in your chair (or anything, for that matter), and he definitely doesn’t need us to do anything for him. But what I’m realizing lately is sometimes God takes drastic measures to get our attention. Or, better said, he uses drastic circumstances to get our attention. He uses spiders in our chair to get us going.

If you’ve ever read Isaiah, you probably feel like I do, pretty lost and confused about the whole book. You’ll be reading along, and there’s a lot of doom and destruction prophesied, and every once in a while you come across a verse you’ve heard since you were in Sunday School class, and you get really excited, like you’ve hit some kind of mile marker. Then you find chapter 20, and “the Lord told Isaiah son of Amoz, ‘Take off the burlap you have been wearing, and remove your sandals.’ Isaiah did as he was told and walked around naked and barefoot.”

Um, awkward. Isaiah’s been prophesying to this person and that person and speaking God’s word and just generally having a great relationship with the Creator, and suddenly God pulls a fast one on him and tells him to get naked. And not just in front of his bathroom mirror. He walks around that way. So you feel a little self-conscious but keep reading and the next sentence says, “Then the Lord said, ‘My servant Isaiah has been walking around naked and barefoot for the last three years…'”

Uh.

Firstly, how did we travel three years in between two verses?

Secondly, he’s been naked for three years? That had to be cold, that had to be uncomfortable, that sure as heck had to be awkward in conversations with the dude. I’m sorry, but if Isaiah and I are friends and I invite him to come play some Apples to Apples at our house and he shows up naked, we’re done. That’s a deal-breaker for my friends. Not to mention, Ronnie would probably give him a good beating for being naked in front of me, because that’s just not right.

Thirdly, how did Isaiah not even ask God why he was naked? Keep reading: “This is a sign–a symbol of the terrible troubles I will bring upon Egypt and Ethiopia. For the king of Assyria will take away the Egyptians and Ethiopians as prisoners. He will make them walk naked and barefoot, both young and old, their buttocks bared, to the shame of Egypt.” Up until that point, three years after Isaiah dropped his drawers, I think we can safely assume Isaiah didn’t know why he was naked. I feel like if God asked me to walk into the backyard naked I’d put up a fight. Or at least demand a reason. Not Isaiah. Maybe he was just really comfortable with nudity, who knows? I like to think he wasn’t, though. That God said, “Do this” and he did this, without question, without argument, and without hesitation.

I mean, I feel like God could have just said that whole thing about Assyria taking the E&Es captive and not put Isaiah through three years of nakedness, but God was making a point. Maybe he had to use something less than desirable to make that point, but that’s the method he chose, and who would Isaiah have been to question it?

When you read in Jeremiah you come across the same type of situation. For the most part, Jeremiah’s assignments were more family-friendly than Isaiah’s, with the exception of chapter 13 when God makes Jeremiah take off his underwear and hide it in some rocks. (How many of you just pulled out your Bibles to see if I was making that one up? I wasn’t.)

In chapter 18, God tells Jeremiah to go hang out with a potter and watch him work. The potter makes a jar that doesn’t quite look how he wanted, so he crushes it and starts over again. God says, “O Israel, can I not do to you as this potter has done to his clay? As the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand.”

In other places, Jeremiah had to go buy a jar and smash it in front of some people. He had to wear an ox yoke. Ezekiel had to lie on his side for 390 days and follow some weird high-carb diet. And each of these to prove a point. You would think God could just say, “Hey, here’s a new lesson. Go share it with everyone.” And, in fact, when you read through the books of the prophets, that’s mostly how it goes. So why did Isaiah and Jeremiah and others have to do something drastic? Why did they have to perform some action to make a point?

The answer, of course, is: I have no idea. But I think it’s because that’s what it took to get people’s attention, and even then it didn’t always go smoothly for the prophets or the people to whom they were prophesying.

There are so many lessons of obedience here. God tells me to invite someone to church, and I fight him kicking and screaming. He tells me to give a little extra to bless someone, and I start thinking of all the other uses I have for that money. And yet, reading all this, I should be thankful for such easy tasks. I don’t have to wear a yoke or eat only carbs or walk around naked (trust me, you should be thankful for that one too).

Go back to Isaiah, chapter six, verse eight:
“Then I heard the Lord asking, ‘Whom should I send as a messenger to this people? Who will go for us?’
I said, ‘Here I am. Send me.'”

You’ve heard that one before, right? Maybe you’ve even made that your own personal response to God. But do you mean it, really mean it, enough to speak the truth as boldly as Isaiah did? Enough to obey God instantly, dramatically, no matter how bizarre or personally shameful his commands may be?

This–obedience–wasn’t my point. But it’s a great reminder worth mentioning. My point, back from the beginning, is about our attention. God wants our attention, and if we’re claiming to hear him but really not listening at all, he’ll get our attention. Lately in my own life he’s used some less-than-desirable circumstances to show me where he wants me. It’s not like I wasn’t listening to him or wanting to be obedient to him. But sometimes I get so comfortable in my life that a big change is just not something I want. It’s easier to keep going in one direction, even if I feel increasingly unsettled. I knew God was wanting me to move on from my position at the church, but I just wasn’t ready to leave, because I was familiar with it. It was comfortable. Then he basically gave me the equivalent of “get naked and go for a walk.” Eek. It wasn’t fun. It wasn’t comfortable. And if I have to be honest, I’m still feeling pretty naked. But I’m beginning to see his point.

God uses object lessons all throughout the Bible, and we’re so quick to let them lie in the past. But we have to recognize he still uses them today. And sometimes, especially when we’ve been ignoring God on an issue, how that ends up looking is a lot like a spider in our chair. Maybe the spider is the issue and maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s just a catalyst to get you going, to get you moving, to get you listening.

If there’s something in your life that looks or feels like a spider in your chair, maybe God wants you to jump up and go get something from the kitchen. Ask him if that something is an object lesson, and ask him what to do about it. Who knows, you might end up naked for the next three years or hiding your underwear in a rock. And if that happens, you can’t come over to our house for game night, but I’ll be praying for you anyway. And I have complete faith God is going to use that to make a point in your life that will bear fruit as you become increasingly obedient to him.

Finally, in a rare moment of meta-blogging, I’m still working on this website but would love to hear your thoughts on the topic. Feel free to comment below and let us know what kinds of object lessons God’s been using in your life lately.

  • Posted on December 12, 2010

about being in the ministry

For two years I had the extreme honor of working on the staff of one of the fastest-growing churches in the country. I can’t even begin to describe how amazing it was having a front row seat to seeing peoples’ lives change. I also can’t describe the struggle I went through, facing attacks and challenges I’ve only read about in books or seen on the movies. As a result, however, every struggle brought me closer to God, little by little, and I would never trade those results for any amount of heartache.

One of the biggest lessons I learned (or didn’t learn) is how to “turn it off.” I was single for the majority of my time at the church, so it was very easy to push myself to keep working long after I didn’t think I could anymore. Once I was married, it became easier to leave at 5:00 and focus on my family for the rest of the evening. But it took a good year and a half for me to get to that point. You go into the ministry thinking you have to win souls for Christ 24/7. With something as serious as eternity on the line, how can you stop? If your work means people get to experience intimate relationships with Jesus, your work will never be enough. It’s a lot of pressure, that thought. Then you realize you aren’t saving souls. God is saving souls, and sometimes he uses you to lead them. And when he’s not using you directly, he’s using someone else. Or he’s preparing you to be used again. I tell you what. Those few sentences back there? It took me two years to figure that out, and I am lucky to have learned it in two years. I know people who still haven’t learned it, after spending way more time than me in the ministry.

For the past several weeks, I’ve been alluding to the things God’s been showing me lately, his plan for my life. So here’s the full story on that:

I came across the Chazown project LifeChurch is doing somehow. It’s a website (also book, sermon, etc.) that takes you through steps to figure out what God’s ultimate vision (“Chazown”) is for your life. So I went through the website. Then I read the book. And by the time I was done, I knew exactly what God wanted to do with me.

The Chazown project (you can find it at www.Chazown.com) starts with determining what those things in your past are that influenced you the most. You know, the people, events, and circumstances–for better or worse–that made you who you are today. I’m going to be honest: I almost quit right then. I Hate (capital H) when people ask questions like, “Who are the most influential people in your past?” Well, heck, there’s tons. Every past experience I had, big or small, made me who I am today. How do I pick a few out?

But I went into the project with prayer, seeking God’s voice. And he opened my eyes to focus on the aspects of the past I needed to see right then. I organized them chronologically and gave them “chapter” titles. And it was so clear the chapters I had lived, I couldn’t believe it.

The first chapter was when I realized that society’s definitions of certain things were wrong. Immoral. Damaging. We’re all born with an innate sense of God and godliness and God’s laws. And as I grew, I began to notice things were not as they “should” be. Relationships, family, church, friendships, religion–all of these things had been incorrectly defined in my life in one way or another by the time I graduated high school. So that was chapter one.

Chapter two was a period of about seven years where I tried searching for the right definitions. If I couldn’t find a definition that fit what I thought was right, I made my own. During this time is when I began drinking, among other self-destructive behaviors. I didn’t know what “right” was, what “should” be; all I knew was what was wrong, what seemed wrong, what felt wrong.

Chapter three started in August of 2007. I was in Omaha with a friend and attended his church. In the middle of a praise and worship set, God opened my eyes to see that everything I was doing, everything I’d built my beliefs on, was still not right. I listened to him, and I was instantly changed. Shortly thereafter I recommitted my life to Christ and, for the first time, actually understood what that meant. Chapter three is where I, led by Christ, have begun to redefine the things that were so brutally misdefined by both myself and others.

And this is where my Chazown was realized, my next step: I’m supposed to let people know. Through writing books, devotionals, study guides, and even this blog, I will be sharing what I’ve learned and continue to learn. And I’m going to be speaking, to small groups, large groups, individually, with friends. Everything about my Chazown made sense. All of my spiritual gifts, my core values, and my passions fit into this plan. And once I realized it, God made sure I couldn’t forget it. He constantly brought me more and more encouragement, reaffirming his plan for my life.

So I found an accountability partner and made one of many goals to blog once a week. The other goals fell by the wayside as I had less energy and motivation for other things by the time I got home from work every day. And then, this past week, God got my attention once again and said, “It’s time to move on from your employment at eLife.”

Whoa.

“So, okay, God, now what? Get another job and focus on my writing in my downtime again?” Nope. God gave me a very clear vision of sending out support letters to family and friends and, with that, being self-employed while I finish the book I’ve already started and focus on writing and teaching more about what he’s taught me.

Double whoa.

“So, just to be clear: I’m leaving a great job with the best friends a girl could ask for and going to be working from home without guaranteed pay, relying solely on the faith of others to believe me when I say I have a specific vision from God?” Nope, wrong again. “You’re not relying solely on the faith of others,” he said. “You’re relying solely on me.”

Triple whoa. Also, some apologies to God.

And with that, my time on staff at eLife was over. Let me just say: this has been harder than breaking up with a boyfriend. My life has been intertwined with eLife’s for a good year and a half before I even came on staff. It was sad, to say the least. But God has kept my eyes focused on him and his plans for me. And my excitement to be free to study his word and share it with others is incomparable to anything else. I am giddy beyond reason.

And now, for the original point of this post. In the day following my resignation, several times I made a joke along the lines of, “I can cuss now, because I don’t work for a church.” Or, “I can be a bad driver because I’m not in the ministry anymore.” Then suddenly, walking out of Target, this is what God said: “Your ministry is your life.”

Mmhmm. Let that one hit you in the face like it did me. My ministry is my life. My ministry was my life before I ever came on staff at the church, and my ministry will continue until the day I die and, hopefully, by the grace of God, will continue on long after I’ve gone. My ministry is the way I represent Christ in my life. Period. It has nothing to do with employment or coworkers or non-profits or income or health insurance. My ministry is 24/7, as I’d suspected all along, but not in the way I thought.

So, before I end this one, just a word of encouragement to anyone who, like me, just “got it” about the ministry. Before you freak out and think you’ve already messed up your ministry and will never be able to win someone to Christ because you’re a sinner and a screw-up and seem to fail more times than you succeed, remember the lesson God taught me: you aren’t saving souls. God is saving souls, and sometimes he uses you to lead them. So even when you sin and screw-up and feel as if you’ve ruined your ability to be a credible witness for Christ, remember these things allow people to view the grace of God in your lives. And the way you handle your screw-ups is part of your ministry. So be encouraged. The pressure’s off you, and it’s all on God, and believe me, he can handle it. He didn’t create you to handle that kind of pressure. He created you to let him bear it instead.

  • Posted on December 05, 2010

about the (misnomer about the) joy of being single

I’m 28 (and a half). I’ve been married six months (and one week). Prior to getting married, Ronnie and I were dating or engaged (it pretty much all ran together) for just over four months, and that was almost the longest relationship I’d had to that point. Did you catch that? Prior to Ronnie, my longest dating relationship was five months. Before that, something like three months. Then one that lasted twenty-eight ill-fated days. Then several that lasted two or three weeks at a time. What this means is: I’m really, really good at being single. Really. I’m so good at being single that I led (or co-led) three different small groups for singles in the years leading up to my marriage (and I like to think I was a pretty good singles’ leader as well). When it comes to being single, I’ve totally got this one down.

Several weeks ago in my quiet time I was praying for some of my single friends. A few of them were going through some very single-related struggles, and I was praying for peace and wisdom for them, God, please give them focus, and also please reveal to them the joy of being single–

Those words actually came out of my mouth: “the joy of being single.” I was horrified. The next thing I said to God was, “What the heck? Now I’m one of those people who talks about ‘the joy of being single’?!” I laughed. I like to think God laughed along with me, maybe shook his head at me, probably even called me a tool.

Let me be clear, for those of you married folk who have forgotten what it was like: there is no joy of being single for single’s sake. There is a very definite (and definitely bittersweet) lack of responsibility, but other than that? Nothing. Being single sucks. And anyone who says otherwise is either married, lying, or a sociopath. Or maybe even all three.

Here’s why being single sucks, from a girl’s perspective: you really want to be nurturing to someone. You want someone to protect you and provide for you and be able to make those final decisions when you’re feeling particularly indecisive, like which movie you should go see or whether you should order your usual at a restaurant or try something new. You want someone to cuddle with when you’re watching a movie or when you just wake up or sometimes just for no reason at all. You want someone to bring you medicine and 7up and crackers when you’re sick, without you having to ask for it. You want someone to tell you how beautiful you look, especially when you feel ugly but spent hours getting ready to look like someone who really is beautiful and not just someone trying to look like someone who is beautiful. And your girlfriends are great and sweet and supportive, but sometimes they just don’t cut it. Especially when they start a serious relationship and just aren’t around anymore. Then you naturally gravitate to other single friends and start using them as your substitute but somewhat inadequate partner.

Then there’s the BS about that whole dating thing. It might just be the worst idea we’ve had yet. In fact, I had a long rant here about it, but I took it out. We’ll save that one for later. In the meantime, if you want an idea of what relationships should be, check out Joshua Harris’ “Boy Meets Girl.” I firmly believe that every single person should read it. Today.

And then, the absolute worst thing about being single is (drum roll, please): time. Let’s be honest, when you’re single, you’ve got a lot of time. And that can be great when you want to watch a One Tree Hill marathon or take an overnight trip to Austin or spend hours shopping. But when you’ve got a lot of time, you’ve got a lot of time to think. And that inevitably will turn to thinking about how badly you want to be nurturing to someone. And how you want someone to protect you and make decisions and bring medicine and cuddle and tell you you’re beautiful and smart and witty and, uh, well-spoken and friendly and hilarious and fun to be around and, well, you get the picture. When you’re single, you have the time to focus on what you wish you had. Granted, there have been several times in the past six months (and one week) when I had time to think about what I wish I had, like more clothes or Criminal Minds on DVD or a car door that actually opens when I pull the handle. But the things I wish I had seem to be less in focus now than they used to be. It would be easy to say it’s because my husband has completed me and I now have everything I need in life and am just completely fulfilled as a result of our marriage. That would be a lie. Don’t get me wrong, we have a great marriage. Ronnie says we have the marriage that everyone wishes they had, and I tend to agree. Even at our worst, he’s the only person I always want around. But the truth is, he has not “completed” me, not in that way. Even in our premarital class last Spring, one of the first statements they taught us was, “Your spouse will not complete you.” It’s a lie that Jerry McGuire told us fourteen years ago, and for some reason, we all bought into it.

So, if being married or having less me-time isn’t what gave me focus and fulfillment, what did? It was a learning process. Focus and fulfillment were gradual lessons I’ve learned, and not just lessons I started six months (and one week) ago, or even since Ronnie and I started dating last January. It was a process I started learning several years ago when I committed my life to Christ and actually meant it.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but something had shifted in me. I gradually stopped thinking of my time as my time and started thinking it more along the lines of time God had given me to accomplish his work. Being single has a significant lack of responsibility and more “free” time, and we–whether we’re aware of it or not–make a choice on how to use that responsibility and that time. Not long after I’d begun working for the church, one of our pastors made the comment to me, “Now I know what Paul meant when he said people shouldn’t get married.” At the time, I was constantly going somewhere or doing something for God. I was working way more hours than I was supposed to, volunteering with the youth, volunteering as a small group leader, volunteering with the children on the weekends, attending our prayer gathering, and, in my spare time, was working on various projects for other people. Truthfully, it was a lot, probably way more than what God actually wanted me doing. It took its toll on me and, over the next couple months, God destroyed my world and built it back up again. If I ever finish my book one of these days, you’ll know what I mean.

But what I had begun to realize was: if I stopped looking at myself and my wants and my needs and my time, I had so much time to do God’s work.

I don’t believe there is a joy in being single. I do, however, believe there is a joy in doing God’s work. There is a joy in having less familial responsibilities so you can focus on God’s will for your life. There is a joy in having less in-depth earthly relationships so you can focus on building up your relationship with God. I don’t believe God wants people to be single just for the heck of it. It’s because he needs them to do a work for him that they need to be single for. Or because he wants them to focus on their relationship with him before introducing them to more relationships with others.

I would not have married Ronnie if I didn’t believe 100% that God has a plan for us to serve him as a couple that will bring more glory to him than if we were serving him separately. For whatever reason, God can use us together in some specific way that we wouldn’t be usable apart from one another. And that thought excites me more than I can put into words. But he didn’t say, “Okay, Rebecca just committed her life to me, so now she can get married.” He said, “Okay, great, now Rebecca’s working for me, and when she’s done working for me by herself, I’ll have Ronnie ready as well and they’ll get married and accomplish these great works for me.” It’s in his plan, and Ronnie and I have both known it going into this.

So. As a side note, I wouldn’t recommend anyone following exactly the way I did things. I don’t recommend anyone getting engaged within three days of dating someone or getting married in four months. Because if I wasn’t me, I would think me was crazy getting married so quickly. But I had been trained over the past few years in how to hear God and how to recognize his moving and his timing, and we both knew what God’s intentions were (and are) for us. And I wouldn’t recommend anyone filling up all of their waking hours with work and volunteering. I do know now, after God has forced me to see it, the importance of rest and a Sabbath.

I told one of my best friends this week that I have the spiritual gift of unsolicited advice. And, to be frank, that’s pretty much what all the spiritual gifts tests have told me. So here’s my recommendation, to all my single brothers and sisters:
First, if you don’t have a daily quiet time with God, you have to make that happen. Start now. Start with five minutes a day, work up to ten, and thirty, and an hour. You won’t ever know what God’s best is for your life (whether in relationships or otherwise), if you’re not listening to him.
Second: get involved. Get involved in a church, get involved in a small group of like-minded singles. What I mean by “like-minded” is a group that isn’t just a dating game. Like-minded people are the people who are going to church and small groups to actually learn more about God and develop godly relationships. There are some groups like that out there. Not a lot, but some. Get accountability. Find people who will support you without encouraging selfish behavior.
Third: serve. Serve in your church, serve outside of your church. Pray daily about who you can serve that day. Look for ways every day to inconvenience yourself to show love to others.

No, I’m not an expert on being married and relationships and blah, blah, blah. But if there ever was any kind of joy of being single, I think I’m an expert on it. Or at least on redefining it. I don’t know a lot in this world, but I do know the power of a relationship with God. I do know his blessings. And I do know that if you’re single, he wants you that way for now. Maybe not next week, maybe not next month, maybe not in five years. But now, in this moment, he wants to use you more where you’re at as a single girl or guy than as a married person.