Passions and Singleness

I feel like I've been throwing you all sorts of links to writing I'm doing elsewhere, but I had an emergency root canal yesterday and producing any sort of coherent thoughts today feels near impossible. So here's some writing I did while not under the influence of pain medication.

First is a piece  I wrote for my church on how marriage isn't the only status that illustrates the gospel, singleness is too. Here's an excerpt, and here's the full piece

My marriage didn’t make the gospel more true to me. In fact, marriage in some ways tempered my ache for the coming King. All my years of being single had taught me to long more, hunger more and treat chastity as a sort of fast not waiting for a husband, but waiting for the ultimate Groom, Christ. But in marriage I’ve often felt the itch of my longings more satisfied by my husband than by God. When I’m lonely, he’s there. When I’m lacking, he tries to provide. When I’m fearful, he tries to comfort. When I should be looking to the Savior as my ultimate companion, to the Father as the ultimate provider and the Spirit as my ultimate comfort, I settle for merely looking to my husband.

In many ways I understood a more intrinsic truth of the gospel in my singleness than in my marriage: We are all still waiting, regardless of our marital status, for the return of our Groom, for the marriage feast and for an eternal life together. My prolonged singleness was preaching a more inclusive truth of the gospel than my marriage—which is merely a picture of the covenantal love between Christ and His bride. (Continue reading...)

And here is a piece that was published in the Winter print issue of Light Magazine (a publication of Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission) on how to view your work if it's not your passion. Here's an excerpt, and here's the full piece now available online

We can begin to believe simply because we’re passionate about something or feel a certain inclination toward it, God means it for us now or in the future, but God’s Word never promises this. Over and over God tells his children to be faithful, work hard, trust him, and empty ourselves. We’re reminded in Scripture of men and women who worked a very long time and never saw what actually was promised to them (Heb. 11).

When we believe a desire for a vocation means we will get to do it all our life, we’ve made the passion for the thing our idol. How much better to trust the work of our hands to the Creator of all, knowing he takes what is a formless void and makes it all beautiful in his time? Our work is good because, when all was still a formless void, God was preparing us for good works (Eph. 2:10). (Continue reading...)

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The Little Anger that Grew

I got a little angry last week and then I got a little more angry this week and that's okay, I guess, if you live by yourself and never have to communicate with real people whom you love or you don't love Jesus. But I don't live by myself and I do love Jesus and my little anger has been spilling over. And, as anger is wont to do, when it spills over you realize it's not so little as you first pretended it to be. In fact, it's a monstrosity. 

The particulars don't matter much and also they're so varied and vast that it's not really the particular of the moment that I'm actually angry about, but all the other things so when the particular very little moment happens, it turns into a very big thing. The thing is: I am not an angry person (this is what all angry persons say, I think, probably). I extend grace like it's next year's credit. I overlook like it never happened. I bite my tongue and choose my words very, very, very carefully. And, at the bottom of all that seeming goodness: I'm angry. 

Mostly I'm angry at my body. If there is an infectious malady I did not catch within the past three weeks, I'm unaware of it. Plus I cracked my tooth on a wheat berry and tweaked my lower back painfully and had the blessed curse on all women on top of it all. It was like merrily all the way until suddenly 37 said, "And now, for our next trick, your body is going to remind you it's fallible from head to toe!" I pride myself (literally) on rolling with the punches, but there are some punches from which you cannot get up.* 

And so, as anger does when there is no shred of pride left to keep it from bubbling over, I've been angry. I can count on more hands than I have the number of times my dear husband has said to me in the past few weeks, "I think you're overreacting/being harsh/feeling tired/need to give them more grace/need to give yourself more grace/misunderstanding/being unkind." So, literal insult to literal injury, my body is falling apart and my soul is falling apart. 

This morning I woke up all prepared with what I was going to say (since not saying, not saying, not saying until I can't not say anymore is a real sin struggle of mine) about a certain thing to a certain someone. I sat down to start work, armed with a lit candle, a Mason jar of water, coffee (which in recent weeks tastes like dishwater to me but which I keep drinking), and my Bible. I wish I could say there were stunning words of life and now I'm all repentant and changed and free of anger, but the truth is I'm not. I'm still angry. Again, the particulars don't matter and they're 26 bullet points long and probably matter a lot less than I'm giving them credit for. But what I realized this morning is really, there's only one bullet point that matters: I'm angry at God. 

It's not because he isn't giving me something I want. And it isn't because he's giving it to someone else. It's not because he isn't good and isn't doing good all over the world. It isn't because he isn't kind or just or generous or merciful. He is all those things and I know it with my whole heart. I'm angry at him because I feel far from him and I've felt it for a while. 

It shows up like I feel far from my dear husband or I feel lonely like my best friends live on opposite sides of the country or I feel far from the dream of ever living in the northeast on two acres in a farmhouse with a row of peonies and a couple kids or I feel far from being the person I want to be in body, in spirit, in soul, and in mind. I feel very far off from all this, yes, but mostly I feel far from God. 

I've been listening to the Psalms this morning and reminding myself that God is unchangeable and omnipresent and never far off. That even if I feel far off or see myself as far off, he cannot be far off. Just as true as all the other truths about God I know, his presence is true. Who he is, is true. But also where he is, is true. And his nearness is my good (Ps. 73:28). 

This doesn't sort out my anger. It doesn't resolve it. And it doesn't quell it. But it does point to the true source of it and that, I think, is probably a helpful place to start. It makes me wonder how much of the shouting in the world today (wars, rumors of wars, blog rebuttals and careless tweets, sarcasm and misunderstandings) is really just because we're angry at God. We feel overlooked by him. We feel unheard by him. We wonder, "How long, O Lord?" We keep thinking other people can solve or abate or resolve or even handle the anger we feel, but all along, the only one who can truly handle it is the only one who can truly resolve it. 

I don't know where your anger (even if you're not an "angry person") is directed today. Maybe it's toward your family or your husband or politics or your kid or systemic problems in the world or the Church or your finances or your singleness or maybe you already know it's toward God and you're way ahead of me. I don't know. I'm praying for both of us this morning, though. That's all.

*Every time I talk about anything to do with health, I get 27,000 messages telling me what to do or not to do or what worked for you. Thank you. But please don't. Okay? 

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Marrying a Real Person, Not an Illusion & Going Through Hell for Faith

I have two pieces up on Christianity Today this week. If you're curious and want to read more, here are some short excerpts and their respective links: 

Get Thee to a Flawed Wife: A letter of encouragement—and realism—to Christian men considering marriage.

To the single men who are considering marriage and feeling hesitant, I issue this invitation from Elisabeth Elliot’s Let Me Be a Woman: You do not marry a ministry partner; you marry a person. You do not marry someone like another man’s wife; you marry your wife. You do not marry someone like you; you marry a unique woman. And you do not marry someone perfect, you marry a sinner.

The same goes for women in their search for a husband. After marriage, you are not committed to your call more than you’re committed to the person, husband, man, and sinner before you. Nowhere in Scripture is “pastor’s wife” the attribute of a godly, good wife, nor is “deep theologian” the attribute for a husband. The only four qualities we need to understand in our search for a spouse are littered throughout the Scriptures and true of every married person on earth. (Keep reading.

Jack Deere Went Through Hell to Come to Faith: The theologian’s memoir is refreshingly raw about the wounds he’s suffered—and the wounds he’s inflicted.

This rawness is rare in the church today. We are often told by leaders that they sin, but Deere’s memoir is refreshingly full of his sin. It is not gratuitous in any form. We never get the sense that he wants to gain our pity or empathy to manipulate us into thinking he’s better or worse than he is. He is simply factual (to our knowledge) and unapologetic to his reader, while increasingly more repentant toward those against whom he has sinned—God foremost among them.

In a world where, all too often, leaders present themselves as one-dimensional characters (primarily speakers, teachers, pastors, musicians, or writers), Deere shows us we are irreducibly complex beings. Our bodies matter. Our souls matter. Our minds matter. Our emotions matter. Our histories matter. These together form the whole of who we are, and any true ministry we do out of the whole is going to be wholly complex. Otherwise, it will be anemic, one-dimensional, and devoid of power. Deere recognizes this now. But it took hell to get him there. I haven’t even mentioned the half of it in this review. (Keep reading.)

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God, Make Us Good Question Askers

I'm not allowed to say I married up or my husband is the best of anything (I'll get a talking-to later on if I do.). But let me say this: I really respect him. He gets up every single morning to start his day with Scripture, journaling, and messaging various men with whom he walks. It is rare when he doesn't have the answer to any question I ask him (about politics, history, science, sports, or literature). He reads current events, theology, poetry. He reads about farming, he reads about prayer, and he reads people. 

If you met him it would probably take a long time before you knew any of this about him. He never name drops whatever theologian he's reading or quotes poetry or statistics or how he knows western history like the back of his hand. In most conversations, he's the most quiet. And this bothers me. 

It really, really, really bothers me. I feel irritated often in conversations with others because if they would shut up and let him talk, or even ask him a question, they'd probably learn a thing or two. I've learned more in my three years with him than most of my life beforehand. Most of what I've learned, though, isn't what he knows and has taught me, it's how he is

The other afternoon he and I were having an impassioned conversation (as impassioned as two people with head colds and other maladies can be) about racism, policing, perspective, and the way we talk about all of these things in church culture. I voiced my frustration that he doesn't speak up about his perspective more when we're in the company of others—particularly those who seem to like the sound of their own voices. And he said this, "Sometimes I think asking questions is a better way to dialogue than just giving my perspective." 

The thing about asking questions in conversations, though, is first, all it does is make the other people who are already talking talk more. Second, it doesn't leave much space for him to share his wisdom (which is solid gold if you ask me). And third, it can make most conversations feel unfinished because there's always another question. 

The other thing about asking questions, though, is you learn and, if the questions are wise ones, the person you're asking them of learns too. 

Is being the first to say something worth the cost of being wrong once another states his case? 

Is asking for clarification again and again going to cost us something more than our pride? 

Is asking an X-ray question of someone who might have a limited view on something only helpful for us as the asker, or could it be helpful for them as the speaker? 

Do we really think our perspective is the most right? Or that we don't have more to learn? 

Would we stake our lives on what we're saying? 

Are we willing to say, "I don't know."?

Could asking a question instead of sharing a view, help us toward true reconciliation and peace?

Are we willing to leave more conversations unfinished knowing all of life is a process and none of us have arrived yet?

The folks I've learned the most from are people who've employed the Socratic method. They've asked questions, drilling down eventually to the deepest question, until I am gutted and vulnerable and see the inadequacy of my position or place in all its ugliness. And then those people have come down from their pulpit or platform or across the table, and stood beside me, saying, "I'm in this mess with you. Let's walk forward with more willingness to learn and hear and love and heal together."

My husband does this and he does it so well most people don't even notice he's doing it. They probably leave most conversations feeling heard and loved or maybe they leave thinking they showed him. I don't know. I do know I want to be more like him though. And more like the Christ from whom he learns.

Here are a few of the questions Jesus asked (and here are 135 of them):

Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? (Matthew 6:27)
Why are you so afraid? (Matthew 8:26)
Do you believe that I am able to do this? (Matthew 9:28)
Do you still not understand? (Matthew 16:9)
What is it you want? (Matthew 20:21)
What do you think? (Matthew 21:28)
Why are you thinking these things? (Mark 2:8)
What were you arguing about on the road? (Mark 9:33)
Where is your faith? (Luke 8:25)
What is your name? (Luke 8:30)
Who touched me? (Luke 8:45)

Spring table

We're Sunday People, but Sometimes We're Saturday People too

My first Tenebrae service was less than a decade ago. I said "Excuse me?" to the elder who served me communion because I'd never been served it and certainly never had the words, "The blood of Christ shed for you," accompanying it. In my circles we take communion or pass it, rarely by intinction or only on special occasions. "As often as you do this," has become often and rote and tacked on at the end of the service. A cardboard cracker with a plastic cup of Welch's. 

"My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me," sounded from the balcony and the candles were extinguished one by one by one by one. We who have walked in darkness walked out in darkness that night. 

We all know that Sunday is coming and our Easter best will prove it, pinks and blues and spring greens masking how still dark some of our Easters feel. He is risen, he is risen indeed, but some of us still feel the bleary-eyed darkness of Thursday and Friday and Saturday in our earth encrusted eyes and ears accustomed to nos. I feel like Peter around Easter every year, full of disappointment and denials and "How longs?" and "Surely nots." I feel as he must have felt when Christ rebuked him, called him or the spirit within his words, "Satan," and instructed him behind him. That's the kind of disappointing I think I am to the God of the universe sometimes and Easter doesn't resolve that, no matter how many times we echo "He is risen indeed." 

We who have walked in darkness still sometimes do. 

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I have been thinking about all the nos I've gotten in my life. Hoards of them, echoes and echoes of them, big ones, little ones. Nos from those who knew better and nos from those I didn't think knew better. It's easy in an Instagram, celebrity, and loud, loud world to assume most people live in the kingdom of Yes. Even the marginalized who make it make it sound like they won't take no for an answer. But the great majority of most of our lives is no. Sometimes it's not yet or not quite or tomorrow or someday, but most of us don't have that sort of futuristic information. We learn to live with no. 

I think about the disciples today, on this Good Friday. The king who they thought would take a throne is dying on a cross and it is darkness, darkness all around.

This is a no. 

No matter how you rationalize or rush to remember and remind that we're Sunday people, they weren't. Not yet. They were still Friday people and Saturday people. They were hearing the darkest no of their lives and no takes a while to heal from, so I understand all the doubt floating around on that first Easter morning. 

I will always be grateful for Easter mornings, for Resurrection Sundays, and for pinks and blues and spring greens. But I also feel a deep sensitivity for those for whom Sunday still feels like a Friday or Saturday. For those whose ears are so tuned to no, they can't imagine a yes. This is most of us, if we're honest. Even the pastors and theologians and church staffers who will wear pink or gingham ties and go to bed bone tired Sunday night from serving. Most of us know the light is coming and is here, in part, already. But we'll all head back into Monday and most Mondays feel like walking among a people in darkness who haven't yet seen a great light. It is good work, but it is hard, and it reminds us all to say and keep saying, with our ancient brothers and sisters, "How long, O Lord?" and "Come quickly." 

The King has come and is coming again. But today, on this Good Friday, and tomorrow on this Black Saturday, and in a few days on a mostly ordinary Monday we still see in part dimly. I need reminders that the full light of life is coming, maybe you do too. 

A few months ago a pastor at my church paraphrased from the Westminster Catechism during communion. He said, "As surely as I can taste the crumbs of this wafer and the juice that washes it down, this is how sure my salvation is." I think of this every week now, as I take communion: "My salvation is as real as the crunch of this wafer, as real as the sweet sharpness of the fruit of the vine." As often as I do it, I have to remind myself because I am a forgetting sort and a busy sort and the sort who gets caught up in doing more than being, in saying more than believing, and in gospeling more than being gospeled.

Before Easter Sunday I am more like Peter but after I am more like Thomas. I need the tangibleness of a Savior who offered to the doubter his nail-scarred hands and broken side: "Touch me," he said, "Thrust your hand into my side and believe." I need the physicalness of a Savior who knows how the nos condition us to disbelieve and who offers us something to feel, to touch, to see, to know. Communion, however rote and however unlike I wish it were done in my circles, is this reminder to the Sunday people and the ones still stuck in Saturday, that he knows our frame, he knows that we are but dust today. And there is a better, more eternal, Sunday coming.