Sunday, February 16, 2014

Why Knowing Yourself Makes Dating Hard, or Why You Should Get Married When You're Young and Stupid

I’d like to interrupt my blogging hiatus to comment on the difficulty of dating in your thirties.

I’d like to start by saying to all the single thirty-something men who have a clue: Ahem, where are you? Seriously. Where?

With that said, I’d like to mention that I’ve dated a handful of great guys in their 30s (and one little baby guy in his 20s) over the past many years, and the problem seems to be, over and over, that I know what I want.

This is the problem of dating in your thirties. If I had dated these guys in my early twenties, they might have done very well for me. But not so now.

For the most part at this point in your life, you are a whole person, established in a career, paying bills, enjoying your friends, you know what you like and what you want. Or at least you have a better sense of who you are. Now some would say that’s an advantage of dating in your thirties, but I say no. No, it is not.

When you’re in college, in your early twenties, you have your whole big wide open life ahead of you. Who knows where it will take you? Sure, you’ve got ideas, but love trumps all and finding someone to journey with is exciting and beautiful. So what if he doesn’t have a job—no one does! So what if he doesn’t know what he wants in life—who does?! So what if he doesn’t know who he is really—I’ll help him figure it out! It doesn’t matter that he lies all the time—he’ll change! All we need is love.

When you fall in love and date and get married young, you sort of grow up together. You learn to pay bills and be responsible adults together. You deal with your ugly character issues together. You learn who you are together. For some that means you figure out you are different people who don’t really get along that well. But you’re in, you’ve chosen. So it’s one more thing to figure out together, how to make it work. It works for some, not so much for others. But the dating, the selection, the pairing up was easier (even if the growing up wasn’t).

But when you do all that growing up apart and then start looking for “the one,” it’s not at all like it used to be. I mean it might start the same—ooh, good looking guy, similar interests, we’re going somewhere with this… but then, bam! You find out he goes to a mega-church and lives in the burbs. He’s out. Or bam! He wears white sneakers and listens to metal music. Out! He doesn’t have a job. What? No! He’s a picky eater and doesn’t like trying new things. Forget about it! He’s never even heard of Tim Keller. Seriously? Or worse, he just didn’t ever grow up.

Would I have cared about any of this in my 20’s? I don’t think so. But now the pool just seems so much smaller. Maybe it’s not. Maybe I just know myself so much better. I’ve got a much longer list of deal-breakers now. Or preferences, anyway.

The idea that there are plenty of fish in the sea may be true when you’re 18, but in your 30’s it seems the fish are few and far. I’ve been fishing for years and nothing has stayed on the hook. And when you add in the desire for a godly man who loves Jesus and understands the Gospel story, it’s even more limiting. Then finding someone who is just as interested in you as you are in him? Impossible.

This seems impossible.

And that’s why it’s so easy to lose hope of marriage or children in your 30’s. This can be a disheartening thing, making you question whether pursuing career will make you miss out on a family, or if you should just settle for someone who is tolerable so you can get started with a family before it’s too late. These are things you usually don’t have to consider in your twenties.

Some have given me a hard time about being picky. I give myself a hard time about it. It’s just that I have such a distinct idea of the kind of man I’d like to be with, and now I’m beginning to believe he doesn’t exist. Maybe those white sneakers aren’t so bad after all? I don’t know.

I don’t know.

Maybe preferences are a luxury I can’t afford anymore?  If I’m actually going to get anywhere with anyone, maybe I need to keep my preferences peripheral (I’m looking at you, manly facial hair and tattoos) and recognize the things that are actual deal-breakers.

I have a date Saturday. He’s the whole reason for this rant.

I really like him. It’s terrifying to think about how that might change my whole world. I like my world, even though I really want to have a family. My world is comfortable and familiar and independent. He could change that. There’s more at stake now. Dates weren’t this scary at 20. They were just fun.

So maybe those picky preferences are actually sneaky little saboteurs that help keep my world comfortable and not so scary? And that, ladies and gentlemen, takes me full circle back to the conclusion that dating in your thirties is difficult.

Sometimes I really miss being dumb and young and naive. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Jesus is coming... look deserving

We, the human race that is, tend to operate on a “deserve-it” philosophy. People get what they deserve. It’s a comfortable philosophy because it can be managed. It is “fair.”

We see it in all aspects of our thought and culture from the way we parent to the way we throw around the word karma, and even in our Christmas songs (see: Santa Claus is Coming to Town). We make decisions about who to give to, who to withhold from, and who to root for based on this deserve-it philosophy.

We even want a God who operates on the deserve-it philosophy because if we don’t control the outcomes, at least he does, and perhaps we can get him to give us what we want if we can prove we deserve it. I learned this pretty early on in Sunday school. The  parable of the talent. My take-away was: if you want stuff from God, you gotta prove you deserve it. (Hey kids, here’s how to manipulate God.)

I mean let’s face it, this deserve-it principle feeds right into our need for control—it provides a sense of order in chaos. It works for do-gooder liberals and boot-strap capitalists alike. This whole rain and sun shining on the righteous and unrighteous can really pose a problem for us, though.

Those of us who live with longings that seem out of reach (all of us?) can find this all quite confusing. My inner dialogue goes a little like this… You don’t have what you desire because you haven’t been faithful with what you have now. You don’t deserve it. You’re not worthy of it. God would give it to you if you could prove how worthy you are. Make better decisions, love more, be less selfish, be more faithful, deny your base desires. Work. Work. Work.

And I lose site of relationship. I lose site of a God who is committed to me. Of a God who sees. A God who wants to meet me in my longing.

Because the truth is, the waiting, the longing is not punitive. It is the reality of living in the tension of now and not yet. The reality of two kingdoms. Longing awakens us to reality and calls us to relationship. We have to thirst. We have to hunger. It’s not going away. Not fully.

To live is to long. The problem comes when we try to explain our longing with the deserve-it mindset. The behavioral therapist and life coach in me wants life to operate on an absolute sow/reap principle, so that there is no mess, all can be fixed up with the right behavior, and everyone gets just what they deserve. But it is not so. There is mystery in life. There is longing.

Sowing and reaping can guide us, but it cannot explain life and grace and God. The haves and the have-nots. The rain on oversaturated land. The sun on already scorched earth. The barren. The hungry. The waiting.

It is in these things, He calls to us, and not because we deserve it. Because of grace.

So, rather than carrying around a burden of shame for not having, rather than work work work to find our way out of the waiting, we need to lean into it. Let our longing lead us to relationship. Let it draw us to a God who is committed to us and on whom our hopes are anchored.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Let Love be your Mango: Moving From Survivor to Disciple

Sometimes the way we live in our “survival season” becomes the way we live.

You know what I mean when I say survival season? Those times we just want to get through? Where we do what we need to do “for now” until things get better? The times when we’ve lost a job, or we are especially busy, or we’ve just moved to a new city, or maybe there’s been a loss or heartbreak. It’s those times when we feel more insecure or disconnected.

I knew that season was coming when I moved to Chicago nine months ago. I expected it. I knew I just needed to get through it. Then things would be better.

But survival mode often means we lean into those things that tend to give a sense of control and security—achievement, aloofness, avoidance, arrogance, addiction, alliteration (apparently), etc. We can become more guarded and focused on ourselves and our needs.

Then, before we know it, living like this “for now” becomes a way of life. 
It becomes the way you live.
And the way you love.

The other day my colleague did an object lesson with the college students we work with. It was one I've done many times before—the one where you try to fit a lot of different size objects into a container. The only way it fits is to put the largest object (a mango, in our case) in first, then the second largest to the smallest.  He asked students... What drives you? How do you make decisions about how to spend your time? Your money? What to pursue? What is priority? What makes everything else make sense? What is your mango?

I started thinking about the answer for myself.

I wanted my answer to be love.



Guaranteed Outcomes.

Love doesn't fit.

It hit me hard.

This is not the life I am called to. This is not the life I want to live. This is not the life of a disciple. The life of a disciple is one of risk and tension and sacrifice and vulnerability. And joy and purpose and fruit. Survival is not life to the fullest.

I want to live a life of radical love. A life on mission where Christ is made known. But this kind of life is not compatible with survival mode. This kind of life requires freedom.

And freedom is found by letting go of control and security and guarantees. It is found when we open our eyes and look around at others, not just at ourselves. Look around at what God is doing. It means our time is not our own... our money, our space.

With this, a lot of fear comes up. Fear of messiness. Fear of vulnerability. Fear of discomfort. Love gets messy.

I recently listened to this TED talk about the importance of vulnerability. I can relate so well…

I want to love well. I want to be vulnerable. I want love to be my mango. But fear get's in the way.

Is love your mango? If not, what gets in the way? How can we switch from guarded survival mode to live lives free to love?

  • Repent. We have to sit with our sin and confess it. And grieve it... I haven’t loved well. I have hidden and run from God and the life He has called me to live. 
  • Surrender. Give up the fear and control. Embrace the messiness. Daily. Recognize there is something better that is worth the forfeit.
  • Be loved. We will never be free to love if we are guarded and looking to others to give us our value and worth.  We need to believe and abide in the truth that we are loved by God, have a purpose, and have something good to offer. "Believe that what makes me vulnerable makes me beautiful."
  • Pray. Ask God open our eyes to see those around us, to see His Kingdom, and to be able to love as He loves.
  • Love. Go. Do. Get into people’s lives. Meet people. Invite people. Pray with people. Serve people. Give to people. Share meals. Know and be known.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Singleness, Shame, and Misunderstood Promises

I’ve been single now for six years.  When it comes to singleness and marriage I have struggled with what  I think I should feel about my singleness, what I actually feel, why I often have shame over what I actually feel, and what I’m comfortable letting others know about my feelings.  To be honest, most of the time I’m not even truthful with myself about what I really feel.

One day I’m perfectly delighted being single because I have personal and career opportunities that I wouldn't have as a married woman, I can spend money without consulting someone else, and I can not shave serve God.  Then the next day I am paralyzed with fears of being alone.  The next I feel completely self-absorbed and in need of someone else to love who will call me out on my selfishness.  Other days I think of stealing babies (see Raising Arizona "I need a baby, Hi"). Then I feel certain that there are no single men left in all of Chicago-land (maybe the US, maybe the western hemisphere).  Then I encounter a slew of infantile and/or character-devoid single men (who are baby-making ready), and I’m back to being a (grudgingly) happy single.

And then there’s the shoulds…  You should be content being single.  You should trust God to bring the right man along.  You should be fulfilled in Christ. You shouldn’t need a man to make you happy.  You should be able to find someone if you’re ____ (fill in the blank: pretty enough, smart enough, cool enough, faithful enough, good enough, godly enough, patient enough, social enough).  I’ve been shoulding all over myself.

And that leads to shame.  Because the truth is, I want to be married.  I want to have a family.  I want to be a mom.  I want to answer to someone else.  I want to have conflict and struggle and chaos.  I want to have to think of someone else besides me all the time.  I want to be loved.  I want to be cherished.  I want to have someone to shave for.  But I don’t have any of this.  And I may not ever.  And that’s hard to accept.

See, it’s not a promise from God that He will pair us up.  I don’t believe He’s our Divine Matchmaker.  I want Him to be.  I really want Him to be.  I want to believe in fate or destiny or divine intervention or whatever provides hope that there’s some force out there in the cosmos at work to bring me together with this (bearded, tattooed, theologian, outdoorsy, artist) man who I was made for. But I'm increasingly convinced that’s just a romantic ideal that we've attached to God (a romantic ideal that Dr. Dobson and Christian culture perpetuated in my formative years, and that I've had a hard time letting go of).

I want to be wrong about this… I mean, there’s Ruth & Boaz, Isaac & Rebekah, Hosea & Gomer.  Right? So God can put people together? Right?  God designed marriage and cares about it.  Right?  Marriage is good.  I pray for it (when I'm being honest). And yet, it’s not a promise. 

Because it’s not a promise, I’ve been ashamed to admit that I want it—because I might not get it.  And the only way I know to deal with that is like any good human being would… I deny my desire.  I play it cool. I distract myself so I don’t feel it—so I don’t have to think about how it seems God has left me on my own to figure out my love life, so I don’t have to think about how I’m getting older and the family ship may have sailed, so I don’t think about the resentment I still have at having my hope in all of this stolen away, so everyone will think my life is just as I want it and won’t see me as defective. 

I’m pretty sure I’m not alone.  Married, single, parents—we all desire something that isn't promised by God, maybe something we wish He would just work out for us without all the pain or hard work or waiting.  But He doesn't promise to give us all we want or make our path easy. As humans, aware or not, we live with unfulfilled desires, longings and disappointed hopes.  And often our response is to hope in a false promise or try to fill our life with achievements or addictions or something else so we don’t feel it.  

I, for one, need to stop filling and start feeling.  I want to get rid of the distractions I fill my life with and get honest with myself and God. Because out of our honesty, healing comes. True hope comes. I want to focus on His real promises.

What are the promises of God?  That He’ll never leave us or forsake us.  That we have a final and lasting hope in Him.  That He is making all things new.  That He has come to set us free, to comfort our mourning, to bind our wounds, to make something beautiful of our brokenness.  Let us give Him our desires.  Let us feel them.  And let Him heal them and be our Hope.

Here's a couple of good articles I ran across on singleness and such this Valentine's Day:
The Myth of 'You Complete Me'
Your Womanhood is not on Hold
I Don't think God has a Plan for my Love Life

And this is a must-listen for Christian singles (in my opinion):
Podcast on The Sacredness of Singleness & Sex (week 4)

Friday, January 11, 2013

God, Concussions, & Chick Flicks

I went skiing with my friends and family to start off the new year.  It was a fun day, and I couldn’t help thinking about a ski trip this time last year.  While trying out snowboarding for the first time (without a helmet, on icy snow) I got a concussion.  Another first for me.
What a crazy experience!  I sort of “woke up” and had no idea where I was, how I got there, what year it was, and I couldn’t remember any details of the day or the days before.  Most of all, I was confused about why I had a snowboard on my feet since I knew I wasn’t a snowboarder.  I was afraid years had passed in which I had become a snowboarder and I couldn’t remember them.  I knew my name, but couldn’t remember much else. 

It got me thinking about those movies with memory loss as a central element.  And since I’ve been on the topic of spiritual forgetfulness…  I'm not usually one to defend the chick flick, but I can’t pass up an opportunity to use a chick flick to illustrate a spiritual truth (I have often thought the value of the chick flick lies in it's ability to point us to our true desires, which is why we're ashamed to admit we like them... but that's another blog). Stories of memory loss seem to be a favorite of the genre, and in particular, of Rachel McAdams.
Her movies The Notebook and The Vow share this themeIn one, Alzheimer’s takes her memory and in the other, a car accident.  But in both, she becomes hostile or indifferent toward the one she loves as a result of her memory loss.  And that is the tragedy of the story—what makes it heart-wrenching—that she could forget how much she loves, how much she is loved, how much they shared, what is true.

And I think that is the tragedy of our love story with God.  We so often live as if we’ve forgotten.  We live as hostile or indifferent toward the lover of our souls.  But what makes it beautiful (just like in the movies) is that He doesn’t give up on us!  He keeps pursuing.  He is patient with our forgetfulness.  His love doesn’t run out.  And that is what inspires our love.  His relentless love draws us back.  What a beautiful love story (even better than a chick flick... See? This is what we desire).

So the good news is that in spite of our forgetfulness, God calls us back to Him, reminds us of Who He is, of who we are, and what is real.

Are you aware of God’s relentless pursuit of you?  How are you responding?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Are You Suffering from Spiritual Stockholm Syndrome?

Another throwback on the topic of forgetfulness, this one from April 2010, just a few months before I really started living at a break-neck speed that put me in survival mode, where I started seeing my Father as the enemy...

If you watch The Amazing Race, you see that no matter how the teams start the race, usually the longer they go at their crazy pace, the more they forget everything but winning. They forget kindness, they forget love, they forget who they are, where they came from, and what they’re about. I wonder if they were allowed to slow down for 30 minutes a day to talk to their family back home if it would help them remember—remember what’s real and what really matters. But far from home, they forget.

My sister came to visit last week, and we had a great time in the city, but I can’t imagine trying to keep that pace of life up for very long. Fun for a day or a week, but continuing at that pace makes you forget. Yet, since she left, I'm realizing I've been in this race for a while now in one way or another.  I've been forgetting.  Again. Forgetting who I am and what I'm about. And I haven’t taken even 30 minutes each day to be reminded. I stopped talking to my Father regularly. Far from home, I forgot.

I read a Ted Dekker book recently that I wasn’t into at first, but I really can’t walk away from one of his novels without thinking about the human condition—my condition. The book was The BoneMan’s Daughters, and it was essentially about a girl who is kidnapped and in order to survive she assimilates to her environment and the ways of the one who holds her captive. Her father pursues to rescue her, but she treats him as the enemy. Far from home, she forgot.

It made me think about how we are all prone to Stockholm syndrome. Far from home, we forget. We lose perspective. We develop distorted alliances and pursue misguided ends. We need to let the Father remind us who we are, where we’re from, what we’re about, and who He is. We need to slow down and remember.

…we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary… Hebrews 6:18-19

Signs of spiritual Stockholm syndrome:
1) Do you see God as the enemy, against you, just trying to make life difficult for you?
2) Are you too busy or distracted to spend 30 minutes a day to be reminded of what real and true?
3) Has survival or success or fun or other pursuits become more important to you than living for Christ?

Now life has slowed down for me, but I am still working on realigning what I know to be true, exchanging the truth for lies. I have to be reminded of what's real, who I am, who God is, and that I'm not just living to win or survive. There's more to life.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Forget Resolutions--New Years Tattoos, Anyone?

I'm starting this "throwback series" of blogs based on blogs I wrote in the past, to remind me of truths I used to know.  ...that I used to knooooww (now the song is stuck in my head).  

I originally wrote this June of 2008, but I've been thinking a lot about it this New Years.  I've been slowly awakening over the past several months after a two year soul sleep.  And as much as I want to live in the freedom and fullness that I once enjoyed with Christ, it's a struggle each morning to remember that's where I want to be when so many other things are calling out to me. I forget.  Each day I forget.  Maybe even every three minutes I forget.

We are a forgetful people. I've been thinking about our tendency to forget. I saw an older movie the first time recently, Memento. In it, the main character has a disorder that affects his memory. He can’t remember anything for longer than three minutes or so. But he’s got a very important purpose—He wants to find the man who killed his wife—the last thing he remembers. Of course, each morning when he wakes up he can’t remember his purpose or the new things he’s learned without leaving himself daily reminders. 

He tattoos messages on his body, he leaves himself notes, and he takes pictures to remind him of the important things so that each day he’ll know what is true, who he can trust, and what he should be about so that he won’t be deceived or distracted from his mission.

In a way, we all have this disorder—we forget our purpose, forget what we’ve learned, forget what we should be about. When we wake each morning, our first thoughts are selfish and we need to be reminded of what we know is true, reminded of what we learned the day before and the day before that. The distractions of life make us forget. We are deceived into thinking other things are more important. Then we waste our time and resources on pursuits that are meaningless. We need reminders.

John Eldredge makes this observation in The Journey of Desire, “I wake most mornings an unbeliever. It seems that during the night I slip into forgetfulness and by the time the new day comes, I am lost. The deep and precious truths that God has brought me to over the years and even just yesterday seem a thousand miles away.” He says he’s got a section in his journal of central truths he must return to each morning. 

What are the things you need to remember? What are you doing each day to help you remember?

“Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live.” Deuteronomy 4:9

I started my own list of truths to remember back then.  This New Years I'm making a new list to wake to. Here's just a few...

  • I am loved!
  • God's grace is sufficient for me
  • God is actively working to transform me
  • I was made to know God and make Him known
  • This is not as good as it gets!
  • Hulu is the devil  ;)

What's on your list?  Wanna get matching tattoos?