Archive for Anxiety

When the World Expects Too Much

I decided to take last week off blogging since it was the first week of school. Always a hectic time, it was particularly insane this year as I was opening a school library for my first time ever, getting out consumables (workbooks) for every kid in the school (4-7 books per kid for over 1,100 students), and I had to do it all on my own as my partner had transferred to a different school and they haven’t replaced her yet. I’m trying to give myself permission to say no to things more often, but it’s still a struggle.

The thing is that I care . . . a lot . . . about a lot of things. I care about my students and teachers. I care about my family. I care about my friends. I care about my community, especially the poor and underrepresented, the voiceless and the weak. I care about my fellow Christians. I care about my country and my world.

But it’s just not enough.

As much as I tried, I didn’t have time for a kind word to each and every one of my students, many who really needed to be seen and appreciated in the first week of school. Even though I worked for hours and hours on the schedule, I still made a mistake and was unable to accommodate a couple of the teachers right away. Even though I prayed for energy, endurance, and patience I still complained more than I should have, still struggled not to cry at the end of a rough Friday. Even though I wanted to spend time with my brother and his son, I sat out their zoo trip on Saturday and stayed home instead because I felt like a giant walking bruise. Even though I followed the news all weekend and posted condemnation of the racist violence of the alt-right and the equivocating weak rhetoric of our president, I couldn’t actually make anything better. Even though I wanted to try hard to get to know people at my old/new church, I felt closed off and defensive Sunday morning at a church which seemed to act like nothing had happened, like America hadn’t just experienced horrible sin and violence.

It’s just not enough. I’m just not enough.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how much our modern world demands of us and how much we demand of ourselves because of these expectations. As work got more and more stressful this week, I thought of every single person I know and realized not one of them has a job which is not frequently stressful. This brought up the question, are all jobs stressful? Is it a requirement to our survival (financial, physical) to be constantly stressed out?

Since Genesis 3 promises post-Fall humanity pain, sweat, and toil just for us to be able to eat, I suppose the answer to this is a resounding “Yes!” Which I find utterly depressing. I get that we can find rest in the Lord and all that, I even wrote a previous blog entry about that sort of thing, but some days I just can’t figure out how to practically do that in this difficult world of ours.

When I think about what the world expects of me and what I expect of myself, the only logical response seems to be feeling overwhelmed. Let’s break this down.

Expectations of the Awkward Spinster:

As a 39 year old, educated, Master’s degree carrying single adult woman

  • I should be doing quite well in my career by now.
  • I should be earning a decent wage with a retirement fund, savings account, and health insurance.
  • I should be either finished or almost finished with paying off my school loans and car.
  • I should be a leader or mentor at work at this point, helping newer younger coworkers find their way.
  • I shouldn’t just be writing a blog, but should be also working on my book and speaking career to go along with it.
  • I should have close relationships with the women in my church and be a vital part of a weekly Bible Study as well as my biweekly global prayer group.
  • I should be an involved aunt, a role model to my little loves, a reliable help to their parents.
  • I should be a helpful daughter to my mother financially, physically, and emotionally.
  • I should be a mature Christian woman who reads her Bible and has a significant time of prayer every day, memorizes scripture, journals, and processes it all.
  • I should somehow be both strong and meek, quiet and confident, submissive and yet a teacher.
  • I should be a dedicated biblical counselor, helping my church to set up a counseling training program, mentoring newer counselors, while counseling as many people as I can for free.
  • I should be active in my community, helping those in need with donations, volunteering, etc.
  • I should be an involved friend to those who’ve poured into me throughout my life, keeping up with them by writing e-mails, letters, text messages, social media comments, inviting them over, and talking to them on the phone.
  • I should be an involved member of the human race by keeping up with the news, being aware of what’s going on, and finding ways to help.
  • I should continue to be a passionate advocate for my former students and clients, encouraging them as they go off to college and careers and families, letting them know they are still loved and supported.
  • I should be an expert in my fields, keeping up with the latest in literature, writing, education, and biblical counseling.
  • I should be creative, writing poetry and journaling, blogging, and creating.
  • I should be a student of the world by traveling each year.
  • I should be a patron of the arts and news, things that matter to me and the world.
  • I should help around the house with cooking, cleaning, & maintenance. 
  • I should support my friends in the mission field through letters, prayer, and finances.
  • I should visit my friends and family out of state at least once a year.
  • I should spend time with my friends in LA by visiting once a month at least, and yet still be able to make new friends in my current town and invest in them too.
  • I should be a good doggy mamma and take him for walks and to the park.
  • I should keep up my geek cred by watching the latest Marvel or DC movies, reading the latest comic books, and going to a convention or two.
  • I should try online dating again and be open to possibilities.
  • I should lose weight, eat healthy, go to my doctor, and exercise daily.
  • I should march against white supremacy, protest the cruel regime shaping America today, stand up for the little guy.
  • I should, I should, I should . . .

This list never ends. I’m sure if you make a list for yourself, it will be just as long and overwhelming. Now, many of these expectations come from the world around me, what people expect of me, while some of them are what I expect of myself. It’s hard to parse through this list and separate them as many are intrinsically linked; I expect things of myself because I think others expect them of me.

It’s too much.

Wonder Woman #15 art by Terry & Rachel Dodson, story by Gail Simone

After a weekend like this one, when I wish I could just chuck everything else and go be a freedom fighter for a few months, I don’t even know where to start.

Which things are the most important of all? I am a finite human and cannot do everything. So where do I begin? In Mark 12:28-31, a scribe approaches Jesus and asks him,

“Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Since many, if not most, of the things on my list of “shoulds” are related to trying to love God and love others, I’m still struggling my way through these top two commandments. The practical application of theology is rarely straightforward. This is not one of those blogs where I post a question and then answer it at the end. I’m still scratching my way to the surface on this one, still overwhelmed, still confused. Just thought I’d put this out there because I’m pretty sure there are a lot of us in this predicament.

So, if you’ve got any answers for me, please comment away. In the meantime, I’ll be looking through this list of mine trying to figure out where these expectations come from, which ones really matter, and which ones take priority. Prayers, encouragement, British chocolate, and scotch are appreciated along the way!

Top 5 Things I Hate About Being Single

It’s time for the ubiquitous Top 5 lists – this week I’ll look at my top 5 reasons I hate being single, and next week I’ll explore the top 5 reasons for loving my singleness. I realize life has difficulties for everyone, single or married, widowed or divorced, for those who raise children and those who don’t. I’m not claiming life is more difficult for me than everyone else, just highlighting some specific things that I hate which stem particularly from me being single. Like most top 5 lists, this has changed throughout the different episodes of my life, so here are my current pet peeves in Episode VI as a single woman in my late 30’s.

1. Not Being Picked For a Team

PE was my least favorite period of the day. An energetic child often found at the top of a tree or the monkey bars, I loved being outside and constantly had scraped knees. Always adventurous, I was never athletic. I’m awkward, clumsy, and not very coordinated. So, like most nerdy kids, PE and little league were rather torturous for me. I remember the shame of being the last person chosen for softball practices, of having the coach just give up and assign a team so I wouldn’t be left out, of quitting after just one season because I was already so behind the rest of the kids. This feeling of insignificance, like somehow I missed out on what everyone else seemed to have, like I was irredeemably behind, still creeps up now and again.

No one worthy person wanted me for their team. Yes, there was the guy whose proposal I turned down, but he was not a good man, not a team you’d want to join. Other than that, somehow, I just never got picked. No matter how long your marriage lasts, at least a married person can look back and say “someone chose me to be their partner, someone wanted me.” The rest of us struggle to fight off the feelings of being left out, somehow unworthy of being desired as a teammate.

The most practical part of being on a team that I miss as a single person is having someone to help me shoulder life’s burdens. Financial, physical, emotional, and even spiritual burdens all lie squarely upon my shoulders. Yes, I have other family and friends who can lift a bit from time to time, but I don’t have that lifelong partner whose job it is to help me carry them for the long run. I hate that life is more expensive for single people. I hate that hotel rooms are cheaper if you get a queen or king bed instead of 2 doubles, family gym memberships give better deals than single ones, couples tickets to events will save individuals money over single tickets, and health insurance and tax rates are usually better for families. The statistics are rather disconcerting about how much a married person will save over a single person in their lifetime. Also, apparently, single people die younger, which is just a bit depressing – mostly, the experts think, because we don’t have that partner nagging us to go to the doctor when we’re sick so we just wait until it’s too late.

I’ve gotten better at speaking truth to myself when I feel this way, when these lies start to infuse my heart with doubt and sadness. The ever-present, whole, and beautiful love of God reminds me that I am chosen, was chosen before my frame was created, that I am wholly loved and adopted into God’s family.

Ephesians 1:3-6

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

2. Future Fears

Every human I’ve met has some sort of fear about the future. Because of my singleness, many of my fears are about facing the future alone. Yes, for married people they may fear their partner’s death or abandonment, but if things go as hoped, they will live long lives together and take care of each other for most of it. They are meant to have a permanent roommate. Even that hope isn’t there for me. I take care of myself now, and I will be taking care of myself for the foreseeable future. No one wants to burden anyone as they grow older, but one of the benefits of having a spouse and some kids is it’s kind of their job to take care of you. Or it should be. But for me, I guess my nephews and niece will have to step up for their spinster aunt as well as their own parents? I fear being a burden to those who never signed on for the job.

Each time a roommate moved or got married, I had to scramble to find a new one. Each time a close friend marries the love of his or her life, after I’ve genuinely celebrated with them, I grieve the loss of yet another close friendship that will never be the same. As friends have children, I rejoice in the wonderful new life and also steel myself for the inevitable loss I will experience from their now more limited time and attention. Yes, this may sound selfish, but it is the truth of what a single man or woman goes through over and over again.

As our dearest friends and family move on to new milestone after new milestone, we are thrilled and excited for them but also a little bit brokenhearted. We know the future will not just look different for them, but for our friendships as well, and there is real loss there for us as we are much too often left behind.

Anxiety about the future is universal, not just for singles, but there are specific concerns that come up without having our own families there to partner with us as we age together. But what this does is give me endless opportunities to put my trust in God instead of the fickle securities of this world.

Philippians 4:4-7

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

3. Missing Touch

Because I believe that God’s plan for our lives is the best plan, I truly believe that a life of god-glorifying singleness will include celibacy. And, to be honest, I often hate that part of the single life. I do think humans were created to experience intimacy through touch, that we are created physical beings with sexual desires to connect us to one another. Just because I am single does not make me a less sensuous individual. Yes, there are some singles who do not have sexual desires, but they are few and far between.

This is another thing it is easy to feel I’m missing out on. I even get judged for this, thought foolish or immature because I am not partaking in what some consider a necessary rite of passage into adulthood. I’m not going to go into celibacy in detail here, but please check out my blog post on the topic “Committing to Celibacy.”

Possibly more than sex itself, I’m missing out on touch, physical connection. Holding hands, hugs, snuggles, laying my head on someone’s shoulder. I’m not sure if people realize how much touch single people miss, especially in the culture of white America where we are more standoffish unless in a sexual relationship. I hate this part of singleness – it is very lonely. If you are in a relationship, think about the number of times a day you experience loving touch – the kiss on the forehead, brush of a finger against your hand, the arm around the back of your chair, the snuggles from your children, the quick hug goodbye on the way to work, the hand on your back as you laugh together. Singles can go days without this connection.

In moments when I am missing touch, I remind myself of how blessed I am to have a family around me to hold me when I need it. I have a mother who will let me cry on her shoulder, a sister and brothers who hug me, a little nephew and niece who climb all over me, friends who will hold and comfort me. I remind myself that Jesus often reached out to touch those he healed, and and that God is sometimes portrayed as a loving mother to his child Israel, physically nurturing – not distant and cold, but present and warm.

Isaiah 66:12-13

For thus says the Lord: “Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream; and you shall nurse, you shall be carried upon her hip, and bounced upon her knees. As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.”

4. Justifying Myself

From traveling alone to buying a car without a male present, from counseling a married mother to sitting in a job interview, I am constantly in a position where I must assert myself. When traveling, there are certain places, even countries, in which it’s actually dangerous for me to be without a male escort, and many others where it will be uncomfortable. The car dealer treats me like a little girl instead of a financially viable adult who knows exactly what I want and what it’s worth. The married counselee often begins by questioning my ability to help her because I’ve never been in her exact situation. The job interviewer may see me as an irresponsible flight risk because I don’t have a family to take care of.

Because I’ve experienced this repeatedly in my lifetime, I am well versed in defending my right to be taken seriously. I was a teacher, I speak with authority. I have a loud, commanding voice inherited from my father, which I must use because I have no other voice to back me up. If I were a man, this would be seen as a good thing – to be confident, strong, and bold. Since I am a woman, this is often seen as me being too loud, bossy, or pushy, especially in Christian circles. Yet, it is necessary for my life. I wouldn’t even be able to rent an apartment if I couldn’t boldly walk into the landlord’s office and declare that even though I look young, I am older than I appear and have excellent credit, so no, I don’t need a cosigner, and would they just run the credit check to confirm, please.

In Christian communities, my opinion is often even more unwelcome or overlooked. I find myself having to remind people that I have a degree in this or that, so many years of experience, knowledge and training and skills in this area, in order to be heard. There are entire Bible studies in which I would not be welcome to speak. I’m used to not getting clear answers from pastors and teachers regarding my role in the church because, as an unmarried woman, they can’t just tell me to be led by my husband. My father is dead, so I can’t report to him. I am an uncomfortable outlier.

Honestly, I just get tired. Tired of having to explain to wives and mothers that, no, I haven’t had kids, but I’ve been a teacher, a counselor, an aunt, and I worked at a pregnancy clinic so I do know a bit about the subject and I can actually help. Tired of saying “I’m older than I look” as men are shocked that I have some knowledge in a lot of areas. Tired of having to justify my thoughts, opinions, and ideas. Tired of not going places or doing things because I don’t have a man to go with me and it’s dangerous without one. Just tired. Sometimes it would be nice to have someone else advocate for me. Or to not have to stand up for myself at all. I am, just like you, created in God’s image. That should be enough to at least have a voice, shouldn’t it?

Genesis 1:27

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

5. Being Judged or Pitied

At this age, one of the first things people ask when they meet me is “are you married?” and then when the answer is no, somewhat more awkwardly, “oh, so…do you have kids then?” Seriously, the only other information they’ll have at this point is my name, and these are the very next questions. Even before the omnipresent “what do you do?” And in that moment, the moment I say “no,” the judgement and/or pity is usually inevitable.

When we’re single past the age of 25, people love to judge why. Like the WebMD aficionados who are addicted to deciphering illness, they see our singleness as something to be diagnosed and cured. They say things like, “you know, if you just lost a little weight” or “maybe men are threatened by you because of your education,” or “maybe you’re not putting yourself out there enough.” All these comments and worse every single has heard much too often. They think to themselves things like “there must be something wrong with her/him if they’re still single after all this time” or “no wonder they’re still single, they are too (enter your choice of negative trait here)” as if all married people have somehow figured out how not to have any unpleasant character traits.

Worse than the judgement are the pitying glances and unhelpful condescending encouragements. A couple months ago I spoke at a conference on singleness in which I discussed what the Bible says about it being a gift, and the struggles and the beauty to be found. Afterward, just like every time I speak on the subject, a woman who meant well came up to me and told me not to give up hope, that God has someone out there for me and I just haven’t met him yet. I hear this every single time I speak, and I find myself wondering if they were listening at all because they seem to have missed the point.

Being encouraged with unbiblical promises that someday my prince will come is a pet peeve. They don’t know this, God didn’t tell them this in His word, so why on earth would they say this to a single person? If singles are led to believe this, the least it can do is momentarily get someone’s false hopes up, the worst it can do is continue to build up a false idol of “the one” with which they may already be struggling. Help me firmly place my hope in the Lord, not on a future spouse who may or may not exist.

I am single. That’s it. It’s not a sin to be judged nor a weakness to be pitied. Single adults do not need condescension or sympathy – we need respect and compassion, genuine interest in getting to know us and understanding, grace and empathy, a willingness to listen and commitment to join with us in our lives, and most of all we need biblical encouragement, admonishment, friendship, and love. Just like everyone else.

Romans 15:4-7

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomes you, for the glory of God.

Please like, share, and comment – I’d love to hear what some of the top things you hate about being single are! And be sure to come back next week for the “Top 5 Things I Love About Being Single.”