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Archive for Celibacy – Page 2

Advent, Waiting, and Singleness

Each night in the month of December leading up to Christmas, my family would gather at the table for advent. Mum or dad would light one of the candles, then read part of the Christmas story from the Bible. Then, we’d pick a couple Christmas carols to sing together, mostly off-key, before taking turns to blow out the candle. It was a time of waiting, preparing, getting ready for the great celebrations that would come Christmas Eve night with the last night of advent, then stockings and one little gift to be followed by the opening of presents on Christmas morning, then a delicious late lunch.

I must admit that, as a child, most of my anticipation was looking forward to opening presents and spending time together as a family. Much of the magic of this season came from the twinkling lights, the beautiful tree, the repeated traditions, the sentimental decorations. Waiting was difficult, yet exciting, I didn’t mind this particular waiting – a practice of delayed gratification and the building up of expectations.

There is beauty in the waiting of advent season. Israel knew a Messiah was to come, but they waited for decades, centuries. Zechariah waited for Christ’s birth before he could speak again. Elizabeth and Mary waited to meet their sons, to see what God’s miracle meant. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, we remember and honor this waiting for a savior, for the promised hope. We feel a tiny piece of what those before us felt, and we can’t help but ache for the waiting we now experience before Christ’s return to us, or before we meet him after death.

Over the past 15 years of my life, I’ve had moments (or even years) where I felt like I was stuck, just waiting for my future to happen. Waiting to see where I would end up, what job I’d have, what ministry I’d take part in. Even more so, waiting to see if I would marry, if I’d have children. Waiting. Not knowing if it would happen or not. Not being able to plan for the future without actually have two plans: If I get married then I’ll do this . . . if not, I’ll do this other thing.

I was taught to wait to have sex, wait to give my heart away, wait to have children, wait on God’s plans for my life to reveal themselves; wait, wait, wait. Yet here I am, celibate, single, with no children and no assurances of what exactly God wants to do with my future. This type of waiting wore me down, and my anxiety about the future increased. Waiting can be good, but we are often taught to wait for the wrong things and in the wrong way.

There is a deep beauty in the waiting, but only if we wait for the right things, and wait well.

Single Christians are often raised with the expectation that God will indeed bring us a spouse and maybe some children, if we just wait on his time. Fathers pray with their daughters for their future husbands. Mothers raise their sons to be good husbands. Parents raise their children to be excellent parents someday. Youth pastors encourage teens not to hang out with the opposite sex unless they are “ready” (by their own subjective standard) to seek a potential marriage partner. Churches preach at singles to be celibate until they get married, then they are suddenly expected to have the Best Sex Life Ever with their spouse.

Women who struggle to get pregnant are prayed over and told to wait on God’s time. For those of us who never get the spouse, never get the kids, we can become bitter and confused. After all, we waited! We did what we were supposed to do. Yet the expected result never came. So at this point, why bother with the waiting?

Much of Israel must’ve felt this way when Christ came. After all, they waited for centuries! They tried to follow the rules, and yet the military leader they expected to come crush Rome never appeared. To many, the Messiah or savior still hasn’t come. They are still waiting, to the point where some believe it’s actually now just more of a tradition than a reality; they don’t believe it’ll ever actually happen because it didn’t happen the way they wanted it to.

I’ve had to go through my expectations and remove the ones that aren’t actually promised in Scripture. I’ve had to realign my expectations, to reevaluate what it is I’m actually waiting for. Because if we’re waiting for something that’s not even promised, we are bound to be disappointed. However, waiting for something that is guaranteed? Something that is promised by someone who never breaks their promises? This is worth the wait.

I can wait on the Lord, on his justice and mercy and goodness. I can wait on the promises that he is working in my life, and that one day I will be united with him. I can wait on the guarantee of an eternal life without pain, with all beauty and truth, in community with the one who knows me and loves me better than anyone else. I can wait on an eternity with the truest of all loves.

Our waiting can look like little kids in the weeks before Christmas who get more and more hyper and excited, with increasing expectations. They are bound to crash on Christmas day, and be disappointed when they finally get what they have waiting for so long. Or we are like the children who get more and more grumpy, rebellious, bitter, and impatient because Christmas can’t come quickly enough for us.

Instead, I’m learning to dwell in the waiting with joy, to seek out the beauty of God with me now – not just at some time in the future, to walk day by day knowing my own plans might not come to fruition, but God’s plan is still moving forward and it is better.

So this advent season, I encourage you to douse yourself in the waiting. Just make sure you’re waiting for the right things in the right way.

Here are a few things that are helping me wait this advent season:

The Freedom of Not Even Trying to Date

I think my dating life peaked in middle school. In those magically awkward years from 6th to 8th grade, I had 4 boyfriends (consecutively, not simultaneously). The magic of middle school boyfriends, at least at a Christian school in the 80’s, was that very little was required. You’d tell your friends you liked a boy, then would send an envoy to his group of friends to find out if it was mutual. Short notes would be exchanged, either passed from friend to friend or shoved in their locker, often with boxes to check, folded in elaborate ways, and possibly with hearts over any i’s. Once you had assurance that you were liked back, you’d be “going out” or “boyfriend and girlfriend” or whatever phrase was in that week.

For me, a good little girl, this pretty much just meant eating a few lunches together (not all of them, we still wanted to spend most of our time with our own friends), exchanging cheesy gifts on Valentine’s Day, having our parents drop us off at the movies (also with groups of friends) and holding hands. The Couple’s Skate at the roller rink was the pinnacle of relationship status, and I think I only got there once, which was stressful as I wasn’t a very good skater so holding hands made me much more clumsy. There was one Disneyland trip filled with fabulous moments (hugging in line!) and incredibly awkward ones (when you’re bigger than your boyfriend but he still wants to sit behind you on the roller coasters, so you spend the entire time holding yourself up for fear of crushing him). Other than this, very little effort was expended. These “relationships” tended to be short-lived, and ended rather amicably due to them moving away, school ending for summer, or just disinterest on both sides. And that, it turns out, is the most successful I’d ever be at relationships in my life.

High school was a barren landscape in the world of dating for a geeky girl like me, banished to the status of “Friend Fawn.” I had 3 boyfriends between my 18th-25th years, one of whom broke my heart – not romantically, but because we had been close friends and dated on and off for years as I grew closer to the Lord and he grew further away. I even had one marriage proposal. These relationships were more complicated and stressful than I would have liked. With the good, and there was indeed good, came a painful amount of bad.

After that, I got to the point in my life where I felt I was probably ready to date seriously with the future possible goal of marriage, and this was confirmed by many mature Christian mentors in my life. I know men and women who struggle in their singleness because they are constantly being asked on dates, are constantly pursued. Just a head’s up – I am so not that person. For me, there was nothing. From 25-38 I was open to dating, and some of those periods pretty actively tried to date (ah, the brutal world of internet and app dating!), yet in that entire time I was only asked out by 2 men. One from an online dating site, another a few years later from a dating app. Both of those turned into one-date-only (by my choice) kind of situations, for very good reasons I won’t go into here.

I was not “being too picky,” I was literally only asked out by 2 men in 12 years. Yup. God was not a fan of me getting married. During those 12 years, I spend some time on and off struggling with doubts about myself. Was I too fat? Too opinionated? Too independent? Did I wear the wrong clothes, have the wrong hair, need to learn how to put on makeup for more than just special occasions? Was there some horrible character flaw that was off-putting to the universal race of men of which I was horribly unaware?

I felt like I was supposed to expend time and thought on what photos I posted on the apps, which men I reached out to, which social events I attended – all with the goal of marketing myself in the best way to get a man to see me as more than a potential friend. After all, I had heard repeatedly that if I wanted a husband, I couldn’t just sit around and wait for them to show up. Yes, I had to trust God, but I also had to make sure I was “putting myself out there,” whatever the heck that means. It’s not like I’m a hermit, never hanging out with guys. I actually had a lot of male friends and my church at that time had a pretty active group of friends filled with singles my age. I even had a friend tell me I was still single because I wasn’t sending out positive vibes, I wasn’t “naming and claiming” God’s plan to bring me my soulmate. She was right, by the way. I don’t really have positive vibes; I’m a cynic and struggle not to see the world as going to hell in a hand-basket. And I can’t bring myself to “name and claim” anything that is not an explicit promise of God. Guess what, a soulmate is not promised to anyone.

But the main thing is, as much as I yearned for a partner in life, as much as I crushed on many a man, I never actually wanted to spend the emotional or mental effort on making myself attractive for some possible dream man. There were so many other things on which to spend my limited human effort! I wanted to help people, to learn more about the Bible and God and how I could use what I knew to counsel those in pain. I wanted to see the world, meet and make friends wherever I went, and try to leave places a little better off than when I arrived. I had students to care for, lesson plans to write, incredible books to read, wonderful friends to pour into (both men and women), ministries to help flourish, a family to love, new places to visit . . . an endless list of things I’d rather spend my time on than trying another diet, switching out profile pics yet again, swiping right, or waiting for some guy to maybe, possibly, for once stop just texting and actually ask to meet me IRL.

I also didn’t like who I became during those seasons in which I was more intent on trying to date. It was depressing, and I am prone to depression as it is. I spent too much time thinking about myself and what was wrong with me. How come friend after friend kept finding boyfriends, getting engaged, marrying, having kids, and I was still just single Fawn, scraping by alone? What was wrong with me?

Realizing that what is wrong with me happens to be the exact same thing that’s wrong with every person – I am a sinner in need of a Savior – was incredibly freeing, because I happen to have a Savior, so that’s taken care of. I recognized that I could look at all the women in relationships around me and compare myself to them to try to figure out why I didn’t get chosen and they did, or I could look and notice how many of them were just normal women, actually a lot like me. If you look closely, you’ll see that men marry skinny women and overweight ones, quiet ones and loud-mouthed ones, younger ones and older ones, selfish ones and generous ones, needy ones and independent ones, optimistic ones and pessimistic ones. All kinds. And when I looked at others who were still single, like me, I realized how many of those men and women were pretty kick ass. It’s not like those of us who are still single are all pathetic, ugly, socially inept people. We’re all pretty darn normal, oddly similar to married peeps.

So, at 38, I decided to scrap the whole trying to date thing entirely. Yeah, in the depths of my heart I’d still love to get married – but God really is going to have to bring the man to my doorstep because I’m done expending any time or energy on that at all. Who knows if I’ll always feel this way, but after 2 solid years of this attitude, I feel more content and free than I ever did when I was yearning to date and get married.

Instead of worrying about posting a certain picture because it might be unflattering, I can just post whatever reminds me of a joyful moment in time. Instead of wondering why only creepy men or old guys who want me to marry them for a Green Card click on my profile on some app, I can spend my phone time messaging my writer’s group, listening to podcasts, and clicking “like” on my friends’ adorable pics of kids and pets and all things geeky. It’s rather stress-free.

Even better, I’m not going through the emotional roller coaster of the will he/won’t he see me as more than just a friend. I don’t have the first date fears (Will he see me and just leave? Will he be a douche-bag? Will he be a true Christian? Will he be terribly boring with no chemistry? Will he try to molest me?). When I meet men, I can truly enjoy getting to know them as friends with zero pressure for anything more on either of us. And let me tell you, friendship is not a secondary status of relationship, but is beautiful and valuable.

And, when I think about myself, I don’t have all those doubts about what’s wrong with me. I can look to Scripture to find out how God sees me, to know in which areas I should grow, where I need to repent, where I need to seek advice or accountability. I can do this while knowing I am unconditionally loved. There is no need to even try attaining some imagined standard of womanhood, to try to be Perfect Christian Wife Material. Instead of feeling like I’m missing something, I know I am whole. I am exactly where God wants me to be in my life and I no longer need to second guess that, to feel like I’m missing something.

I realize this isn’t the message many single men and women want to hear – I probably didn’t want to hear it when I was younger and still trying to date. But when you get to the point in your life when you might be ready to embrace your singleness on a more permanent basis, let me encourage you that there is deep freedom to be found there. Freedom to spend your emotional and mental energy on loving God and loving others in a profound way. Freedom to be loved and served by God and your sisters and brothers in Christ as you realize how much you need them. Freedom, by the grace of God who has special care for the lonely, to be single, confident, and happy.

Here’s to the Picky Ones and the Sufferers of Unrequited Love

I have fallen in love at least once in my life, possibly more depending on your definition. And I’ve had many a crush. Yet here I am, still single. Always single. So what happened?

For most of you who are married or who have life partners, you once fell in love with someone and they happened to love you back at the same time in the same way. But there are a few of us out there who have loved those who never loved us back, not in the same way. And perhaps people have fallen for us who we just could not love back. That’s all it takes to be single.

Yes, I could have married someone I wasn’t in love with in the hopes love would grow (it happens) or a “good man” who’d make a good father and provider in order to have the traditional family. I’m not judging this. I know people who have done so and seem happy.

Since I don’t view marriage and parenthood as the main way to glorify God in life, as necessary for happiness, as a woman’s only role in the world, or as God’s will for each and every person I have the freedom to choose whether I want to marry or not.

Because I live in a country and time when a single woman is quite capable of providing for herself, when I do not need to rely upon a husband, brother, or father for safety, housing, and food, when I don’t need to bear children to farm my land, when I can vote and work and earn I do not NEED to marry.

My heart has yearned for marriage, and it has been broken more times than I would have liked. There was the beautiful boy in high school with his long hair, his all black wardrobe, his quiet demeanor. The lead guitarist of my favorite local band who was too old for me, but still wonderful. There was the man in college who had traveled farther than anyone I had met before, an adventurer who loved God and life, the one I know I fell in love with. There was my dear friend who changed so much, going from kind and sweet to harsh and lost, breaking my heart more than I thought was possible. The always laughing Scottish guy in Australia. The intellectual artist who flirted well but meant nothing by it. The funny guy with hidden depths who I was just getting to know better when he passed away suddenly, crushing all of our hearts. But you see, none of these men loved me back. Not as more than a friend, a sister.

And this is the way it goes for some of us. And it is fine. These men were not required to fall for me. In fact, some of them have since married beautiful, intelligent, kind, amazing women who I approve of endlessly. I’m glad they waited for someone they fell madly in love with.

There have been men who seemed to love me (not many, but a couple) but who I could not see myself living forever with. And I do not regret this decision. Even the proposal I turned down from my boyfriend in Australia (I must sheepishly admit he was NOT the Scottish guy mentioned above) because I didn’t trust him, didn’t think his faith was true, didn’t think his commitment would be real. And sure enough, his marriage to the woman he dated after me crumbled quickly due to his infidelity so my instincts were solid.

So yes, I am picky. I have been picky. But I think everyone should be picky in this regard. I know many Christians are told they have unrealistic expectations and should lower their standards if they want to get married. I know friends, women mostly, who have been told this by pastors, counselors, and professors, like they are sinning by holding out for a person they can love deeply. I disagree with this. I’m sure there are some naive people out there holding out for a knight in shining armor or a supermodel, but that has not been my experience with singleness.

Some of us are Charlotte Lucases, willing to be more pragmatic for a family and home and security, even if it means being married to a fool of a man like Mr. Collins.

And some of us are more like Elizabeth Bennett – only willing to marry for the deepest of love, and perfectly ready to be the spinster aunt if that never happens. Sadly, there isn’t a Mr. Darcy for all of us.

My father always said it was better to be single than married to the wrong person. This has steered me well so far, so I have no intention of living any other way any time soon.

So here’s to the picky ones, those who would rather be single forever than settle for a loveless marriage, an awkward partnership, or a spouse with lackluster faith. May our lives glorify God in the special way he has planned for us, and may we stand strong in our faith that this plan is best for us even if it doesn’t look traditional

How to be Single, Celibate, and Happily Turn 40 – Trust God with your Future

One of the scariest parts about growing older when you are single and childless is all the fears attached to it. What will happen to me as I grow even older and more frail with no partner to help and no children to care for me? Where will I live since I can’t afford a home on my own? In those times when we live alone, we fear what will happen if we choke with no one there to save us.

Tip 5: Trust God with your Future

The financial stresses on singles are very real as singles tend to earn less money, have a higher per-person cost of living (from rents to cell phone plans), fewer options for retirement and health care plans, and on average pay more in taxes than joint filers. Single women, in particular, are literally at a loss when compared to others financially.

This fear about my future was one of the main things holding me back from being able to truly enjoy my single life for years. Even when I was happy in the moment, knowing I was right where God wanted me, the second I thought ahead anxiety would creep in. In the counseling room, I often heard “right now, I’m fine being single, but when I think about being single in 5-10 years I start to panic!”

To be honest, whether we are single or married, we never know what the future may bring. Marriages fall apart, people die, financial markets collapse, health declines, and unforeseen circumstances hit everyone. When I got down to it, I realized my struggle wasn’t just fearing being single in the future, it was fearing what could happen in the future at all.

The solution for this fear? Faith. Faith that God will continue to do a good work in me, just as he promised (Philippians 1:6). This does not mean I make horrendously foolish decisions. I still try my best to be responsible with what the Lord has entrusted to me, seek wise counsel, and plan ahead. But I don’t allow the fears regarding my future to take over my heart and mind. After all, “it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand” (Proverbs 19:20-21).

ProTip:

When you start to fear the future, turn these worried thoughts into prayers. Remember God’s faithfulness throughout your life so far, look back on all he’s brought you through. And remember his promises to never leave nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5).

I hope that each year of your life brings you more confidence and contentment in God’s plan for you.

Do you have any tips that could help other singletons experience aging with greater peace and joy? Share them in the comments below.

If you missed any of this 5 part series, check out the first 4 tips below:
Tip 1: Celebrate with Friends and Family
Tip 2: Reassess Your Priorities
Tip 3: Recognize Celibacy as Worship
Tip 4: Embrace Having Nothing to Prove

How to be Single, Celibate, and Happily Turn 40 – Embrace Having Nothing to Prove

High school was not a pleasant time for me. A geeky girl with few friends, I could not wait for those years to be over. And then something happened the second semester of my senior year – somehow, I stopped caring what everyone else thought and started doing what I wanted to do. I went on the senior trip even though none of my little group of close friends were going. I went to grad night. I read a poem at graduation even though it terrified me. I started going to the college group at my church because I didn’t fit in the high school group. That last semester was the first time I enjoyed high school even a little bit.

Tip 4: Embrace Having Nothing to Prove

There is a certain wisdom that can come with age if we let it, a freedom from the fear of man. For me, this includes the fear of my own previous expectations of myself as well as those of others. By I now have 4 decades to look back on God’s faithfulness in my life, which helps me realize I truly can trust in him to love me and guide me; I don’t need to be anything other than what he wants me to be (Proverbs 29:25, Ecclesiastes 4:4).

To be honest, I’m still working on this one. There are still voices in the back of my head that shame me for working fewer hours, or earning so little compared to my education level, or no longer having a position of honor at my church. It’s hard to let go of my pride and allow myself to be free to spend time with my family, enjoy rest and sleep, and follow others’ leadership instead of being the ever-busy leader myself. I’m still learning that Christ came that I “may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

When I took my little sabbatical at English L’Abri for 3 months in the midst of reevaluating my life, my tutor reminded me that there is nothing I can do today that will make God love me any more than he already does. I am his beloved, and nothing will change that.

One of the hardest parts about being single into adulthood is feeling the judgment of others. We experience expressions of pity from the old couple at church who’ve been married 50 years. We dodge scathing critiques from those who think it’s our fault because we’re too fat, too opinionated, too ambitious, too selfish, too something they obviously are not. We suffer through bad advice fed by even worse theology – lines like “just give it time, God has someone for everyone,” “make sure you’re putting yourself out there,” “have enough faith, and God will bring them when you’re ready,” or “perhaps you should just change this huge part of yourself and then you’ll get a date!”

At this point, 40 years in, I’ve heard it all and I honestly can say I just don’t care anymore. I know what the Bible says. I know what God thinks of me. And it gets easier year by year to let these comments slide off my back, or even better, to gently reply to the well-meaning critic with truth instead of these silly platitudes.

ProTip:

Realize the love of God emanates out of himself, and therefore is not contingent on you fulfilling everyone else’s expectations. You have nothing to prove.

Swing by the Awkward Spinster tomorrow for the last tip in the How to be Single, Celibate, and Happily Turn 40 series.