Archive for Relationships

When Sunday Is the Most Difficult Day of the Week

It took me two tries to make it to church this Sunday. I woke up tired, my mom woke up still feeling the last lingering effects of the cold she had last week. I didn’t get out of bed as quickly as I should of, so was running late. I knew the lesson my small group was going to go over today would be a struggle for me, and I’d either have to speak up and be the one voice of dissent or bite my tongue the whole time, so I decided to just go to the service late and then come home instead of going to group after.

Coffee was spilled on a dress in the car on the way there. The Jeep we parked next to had a Bill O’Reilly air freshener hanging from its rear view mirror, I kid you not. Other cars greeted us with their not-so-friendly NRA and AR-15 stickers. Because we were late, it was hard to spot empty seats. It had already taken everything we had to get to this point, so we left and went home. In this struggle, I was very much The Awkward Spinster.

Knowing full well that a large part of this struggle was my own attitude and feeling convicted, an hour later, we headed back for second service early, got seats, and made it through the whole time. The service was fine.

John 13:34-35 records Christ’s words during the last supper. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Why is this so difficult? Humans, that’s why. We are so bloody difficult. I am difficult. And, as a single woman who is almost 40 trying to integrate back into a city I happily left in my 20s, I am finding it more arduous than ever. Being with my family is fantastic and quite easy. My prayer group of family and a couple close friends is lovely. But church? Church is the hardest part.

And I think I’m failing right now. I’m not really loving the people in my church because I don’t feel like I’m actually part of my church. I feel like the weird spinster aunt who’s just visiting so everyone puts up with her. You know, they all tolerate her odd ideas because she’s just the slightly wild one who never bothered to get married or have kids and actually thinks universal healthcare is a good idea.

I don’t really have a lesson in this or a solution to my problem. This is just the reality of an issue I’m in the middle of. And, since this blog is meant to openly discuss the good, the bad, and the ugly of the life of this particular Awkward Spinster, I didn’t want to dodge this aspect of single life.

I do think church is hard for everyone, not just singles like myself. I know many a married mother and father who also struggles with church community, especially in the current political and social climate. But as someone who experienced singleness in the context of an imperfect yet loving, embracing, supportive, empowering church family for years, that makes starting over again even more painful. I don’t have a husband to hold my hand when I’m upset in church, a partner in the awkwardness and pain. It’s just me, sitting in small group surrounded by people, feeling utterly alone.

When Memories Come

Today, as the communion cups were finishing their rounds, I sat looking at my hands holding the tiny plastic cup filled with grape juice. And in that moment, I remembered my father’s hands holding a similar cup. Large, strong, tan fingers dwarfing the delicate glass (they were glass back then). As a child I used to watch him, fascinated by how graceful he could be, the cup balanced in his left hand as the finger of his right hand swirled around the rim over and over again. I wouldn’t blink, not wanting to miss if he would spill a drop or get any of the red juice on his finger, but he never did. Now I hold my communion cup just like him, in my left hand as my right hand absently traces its thin plastic lip, unintentionally echoing my father. One of the many ways I’m like him without even meaning to be, I suppose.

Lately, memories like this have been flooding back unbidden though not unwelcome. Little specific moments of time past keep popping up in my memory, brought on by sights, sounds, even scents. Unexpected and strange. While the world changes around me, flowers blossom, trees leaf and grass turns green again, my mind keeps remembering people and moments past.

It’s hard to describe.

I’ve been reflecting on how odd it is that my limited human brain has the capacity to be the only place a specific version of a person exists anymore. Often, my memory is spotty or nonexistent, but then there are these pieces of people, vivid and real, that I will never forget.

An old boyfriend who was once young and sweet and kind but became violent, racist, and angry. I don’t think of him often, but as I stumbled across a video from “The Phantom of the Opera,” which he loved back then, memories came flooding back of the sweet him, pieces of him that no one other than me will remember.

My last serious crush, a funny, witty, complicated man who died a few years ago, suddenly and way too young. A picture of him appeared on Facebook this week, unattached to anything in particular, he just seems to be on more than one person’s mind lately. And in my mind he will always be laughing, beer in hand, twinkle in his eye, trying hard to make sure everyone around him is comfortable and noticed, including the socially awkward me.

Childhood friends I used to spend so much time with who slipped out of my life when I switched schools in the middle of my freshman year. The church I’m now attending is a newer version of my old church, so familiar faces from my past surround me, recognizable but not really known because of over two decades of interruption. I knew them in awkward youth, and they knew me. I wonder how much of that version of me they see when I walk into the room now. I wonder what I’ve missed about them in all these years, what has been lost or gained.

And when one of my former students posted online that he wonders why God took his dad away, didn’t answer his prayers to spare his dad’s life, I think of my dad. And I can tell him I know how he feels, because I was almost the exact same age, because I prayed that same prayer, because I had those same questions. Because I still miss him. And in my mind, beautiful bits and pieces of him still live on.

Out of all things created, the human mind is the most astounding to me. As the flowers in my backyard and in my favorite garden blossom back into life, my mind somehow resurrects people from my past. It’s a kind of haunting – memory – and not totally unpleasant. Sometimes it’s nice to wipe a tear or two away as each vignette slips by, to remember those I have loved and lost, to realize how bizarre life is because, though people are not permanent, they can stay the same forever in my mind.

I wonder, when I’m gone, which memories of me will haunt those who love me. What song will always whisk them back to a concert with me? What scent will remind them of a Disneyland trip with me? What odd mannerism will reflect my influence? What book will forever be associated with my name?

Until we meet again in heaven, what pieces of me will survive in minds and hearts? I will leave behind no children to bear my name, my legacy, just memories.  I pray they’ll be beautiful and silly, sweet and uplifting. May I live my life in such a way that my memory leads to a couple sweet tears instead of bitterness, to small smiles and deep sighs instead of anger, to joy and, ultimately, to thoughts of the love of Christ for each of us. A girl can dream.

It Takes a Village

Some think it takes a village to raise a child, but I think it takes a village to raise a contented, cared for single. This week, Holly Stallcup, one of the many fabulous single Christian women I follow in the Twittersphere, posted a thread about being offered a free couch, but not having anyone to help her actually get said couch. See, as a single woman she didn’t have a truck, the ability to carry it on her own, or the garage/spare room in which to store it until she could get it. Going a bit viral, woman after woman responded with their own stories about tears shed over some of the little things in life that are just a bit more difficult without having an assigned partner and the resulting combined circle of friends to help with these tasks.

While many women and men can just turn and ask their spouse for rides to the airport, doctor’s appointments, or the mechanic, singles often have to text several people before they find a friend who is both willing and able. Or urban singles will just Uber to the ER to save their friends the trouble, which is often not advisable. Some of us are lucky enough to live within a couple hours of family who might be able to step in from time to time for bigger things like helping us move, but many singles are far away from any relative. One woman brought up how nice it would be to have someone scrape her window during those icy mornings, or shovel her driveway. I know my mother dreamed of someone helping her take the trashcans out, or carry the groceries in.

We know having a spouse doesn’t guarantee such small acts of service as some are away on business, unable to assist, or don’t feel like it; however, having a partner in life often does mean there are now two people instead of one to tackle the little things together.

Another woman mentioned how the purity culture in the church can often lead to the discouragement of male/female friendships unless one is headed toward marriage. This can lead single women to have a dearth of men in their lives. If a woman marries, she adopts not only her husband’s family into hers, but his circle of friends as well, giving a whole new network of people to call on when she needs help. After all, it is more likely to be one of his guy friends who can offer the pickup truck to get the couch than her female friends (though I have known some kick-ass truck-owning women in my lifetime). So, by trying so hard to not tempt anyone we’re not interested in, or be tempted, we may end up without the benefit of guy friends. I have three brothers and some of my best friendships are male/female ones, so I challenge every single man and woman to learn how to just be friends with some awesome members of the opposite sex. Your life will be better for it.

Picture from my 32nd birthday, years ago. Most of these guys have helped me move apartments many times with minimal complaining.

Another idea that came up was how much we feel like a burden to our friends because we have to keep asking for help. After all, life is full of moments where being entirely independent just isn’t possible, no matter how much many of us would like it to be. My married friends don’t seem to mind asking their spouses for rides when their cars are in the shop, even though they just picked them up from the airport last month, and took them to an outpatient procedure the month before that. But when we ask our friends, we can feel ashamed and guilty for being such a burden on them. We know we are an inconvenience, and we feel terrible about it.

Over the years I’ve built some amazing friendships, and have had friends who have helped me move time and time again without any (well, mostly) complaints. Yet with this incredible group of friends and family who show up when I need them, I still feel horrible having to ask. It’s humbling, which isn’t bad, and it makes us realize that we are still dependent, no matter how long we’ve been living on our own, paying our own bills, and taking care of our own business.

I’ve been that person laying on the floor at 3 am weeping in pain but trying to do so quietly so as not to wake up my roommate only to then have to crawl to her room, wake her up, and ask her to take me to the ER. She did so happily, as I knew she would because she is the most lovely human being, but for some reason I still felt bad about waking her.

I’ve cried tears of frustration when I realize I’m going to have to ask the same group of people to help me carry my furniture down and up stairs yet again. Statistically, singles tend to move a lot more than married couples and families, so, yes, you’re going to have to carry our furniture a lot. We’re sorry about that. Blame the landlords in LA for raising the rents endlessly, roommates for getting married, and life. I know I, by myself, own more books than most families do put together and that those are the heaviest boxes in the universe, but that’s what you get for becoming friends with an English major. Besides, I always provide lunch and drinks and music and good company.

My friends in LA developed a network of airport/hospital/mechanic/any other thing rides when we were all single, people we could rely upon to get us where we needed to go without fear of rejection or complaint. And, in exchange, we did our best to never book flights around rush hour because no one’s love is that deep. But now those friends are mostly married, some have kids, and schedules got a lot more complicated. And yet, the last time I moved, my big move out of my beloved city, they were there, helping me pick up and load the ridiculously over-sized truck, to give me hugs, to cry a little with me, to say goodbye.

In my new city, I have yet to form a circle of friends like this. To be honest, I’m not sure it’s possible. I’m almost 40 now. I don’t have years of singleness together before they got married to establish these kinds of dependent relationships. I do have my family, stuck with me forever, so that’s nice. But I ache a bit for the men and women who taught me that it was okay to reach out, even at 3 am, if I needed them.

This is also incredibly difficult for men and women experiencing a second singleness. Widows and widowers and those who have experienced divorce now have to reach out for help outside of their own homes. It can feel humiliating after years of independence, can be awkward at best and scary at worst. But we need to humble ourselves and reach out, allow others to serve us.

Christians, the church is meant to be a place for these kinds of relationships. We’re meant to love on another with the self-sacrificial love of Christ for his church (John 13:34). Christ died for us, that’s how much he loved us, so we can at least pick someone up from the repair shop or help carry a couch.

In this way, singles are a bit more high maintenance than married couples. We have to ask you for help, not our spouses. We rely on the body of Christ for even the little things. Please don’t forget us, or see us as burdens. Every long-suffering sigh, every grimace, every rolled eye when help is requested is registered in our hearts, stored away for the next time we have to request assistance. Believe me, we know we can be work, we don’t need anyone to remind us of that. What we do need are men and women, couples, families to adopt us into their lives like family. To tell us we can call them for anything, and mean it. To assure us that we are beloved brothers and sisters and not burdens. To help.

In return, we singles tend to love our friends like family, with an unending loyalty. Adopt us, and we might just pay you back with babysitting and silly gif texts, with gratefulness, and maybe even tears of joy. You cannot know how much it means to have people we can rely on for life.

Single and Celibate in Relationships

Single and Celibate: Always the Odd One Out, Part Three

Just as I’ve discovered over the years that being a single, celibate, adult in the church and the world can be incredibly difficult, leading to all sorts of awkward or even degrading perspectives, trying to be a single celibate person in relationship with others can be just as difficult. Therefore, this final entry in my Single and Celibate: Always the Odd One Out series will focus on how intimacy in relationship is just as important to the celibate single as it is to the married person, yet how difficult this can be to put into practice.

Intimacy is something humans need – we were created for it. Not meant to be independent creatures, we thrive in community, with the mutual help and support of others. But more than this we need closeness, understanding, familiarity, and affection. Modern American culture, including the church, often sees marriage as the cure for this need. Genesis 2:18 becomes the prescription for all human intimacy – “it is not good for the man to be alone.” So Eve was created. But more than that, Eve was created with the powerful ability to produce family and community. Adam was not just given one other person who would fulfill all of his needs for intimacy, he was given the very person who would extend their closeness beyond themselves as a couple to others.

Sadly, both the church and the world often pair intimacy down to sex. They are frequently used synonymously, so much so that my high school students would snicker if the term “intimate” appeared in any piece of literature, no matter how benign the context. What a tragic stripping down of such a powerful term. And, by depleting this beautiful idea of its many nuances, we place celibate single adults in a particularly lonely tragic place, one in which we will always lack fulfillment.

I read an article this week based on the underlying premise that intimacy = sex, and since intimacy is required for full human development, anyone who is not having sex is not fully developed psychologically and therefore will have all sorts of issues. It was one of the more disturbing articles I’ve read, and yes, it stemmed from a religious background, making it all the more concerning.

Let me knock this argument down at its base. Intimacy does not equal sex. Sex can and will help many people become more intimate, but it is not the foundation. I’ve counseled enough people who have experienced abusive, harmful, careless, or selfishly motivated sex to know sex can even diminish one’s ability for intimacy if it is abused. Also, if intimacy is mainly or exclusively related to sex, where does the profound closeness experienced by children and parents come from? How about the special bond of twins or close siblings? The profound intimacy experienced by elderly couples whose sexual desires have ebbed? The aunt or uncle’s deep committed love for and bond with their nieces and nephews? Best friendships that last a lifetime, sometimes even outlasting sexual partnerships those friends have had with others?

The best sex should indeed increase intimacy, it should help a couple bond emotionally and physically, increase understanding of one another, develop familiarity with each other in a profound way. However special this bond can be, it is not the only path to intimacy, and, as stated before, it can often be a path away from it if used harmfully.

So if intimacy does not equal sex, then what is it? It is a closeness between individuals, a deep understanding of one another, a familiarity with another based on time and experience, and a true affection for the other. This is intimacy. It is beautiful and multifaceted. It is not limited to one type of experience.

The greatest intimacy in existence is between God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They are bonded for eternity, incredibly different and yet the same, independent yet reliant on each other. This intimacy was extended to us, his children, when God gave up Christ, his son, to die for us and then sent the Holy Spirit to indwell us. There is no greater closeness than that. In fact, marriage, including sex, is merely a metaphor for this relationship between Christ and us, his church, his bride, meant to help us grasp something so profound our finite minds can only understand a piece of it.

Some of the most intimate relationships depicted in the Bible are between fathers or mothers and sons, daughters and mothers-in-law, best friends, teachers and disciples, brothers, sisters, old friends, cousins, and even strangers being brought into Christ’s fold.

So while I do agree that intimacy is necessary for human development and fulfillment, I take great issue with narrowing this down to one’s sexual experiences. Deep lasting relationships in which we know and are known, understand one another, care for each other, and actively practice loving another are possible without even a hint of sex.

This does take a lot of work, however, and a lot of vulnerability. We singles can easily grow into our independence, and after years of disappointment in dating relationships, loneliness, or lost friendships, we can withdraw. We look at our married friends and think how easy it must be for them to have this one person assigned to be their intimate partner – they don’t have to seek closeness outside anymore because they have this person living with them to fulfill that.

Two truths about that – first, many a married individual feels lonely, and struggles with truly being intimate with their partner for many reasons, so our grass-is-greener view is often not true. Married couples who do indeed have a deep level of intimacy have probably worked darn hard at it for a very long time. Second, it may indeed be a bit more difficult for us as singles to develop intimacy because we don’t have one person who has committed to try and work at it for a lifetime. And, our intimacy will most likely come in the form of more than just one person, which is awesome, but also takes quite a bit of work on our parts. Also, lacking the lifelong commitment part up front can make it scary and risky to put so much into our relationships as we try to develop the level of closeness and understanding that can be called intimate. However, in this era of easy divorce, marriage is no longer a guarantee for that anyway.

So how does a single, celibate, Christian adult develop intimate relationships? There’s no perfect recipe for this. Sometimes they just happen over time! Those are the best – friends that have just been around so long, and you’ve experienced so much together, that at some point you realize they know you better than anyone else and will always be part of your life, no matter what happens. Others take more purposeful effort. If you desire friendships that go beyond just having a few things in common and hanging out sometimes, it often takes some work. Texts, phone calls, emails, coffees, dinners, crashing at each other’s places on the weekend, camping trips, etc. Time. Lot of time. And an openness to be who you really are around each other, to talk about real stuff, not just the fun things. And commitment to the friendship, being willing to debate and argue when you disagree but still come back as friends.

I honestly think the most important thing for us in creating intimate friendships as celibate singles is to think how we can love them best. If the entirety of our motivation in friendship is having them pour into us, take care of our need for understanding and affection, then we’ve missed out on being able to be that person for them as well. There are times when we will need more than they will, and vice versa, times when we’ll be a bit weaker, times when they’ll need our support most of all – that’s normal and good. But if your whole friendship is about you taking from them, then you probably won’t experience that intimacy you seek, the intimacy of two people who build each other up, point each other to God, and bring out the best in each other.

This intimacy will not happen in all of our friendships. As humans, our capacity for that level of depth with others is limited. Even Christ had his close circle of most intimate friends within his larger group of friends. Sometimes we already have these beautifully deep relationships in our lives, but don’t recognize them as such because we’ve been trained by society to only see sexual partners as intimate soul mates.

I can’t help but think of Anne and Diana in Anne of Green Gables – bosom friends, soul mates. Or Frog and Toad, some of the dearest of best friends from my childhood imagination. Even in shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the most important relationships were those of the Scooby Gang, the friends and mentor, the romantic ones came and went, but they were the one constant. The Gilmore Girls developed the mother/daughter relationship more than any other in the show. Every buddy movie depicts soul mates in friendships, not romance.

In my life, I was surprised a few years ago when I realized I actually already had several intimate relationships. There was a time when all I could see ahead of me was a lonely single life, moving from apartment to apartment as roommate after roommate got married and rents went up – an endless stream of temporary. So I decided to change that, decided to move to where I could experience permanent a little bit more. And there it was! My mother, my brother, my sister, my niece, my nephew. People who knew me, truly, who understood me. And I was so afraid that by moving I’d lose my bosom friends in LA, the ones who’d been my family for almost a decade. But I didn’t. They’re still there. It takes some work on both ends, but they’re still there. They still know me, still love me. Because of the effort these friends and I put in over the years of getting to really know each other, of opening up in the hard times, of supporting one another, and truly living in loving community with each other, we can go our separate ways and still hold on to that intimacy. Most of them have gotten married, some have kids, and some of us are still rocking the single life. Yet, when I need them they’re just a text away. When they need me, they know I’ll be there.

So, singles, don’t take so much pride in your independence that you don’t ask for help. It’s often in times of shared weakness that intimacy develops. Reach out to your roommates, your community groups, your families, your neighbors, your coworkers. You won’t have deep lasting relationships with every single one of them, but find the ones you connect with most and work to develop that. Spend time, real time with them. Open up and let them open up. Let your actions prove your friendship, not just empty words. Start to see these friendships as permanent, not temporary. It will change how you treat each other when you know you’re in each other’s lives forever. Love them. And let them know how they can love you. It can be hard – I was very much the strong one for most of my life, trying to help everyone else but not letting them help me. But that’s not reality, and without letting your friends into your reality, intimacy can’t grow. Needing people isn’t weak, it’s what we’re created for.

The Bible is full of incredibly powerful, beautiful commands to love one another. Few of these commands are aimed at couples; they’re aimed at the church, at brothers and sisters in Christ. Christ himself gave a new command just before he proved his love for us by dying on our behalf: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34).

Interestingly, the command for husbands to their wives echoes this: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). Thus, marriage is only one example of Christ’s love for the church, only one aspect of true intimacy in relationships. We too, not just husbands, are to love one another just as Christ loved us, just as he gave up everything for us. Take heart, single Christians! Intimacy is possible even when marriage may not come, even without sex. Intimacy is greater than that and is available to all.