true love waits…and waits…and waits some more

I am almost done with my first year of seminary. Hard to believe how the time has went by. This year was a very story-driven year. When you go to school for counseling, you get counseled in the process and your entire life goes through examination- under a magnifying glass. I have never been so vulnerable before.

I had to focus on my story in several, several papers this year. It’s kinda crazy how many ways one can unwind a story about herself and the different angles one can reach it from.

My final story I focused on (in a paper I am now writing) was about a girl struggling with her heterosexuality.

A short story to illustrate what I might mean by that:

Last July, I was working at Whole Foods, in the bakery department. I had been there for a little over the year. I was at the point with my co-workers where my walls were let down and they heard my voice and saw my silliness. They knew I was a Christian, and had pretty lofty morals. They also knew I was a very real person who griped, and cussed and complained sometimes.

I was having a hard day at work, seeing some issues I was having and it led me to talk to my El Salvadorian co-worker who was currently making tortillas. I was packing corn bread.

Her eyes grew wide in shock as I began talking to her: “You’re a virgin?!”

I almost rolled my eyes. How could she not know? Everyone made a big fuss about it when they found out the July before. And also, I’m a church-going Christian. Surely, she knows Christians who stay abstinent. Nope. Not quite.

She looked at me and told me I should be having kids by now. How old was I anyway?

When I told her the news of being nearly an old maid (in the Hispanic sense), she was completely miffed. I don’t think she ever heard of a 26-year-old virgin.

Without saying too much, I cannot say it’s simply a fun, and easy thing being in one’s late 20’s and never having sex. Let’s just get that out of the way.

That’s why I say I struggle with my heterosexuality. As a Christian who follows the Bible, I am expected to be celibate until I find one guy who asks me to spend my life with him. And then after maybe a year of crazy wedding planning (or not), get married. I am a long road til there. In the 20’s people generally go through a intimacy vs. isolation crisis, where they seek out companionship. And some are just left isolated. The Church should be the last place this isolation happens.

Dating is really nice, but also hard. It’s super uncertain. A healthy approach to dating is being uncertain entering in. No normal person enters into a dating relationship knowing if one is right for them. But that is how everyone acts. They won’t date, unless they’re certain. How does one even begin to know until they are like, what, 15 dates in? Or at least good friends with the person before dating, and even then you need some time before you are ready to take the big leap. So dating is no temporary reliever before marriage. It just makes things baffling and confusing. It’s nice. But super vulnerable as you are taking a huge risk- putting yourself out there to be hurt. Also dating puts one in tricky situations in regards to boundaries. Do not misread me. I have not been itching because I am not dating anyone. The issue is much deeper than that.

Singleness for Christians is a time of celibacy, potential intimacy with God, and getting to explore how to live out one’s calling. Many of us struggle with our celibacy, and that’s putting it lightly. The Church has done us a dis-service. It gives us the wrong reasons to be celibate. It’s all about behavior. Following a list of do’s and don’ts. True love waits so you will be rewarded and win Prince Charming. We are overly expectant that we will somehow land a perfect dream of a man or woman for a husband or wife. And we suppress.

Because sexuality is a part of every person on the planet. We cannot simply write it off until our wedding nights. It is not a button you press on or off. It’s an everyday reality. And what do we do when we discover it’s a thing? Something very real and present and even very good in our lives? We stuff it down because we do not know what to do with it. But just because we set it aside, doesn’t mean it goes away. We can suppress and suppress, but if we bottle something up so much, it will explode.

It’s a very real struggle, and sometimes I am just miffed people (especially people who have never truly been single. i.e. let me be in perpetual relationship til I get married early) don’t recognize it. There is a lot of tension to wrestle with– trying to be content, but also longing for a desire that is a very good one.

How do people address it? They tell me just to get married. That’s what all the articles are saying. You poor late 20 somethings, just get married already and then you will feel your true validity in life. And you will get to have sex, finally.

Getting married is not so simple as shopping around for a husband. You cannot just pick one out like a consumer. Marriage is a holy calling. God brings people together. He does not use the same timing with people. ANNNND some very sincere Christians never get married. And they have pretty good examples in the Bible. Like Jesus. Paul. Just a couple examples.

Some people have a lifetime of celibacy to look forward to: what’s the answer for them? Just get married already?

Not only are we idolizing marriage with this argument, but we are demeaning it completely. We strip marriage of its sacred calling. I profusely desire to be married one day, but I do not want to marry simply to settle down. I want to marry because I am being called into the covenant relationship.

Celibacy is not being talked about. Marriage is. And often the goal in the dialogue isn’t marriage. The goal is sex. Get married so you can finally have sex. Marriage, sex, and relationships are all cheapened by this sort of talk. It is not healthy for young evangelical, unmarried adults to hear.

What is healthy to hear? How would I counsel myself? What am I expecting?

I guess I would like people to treat me like an adult, and not like a kid simply because I’m unmarried without kids. I would like others in the Church to pursue me, because I often feel like I am on the outskirts. Separate singles ministries do nothing but segregate singles even further than everyone else.

The most loved I ever felt at church was the ages of 23-25 at a little suburban congregation in Virginia. I was one of the only single people my age there, and I was able to connect with families, teenagers, young married couples. I was regularly invited to peoples’ houses, and was simply treated like family. One lady told me she could be my Leesburg mom. I just felt so loved, and invited into community. I had friendships which crossed generational gaps, and I got along just fine. I did not feel like the minority. I was family.

I did not realize how rare that was.

What gives me fulfillment and validity now is finding my calling. I am in school right now to hopefully live out my calling. I am super excited to be a counselor.

Ideally, the licensure in counseling will be accompanied by a marriage license.

But that might not happen. That’s just the reality.

Will I be fine with that? Can I simply, keep going, keep glorifying God even though I don’t share intense intimacy with someone?

Will I be able to be a celibate without expressing some disappointment at God, and disappointment of the cards I’ve been dealt?

I hope not. I hope that the Church shines the light of goodness back on celibacy. I hope we begin to honor it more. I hope I am able to feel a peaceful intimacy with God through my celibacy. I hope people can give better reasons to be celibate other than the Bible tells you so. I hope I get better advising than just get married.

God created us for relationship. But marriage is not the only relationship. Our lives, if lived out in a healthy way, should contain a diverse web of different relationships, between friends and family and church family and community members and people we see fixing our cars, teaching our kids, or serving us coffee. More than ever, I just want to pursue all types of relationships and learn how I can love people more. That is my calling right now.

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9 thoughts on “true love waits…and waits…and waits some more

  1. thanks for your transparency. sometimes I think those of us who are single on the mission field can forget that our sisters in the States are in the same boat as we are, in terms of marriage, singleness and celibacy. it’s wrenchingly hard, no matter where you are. and it’s so important for us to grapple with it. I’ve seen in my own life how easily disappointment can take root and give birth to bitterness- towards God, towards men, towards the church, towards married people. we have to fight for joy. not just resignation, but JOY. that’s so hard.

    another question that is hard for me: how do we balance hopeful expectation with realism? the reality is that odds are against me getting married. I want to believe that God can work miracles, but I can’t spend my life waiting for Him to act the way I want Him to. He might not do it. this is difficult for me because my tendency is to be fatalistic, to decide that it’s not going to happen to me, just so that I can protect myself from disappointment if it doesn’t. I don’t think that’s exactly healthy or good. what am I setting my hope on? am I setting my hope on the idea that God WILL bring me a husband because I want one? Or am I hoping in the goodness of his heart towards me?

    there are a few things that have been helping me lately. I’ve been so incredibly blessed by a group of young families here who make me feel welcome in their homes and like I’m part of the family. that’s unbelievably valuable, as you’ve said. my friends’ kids are wonderful and wrestling, playing, or cuddling with them helps fill up my need for physical affection. one of the hardest things for me as a single is that I can go a long time without anybody touching me. when my friends’ kids run to me and want tickles or hugs or high-fives, it helps a lot.

    Another thing that’s helpful on a personal level is something my older single friend told me about herself. she came on the field at about the same age I did- she was in her mid-twenties. She’s now 40 or 41 and unmarried. She told me that at one point in her 30’s, she looked at the sweetness of her intimacy with the Lord and said, “if singleness is what it takes to have this closeness with God, then I’ll take it. I want this more than I want to be married.” I want to cultivate that attitude in my heart. I want to desire God above all else. I’m not there yet! sometimes I only want to want it.

    one last thing that helps me: remembering that no matter what happens to us in this life, there will be a wedding for us someday. it will be more glorious than any wedding we’ve ever seen or imagined. the groom will be more perfect than any husband could ever be. the desire for intimacy, the wanting to know and be known, the ache that comes with aloneness, all that will pass away. oh, but the waiting is so hard! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u3oLqAmXc-c

    • The thing about not being touched kills me. I’m disabled and my assistant touches me but that is just for getting dressed and showered. Sometimes I have to tell people to take my hand and shake it. Sometime I think women think I’m a leper or they see me as work and not as a potential husband. I don’t think this all the time. In the last 10 years, I have been to over 10 weddings, some their second one. I can’t watch romantic comedies anymore. Sorry I’m venting. I don’t feel this way now because I had a spiritual re-awakening last month. I just go back to the Book of Genesis, when God said it is not good for man to be alone. God also revealed my heart’s desire is to have a family and a full life. I’m praying for patience though. I’m also 44 and still a virgin. Yea, for real only have to wait a little longer is what God revealed to me. It wasn’t by choice for a long time, it just never happened and I slipped into the party lifestyle during high school and went crazy in college. I don’t how I graduated. Anyway, I think finding someone has to do with syncing up with each other in each ones respective walk with God and both are in sync with God’s plan at the same time. This is kind of an observation though. I’m getting back into blogging as well. I’ve been chronicling what God is doing in my life everyday on Facebook this past month. I’m doing it because God wants to speak through me as He is with you. Being an encouragement to others feels awesome. Praise God. Sorry if I ranted too much. I really enjoyed reading this post. It struck a cord with me and got my writing gears going. See, you’re an encouragement too. Thank you.

  2. I absolutely love this post! I know I am already married, but even before I got married I had decided that this is a problem. We are telling little girls out there to stay pure for marriage….when in reality they should simply be staying pure because of their love for Jesus! Marriage may never arrive for some and then all reasons for purity become harder to face without Christ. Anyways, I am glad you wrote all that you did and will likely be sharing it with some of the young girls I am discipling. Thanks for sharing your heart!

  3. Janelle, this is beautiful! Thank you for your transparency!! And Sarah, thanks for sharing about your friend! I am So not where your friend is, but I deeply desire to have the attitude of her heart that she possesses!

  4. Sarah– I wrote you a long, thought out comment back and it never posted!! First of all, I respect you and love you my friend. Being out in Africa with few single men on the missions field is a huge risk— and I love that you are following in pursuit of your calling. Choosing calling over husband shopping is a good thing. As I’ve said marriage is great, but we need to be more concerned about what God is calling us to in the present tense. That said, I can begin to imagine that it is incredibly tough for you out there, being single and in missions and I am glad that you have a strong community of encouraging people surrounding you. I can only begin to hope that you have a community like that whenever you are back in the States.

    I think you ask a really good question addressing the tension of hopeful expectation and realism. Maybe we become hopeful realists? I remember that I used to have long, drawn-out lists of what I would want my husband to be like. Now it’s shortened to: loves Jesus and has some other common ground. I think I that sets the ground for my dating much better if I have that frame of mind. There are certain qualities to be looking for–but to leave it on a list leaves us trying for the Old Spice Man.

    I am also inclined to self-protect. Whenever I like a guy, I try to just assume he does not like me, just so I don’t get my hopes up. It creates protective boundaries around me and I don’t really enjoy that. I am trying to get over the speculation in both directions– one path can lead to heartbreak, and another to unnecessary avoidance, protection. I have come to the point of at least enjoying these sorts as good friends first– which hopefully lifts the walls and the false hopes

    It is very uncomfortable in what ever situation to balance guarding your heart and avoiding in an unhealthy way.

    As for your friend, I would love to be in the place she is if I am single at that age. That is a beautiful place to be, and in many ways that is a gift. She has more time to be still and intimate with the Lord, sitting at his feet like Mary (who I have no clue if that Mary was single). But still she has gone down a good road, and I only wish more Christians would recognize, respect and honor that.

    Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!!

  5. Janelle, this is such a beautiful and true post. I’m praying for you, friend, but also for a movement in our church that celebrates union with Christ above and beyond any union between humans. I pray that my (one day, perhaps) children grow into Godly, wise men and women who value their purity before and intimacy with their Savior rather than pouring their hopes into waiting for a spouse. And I pray that for those of us who are already married, too, knowing that the passion I feel for Christ must far outweigh anything I feel for my husband! Thank you for talking about this in your day to day, and not just in the hypothetical. I am so encouraged by you!

    Megen

  6. I wonder what your friend’s response would have been if you had been a guy and 52 years old? Would her eyes have popped out of her head? Would she have fainted? Janelle, we live I a world that idolizes marriage and family. Or to be more specific, women and children. It’s a trend that’s taken a strong foothold in the last 10 years or so – especially in American churches. As Christian singles whose standards rise above this world, I think it’s our responsibility to be counter-cultural, to be everything this world is not. Yes, people may laugh, scoff, and react with disbelief. Let your life be an example to them, let it shine in the darkest corners. I know social expectations are hard to go against. And those of us who take a different path do feel very lonely at times. Remember that you are doing what’s pleasing to God and will be rewarded — whether in this life or life in eternity. And that at 26 years old, you haven’t begun to wait yet — compared to other Christian singles on the same road. John, 52 and waiting.

  7. thanks for sharing. I was single until last year when I turned 39. trust me, it gets more difficult. I know – really encouraging right? πŸ™‚ but I’ll tell you – I fell into sin. a lot. but through it all looking back, God proved Himself more faithful than I may have ever known otherwise, and finding TRUE contentment in my singleness and in my identity solely in Christ as His bride was worth all the years of loneliness and pain. and the happy ending is not that I’m married and madly in love now – though that’s certainly a huge plus – but the true “carrot” if you will is the greatest love I have ever known in God my savior and groom. We would fail miserably in any and every marriage we enter if we haven’t yet discovered that identity and aren’t continually growing in that truth. blessings to you πŸ™‚

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