NOT SINGLED OUT

Living singly part of God's kingdom

As a post-grad, I spent a couple of years in cubicle world working at an insurance agency. My first position there was as their front desk receptionist, and it was my job to transfer calls and manage the mail room. One day, while putting together the Second Day Air UPS envelopes, I missed inserting the address sleeve into the clear plastic cover of one of the packages. A few days later, an agent in our office asked me to track that particular package, and the blood drained from my face when I realized that the shipping barcode had never been generated. Come to find out, it was extremely precious cargo. Inside the destination-less envelope was an annuity check for six figures. Without a timely arrival, the agent lost the client and the hefty commission on the account. To this day, I still feel a hint of that pit in my stomach when I think about that mistake that didn’t just affect me, but someone else’s livelihood!

I say all this because I think that a lot of dating relationships resemble that envelope. You’ve been dating for a little while, but no actual intention has been established. And yet, the more time you spend together, the more the physical side of the relationship escalates. In essence, the plane has taken off before the flight path has been confirmed. I think most Christians would agree that boyfriends don’t get marriage privileges (at least in theory), but I submit to you that friends and dates shouldn’t get boyfriend privileges, either.

True pursuit acknowledges the preciousness of what’s being pursued and is careful to match the pace of a relationship with the definitions. Are you friends who happen to like each other? Great! Don’t let your “friend” treat you like a girlfriend until he’s made that public commitment. Are you dating and “figuring things out”? Awesome! Don’t be pressured to give in to any kind of intimacy that doesn’t belong in that stage. You run the risk of being strung along in a relationship that begins to resemble a cardboard container that doesn’t value its contents.

Now, here’s where gray areas emerge and you need help from the Holy Spirit. What are good physical boundaries for dating? I can’t decide that for you. And I can’t do justice to the subject in a short blog post. But, I will say that it shouldn’t be anything you’d regret if the relationship doesn’t end up going anywhere, and it needs to be firmly established with accountability long before Mr. Potential shows up. Don’t decide as you go, because I guarantee that you will underestimate the power of the cloudy, smoky rave that parties in your frontal cortex at the onset of a blossoming relationship.

Some of you ladies have already sensed the truth in what I’m about to say through personal experience. One of the most devastating realizations for a woman is when she knows she’s being pursued more for her body than for her heart. Because deep down, all anyone wants is to be fully known and then fully loved. And if someone simply doesn’t see the value in pursuing what’s on the inside, we feel reduced to any other cheap envelope without a unique tracking number.  I have friends who are pre-marital counselors and they have said that 90% of the time, when couples come to them with relational difficulties, it always stems from pushing the physical boundaries too far early on in their relationship.

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Disclaimer: God’s grace covers past relationships and even ones you are currently in. It’s never too late to stand up for your value and set new boundaries. If your lines force an exit, good riddance! He’s not where he needs to be to pursue you in love and protect you in truth. If you feel like, after setting those boundaries, he’s always looking for ways to cross them, you need to think and pray seriously about your next steps. I believe that each stage in any relationship is a training ground for the next. And respect is a muscle. If he doesn’t flex it now, how will that lack of cardio show up in future situations when the stakes are higher?

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At the end of the day, you, my friend, are a daughter of the King of the Universe. You were bought with a price much greater than 6 figures- the price of His Son, Jesus. And you are clothed in His righteousness so that you won’t step back in the mud but instead, see clearly the path of real, God-honoring, Kingdom work. I truly believe that if you recognize your worth as His image-bearer and your position in his reign, you wouldn’t need to read this article or learn from the tough pill of regret. You would have everything you need to make wise dating decisions.

 

Love,

R

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Ever have a moment when the Bible wrecked your theology? Like where you had a belief about God that brought you comfort, healing, or even growth that turned out to be a misuse of Scripture? Well, that was me about a week ago. I set out to write a post about waiting well in seasons where God hasn’t given an answer to something good that you desire. There are so many verses, especially in Psalms, that speak to what it looks like to wait on the Lord and they were a lifeline to me in seasons of singleness where I struggled with discontentment.

Being the verbal processor that I am, I was bouncing some topic ideas off of a trusted brother in Christ, and he challenged me to rethink my idea of waiting.  I listened intently to his thoughts at the time but set out to prove him wrong after.  I decided to do a word study on waiting to comb through all those meaningful verses that got me through some darker times. What I uncovered challenged most of what I believed about the topic.

Here’s what I found. The word “wait” is used in the Old Testament 75 times. About a quarter of those are used in the Psalms in places like “Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!” (Ps 27:14) or “For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.” (Ps 62:5) Aside from situational uses here and there or places where David is waiting on God’s presence, most uses of the word “wait” are in connection with redemption and salvation from the Lord. A good example of this is in Psalm 130, where David writes about waiting and hoping, for “[God] will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.” The predominant theme of waiting in the OT is a reference to the coming Messiah.

Onto the New Testament. Turns out, it has a similar theme with waiting. There are a few Greek words translated into the English word “wait.” One is “perimeno”, which literally means to chill and stay put. Two other common words are “apekdechomai” and “anameno”, which are more active forms of waiting. They are expectant and hopeful about future promises that have been made. Perimeno is only used once in Acts 1:4 as a situational command from Jesus when he asks the disciples to hang out in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit comes to the party at Pentecost. The other two Greek words are used in reference to our future hope of Jesus’ return.

In my word study, notice what the verses about waiting are NOT referring to. OT saints waited for a Messiah, which (glory!) is now a past event. Church-age saints are waiting for Jesus’ return. But none of the verses are referring to waiting on the Lord in regards to something that we’ve asked Him for.  Believe me, I looked. And as much as I don’t like to admit that I was wrong, especially in regards to a belief that holds a lot of meaning for me, I was unable to find a Biblical basis for using the word “wait” when it comes to earthly hopes.

What does this mean for those of us who consistently pour out our hearts to God about our desires that may be earthly, but nevertheless mean a great deal to us? The things that pertain to life stages and relationships- the things that God’s Word paints as good things that aren’t wrong to want but just haven’t been granted to us yet- what about those things? The answer to that question wasn’t easy to arrive at because it meant loosening my grip a bit on the things I want this side of heaven.

God doesn’t want misplaced hopes, and therefore, misplaced waiting. He wants us to actively hope on the things that we can absolutely look forward to, the things that culminate in the return of our Savior to establish a new kingdom. He does, however, want us to continue to pour our hearts out about the other things. We see this truth in Jesus’ parable about the persistent widow in Luke 18, teaching how His followers “ought always to pray and not lose heart.”  But, in our asking, we need to accept His answers, too. If the answer is no or not yet, then we can’t “perimeno” around! How do we know if the answer is no? If what you are asking for isn’t happening in that very moment, you have your answer. Ask as much as you want to. Be persistent in prayer, but don’t chill until God changes His mind. He has so much more for you than a pity party in a holding pattern.

 

My goal is not to be harsh but realistic.  I’m afraid that although applying verses on waiting to my desires for marriage brought comfort to my discontented heart, it was a Band-Aid over a wound that required surgery. Taking verses meant to point to an ultimate hope and applying them to temporary things like marriage, parenthood, or a new job makes us near-sighted in our pursuit of future endeavors.  Is your compass pointed at a relationship, a career, or anything else that dissolves or transforms in eternity? My sisterly suggestion is recalibration and an honest look into your heart as you answer this question: What are you waiting for? Unless you are an Acts 1:4 disciple before Pentecost, the Bible does not prescribe you to tread water as you aim toward temporal statuses and experiences. There is Kingdom work to be done as we look forward to His promise of return!

Love,

R

Humans like to ask questions. It’s how we get to know each other and maintain closeness. It’s how we learn when encouragement or celebration or prayer is necessary. Questioning leads us to truth and freedom. But questions offer us more than insight into specific lives and stories. The kinds of questions we default to can also point to what a culture values.

 

There’s that friend who’s married without kids. The silent sufferer who cries prayerful pleas on her knees while her husband holds her tight. Her current task is dependence, not bearing children she so desperately wants to mother.

She fights for joy in her trial, but the questions of outsiders don’t stop.

 

There’s the story laced with singleness. She hit 30 last year and loves life. Sure her spouseless existence stings from time to time if she chooses to ponder what she doesn’t have. But there is much to be thankful for, and out of her abundance, she gives to others.

She’s grateful for God’s guidance, but the inquiries of outsiders don’t stop.

 

The point is not that the questions and suggestions are present. The point is that they are prevalent. The church should be a place where all statuses can flourish, and when the focus of conversation is narrowed on what is natural, we miss opportunities for the supernatural to rain its blessings.

But more than that, it speaks to what the culture prizes. Luke 6:45 tells us that “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” If the first topic we turn to when greeting one another has to do with status, then we need to ask ourselves how much we treasure earthly things in comparison to eternal things. Marriage and parenthood are beautiful pictures of the gospel and wonderful gifts from God, but by the way some conversations proceed, you would think they are the point of our existence. And it makes sense. When God’s good design gets sprinkled with the lies of the culture, stirred up, and sold to the masses as real love, no congregation is safe. [Disclaimer: please take what I’m about to say with a heaping spoonful of sisterly love] I’m afraid many marriages in the church have fallen prey to this cultural phenomenon and in fact, perpetuate ideas like marriage being the best thing that can ever happen to you and motherhood being the highest calling. So it’s no wonder that the first topic that comes to mind in social situations is where others fall on the marriage and pregnancy spectrum.

I dream of a day when the first questions in the gathering of God’s children have nothing to do with status. I dream of a day when upon greeting one another, Jesus’ followers inquire about His Kingdom.

Ya, that’s great that you’re dating someone or hoping to have kids in the next year. I’m sincerely glad to hear about those things. I’m also interested in how God is using you to build that which is not of this world. Who are you discipling? And if you aren’t, when are you going to start praying about who to pursue? What is God teaching you right now? He calls us into statuses and stories with eternal outcomes in mind, and our questions can have the ability to call what is long-lasting out of the everyday. As followers of Christ, let’s purpose to trade what is instinctive for the richer conversations that challenge, uplift, and have eternal value.

Love (I promise),

Rachelle

Dear One,

How did you get here? From far off, it seemed like a nice place to wander. It looked like a desert oasis, bursting with life and water to quench your weary soul. But as you got closer, your feet dragging in the sand, the facade began to fade.

Dear One,

How long have you tarried here? Even after you sensed its guise and the veneer faded from green to gloom, you lingered, hoping the broken cisterns would soon bubble over with life-giving water. If only given enough time, what you imagined from afar would emerge from the dust. So you thought.

Dear One,

How do you not remember? You’ve been here before. The dry well that promised life, the mirage of green meadows, the sun that only scorches. These surroundings breed familiarity.

Dear One,

How did you find rest before? You didn’t dig in the dust. You didn’t scan the skyline for the next quick fix. You simply silenced your heart. And then, as the old hymn rings, I tuned it to sing my grace. Your tired soul washed over with relief and your lungs called out songs of loud praise.

Beloved,

Surrender.

And the reply: “Jesus, I’m yours”

Ever notice how many Old Testament couples met at a well?  Abraham’s servant met Rebecca at a well on behalf of Isaac. A young shepherdess simply going about her business, being her sweet self to the stranger and his camels and voila! She gets a ring and an all-expense paid trip to meet her beloved.  A generation later, Rachel was a sight for sore eyes when Jacob gazed upon her fine form strolling over the hill to water her sheep at a well. In a sudden burst of manliness, he herculesed a large stone that was covering the well, watered her sheep, and then planted a kiss on her like a hero that saved the day. And last but not least, the one and only Moses came to Zipporah’s rescue when some overbearing shepherds were trying to intimidate her and her sisters at a well. Their father insisted on meeting the man who stood up to the aggressors and then offered his daughter’s hand in marriage. Apparently, people’s marriageable qualities tend to surface at wells.

All of this well-matchmaking makes sense, for where else are you most likely to run into people in Bible times in the desert? A well was a place of gathering, a life-giving source that people had to work into their daily schedules. Sadly, I can’t think of a comparable modern equivalent. Water comes in pipes and life is more hurried. When simple necessities come easy, things that take time feel bothersome, and we’re left without natural built-in breaks to slow and contemplate or even maybe get to know the stranger next to us.

If you’re like me, then hearing stories about chance interactions and happy endings can sometimes leave you feeling dejected and almost willing to give up your smart phone and modern plumbing to trade for a simpler time. Perhaps you’ve risked your heart one too many times and are just plain weary of singleness, heartache, and the daily grind without companionship. I don’t have an antidote for singleness. I don’t have a cure for the desire for marriage and a family. I do, however know one more story about another pair that met at a well.

 

A woman, worn out by life, took the long walk to draw water in the middle of the day. She was particular about the time because she would rather endure the heat than the sideways glances of the other well visitors at a cooler hour. You see, her choices in life gave plenty of fuel for town busybodies, and so she walked in solitude.  Picture her, coming into the clearing. Her mouth is dry and her forehead damp from the desert’s warmth . Her longing gaze is fixed on the well and her mission, until she notices a man, sitting there like he’s patiently waiting for an appointment. Disappointment wrinkles her brow, and hesitancy slows her steps. “At least he’s an Israelite,” she thinks. “He won’t talk to me, a Samaritan AND a woman. I’ll just fill my jar and leave in peace.”

She senses his gaze as she makes her approach. Imagine her surprise when, against all cultural norms, the man speaks.  His request is for water, and a discussion ensues.  His tone is strong but gentle. His manner is more like a long lost friend than a stranger from a hostile land. He is familiar with her wandering and her daily plight of journeying to quench her thirst, not just for literal water, but for companionship, for soul-filling and completion. “You won’t find it there,” says the stranger as he looks at the well. “You won’t find it there, either,” as he gazes towards the city that houses her hurts and past lovers. “Everyone who drinks from those waters will be thirsty again, but I have water that becomes a spring welling up into eternal life.”

At the well, her maternal ancestors found love and matrimony. She found a different kind of groom. She found the Messiah, Jesus. “Sir give me this water so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water!” You who are familiar with well-beaten paths and the daily grind: listen to her plea when she recognizes that natural means aren’t enough and drinks deeply from the living water offered by her Savior.

 

We all have access to that well. Won’t you meet me there? It’s where your Savior will interrupt, remind, and satisfy. You will fill your jar and leave in peace.

 

Love,

Rachelle

I’ll be honest. For much of my journey with Jesus, a central doctrine of Scripture not only puzzled me, but actually made me squirm whenever it was brought up. No I’m not talking about any secondary buzz topics like women in ministry, signs, gifts, or pre vs. post-trib. It’s actually a topic that’s found in the New and Old testament, talked about by Jesus, and builds a chasse for the gospel itself. What foundational truth could possibly elicit my disinclination? My aversion was to none other than the comparison of Christ and the church to marriage.

I can’t pinpoint the exact reason for my repulsion. Perhaps my it stemmed from focusing too much on the physical side of marriage. Or maybe it was odd to think of male believers being referred to as a bride. Add a bit of agitation from unmet desires for marriage, and it was enough to make me cringe whenever a pastor decided to bring it up.  If you happen to live and breathe ministry and podcasts like I do, then you know it’s a theme that comes up quite a bit. Given that it’s also a common focus in God’s Word, I felt guilty for my revulsion.

Sick of the awkward vibes, I recently embarked on a path of discovery. My end goal was to value the concept of Christ and the church as much as Scripture does. After taking a good look at passages pertaining to marriage, I decided that the key to fully understanding why marriage is used as a gospel parallel was to examine Jewish traditions for marriage. I wasn’t disappointed. The result was more fruitful and encouraging than I could have ever imagined. Mind if I conduct a quick cultural anthropology lesson?

In Jewish tradition, there are two parts to a wedding ceremony, the “kiddushin”[i], or betrothal, and the “nissuin”[ii], or nuptial ceremony. A betrothal is different from what we understand an engagement to be today. Engagements can be broken off easily, but a betrothal in historic Jewish culture involved a contract that required an actual divorce to dissolve[iii]. The couple was wedded, but not yet living together, and the time frame was usually specified in the contract as to what needed to happen before the ceremony and wedding feast could take place. We see a similar occurrence in the Bible with Jacob and Rachel.  The contract in this case was done between the bridegroom and the bride’s father, but Talmud expert Maurice Lamm says that, contrary to many cultures at the time, the consent of the bride was always required in Jewish custom[iv]. This is evident in the love story between Rebecca and Isaac. Lamm also remarks on the importance of the totality of the Betrothal, which basically sums up “till death do us part.” [v]  It is also imperative to note that the only spouse who signs the Betrothal contract in the presence of witnesses is the bridegroom, and his contract displays how he will provide for her[vi].

The redemptive implications of this model as it relates to our “marriage” with Christ are profound. Christ came to earth on a mission of betrothal. We see evidence of this at the beginning of his three year ministry in John 3:28-30, when John the Baptist calls Jesus the “bridegroom” and designates himself as the best man, preparing the way for the one who would woo His bride.  Jesus went on to pay a high price on the cross, supplying a verbal contract that promised to prepare a place for his followers before coming back to retrieve them in John 14. Notice how Christ is the one doing all the work. He does not require us to sign the contract; He only requires our consent, “because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). Furthermore, Ephesians 2:8 explains that we do not do any of the saving, but it is “by grace [we] have been saved.” Ephesians 4:30 adds that we are sealed by the Holy Spirit “until the day of redemption.”

So listen up, church! We have a contract, a seal, and a promise of an eventual wedding ceremony as our groom prepares a place for us to dwell with Him for eternity. I hear from married friends that engagements can be a rough business, and our time of betrothal on earth is no piece of cake either. Our groom told us it would be difficult, but He also promises a beautiful homecoming to His Father’s house that will terminate the betrothal era and begin part two, the “nissuin.”

During a Jewish nuptial ceremony, there is much celebration and feasting. In the same way, Christ will be together with His bride to enjoy the marriage supper of the Lamb. Indeed, it is what He refers to during the last supper with His disciples, saying, “For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” (Luke 22:18)  In Revelation 19:7-8, we see a glimpse of what is to come as all of heaven says, “ ‘Let us rejoice and exult
and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure’ for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.”

Unearthing these beautiful truths added so much more depth to my perception of the gospel. Rather than being squeamish about the gospel metaphor between Christ and His Bride, I now stand in awe. Even as a single person, the picture of marriage holds so much more meaning for me. If the God of the universe has invited me into this covenant relationship and chooses in His love to provide an earthly picture for all eyes to gaze at, then marriage becomes relevant to everyone.

These themes, when preached on, should cause us to marvel at the Gospel. They should cause us to think on ways to be a better follower of Christ as part of His bride, the church. They should cause us to pray for our fellow married brothers and sisters, that they would mirror Christ’s redemptive plan to the world.  Lastly, instead of allowing those kinds of messages to fuel insecurities, they should bolster the confidence we have in Christ’s signed, sealed, and delivered betrothal.

 

 

 

[i] Lamm, Maurice. The Jewish Way in Love and Marriage. New York: Jonathan David Publishers, Inc. 1980. pp. 148-160.

[ii] Lamm, pp. 160-168

[iii] Lamm, p. 154

[iv] Lamm, p. 153

[v] Lamm, p. 161

[vi] Lamm, p. 154, 158

Beauty in distress rescued by a worthy suitor… A perfect match disrupted by calamity or misunderstanding, and fate or heart-following or serendipity must find a way to set things right… Sparks fly in a moment where two eyes meet for the first time, and instincts assure a future together… Lovely stories that wrap you up in a blanket with a bowl of popcorn, leaving you feeling starry-eyed and hopeful as a child and somewhat incomplete as you mature.

…………………………………………………

The kind of earthly love I’m after isn’t as romantic as those in story books. It can’t be, for they, with their strife and sacrifice and rewarding endings bear a slight but unsatisfying resemblance to what I already have in Jesus. The heroes and lovers in fairytales are not even worth comparing with the Word who became Immanuel. He is unlike any human that ever lived! He is the ideal mixture of strength, courage and tenderness- a true picture of manhood. What’s more, he wasn’t after that which was beautiful or breathtaking like the protagonist in so many other stories. He came for the lost, the overlooked, the ones clothed in rags. When he walked the earth, His piercing gaze saw right into the hearts of others. Yet even knowing all the details about the people He walked and dined with, He chose to love and serve them anyway, extending the same graces to all who follow Him today. I am among these graced subjects, redeemed by a story with a plot to challenge all the common ones.

He moved heaven and earth to win my heart, leaving a throne to walk rough Roman roads in human feet. The rocky paths led to an unjust trial he bore with grace and a cross-shaped punishment in the greatest display of His power. One word, one flinch, one breath could have forever silenced His mockers, ended the agony, and unleashed His supreme heavenly army upon matchless oppressors. But he knew the true enemy, a dragon with an Achilles heel. And so, exceeding power shone with every clang of the hammer, every unsilenced critic, and every lot cast for His stolen garments. Suppression in the slaughter. Even as death hung His head, all was not lost. The battle was taken to the grave, where the dragon realized his error. As morning light poured into a cave on the outskirts of Jerusalem, Jesus stood victorious, a Savior to rival all other tales of salvation, romantic or otherwise.

This Prince of All sought my heart in a story that spans millennia and he’ll have my heart forevermore. To seek a better provider or pursuer would be fruitless. To dig in the earth for that which He has promised me in the stars is silly.

And yet, He allows some of His children the privilege of retelling His story in a covenant called marriage, little caves that let in the morning light. That’s the kind of earthly love I’m after- the kind that humbles itself into its proper place, knowing that it can’t compete with the bigger story. Instead, it finds ways to authenticate it- A little love that finds its source, passion, and purpose in the unconditional love of Jesus.

It’s not the kind of stuff you’ll find in the sparks of romantic novels or the appeal of Hallmark movies. It’s the kind of stuff you’ll find in quieter corners, where revolving front doors, early morning plea-ful prayers, and wrinkled smiles build God’s kingdom on the coals of covenant-blessed love.

That’s what I’m after. Anything less is at worse, futile competition and at best, an ignorant substitute.

Single readers: have you had thoughts of settling? Have you pondered fruitless relationships in your prolonged season of waiting? You need to remember that true faith is found when the promises of God are enough, like they were for those awaiting a Savior in the centuries of silence before Jesus burst onto the scene. Or perhaps you find yourself holding out for the sparks and perfection of fairy tales. If so, you need to hear that a marriage that builds God’s kingdom can’t last on sparks alone- it takes coals to warm and light the dark. And we all need to remember what we already have in Christ- the One in whom our hearts are filled to the fullest, with whom all other little loves are humbled.

Love,

Rachelle