“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” ~Proverbs 27:17 The sun is setting over a Pacific ocean levy, signaling the end of a near-perfect day that included bicycling along the Huntington boardwalk, walking and talking along the seaweed splashed sand, and side-splitting laughter over a cup of coffee in a beach side café. …
Has your ship sailed?
“I am sure that God keeps no one waiting unless he sees that it is good for him to wait.”
His Name is Plan Z. He goes by many other pseudonyms, but every single girl knows him. He’s the Jim, Mike, Tim, Jake, or Matt that you go to church with or the Chad, John, Ryan, or Ben who’s a friend of a friend that you occasionally interact with. Despite all of these Aliases, he’s pretty much the same person. He’s the one that fits all your criteria for what you want in a future spouse. He’s godly, well-respected, confident, passionate, attractive, but most importantly, single. It’s highly probable that many other bachelorettes agree, and so his unattached continuation is an improbable encouragement. If he asked you out, you’d say yes in a heartbeat, but his existence serves a much greater purpose than a potential date. You see, Plan Z offers hope on days where singleness is difficult. Plan Z shows that even if he’s not part of God’s plan for your life, it’s really nice to know that at least one someone like him is still out there without a tied-up ring finger. And because Plan Z is that beacon of un-wed manliness, we secretly hope for his continued singleness- someone who is always just around, awesome, and spouse-less.
If you’ve been single for a good amount of time, you know how this ends. You see the Facebook post or hear from a friend that he’s off the market. And a little part of you dies…not only because you secretly hoped he would see the light and show up on your doorstep with a bouquet of hydrangeas (your personal fav), but also because your shelf of fine single specimens is now depressingly empty, leaving you to join Daya in searching for where “the good boys go to hide away.” The world becomes a little dimmer, and you kick yourself for feeling the loss as deeply as you do. You wonder, “How could I feel the loss of something that was never even mine to begin with?”
If we’re honest…If I’m honest, our dissatisfaction with this kind of situation isn’t really about Plan Z at all. Plan Z is just the trigger of a gun that happens to be pointed at our glass-encased “dreams and plans” bank. In this cerebral storage unit, you will find lots of time, effort, and ideas that are all useless if certain things don’t take place. For instance, if you don’t meet Mr. Right, you will have no personal use for all the relationship advice you’ve accumulated, those mental notes like “no eating spaghetti on a first date!”, or any of those lovely Pinterest wedding pins you’ve felt so clever to have hidden on your secret boards. When triggers pointing at this fragile metropolis have been pulled enough times, it’s easy to wonder if your ship has sailed. As the glass ceiling begins to collapse all around the “dreams and plans” bank, you question: Is there any chance of me meeting someone at this point?
If you’ve followed this blog for any amount of time, you know that my suggested solutions to these big kinds of questions always conclude with the underlying motives and recesses of our hearts and perhaps altering perspectives in light of the Gospel. So, here we go again… From birth, we are programmed to plan and control. Admitting to being a control freak is like admitting to having the DNA of a Homo sapien- it’s universal! This clever software design often takes good desires and turns them into something in between a teacher’s well-deserved break at the end of a school year OR the Christmas list of a spoiled 2 year old. I don’t pretend to know your heart, but I see the ugly that resides in mine. I’ve treated my desires for marriage and the absent man who can make it happen like the gift at the end of a well-done bout of singleness. I’ve also behaved in a manner that says, “Give me what I want or I’ll throw a temper tantrum and doubt your parenting skills!” Or there’s the failed logic I used in response to my parent’s strict rules on appropriate movies for their teenage daughter: “But everyone else’s parents lets them watch PG-13 films!” I still hear their response echoing in my memory (“We’re not everyone else’s parents!”) I’ll take each of these responses and break them down, for all our sakes.
Marriage as a Reward
Oh if only marital status could be reached like a degree after college or a level on a videogame. Just take these classes or collect this many coins (old-school Super Mario-style!) and you’re in! But puzzlingly, there seems to be no apparent rhyme or reason to who gets hitched and who has to plow the fields of life solo. And that’s because we live in God’s economy, which is so drastically different than anything we would set up. Look at the Gospel itself. Did Jesus earn the constraint of a human form or the penalty of a cross? Do we earn salvation by being awesome enough? As if! God doesn’t often play “fair” on human terms, and yet He does have amazing plans that include things like gifts (hello salvation!) and callings to occupations and statuses within His Kingdom. Marriage is no different. He doesn’t give marriage to those who deserve it the most and singleness to those who are still needing to get their act together.
God asks for our faithfulness, but it’s not meant to be part of some kind of merit system. The sacrifices He asks for are only ever in response to what He has already done! Romans 12:1-2 is clear that we offer our bodies as living sacrifices “in view of His mercy” and this becomes “our spiritual act of worship.” Serving God isn’t about getting what we want, it’s about responding to His love and His worthiness, and subscribing to His plan for our lives, whatever it may entail, whether it aligns with our “plans and dreams” bank or not. It’s about trust in His ability to make good decisions as a loving Father, not making a list and checking it twice like some divine Santa Claus.
Marriage as a Right
I’ll try not to spend too much time on this response, because it’s a little painful to rehearse. This attitude usually kicks in after a few shots have been taken at our “dreams and plans” bank. When we repeatedly don’t get what we want, instead of simply being disappointed, we doubt God’s goodness. We begin to wonder if He really does have our best interests in mind. I mean, you had a plan! You were going to get married young, go on a few adventures before having 4 kids, then get a golden retriever and have a few more adventures after purchasing a bigger-sized vehicle. And you weren’t going to expect the world. No! You were going to walk into marriage with realistic notions about life and love. You’ve watched enough of your friends’ marriages to know that it’s not always blissful. Sometimes, it’s tears and confusion, letting down and being let down. You’re both human, after all. But you’re more than willing to take the bad in with the good because you truly believe it will be worth it- in the beauty and in the mess. These dreams become so incredibly tangible and dear to us, that any far-off plan we can conceive God to be capable of seems dull and unappealing. So when God doesn’t follow our plan, we become a little resentful and slowly bound by our growing discontentment. You might even start to freeze God out in small ways, skipping your quiet time or avoiding prayers that pour out your heart to Him. The longer this goes on, the more embittered you can become in your pride. And obviously we would never verbalize these feelings because they don’t sound very “Christian”, but they nevertheless reflect our adult temper tantrum.
If you find yourself anywhere along this unintended rabbit trail, you must admit it’s not very fun. All the freezing and inner wallowing isn’t making things better, but may in fact be making them worse. There’s definitely no freedom. And “it is for freedom Christ set us free, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1) Child, don’t you long to live a life unbound by our limited expectations? A life where we put our plans and dreams on the table, offering them up for God to take and use if He wishes, but understanding that His wisdom and creative powers far outweigh anything we have access to. Repentance and a loose grip on your will can pave that road back to unhindered worship, and away from the enslavement of our insistent expectancies.
Part of That World
As I approach 30, these mindsets are all too familiar. Every now and then, I act as if God owes me. Sometimes, I do wonder what God could possibly have up His sleeve to compare with my ideas for my life. And maybe some of you reading have the added anxiety of finding yourself in a niche in your church and work life where, frankly, there are slim pickins! Scrolling Facebook lately and noticing another wave of engagements and babies makes us want to plop up on a rock next to Ariel and wish we could be “part of that world.” It can be difficult to see women almost a decade younger planning weddings and friends having their second child. And in our culture, that seems to be the go-to topic when people want to check up on you. “So…you dating anyone yet?” And they mean well, they really do. One day, I may be able to excitedly answer the question in the affirmative, and so maybe we don’t want that question taken entirely off the table. But it’s really easy to start feeling like Adam while naming the animals in the very beginning. He noticed every beast of the field, bird of the air, and fish of the sea coming in twos. Where’s my ______? (He didn’t know her name yet, much like we don’t have a name yet.)
Enough with my rambling! What’s really going on here? I mean, deep, deep down? When we take a look around at the majority of people our age and notice the fullness of their lot in the way of relationship status or progeny, and then see our seemingly empty basket, we can be persuaded that there is a norm that somehow skipped us. “The norm” being the ship that carries all of what is expected of us by our culture at certain ages and seasons. If that is our mindset, then, my ship has probably already sailed, leaving me on the docks to gaze over an empty ocean. Isn’t that a depressing sight! But here lies the issue. We are playing the comparison game. We are using the culture as a gauge for an appropriate timeline and experience. And if you’ve been bought by the blood of Jesus, your ship is outfitted with so much more than a marriage and kids. In fact, you are already aboard, having climbed on the second God captured your heart. Your ship is sailing…present tense! This vessel is equipped with everything you’ll need to carry out your days, this side of heaven. If a husband and kids factor into that, then you can bet it’s there somewhere, under a floorboard or perhaps waiting at a harbor, packaged and ready to be picked up when the timing is right. Regardless of the scheduling or the unrevealed parts of the plan, we can be positive that “No good thing does [God] withhold from those who walk uprightly.” (Psalm 84:11)
So, in answering the question, “has my ship sailed?”, perhaps we need to climb up out of the belly of the boat and onto the deck. Maybe we’ll smell the salty air and hear the seagulls chatter. It’s quite possible that if you walk towards the bow, you’ll notice the waves steadily passing as you realize that you’re aboard the ship and it is indeed sailing! Plus, you’re definitely not alone. You’ve already sensed this, but your Savior is there. The one who built the ship with everything you’ll need, the one who crafted the waters you move through, and the very hinge on all the doors that open and close. Relinquish control. He’s got you. Dream big, yes. And pray hard-don’t stop the talking and the asking! But we can’t become so enthralled with our own plans that they distract us from God’s goodness! Open those clenched fists, and allow everything earthly that you hold dear to sit upon open palms. He might weave some of that into the storyline, but if He doesn’t, we have to believe He’s got something better. Besides, we at least know how the journey ends. After a little while, our boat will reach its ultimate destination, leaving all the earthly things in its wake and our open palms lifted in forever praise.
As always, thanks for stopping by. I hope it was encouraging! If this is your first time on my site, you can start at the beginning of the journey here–> https://notsingledout.com/2015/01/04/door-number-three/
For those of you who have visited before, I realize it’s been almost exactly a year since my last post! I’m making it a goal to post every two weeks while I’m on break from teaching this summer. I asked some gal pals the topics they wanted me to cover, and the survey is in. For this summer, it looks like we’ll be discussing things like: baby fever as a single person, when youth are seemingly more “experienced” than you, and rethinking the American Dream. (Also, feel free to contact me with any other ideas)