Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Guys vs. The Gospel

"The time and energy that married people spend on caring for and nurturing each other, the unmarried can spend in becoming whole and holy instruments of God." (1 Corinthians 7:33)

Have you been a good steward of your singleness?

For all the times I asked my students that question, I know that today, I desperately need to ask it to myself...

Because I know that there will come a time when I find myself face-to-face with the Lord, and He will ask me to give an account of how I spent my days here on earth. What will my answer be?

Should I be scared for that day of Judgment?

The Father has given me a lengthened season of singleness (certainly longer than I would have liked...), yet I deeply trust His sovereignty and believe that He is purposefully strategic in all His plans for me. In what feels like a burden--and the very opposite of a blessing---I have come to clearly see that the Lord has bestowed upon me something wonderful and unique. As a 29-year old single woman, I have been given the rare gift of TIME.

Ever the social butterfly, my schedule is rarely void. Some days it seems like I don't have enough hours in the day to accomplish everything I desire to do. Yet, when I hang out with my "mommy and married" friends, I suddenly recognize that I have no right to say that I'm too busy. These friends are juggling jobs, caring for children and serving, supporting and seeking to please their husbands. Very few find the time to serve and love God to the degree that they would like to...

But what's MY excuse? There's no man to make happy, or mouths to feed at the moment. I have all the time in the world to devote to serving my Savior! In my present single state, the Lord CAN truly be the priority in my schedule and the sole object of my desire.

So, why isn't He?

A married friend recently confessed that she always struggled to live out 1 Corinthians 7 as a single. She recognized that it is a wonderful ideal--for single people to choose to remain "spouse-less" so as to devote themselves completely to knowing and serving the Father--yet she (like all of us) fell short of that goal.

"'The unmarried woman is free to focus on the things of the Lord,'" she jokingly paraphrased, "But for most of my singleness, the main thing I was praying about was the fact that I wasn't married!"

Hahahaha! I write that because that describes ME and my thoughts exactly (There really ISN'T anything new under the sun, is there? People are people...especially us single ladies!). Yeah, I'll be real enough to admit that those are significant things that I take to the Lord on a regular basis--my single state, my desire for a husband and my questioning of God's timing in the whole process. While the desire to be married is healthy, legitimate and (I believe) even God-ordained, I do know that I need to seriously re-evaluate my priorities. Big time...

Francis Chan spurred my most recent conviction of this. Last week, I went to a "Coffee Talk" at a local Christian university where Chan was being featured as the main speaker. I find it interesting that people always speak of Chan being so "radical," when really, he just lives out what the Bible says--even and especially when it's counter-cultural. It's insanely humbling that his answers to the questions people ask him are so simple and straight forward. (Biblical answers, he reminds us, usually are. We usually make them more complicated than they really are because they make us uncomfortable...)

One of the last questions that was asked of Chan during the talk was by a girl in her 20's who (like myself and many of my readers) was struggling with her desire to be married. Chan's response was brilliant (allow me to paraphrase)...

We spend way too much time focusing on marriage and family in the Church, he said. When we read Scripture, we see that urgency is associated with the spreading of the Gospel and advancing the Kingdom, not in building families here on earth. Christians spend so much time reading books and getting input about marriage/family that the focus of their lives has become about building a better relationship with their spouse than seeking greater intimacy with God. With an unhealthy, idolatrous focus on spouses and children (good things becoming "god-things"), we have often neglected our mission of making disciples and preaching the love of Christ to the world.

In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul encourages unmarried people to "stay as they are," and goes so far as to admonish married people to "live as if they have no spouse" (!!! Who says the Bible majors on "family values?"). Paul, like Jesus, always prioritized God over family. "God first, family second and THEN ministry," Chan quoted the little Christian cliche, "What does that even MEAN?" You cannot separate loving God from serving Him! Yet what you CAN do is teach and structure your family in such a way that your marriage/home life reflects what it means to live missionally. Is the purpose of your marriage to be a stronger, more effective team for advancing the Kingdom? Are you and your spouse bringing more glory to God as a couple than you were as singles? Are you teaching your children how to love and serve others, and to make disciples everywhere they go? THAT should be the purpose and goal of the family.

"My whole life is a mission trip," Chan said. 

As it should be...  :)

It's ridiculous how Satan uses something as GOOD as marriage (God's beautiful allegory for showing His supreme faithfulness, commitment and incredible love towards His bride) and twist it to become an idol. Obsession with marriage, a spouse or even the idea of a potential spouse, can easily disintegrate our true reason for existing on Earth. Being wrapped up in another human being--even our own spouse, even our own children--has the damaging potential to diminish our sense of urgency to spread the Gospel.

And it clearly does all the time. I see far more sermon series on "Marriage and Parenting" than I do on "Evangelism and Serving the Poor." Likewise, we experience far more divorce than we do revival...

God is pretty clear in Scripture as to who and what should be the priority of our lives: We are called to "Seek first the Kingdom." Everything else, by default, must be considered secondary...

"I want you to live as free of complications as possible. When you're unmarried, you're free to concentrate on simply pleasing the Master. Marriage involves you in all the nuts and bolts of domestic life and in wanting to please your spouse, leading to so many more demands on your attention. The time and energy that married people spend on caring for and nurturing each other, the unmarried can spend in becoming whole and holy instruments of God. I'm trying to be helpful and make it as easy as possible for you, not make things harder. All I want is for you to be able to develop a way of life in which you can spend plenty of time together with the Master without a lot of distractions."

1 Corinthians 7 challenges me like none other. It forces me to narrow my focus, always bearing in mind the urgency of the day. It reminds me to ask myself: Am I easily distracted by the cares of this world? Am I fixing my eyes on guys instead of on Jesus?

These are questions I must ask every single day. I know I can only make plans based on TODAY, recognizing that everything can change in an instant. The time and freedom that I have right now might last for two years or two weeks. All I know for sure is that the Lord's plan for me is still unfolding. I can't claim to know what He is up to or where He is taking me. Who knows how long my singleness will last?

But instead of dwelling on that question, I know there is really only one ultimate question I need to be asking about my singleness...

Am I truly making the most of it?

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Irony of Allure

They say you're never more beautiful than when you're in love...

Yet the seasons where I have been in love have been nothing less than dramatic (in the most negative sense of the word), typically because the love was unrequited (by him) or unwanted (inconvenient for me). In the wake of such heartache, it's always a struggle to pass the mirror without focusing immediately on my flaws. Seeing myself as a sexual person, let alone the object of a man's desire, is the last thing on my mind when it seemed the first thing to be attacked (via rejection). When I feel rejected, my beauty seems distant, even divorced from who I am.

Perhaps that first statement would be more accurate if it read like this:

"You're never more beautiful than when you KNOW you are loved."

The beauty of love comes not just from feeling something for someone else, but in experiencing someone else feeling that something towards you. To be the object of affection; to be singled out as special; to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are desired. As women, few things make us feel more alive.

This is the reason why girls with boyfriends continue to get checked out, asked out...even intensely pursued by other men. Knowing you are loved stirs a confidence within you which can't help but attract others. You walk taller; you smile more freely; you exude joy and peace because you are comfortable in your own skin. Basking in the love of a special someone, it's as though you actually are more physically beautiful because you suddenly believe that you are.

To paraphrase John and Stasi Eldredge in Captivating, a woman's beauty truly shows (interestingly enough) when she is NOT striving to be attractive. Beauty, they say, is unveiled. It is not put on when we dress up or apply more makeup. How beautifully ironic that genuine beauty comes out naturally--through confidence, peacefulness and feeling loved--not through anything we can add to ourselves.

So the coveted "secret" to being beautiful is found not in working hard to become so, but in becoming what you already are.

“What if you have a genuine and captivating beauty that is marred only by your striving?” -Stasi Eldredge

I am both convicted and saddened that I have spent so much of my young life striving to fix my flaws and conjure up false beauty, only to neglect to unveil the beauty already inside me.

In my current state, I can't deny that the greatest temptations I'm fighting at the moment are striving and seduction ("I'll take S-Words for 300, Alex..." A lil nod to all you SNL Celebrity Jeopardy fans). I admit that I am very much struggling with my desire for male attention--the extreme irony of which compelled me to write this post tonight.

It's ironic, you see, because just a few months ago, in the midst of being pursued, I was all too aware that I was always being noticed by other men around me. While I did nothing to invite their looks and advances, the sexual attention seemed a constant companion. I wasn't aiming for eyes to be on me, yet I could sense just how attractive I was to so many men simply because I genuinely felt beautiful. Feeling truly sought after by one special man, I couldn't help but allow the beauty inside me to overflow freely to the whole world...

But that was then. Today, I am plagued by those aforementioned S-words (along with a slew of others...sin, selfishness, spiritual warfare...just to name a few). If I'm completely honest, at present it is a battle to believe I am beautiful. I strive and seduce in attempts to prove my attractiveness, which (incidentally) gets me nowhere because any attractiveness conjured is simply "put on." It is no longer my own beauty...

And when I'm even more honest, I can admit that that extra effort (striving) is only exerted because I am afraid. Afraid that I am not (beautiful) enough. I am convicted to the core, because I know that that fear can mean only one thing: Agape love has not yet been perfected in me. Because if I really knew I was loved, I wouldn't be afraid. The radically perfect love of my Father would destroy those petty fears. Soaking up His unfathomable desire for me, I would be able to surrender all my efforts to gain favor and turn heads. I would be content in knowing who I am. I would freely allow beauty to shine through me without shame. My prayer is that I would come to have deeper faith in that kind of Love.

Lord, help me sense Your relentless pursuit of me. Allow me to see myself the way You see me. Let me live as a woman who knows she is loved...

"For the LORD your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears..."

-Zephaniah 3:17

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


"We live in a generation of not being in love and not being together. 
But we sure make it feel like we're together..."

-Drake, "Doing It Wrong"

I never thought I'd be the kinda girl who finds transformative revelation in a rap song. Yet, this lyric haunts me. This has been much of my relational experience throughout my twenties--developing "friendlationships" marked by intense emotional investment, devoid of commitment. Relationships where we certainly acted like we were together, but we were "just friends" all along. So, when I share my dating/crush/relationships stories, it's not your typical list. Well-versed in the ways of the "DTR" and having experienced my fair share of heartbreak without actual break-ups, I know all about pseudo-boyfriends

"I am a whore, I do confess..." says Derek Webb in his brilliant spiritual allegory "Wedding Dress." Lately, I find myself singing that line under my breath...

Because I know it's absolutely true. While I have been dilligent to maintain my physical purity, I desperately wish that I had transferred that self-control into emotional abstinence as well. I have given myself away more times than I care to count. I have loved "uncarefully"--which is both beautiful and essential for living out true the true Agape love we are called to as believers. Yet, when improperly motivated and guided, "uncareful love" can easily become foolish. There is a difference between loving "uncarefully" and flat-out "carelessly." 

I know I'm being careless with my love when I completely disregard the still small voice that prompts me to hold back, to slow down...to walk in wisdom. When my heart gets wrapped up in a person or situation (romantic or otherwise), the communicator in me runs around passionately wild and (often) unrestrained. Likewise, the relator in me so longs to connect with others that I begin to confess without contemplation. Lacking the proper restraint and reflection, the actions that stem from pure and well-intentioned desires quickly turn sinful, selfish and frankly, stupid. In neglecting some pretty significant fruits of the Spirit (namely patience and self control), I so easily toss wisdom to the wind. Wisdom like Proverbs 10:19 that reminds me that "Too much talk leads to sin. Be sensible and keep your mouth shut." Oh, snap. When I turned my back on wisdom, foolishness was all too happy to step in and take it's place. 

When I throw away those key Holy Spirit fruits, it's not like I'm completely fruitless...I've just acquired different fruits in my life. Rotten ones, unfortunately. I've discovered that the fruit of foolishness is heartbreak. And the thing that sucks is that I can clearly see my own foolishness in the whole pseudo-boyfriend process...now that my heart is broken.

My hope is that my hindsight can at least save someone else from the heart-break of foolish decisions...

Because I know I'm not the only one with an affinity (clearly subconsciously) for the psedo-boyfriend. Nearly all of my girlfriends have told me stories. Note "stories" with an "s." We usually haven't recognized this negative pattern until several such "friendlationships" have been unintentionally collected under our belts...or more accurately, ushered naively (albeit excitedly) into our hearts.

What does "pseudo-boyfriend" look like, you ask? Well, here is the amalgam I've created from my own fake BF's, along with characteristics recently (and repeatedly!) mentioned by friends. (Sad but true fact: Pretty much every single girl I know has or is currently getting over a pseudo-boyfriend at the moment. Goes to show that even us smart girls can make some dumb decisions...).

Profile of a Pseudo-Boyfriend/Friendlationship:

-Constant communication (texting, FB, Skype, etc), deep conversations and confessing/counseling each other through emotional/spiritual struggles.

-Looking to each other for emotional fulfilment and companionship (investing a lot of time into getting to know and developing significant friendship with the other person). Of course you have other friends, but there is no denying that you both gravitate towards each other's company/listening ear more often than with other people.

-Romantic expression/tension--engaging in flirting, casual inuendo (don't act so holy, you Christians...) and talking about your mutual attraction to one another. This romantic element may or may not involve a physical relationship ("friends with benefits" definitely falls under the pseudo-boyfriend category in my opinion).

Hmmm...sounds like a real relationship, doesn't it?

So, now is the prime time to ask: If you have this kind of "friendship" with an attractive member of the opposite sex, why AREN'T you dating?

My recent revelation is that there is only one thing separates the fake version from the actual boyfriend. Forgive the anti-climactic answer, but that one (key!) thing is COMMITMENT. Rather, the pseudo-boyfriend exhibiting a complete lack there-of (forgive the stereotype, but 9 times out of 10, this falls on the guy. Read on...).

Many a pseudo-boyfriend has made lame excuses for this lack of commitment, including the infamous lines of "I'm just not ready for a relationship" or "I just think of you like a sister."

Ha! That's kind of hilarious, boys...Not ready for a relationship, but willing to be so vulnerable with your heart and allow a girl to freely share hers with you (via deep conversation)? Denying attraction, but willing to invest hours to keep her companionship--typically accompanying that friendship with blatant (intentional?) romantic/sexual undertones? (Who's the tease now?)

Um, yeah. About that...

Lest I digress and turn this into a male-bashing fest (I'm not that girl...), allow me to turn the tables on the ladies and share a lil truth in love (to myself included). While the pseudo-boyfriend status is typically generated by the guy in the "friendlationship" (as the man, he is, after all, the one with "the say" as to whether or not he wants to truly pursue and commit), us girls are in the wrong when we stoop to going along with it.

We might not consider ourselves insecure or lacking self-respect, yet that's exactly what we are when we allow ourselves to settle for such relationships. Instead of picking up our Superfox-selves and moving on to someone worthy, we come up with a myriad of excuses for pseudo-boyfriend's lack of pursuit and commitment. 

Step back for a minute, however, and it suddenly all becomes clear: When we are willing to invest, but he isn't willing to commit, we are being used for the emotional and/or physical benefits we are so freely giving away to these men.

And by staying in these friendlationships, we're giving the okay to be sucked dry emotionally or taken advantage of physically. (Although we say that we're the ones in control and that it's not hurting us emotionally to stay in the friendship, just try telling that to the alcohol and ice cream in the aftermath of the "break up"...).

I always prided myself on not settling when it comes to men and relationships. But what the heck else is the pseudo-boyfriend if not settling for a romantic-looking/seeming relationship without making it necessary for him to commit to me?

Ladies, listen to me: WE ARE SETTLING when we give so much of our time, caring and the deepest parts of our heart to men who won't work to woo us. The sad reality is, in these situations of subtle settling, these men don't even need to exert any effort to win us. We have already exposed ourselves--speaking too quickly and allowing them access to our hearts without question. They really did have us at "Hello." At the first spark of interest, we held little to nothing back...

But here is an even greater truth: You and I don't have to live in guilt about our mistakes in this area. We don't have to keep on settling for pseudo-boyfriends and fake relationships. We need to be confident of what the Lord has destined and designed godly relationships to be. We need to know what we are worth...

As daughters of the Almighty King, we are worth being treated with love and respect. We deserve to have bold, godly men who have the emotional strength and Spirit-led confidence to pursue us. We deserve men who are willing to commit to exclusive relationships, forsaking all other possibilities and choosing to trust God's ability to transform them into strong leaders, even when they don't feel "ready." We deserve men who consistently express care for us, showing us that they genuinely can love us like Christ--with actions faithfully marked by servanthood and sacrifice.

And I know, without a doubt, that these men exist. The Lord has been so faithful to show me them EVERYWHERE (yes, even in Sacramento!). Yet, my problem comes when I rush ahead--when I don't wait to be pursued, but instead, seek to turn a friendship into something more by my own effort.

I've come to realize that I am settling even if the man I'm interested in is amazing, but I'm the one in control. Because is that really what I want? To have to convince the man of my dreams--my "list" in flesh and blood form--why he should be with me? Of course not! There is no greater form of "settling," in my opinion, than feeling like I was the one who made the relationship happen....

Call me old-fashioned, but I'm a romantic. I want the man to know it's me. I want him to pursue me and commit to me, not because I pressured him into it, but because he knows in his heart that I am the only one he wants.

So, farewell, pseudo-boyfriends. The "man drama" that has jokingly (albeit truthfully) marked my life over the last year is a thing of the past: I know what I am worth. I know what I want.

And what I truly want is what God wants for me: The best. All in His timing and by His leading.

I won't settle for anything less...

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Pints of Beer and Ben & Jerry's

"Breakups hurt like a motherf*#ker, but they are not the end of the world. The pain is only temporary, and if handled properly, they can even be life-changing. Our goal is to help you turn your breakup into the event that changes your life for the better. After all, you are a Superfox..."

-Intro to "It's Called a Breakup Because It's Broken"

This past summer, when The Virgin Verdict was yet in mere infancy, a friend handed me this book (subtitled "The Smart Girl's Break-Up Buddy"), suggesting I read it and come up with some humorous little review/tongue-in-cheek commentary/incredibly profound post regarding a worldly perspective vs. a Biblical perspective of breaking up.

Well, the book I read (after all, I was on the job hunt back then. Free time was a beautifully abundant thing...). And I must say, "It's Called a Breakup Because It's Broken" was hilarious, sad and revelatory, all at the same time. Despite it's fascinating content, however, I quickly dismissed the thought of writing a post about it. After all, I wasn't even in a relationship at the time, let alone experiencing the immediate intensity of post-breakup pain. Would I truly be able to do such a post justice, two years removed from such an incident? 

Little did I know, six months after reading that book, I would be in desperate need of some emotional Superglue for my freshly broken heart. Upon re-examining both "Break-Up Buddy"'s sassy advice and the Bible's sound wisdom, here goes my suddenly relevant take on brokenness and loss...

If you ever pick up a copy of "It's Called a Break-Up Because It's Broken" at your local bookstore (or, more realistically, seek out your virtual copy while perusing Amazon.com), you can't help but smile at the cartoon photo on the cover. Here...I'll help you with the visual...

What better image to symbolize a break-up than a pint of Ben & Jerry's? Hahaha! It makes me think of the brilliant (albeit brief) scene in Bride Wars where Anne Hathaway calls several of her closest friends the minute she gets engaged. The camera quickly shifts to one of the girls on the other end of the line--happily congratulating her friend in an excited tone, whilst simultaneously reaching into the freezer to grab some remedial Mint Chocolate Chip. I laugh and cringe at the same time, knowing this is exactly what we so often do. To assuage the pain of rejection, crushed dreams or our own seeming "failure" in light of the relational success of others (i.e. "Always the bridesmaid, never the bride..." struggles), we indulge ourselves in any and every kind of comfort we can get our hands-on. Take the pint, for instance, whether it's beer or Ben & Jerry's, food and alcohol seem to be the most common rescuers to run to post-break up. They make us happy. They make us forget.

At least for temporarily...

But even if we're not binging or getting buzzed, I can guarantee that we're finding comfort in other (equally unhealthy) ways. Maybe we're devoting hours and hours to working out, in attempts to perfect the imperfect bodies we assume might be the cause of the rejection. Maybe we're sleep the days away, seeking solace in self-pity and escape. And maybe still, we're clinging to the ever tried and true break-up advice: "The best way to get over someone is to..." (If you don't know the ending of that clever little cliche, I'll let your clever little self figure it out on your own. Just think about the opposite of getting over someone. Literally...).

As I survey that little list, I am ashamed to admit that images bombard my mind of me doing every single one of those things lately...although certainly not to the extreme. I am, after all, a Christian ;)

Seriously, though, in the past two months, I have become all too aware of my very un-Christian methods of coping in my brokeness...all of which can be excused as "just normal" and "not that bad" compared to what the rest of non-believing society does when they call it quits. Sure, I'm not getting drunk, but I know that that glass of wine becomes more signficantly soothing when my heart hurts. And clearly (seeing as I haven't changed the title of my blog), I haven't actually indulged in that last cheeky coping mechanism. Even still, I can't deny my shameless flirting and search for "replacement options" a mere 30-minutes post "the talk" (yes, it happened that quickly...). 

These are the world's ways--just tempered by a bit of self-control and restrained by conviction.

The Bible calls these things idols--the "other lovers" we run to in exchange for the One that can truly comfort our hearts. And never, I'm convinced, do we come more face to face with our idols, than in our brokenness.

Just when I thought I was consistently committed to walking with God and finding my comfort in Him alone, upon losing someone I love--being rejected by a person I deeply care about--I suddenly realized just what I was really allowing to uphold me. Yes, some of it was the Lord. I was still seeking Him reguarly and consistently ministering to others. Yet, I also realize that so much of my foundation at that time was built on the presence of this other person. Even a few weeks removed from the "break up" (the reason for the quotes is a whole other post in and of itself), I could see just how much my comfort, emotional well-being and confidence were wrapped up in a mere man.

On the heels of the revelation that this man was really an idol in my life, came the revelation of my frantic search to run to anything and everything to find comfort for the dissolving of my primary source of comfort. Let me just say that those two revelations are not pretty: Realizing that, even as a believer, your hope has not (at least in a practical sense) been fully in God...and to make matters worse, once you recognize your (false sense of) hope is lost, you run to anything BUT God to ease the pain.

Bleh...I really DO need a Saviour...

Despite what "Break Up Buddy" assures me (that I am a Superfox and the guy who rejected me is an idiot), I know that I need truth more substantial than cute cliches to boost my confidence. I need comfort deeper and more lasting than booze, brownies or body sculpting can provide. And I know that time won't actually heal my wounds--just lessen the sting until the fateful day when I unexpectedly run into my old comfort in the embrace of someone new--and the pain suddenly resurfaces. The world's hope ceners itself on these things--self-esteem, comfort, distraction and the passing of time to distance us from our hurt. Funny how all those "hopes" are fluxuating and finite. Each can, and inevitably will, dissapoint as it slowly loses it's power to make things better.

But I know that I know that true Hope does not dissapoint. I am convinced that inner healing from the Holy Spirit is not only real, but that it can transform us completely. As we are submitted to Him and His ways, the Lord is subtlely but most certainly at work in themidst of our painful experiences, using them to mold us into truer reflections of His Son.

It may be "called a break up because it is broken," but I know brokenness doesn't have to be in vain...

"The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed."

-Psalm 34:18