Liking What Someone Else Likes…

Michael, my best friend and neighbor growing up, and I spent quite a few summers hanging out. Whether with our Legos on the stairs at his house or with our baseball bats and tennis balls having a home run derby in my grandpa’s backyard, we had a lot of fun times. Yet there was something Michael did early on in our friendship, something I was reminded of while reading Sheldon Vanauken’s A Severe Mercy. I know it was something he did because I was way too selfish to even think of it: he implemented a rule that we would always trade off in our activities. We took turns in doing what the other wanted to do.

Andrea and I taking a seat with the Valentes in Florida.
Andrea and I taking a seat with the Valentes in Florida (From left to right: Margrit, Andrea, Francesca, Amy, Michael, and me).

Once Michael and his family moved away, this rule had soon been forgotten. I did try to keep it going, but be it different friends or the teenage inclination to be independent (or at least attempt to be), it simply died away. I still did things that others wanted to do, but not nearly as often and without the conscious realization that it was someone else’s idea and not my own.

What Sheldon Vanauken points out in his description of his love for his wife (or as they described their love, “The Shining Barrier”) is something behind the rule Michael had implemented: the art and discipline of liking what someone else likes. Sheldon says, “Our thesis that if one of us liked something there must be something to like about it which the other could find was proved again and again,” by their constant practice of doing things together (38).

In very few words, Sheldon describes the remedy to the selfish nature: discerning precisely why the other likes something different – maybe even contrary – to what one likes. An example might be me liking the Oregon State Beavers – or at least trying to. Honestly, it wouldn’t be so difficult… until they played the Ducks. Then I’d be really hard-pressed to see what Beaver fans see when going against the Ducks. And yet, if I somehow manage to marry a Beaver believer, this is something I know I will want to do; I know that I’ll want to see what she sees so that I may know her better.

It changes the way I see things I do like, but also the things I do not like. Instead of demonizing it or mentally writing it out as irrelevant or beneath me, I’m now compelled to attempt to see the other side – to see what’s likable about it. Even after sifting over it and trying to see what someone else sees, I still might not like it. But at the very least, I’ll have a deeper understanding of what might be likable about it.

Thinking in this way makes it much easier to hang out with other people. It makes it much easier to, as Jesus says we should, love my neighbor as myself and treat them they way I want to be treated. Spending time to invest in the things others like to do is investing in them as people. For example, if a friend really loves going to concerts, it’d be investing in them to join them in going to a concert; not only would I be spending time hanging out with them, but I’d be learning what they like on a more experiential level. I’d see first hand what it is about concerts that gets them excited. And heck, maybe I’d start to enjoy it, too?

Learning to like what someone else likes isn’t reserved for married couples or couples in general; it’s a practical means of growing closer to a friend. One of the things Michael liked to do that I didn’t was go fishing – particularly with his dad. But there was at least one day where we all went fishing together. I recall spending most of the time on the playground nearby, but what I remember most clearly is seeing Michael sitting next to his dad, Eddie, as he taught Michael how to fish. For a kid without a father, getting to see those awesome moments of another’s life is an experience you can’t buy. I wouldn’t have seen that, though, if I did what I wanted to do and stayed home.

Me, Eddie, and Michael posing for a pic in Florida.
Me, Eddie, and Michael posing for a pic in Florida (yes, I still have that hat).

Honestly, much is risked in doing something that you’ve never done before. You’re vulnerable, out of your comfort zone, and at a bit of a loss on how to do whatever it is you’re about to do (like me and fishing). It requires humility and admitting that you don’t know something. But consider the alternative: if you stick to your guns and do your own thing, you’ll wind up entirely and completely alone and not in a good way. When God looked upon Adam in Genesis 2, He said it wasn’t good that he was alone. Sure, He then created a wife for Adam, but the ultimate truth is that it isn’t good for any of us to live our lives alone. We’ll have moments to ourselves and oftentimes find ourselves alone (I’m alone in my apartment as I write this), but we’ll still have people we care about and people who care about us. We’ll have close friends and family that will make us feel as though we weren’t alone even when we actually are.

Finally, I don’t think one ought to the things that someone else likes just to receive wisdom, knowledge, and experience. One ought to do what others like because one likes them and wants to show it. I went fishing with Michael and his dad not only because of the rule, but also because I liked hanging out with Michael. Despite all that was going on in my life at the time, hanging out with Michael and his family was one of the best parts of my childhood.

Love others as you want to be loved. If you like something, chances are they like something. Find out what it is and why it is they love it. In so doing not only will you love them as you want to be loved, but as God has already loved you.

God bless.

It’s Not About You…

I almost didn’t go to Cross Training last night. Of course, it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve missed it this year – heck, not even this month. But my reasoning last night as to why I didn’t want to go was different than every other week. It was much more personal.

Every year around Valentine’s Day, Tony takes a week or two to discuss sex and relationships. Last week he brought in a guest speaker, Clint, to speak about sex and I imagine it was a good message (like I said, attendance has been minimal). But this week it was his turn and he decided to talk about relationships. And that’s why I didn’t want to go: I don’t like to talk about relationships.

Why then talk about them now? Because I had a good heart-to-heart with God a few hours before Cross Training last night and it ultimately influenced me to go. You see it all starts with this deep, oftentimes uncontrollable, desire to marry. I want a wife. I want kids. I want to be someone I didn’t often see growing up: A loving husband and father. Part of the struggle with this desire is that I’m very impatient. Like the Bad Lip Reading of Jim Harbaugh, I’m oftentimes this frustrated, whiny little kid complaining about how he hasn’t had a girlfriend ever and that he’s waited so long and blah, blah, blah.

Usually every time someone asks about if I’m seeing anyone or why I might not be interested in a particular girl, this issue of mine comes to the surface. In those conversations, I quickly clam up and either give short answers or don’t answer at all. And no matter what might happen throughout the rest of the day, all I’m thinking about is how I wish I had someone to get all cuddly with for movies or get excited and giggly when someone asks me about her. And every time I feel that desire, I’m brought to the reality that I don’t have it. It upsets me.

So when the time came to go to Cross Training and hear about how relationships are supposed to work and relive all the frustrations of being single, I sat down with God to explain to Him why I didn’t want to go. I started with the shame and guilt that I feel for having hurt girls in the past. And then I talked about all the times I had been hurt when opening my heart to someone and hearing them tell me how they don’t feel the same. And before I could get to my persuasive conclusion as to why I was justified in not attending last night’s Cross Training, I could hear God whisper to me: “It’s not about you.”

Yes, this sounds insensitive, but you have no idea how much freer I feel having heard that. Why? Because what God pointed me to last night wasn’t something that makes me feel worthless; He pointed me to something that gives me every bit of confidence in the world. He pointed me to the Gospel.

In the past couple of weeks, a group of us from Emmaus Life have been going through this book called the Tangible Kingdom Primer. Its focus is obviously God’s kingdom and what has – not surprisingly – come up time and time again is the definition of the Gospel. What is it? Is it a ticket to heaven because of some prayer we pray or statement of faith we sign off on? Is it a checklist of various things God wants us to believe and do in order for us to earn His favor? Or is it a self-help phrase that we should use in order to get over our depression and insecurities? Well, yes, it’s partially those things, but definitely not limited to them. It is believing in the redemptive actions of Jesus on the cross as a model to follow in our every day lives.

What were those redemptive actions? Yes, He was flogged and then crucified, but that’s not what I’m talking about. What happened before that? He healed, He taught, He fed people, and He washed His disciples’ feet. In His time, that was a job reserved for the slaves of slaves – the lowest of the low – not for kings. And yet here Jesus was in John 13 stooping down to clean the feet that followed Him.

His sacrifice on the cross must never be minimized from what it was and is: Our atonement. But a king’s intentional death is meant to wake people up and consider the life the king lived – after all, how else could you truly understand what the king died for the in first place?

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many,” – Matthew 20:26-28

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me,” – Matthew 16:24

Jesus’ Gospel is about nothing else but service and sacrifice. And no, He does not mean serving yourself or sacrificing for yourself; He means to imply that it is not about you, but rather the people who need you.

“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest,’” – Matthew 9:36-38

And this is a message that applies to everyone – even the single hopeful-romantics like me. Being a good coworker, friend, or spouse doesn’t begin when you realize what you want; it begins when you realize what you must give.

God bless.

Relational 401k’s…

Several things came together this morning at church.

As some of you may know, I’ve been going phone-calls-only for the whole month of January (possibly longer) whenever I need/want to talk to someone. No Facebook chat, no chatting via Twitter (although this one isn’t really an issue), and no chatting through texts. If I need to ask someone if dinner is still on for a particular night, I give them a call. If they don’t answer, I don’t hang up and text them; I leave a message.

The first few days were a bit challenging. Several times I would find myself mustering the courage to call someone when I’m not really ready to talk to anybody. With as uncomfortable as I may have been, however, that’s exactly the sort of thing I’m shooting for with this goal; get into the habit of communicating at a human level, especially when I’m inconvenienced. And yet God challenged things a bit deeper this morning. In a word, the message was “community.” But the particular aspect I found challenging was this thing called “investing.”

I recently started a Roth 401k through my job and talked to several different financial advisors about “investments” and percentages and profits and a whole bunch of other business words that gave me a headache. The idea is you put a certain percentage of your paycheck into an account and the company matches that percentage (up to a certain point – usually 3%). Incorporated into the whole mix are these things called mutual funds. You select which level of aggression of a plan you’d prefer (levels differentiated by how much you’d like to invest in stocks, savings, etc.) and the smart financial advisors put together all the right stock options that’ll make you a profit on your money. You pay a certain amount upfront with the intention of receiving more in return.

Scott talked a bit about investments this morning. Only, he talked about relational investing; paying time, money, or energy to invest into a relationship (either romantic or just as friends) that will reward us with additional happiness. He then talked about how, when such an investment falls through, people back out of those relationships almost completely. Or as Scott said, when someone gets hurt by another church member or has a personal struggle they don’t want to deal with, they leave for another church – or stop going altogether. In other words, they cut their losses and go.

This struck me today because what I’ve discovered throughout all the phone calls I’ve made is that I’m reinvesting into friendships I haven’t touched for a while. For instance, my friend Jeff sent me a message on Facebook asking about a missing camera. Instead of replying via Facebook, I called him. We ended up talking for a good twenty or thirty minutes catching up on how things were going. A similar thing happened when my friend Connor called asking me a specific question about the Bible. And again this afternoon when I called my roommate who was getting back from Arizona – and again tonight when I was called by an old friend scheduling a dinner for this week. 3% at a time with each person, I was reinvesting into each friendship.

What I find the stark difference between financial investments and relational investments is that you can back out of one and be perfectly fine, but to back out of the other every time they go wrong will actually ruin you. If you simply avoid friendships because you’ve been hurt by one or a particular friendship has gotten serious and extremely-personal things have to be shared, then you’re never actually going to grow as a person. It’s like reading a novel up to the point where things get dangerous for the characters, then moving on to an entirely new novel; you’ll never know how each story ends, let alone how they got through the dangerous stuff. And those are the parts of the story that you truly remember.

Proverbs 11:25 says, “A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” Contextually speaking, yeah, the author’s probably talking about money. But in light of what God’s been teaching me and what Scott talked about this morning, can you see how this might apply to the relational investments you’ve made? I’ve certainly been refreshed by the friends I’ve talked to over the past few days – just by talking to them. They did nothing more than pick up the phone when I called them and yet that somehow cheered me up. Can you imagine what would happen if I spent more time with my church outside of Sunday morning? Can you imagine if we got dinners or watched movies or simply hung out together? Relationships can hurt you, I know. But relationships can also heal you. Especially the Christ-based relationships.

Scott has talked a lot about our decision-making processes that revolve largely around some form of security: job, financial (sort of the same thing, but it can be different), social (only hanging out with people who make you feel comfortable), or even geographical. What I feel God has challenged me with this morning is to find the areas of my friendships where I’m relying on a safety net. And once I’ve found those various safety nets, just cut them. An example might be when I’m with a friend who’s proven himself trustworthy, but for some reason I haven’t talked about my worst struggles or fears; God would want me to talk about those things. God wants that safety net gone.

As I said earlier, with financial investments, cutting your losses and moving on is oftentimes needed. But it cannot be the default mode we have when things get tough with our friendships – especially with church friendships. Like Scott said this morning, the church should be the place people turn to in order to deal with whatever thing they have going on; not the place they run from. We can do our part by not running from our friends to ignore our problems; oftentimes, our friends are the very ones we need.

If 401ks are all about saving money for when you retire, then relational 401ks should be all about building friendships for when you need them most – and when they need you, too. But instead of 3%, invest 100%, even if you get nothing out of it – as loving your neighbor as yourself implies.

God bless.

Closing Loopholes for 2013…

I wonder if there have ever been any kids to question not Santa’s existence, but the contract they’ve apparently been placed under? If they’re good (to Santa’s standards), they get gifts. If they’re bad, they get coal. But what if, my five-year-old mind asks, there was something better than Santa? Who says that I have to submit to Santa’s terms and conditions, especially when my grandpa gave me better gifts?

I think this whole concept of being good in order to receive gifts is a prime example of our American mindset: We like to set up contracts. In school, work, buying a car or a house, or even setting up a phone plan; contracts are used pretty much every where we go. Even looking at my Crossway ESV Study Bible I find a page indicating all the copyrights Crossway has held. Doesn’t matter that it’s a Bible; there’s still a contract.

I can’t knock them because they’re useful. In many ways, they’re for our benefit to have these contracts set up and outlined in the most specific terms possible – just so that every detail is covered and that nobody involved with the contract gets cheated. “Everybody wins” is the idea, more or less. What I do find problematic, though, is that this contractual way of thinking has become a framework in which we oftentimes approach God. “I will commit to…” we might say, but what we might be thinking after that is, “… insofar as it doesn’t cost me more than this.”

Our personal covenants with God become contracts with pages and pages of fine print that nobody ever wants to read. And yet it’s there because we tend to want a fallback plan. In case things get serious or out of hand, we want that fine print there to act as our loophole; our way out. “I will commit [amount of money] to God this year insofar as I make [amount of money].” I believe God finds such claims utterly ridiculous.

I say all of this because New Years Eve is right around the corner. It’s the time of year where many, many people (including myself) make “commitments” to various things for the entire year. And yet when it comes time to actually practice those things, we might carry them out, but only for a while. When I think back to previous resolutions, I realize that I only practiced those resolutions for maybe a month or two. Somewhere along the way, I found a loophole to the contract I made with myself and took a break. It was a break that lasted until the next resolution.

What if we cut that condition-making mindset? What if we set up our resolutions with a condition of no conditions? What would it look like if we were actually committed to a contract we made with God or with each other that we actually have to carry out regardless of circumstances? Well, that’s my goal for this year. And that’s my one condition for 2013’s resolution: Under no circumstances am I allowed to slack off or back out of the things I’ve included in my resolution.

Such a sole condition disables any loopholes that I in my lazy state might use just so that I don’t have to do the things that I’d said I’d do. I’m writing all of this in a public form just so that I’d have some degree of accountability. Granted, having someone in person to act as an accountability partner might be more effective, but be that is it may, there are certain commitments I’d like more people to know about:

1. Read more Scripture…

Compared to some people, it might seem like I read a lot of Scripture. But honestly, I haven’t read all that much in recent months. It needs to change. Charissa Lamb (Scott’s wife) talked about this a while back that if she doesn’t get some Scripture-reading in by 10am, she feels physically different. Having gone on reading streaks that ebb and flow at varying points, I’d have to say that I agree. It’s a subtle difference in how I feel, but it’s there.

2.  Read more books…

Sort of an extension of reading more Scripture, but yet brings its own benefits. Sometimes we could use a healthy dose of a different perspective on different passages of Scripture. And oftentimes we find these different perspectives in various books that we might read in addition to Scripture. Beyond offering different perspectives, reading more books helps to improve vocabulary, which helps improve writing.

3.  Journal more…

I originally had this as #2 on my list, but the more I think about it, I have more to write about if I’ve been reading more, like I said above. Not only does my vocabulary increase, but so does my word count. Last night I browsed through my electronic journal to see how many pages I’ve written within the last year. Sadly, the number is only 57. When I was a junior in college I was consistently on a pace of 220 pages per year. Granted, I’m no longer in college and therefore have less free time, but still, a writer needs to write.

4.  Blog more…

In my first year of blogging, I had written over 100 posts. This post is #288 in a little over three years of blogging, which is less than a 100 posts per year. Blogging is different than journaling because it offers some public light into personal thoughts. Journaling is needed, too, obviously, because it offers a safe space to throw whatever is on my mind onto paper. But, like reading various books, I oftentimes need a different perspective on my thoughts.

My main reason for writing blogs, though, is to encourage whoever might stumble upon it. And given the various responses I’ve had (literally from all over the world) I’m finding that sometimes some people somewhere in the world like to read what I’ve written. So in a way, it’s a commitment I’m making to whoever might read these posts.

5.  Give more…

Scott Lamb challenged us (Emmaus Life) with this question earlier this morning: How much do we actually give? In can be to each other, to the church, to random people in need – whoever; how much do we actually give? When I think of how much I’ve “tithed” within the last year, I realize that it’s probably been less than 1%. Sure, I’m working a wage job that pays me a little better than minimum and I have a ton of student loan debt, but I don’t want to hide behind that. I don’t want that to be a loophole for what I should be doing.

6.  Apply to Western Seminary…

This was on my list a couple years ago, but I never committed to it. I got some brochures and some emails from a recruiter (Brian LePort, very awesome dude), but beyond that I didn’t do much. I didn’t apply. And yet now, since I’ve been away from church leadership, I’ve been more eager to go back to school and study Scripture with people who’ve studied it way more than I have. And it’d be cool to learn Greek and Hebrew.

7.  Ask a girl out…

I’ve been single for a while and I might actually keep my room and car clean if there was a girl I was trying to impress. Also, I caught the garter at the last wedding I attended. That’s saying something, right?

All of the above is my resolution for 2013. And if I had to include a second condition to the condition of no conditions (paradox; not contradiction), it’d be that all of the above begins today. Writing out a New Year’s Resolution and waiting until New Years to start it is sort of like saying, “I’ll start this tomorrow.” Personally, I think if you’re led to change something about yourself, the sooner the better. You just might need all the inspiration and momentum you can get, so start it right away and don’t look back. It’s just like Bilbo when he left the Shire in The Hobbit; he didn’t have time to pack all his things and prepare for his journey. He just took off. And he took off running.

My hope with this is to have various people from varying parts of the U.S. and the world to sort of keep me committed to what I’ve laid out here. It’s like I was talking about earlier, if I am truly committed to all these things, I could use more watchful eyes to make sure I don’t fall back from these commitments. I don’t want to make the mistake of backing out of something I’ve committed to. It’s like Jesus said, “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No,’” – Matthew 5:37. Or as James says, “But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your ‘yes’ be yes and your ‘no’ be no,” – 5:12.

Hope this helps as you consider your own resolutions. Feel free to comment on mine.

God bless.

Sharing My Baggage: Reflections After Three Years of Blogging…

Entering into my fourth year in college back in the fall of 2009, I thought I should do something different. I had been writing Facebook notes for a number of years prior to that year, but felt the need to take my writing elsewhere. After some mechanical mishaps with Blogger.com, I posted my first blog on WordPress.com, thus beginning Cushman’s Chronicles.

Of course, though, I was alive for 22 years before this day in 2009, so this blog hasn’t really been a chronicle of my life in the strictest sense. But it has been a place where the public has been able to see my past being processed as I move forward with God and with life. It has been a place where I’ve shared my fears and failures, tears and heartaches, but also my laughter and joy. Reflecting back on this journey I’ve had with God, blogging has been a major part of it all.

Writing, in general, has been a major element to my walk with the Lord, but blogging has added something to it. Ever since the spring term of my freshman year, I’ve kept a digital journal on my laptop. Set at 9 point font, single-spaced, with half-inch margins in Times New Roman, I’ve accumulated over 700 pages of events (big and small), emotions, and downright boredom. And with the exception of a handful of people, no one has ever read any of that stuff.

What blogging does is force me to share my thoughts in a way that might be understandable to someone who doesn’t know me. Of course this means I’ve had plenty of conversations with myself as I sound out my words a little more carefully so that I minimize the amount of confusion (keyword: minimize). What’s also included – in fact, required – in a journal-esque blogging style is vulnerability.

In my non-fiction creative writing class in the spring of ’09, we were taught to ask ourselves “What does this piece cost me?” In other words, what do I share with my audience of roughly 900 people or more (between Facebook & Twitter) that is rather private information – or at least information that surrenders a large part of my pride? Of course, this is also honesty, but sometimes you can be honest with people and never show any sense of vulnerability. And if there’s no vulnerability, there will never be humility.

In a way, blogging has been a tangible practice of keeping me accountable – to God and to the people who read my words. If I write in here about how I constantly live a perfect Christian life, but then go from WordPress to a porn site, I would not be honest with my readers. And if a practice like this kept going for some time, I’d start to lose all sense of God’s presence. As far as I’m concerned, a life without God is no life at all.

No, it doesn’t mean that I’m supposed to share every failure I’ve ever committed – I think I’d have twice as many blog posts if it did. But what it does mean is that when I’m sharing my thoughts on God and how we’re supposed to walk with Him, I’m very much aware of my own humanity and my own tendencies to mess things up. It’s taken some time to develop – much longer than it should – but it’s there. It isn’t complete by any means, either, but it’s there.

What this has looked like in actual practice – this being vulnerable thing – is that when I talk about desiring marriage through what feels like a long season of solitude, I’m more than aware of those who’ve had longer seasons of being single. Or when I talk about more controversial subjects such as inerrancy and reveal how it’s not a major doctrine in my walk with God (not even a little), I’m more than aware of those who value inerrancy – who have a stronger faith in God because of it. In a way, writing for this blog has enabled me to see another’s perspective – much more than before.

When I first started this blog, I didn’t have much of a goal. I knew I wanted people to read my thoughts on a lot of different things, but I didn’t really have any agenda with it all. I just wrote. Over the years, though, it’s been my goal to write a message with each post. Like a sermon? Kind of. I think it’s more like a sermon that is publicly shared, but intended for myself. It’s a public window into my more personal moments with God.

Obviously, this can’t be done very effectively if I’m not out living a normal life – gathering with the church, praying with fellow brothers and sisters, and serving in other ways apart from writing. But like each of those things (prayer, fellowship, ministry), blogging requires commitment. Not only do I have to sit down and write out the post, but I have to edit it. Sometimes I may even have to rewrite it. As a byproduct, though, it’s caused me to become more diligent and disciplined in my private studies of Scripture and prayers with God.

Blogging hasn’t saved my life. I wasn’t on a dark and lonely road heading directly into depression when I typed up my first post. But there have been quite a few moments where blogging – sitting down to publicly share a personal part of my life – has kept me moving forward, toward God. There have been moments where I felt so guilty and ashamed of the things I had done that I wanted to give up entirely and walk away – from God, from church, from everything. And then I sat down, started typing some words in my journal, and received a blog idea as I typed. From there, once I started blogging, I was back on track.

Writing for this blog – and by extension anyone who reads this – has challenged me in ways I had never dreamed of. And I imagine and hope that it will for many more years to come. God knows that a lot of my emotions and fears and thoughts would still be pent up inside of me if I hadn’t started sharing them with the world. So on this blog’s third birthday, I’d like to thank all those who have read and/or continue to read the stuff I write. Sharing what’s in my baggage with you all has been, in many ways, therapeutic.

Thank you and God bless.

Being Single Through Wedding Season…

I’ve never had a real girlfriend. Back in middle school there were a couple girls I “dated,” but let’s be honest; holding hands once or twice in a matter of five days isn’t really dating. Then in high school there was a girl I had “dated,” but there again, we only saw each other twice in the 6 days we were dating. And then she dumped me in a note during lunch.

For a single guy like me who struggles with how to even approach women, wedding season is pretty rough. Each newly-wed couple seems to have it all together; it just seems so easy for them to make things work. Sure, appearances aren’t everything. But they somehow got to the altar in the first place, didn’t they? They must be doing something right.

It frustrates me that I don’t know what that “something” is. Is it money? A six-pack? A bribe with lots and lots candy? I have no clue. In my world, it seems like every married man has some sort of secret knowledge that I don’t; like there’s some sort of code that I was supposed to learn in the fifth grade but didn’t because I was too busy playing with Legos. And every time I try to figure it out only leads to more and more frustration.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m happy for all my friends who’ve recently gotten married (eight couples that I can think of this year, so far). But each time another couple of friends get married I can’t help but wonder why I’m still single. It often feels like I’m doing something wrong.

When I start to feel that I’m doing something wrong, I either give up altogether and try to live the single life permanently or I start to feel sorry for myself and believe that I’m not meant for marriage. Neither of these is a good attitude to have. No, I’m not saying living the single life is a bad thing; I’m saying that allowing yourself to be controlled by your frustration and/or depression is a bad thing. And unfortunately, I often struggle with both.

In First Corinthians 7, Paul actually does say that it is better not to marry – not to say it’s a sin to marry, but to say that one’s worries and concerns are far fewer unmarried than married. And I would love to buy into Paul’s words except one thing: I want a wife.

I want to hold her hand when we walk; I want to snuggle up together on cold nights; and I want to show her my two left feet on the dance floor. I want to laugh with her, cry with her, pray with her, and seek God with her. I want a wife not simply for the purpose of not being alone, but for the purpose of experience life intimately with a girl. I want to see what a walk with God looks like through her eyes.

I’ve expressed this before (and apparently can’t express it enough), but I don’t like to write these sorts of posts because it usually leads to the same thing: People disregarding what I have to say here and simply encourage me with sayings like “You’ll find her some day, buddy” or somebody tries to set me up with one of their friends. If I wanted that stuff, I’d join an online dating site. But I don’t want any of this to be manufactured; I want to meet her when and how God wants me to. No sooner. No later.

In the meantime, though, I’m left to find a way to press on through the wedding seasons. It isn’t so easy with all of what I want mixing with all of what I don’t know about relationships. That is, of course, if I don’t pay attention to the weddings I attend.

With how different one wedding can be from another, there is still at least one commonality: A deep, unspoken friendship between the bride and groom. Every man or woman I know who has gotten hitched this year has had such an intimate, quirky friendship with their spouse. This friendship doesn’t make them any less of themselves than what they were when they were single, but rather more of themselves. Some way, somehow, their spouse brings out every small thing that identifies them as them. For instance, Kevin VanLoo just married Kara Meeuwsen (now VanLoo) yesterday. Kevin has always been a goof ball, but when he’s around Kara, he’s even more of a goofball. And she loves him for it.

He’s also been every bit of a Godly man and, just like his goofiness, even more so when Kara’s around. Spouses aren’t meant for us to stay the same, but, by pursuing God together, make us into the best possible versions of ourselves.

For a single guy like me, all I can do at this point is sigh and continue to pursue God. Most importantly, though, I must pursue God as myself – not faking any part of it, but seeking to improve every part of it. If I’m to find a wife worthy of a life-long relationship, I’m going to want her to fall in love with who I really am, not who I pretend to be.

Congratulations to all those who have gotten married or are getting married this wedding season!

And for those single men and women like me: Press on to know the Lord!

God bless.

Being Single on Valentine’s Day…

I’m taking a break from Facebook for a while. No, it’s not like I’m deleting my Facebook and then coming back several months later; I’m just not going to log in for a bit. For one thing, I need a break. I’ve gotten into the habit of spending a large amount of time checking old statuses from years past, browsing through my newsfeed to see what everyone’s been up to (without directly asking them), and basically wasting time from other important things like cleaning my room and doing my taxes. For another thing, next Tuesday is Valentine’s Day, which means countless Facebook updates leading up to and through then.

V-Day frustrates me. For the couples out there, it’s the one day you’re supposed to do something for your loved one. But the way I see it, if you’re in any kind of committed relationship, you ought to be doing something every day for your loved one – you know, to build for the long-haul of the relationship? And for the singles like me, it’s the day you’re supposed to take some sort of “leap of faith” and get your crush some flowers and candy in the hopes of winning her over. I’ve tried that. It doesn’t work.

And yet neither of these reasons is the cause of my Facebook vacation. I’m taking a break because I don’t really want to be reminded that I’m still single. I know, I’m supposed to be content with being single – and that’s exactly why I’m trying to avoid the reminders. For some reason, I’m just not happy about the fact that I’m still single.

You see, about a year ago I wrote a post entitled “Season of Solitude.” When I wrote it, I sincerely believed that I’d be close to dating somebody within the next year. But ever since writing that post, I’ve been challenged with the idea of living out my days without ever marrying.

And please, don’t jump to say, “You’ll find somebody eventually; just hang in there.” That doesn’t help either. That’s not what I’m getting at. My challenge isn’t just to “hang in there”; it’s to live my life as if marriage wasn’t even an option. It’s like God’s asking me, “Can you see yourself being 50, 60, or maybe even 70 years old, single and content?”

Psalm 23 begins, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” Given my deep desire to find a woman to spend the rest of my days with, this is a tough passage to swallow. What is says to me (and maybe I’m wrong for thinking this) is that I’m not quite content with God. You see, I have a disagreement with God when marriage gets brought up. If God were to audibly tell me that it’s not His plan for me to marry, I’d probably walk away. And I know for a fact that’s not how my heart is supposed to be.

If I was truly content with God, then wouldn’t I be content? Wouldn’t I be saying the words, “I shall not want” and really mean them? Perhaps I’m wrong; maybe the desire to marry comes from walking with God. But I don’t think that’s true for me: I’ve wanted a wife long before I started following God. When all the things that this world has to offer are considered, finding a wife is probably the only thing I care about. After reading through the tough passages in Scripture, I find that I cannot be okay with this.

When I listen to the prominent pastors of our Christian society, I actually don’t hear very much about celibacy and how one could glorify God through that lifestyle. And yet I have no doubt that any one of them would say you certainly could and should glorify God through a life of solitude. But even so, they don’t write books about it. In fact, it’s just the opposite. They write books about marriage instead.

I point this out because I often think that celibacy – devoting one’s life solely to God and the work that He has commanded them – gets cast in a negative light. People might start thinking you’re trying to be a Catholic priest or a nun and Lord knows He doesn’t want His Protestants doing that… (sarcasm).

In all seriousness, though, I don’t hear much talk about living an entire life single. At best I’ve heard about people getting married “late,” like in their 40s or 50s, but they’re still getting married. They didn’t die a bachelor. And yet Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 7 should not be overlooked: “I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife,” (26-27). That’s a tough pill to swallow.

Yes, I understand Paul also says it’s better to marry than to burn with passion. But I don’t want to overlook what’s being said about celibacy because he brings up a very clear point: One’s priorities are divided if married – especially raising a family. I’m not saying it’s not the same for singles; just pointing out that a married man has more to focus on than an unmarried man – usually. And given that Paul, Jesus, and plenty of other Biblical characters lived and died as single men, it’s probably best that I don’t ignore celibacy as an option.

Truth be told, I don’t want to die a single man. But the closer I grow with God, the more I realize life isn’t about what I want. It’s about what He wants. And if we genuinely trust Him as a loving Father (says a fatherless kid who clearly has some trust issues), then we are compelled to believe that no matter what the circumstances may be, God always wants the best for us – even if we don’t.

I wrote this a week before V-Day because I wanted to encourage my single brothers and sisters to think this thing through. I know that I need to make some changes in my heart about how I approach the subject of marriage. But what do you think about being single for the rest of your life? Do you think you can do it? Or are you like me, a little resistant to possibly letting go of the desire to marry?

(Facebook users please use the comment section on my blog; I may not be on for several weeks maybe even months, so I won’t see what comments you might make on the Facebook links. Thanks).