“Everyone’s been scared to death of dying here alone.”—Switchfoot, “Easier Than Love,” Nothing Is Sound, 2005
One of my best friends recently married his long-time girlfriend, and another is soon to follow.
I met both of these guys around the same time roughly eight years ago. Both are musicians, one gone professional, one just for leisure. Both of them are really cool dudes. We’ve walked through darkness together, and we’ve found light together. We’ve all felt the deep sting of post-Waffle House indigestion. You’ll need a special level of antacids after the all-star special.
I’ve always been really excited watching the growth of these two brothers in Christ as they’ve walked through the relationships they’re in. I’ve seen them grow in maturity, in faith, in the ability to love another human being. It’s a beautiful thing, if not the most beautiful thing to watch, second only to seeing a person grow into the person Christ made them to be from what our sin twisted us into.
Yet despite the joy of this convergence of lives, I feel awful.
I remember sitting at the bridal party’s table. As happy as I was that after six years together they finally tied the knot, I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmingly sorry for myself. Lucky me, I had a gargantuan plate of macaroni and cheese from the buffet to comfort me.
(Macaroni and cheese is the best thing. Just sayin’…)
In the midst of one of the most joyous occasions, though I was also joyful, I was sorrowful. I was painfully aware of my singleness. The couples, the dancing, the music—all of it was great, but it was all revolving around the union of souls. It was undeniably beautiful, but I was undeniably aching for it.
One thing that I loved about this particular wedding was that there was such a huge acknowledgment of Christ being the point of it all. I was honored to have presented a reading that had been planned for the ceremony, a reading from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. You probably know the one: “Wives, submit to your husbands… husbands, love your wives…” and usually, people stop there because usually, people are using this passage as leverage in arguments toward their spouse. You know the one: “If you would listen to me I could love you more!” only to be rebutted with, “If you actually loved me, it would be easier to listen to you!” Thus spins the hamster wheel of egocentric marriages that pretend to be Christ-centered.
The passage does go on, though. “This is a great mystery, but understand that when I’m going on and on about marriage here, I’m actually speaking to you about the church,” is basically how Paul ended that part of his letter (I may have paraphrased).
You see, marriage isn’t just about the ones being wed. It isn’t just about the union of two human souls. It’s actually a lot more about being sewn back into our maker.
This is a lot more complicated than “I attended a wedding and felt really awful that I’m single.” It’s not just that I’m making it more complicated, but it is more complicated because my feelings about marriage have to do with my view of God. They are interwoven in a way that God completely intended because He has always intended us to be in a relationship with Him and understand it more fully through marriage. That’s how He tends to do things—designing the things of this world to reflect the things of His.
So, back to the story. Back to figuring out what in the world I was thinking and feeling.
It isn’t exactly, “Why not me?” I know the world doesn’t revolve around me.
It definitely isn’t, “Why you?” I’m so glad my friends have found their someones, and they deserve it.
Actually, maybe it is, “Why not me?” at least a little. That, coupled with the fact that not more than two weeks earlier, I had suffered the sting of rejection yet again (though to be fair, I totally knew it was coming, but I still had to put myself out there for my own sanity’s sake), which points back to the same question.
Is something wrong with me? So many things, but everyone has something wrong with them.
Is something especially wrong with me? Does it actually matter?
Even though I ask the question, though, maybe—just maybe—it has absolutely nothing to do with me.
Maybe it doesn’t even have to do with anyone else.
Not the people who have relationships.
Not the people who don’t.
When I don’t think about it too much, it feels a lot like jealousy, and it can become that. But would I ever want to starve my friends of the best human relationship they’ll ever have? No way! When I think about it, even if I were jealous of someone, I wouldn’t actually want to harm them or deprive them, not even if I want what they have. So it’s actually not jealousy. It’s something different.
It isn’t a fault that they have what I want. It isn’t even a fault that I want what they have. You’re supposed to want good things in life. You’re even supposed to find those things.
Thing is, sometimes, you don’t.
(This is the part where it sounds like I’m totally digressing, but I’m totally not.)
I’ve been noticing lately that our lives are like strings on a guitar or violin. They’re floppy without enough tension, and prone to break with too much. In either case, they don’t produce the sound they’re supposed to. The right amount of tension makes them resound long and strong, though.
In the same way, there is a balance of tension that I don’t think we understand anymore. It’s there in many things, but it’s especially prevalent when we’re looking for a significant other.
On one hand, sometimes we’re being pulled too hard to get out there and be attached. Literally every corner of media and culture hits romance at some point, or at least some semblance of what used to be love, even if it’s now warped and distorted. We’re surrounded by the thought, our hearts practically at gunpoint.
On the other, sometimes we’re not being pulled hard enough, leaving us barely able to make a sound and not sure what to do when someone comes along. The subject is often diminished by being busy, chasing careers, or even things like not wanting to share time with another person.
In an opposite way, sometimes we’re being pressured to stay out of a relationship when we really feel the need to get ourselves out there. Whether it’s issues of self-worth, fear that you won’t be ready enough, whatever.
The pressure is everywhere. The tension is high at all times.
But it takes two anchor points to create tension on a guitar string. One point may be the people we’re surrounded by, but the other point is us.
One point is fixed, immovable. It’s literally just an anchor point. The other is a tuner. It’s something where you have control. The fixed point is the people we’re connected to, whom we definitely can’t and shouldn’t control. The tuner is us. We may not be able to stop society from sending signals about who we should be or what we should do, but we can definitely change ourselves and learn better ways to handle the pressure.
We see people around us entering into relationships and finding the joy that they’re meant to find, and we want the same thing for ourselves. That’s actually a really good thing. We should be able to see the good things going on in the lives of others, and it should inspire us to do the same. Too often, though, it’s at a great cost.
Too often, looking for something good means doing whatever it takes to get there. We date people we’d rather not. We change things we shouldn’t change about ourselves. We compromise convictions. We stay at the surface rather than digging deep into the souls we find.
Too often, people just turn into placeholders, possessions, things we hope will fill a void we feel in our lives, but if you read my recent blog “Moving On,” you know that:
“[…] you shouldn’t pursue one person to get over another. It’s using a person as a cheap drug. Neither should you try to get over one person to pursue the other. It’s dishonest, which the world needs less of. Mixed motives simply do not allow relationships to thrive. You should do what you do because it’s right, and because you want to do things right, and make them right when you didn’t do them right.”
Too often, we see that void and think that things or people other than Christ can fill them, that anything else will satisfy. And even if they do satisfy needs in our lives, they’re needs that God built into us so that we could understand His relationship to us more clearly. So they’re not needs supplied by those we meet but by God Himself.
Too often, we make our quests more about finding a state of equilibrium, about being normal when compared to those we see, than about truly finding someone we should be with or would even want to be with.
Too often, we don’t even know that we’ve done this. We allow the differences in us and those around us to define us in such a way that we see those differences as more than mere differences.
Too often, we see the differences and jump to the conclusion, often unconsciously, that there is a problem. And it’s certainly possible, but that’s often not the case. The differences in ourselves and others don’t by default imply that there’s something wrong with the state we’re in. Most of the time, it just means we haven’t reached the same part of our own journeys as individuals. We’re not even the same people. Forgive me for stating the obvious, but how can unique individuals ever expect that every single chapter of their lives, or any chapter at all, will ever line up with anyone else’s story? You don’t have to be “normal” to be healthy. “Different” doesn’t have to mean “disgusting.”
It’s so easy to see the good things that others have, see that we lack the same things, and allow that void to consume us. But it’s really a self-created void if it’s self-consuming. If God wants to fill our lives with something, He will make a place for it and make a way for it to happen, and to happen awesomely. When God carves out an area of our lives, He fills it with Himself, with the Holy Spirit, and may draw other things in. When He does, that’s beautiful, and those things enhance our lives. But when we carve out areas of our lives, we’re just cutting out pieces of ourselves that we have no way of filling on our own. The damage we do when we cut out pieces of ourselves, we have no way of undoing because we aren’t the masters of souls. If we don’t really know how to take apart our hearts, how are we supposed to know how to put them back together?
That’s what happens when we let the pressure we feel tell us what we “have to do” in order to be complete. And it’s ironic that the same pressure teaches us to cut those holes in our hearts, meaning that we were whole before we started listening to the pressure. It’s the pressure that has caused us to become incomplete. We leave scars on our personalities, the kind that remind us that we were incapable of making ourselves become what we thought we should be when we decided to alter what we were meant to be. We couldn’t fulfill the messages our culture sends. We couldn’t be what they wanted.
It feels really awful when things seem like they’re meant to be a certain way, but our circumstances seem diametrically opposed to that. So we push back against the apparent opposition, which often isn’t even opposition at all, but the perception of it. When we push back, we often create versions of ourselves that are not genuine—mutilated forms of what we were—offering them to others rather than the real us.
But there is good news.
There is a definitive list of things we have to do.
It’s completely empty.
You don’t have to get out of bed in the morning.
You don’t have to go to school.
You don’t have to work.
You don’t have to pack a lunch.
You don’t have to visit people you don’t like.
You don’t have to watch sports you don’t like.
You don’t have to wear some snazzy thing to impress anyone.
You don’t even have to breathe if you really don’t want to (not recommended).
You don’t actually have to do anything if you don’t want to.
You don’t actually have a reason to do anything if the consequences aren’t what you want them to be.
But you probably should do the things that have great consequences and avoid the things that have bad consequences.
You don’t have to get into something you’re not ready for.
You don’t have to be with someone you don’t want.
You don’t have to be with someone just because they’re available.
You don’t have to be single just because you’re scared of messing things up. In fact, not being aware that you’ll mess things up—that will probably mess things up even more. At least then you’re conscious of your flaws and the other person’s feelings and making them a priority.
This pressure you feel from society, from your family, from your friends, from yourself, from anywhere—it is all 100% made up. It is imaginary. It’s the monster under the bed. You will not be crushed anymore than the next person for being single. It hurts sometimes. Okay, just kidding; it hurts a lot of the time, at least if you’re me. But you aren’t forsaken, and you’re not destroyed, and you aren’t any less worth loving just because in your journey following Christ, He might not have brought you across the person you’ll walk the rest of your journey with… yet…
And even by the off-chance that it never happens, your life isn’t suddenly without meaning. That’s a false pressure, too. Your worth comes from being created well and being sacrificially loved by the everlasting, ever-loving God of all. He took that pressure away. You don’t have to lose yourself in the search for love. If Christ’s love is the love you seek above any other, that will definitely help. Maybe it won’t make things easier, but it will strengthen you and remind you that your worth and your destiny are much bigger than anything anyone other than God has to offer.
You don’t have to be with anyone. It’s okay to want to be, but nobody is forcing you to do it. The pressure is off. Take a breath. Crash on the couch. It’s a good life, even if it’s just you for now.