for the Perpetually-Single Christ-Following Dudes in the World, Episode 6: If Perpetual Really Means Perpetual
I don't like platitudes. Do you know what it's like? You know, to have that one friend or friend group that can't seem to help but react to your problems by throwing up rainbows all over you? They can't help but exude positivity. Positivity is great, but somehow they manage shoot you in the face with it.
I haven't been on an actual date since... I think early 2013? I've been on some ambiguously-defined hangs that I totally wanted to be dates, but I was too afraid to step out and define them (#regrets), so I hesitate to say that counts; I don't think it does. But I have been asked several times whether or not I'd met anyone. Every time, I've had to say no. Granted, I've definitely had some crushes, but again, I refused to act because I listened to fear.
I hate that conversation. First of all, I hate that I have to answer it the way I do. As if I don't think about it enough, someone else has to bring it up and make me look at it all over again. I get that people who care about you just want to know that your life is going well, and hopefully really well if you've met someone. However, I don't think people always understand or think about the fact that some of us feel this aspect of our lives more heavily than others.
But do you know what I hate most about that conversation?
Nine times out of ten, it ends with a platitude.
Platitudes get under my skin enough as it is, but one cuts worse than the rest.
"You'll find someone."
You'll find someone.
Like, you sure about that?
Like, do you know something I don't?
Those are some things I think but have to bite my tongue until it nearly bleeds to keep it from speaking them.
I won't pretend that when it comes up I'm completely objective about my response. I'm not. Matter of fact, I think these words hit a relatively weak nerve where my self-worth resides. Part of the reason I decided to write this, though, is to gain some objectivity.
Thing is, it's really hard to remain objective when people spout platitudes. They often feel condescending. They sidestep issues in favor of blind hope. They overlook the darkness we feel as though it does not exist. At least, it feels like it.
When I think about it, I feel indignant.
I feel indignant toward people speaking about things they can't prove. They have no evidence, only theories. Granted, they usually qualify what they've said by telling me good qualities that they see in me, which is reassuring about me but not about my circumstances. I am me, I will always be me, and I will always be learning more about me. Circumstances, however, actually change rather than unfolding. At least, they can. That doesn't mean they will.
I feel indignant toward people I can no longer relate to because they are experiencing a relationship I'm not. I'm happy for them, but sometimes I feel like there's a wall going up, a separation. It's not that I want to be in a relationship just because my friends are, and it's not like they're suddenly not my friends. It's the simple fact that everything changes. Their attention shifts, and rightfully so. Their priorities shift, and rightfully so. Hopefully, they never disappear completely, but things start to fade. They're on a different planet with different physics, different life, and I can't be there. I want to be in a relationship when it's real, and I do want my friends to experience that in their lives. I just don't want to lose anymore, even if it's just losing one form of friendship to another form of it. And I certainly don't enjoy having something I want dangling in front of my face, provoking my mind to taunt itself.
I feel indignant toward God because nine times out of ten, I don't see any reason why things should be as they are. (Oh. That's another one. "Everything happens for a reason." Yeah, not true. I'll circle back to this one.) I know that God is sovereign and benevolent, but just as easily as any normal human being, I look up at the sky and ask, "Where are You?" Not only am I aware of fact that I'm lonely and want that to change, I feel like the one person who could snap His fingers and make everything better, won't. And trust me, this isn't the only circumstance about which I question the presence, the love, of He who defines and embodies love.
I feel indignant. Some days, it's manageable. Other days, I wake up, and it's like the house of my soul is on fire. Then there's this other voice that's telling me a different story.
You may feel indignant toward people speaking about things that they can't prove, but even though they don't know if you'll ever find someone, you don't either. It's not just that you don't know that you'll find someone. You also don't know that you won't. Sometimes, it's hard to tell whether or not hope is real or false. That's a huge thing I struggle with. I can think of at least two specific crushes I had that I didn't act upon because I was afraid that my hope was false. I slipped into despair, and rather than saying how I felt in an attempt to find out whether or not my hope was true or not, I kept silent. I'll never know if it would have worked out, but in silence, nothing works out. In silence, nothing did work out.
You may feel indignant toward people you think you can no longer relate to because they are experiencing a relationship you are not... but you're wrong. Some things change, but not everything has to. And even though that may be true, what makes you think your dating/married friends don't feel the same way? They know that their lives are going to change, and they are also having to give up the form of life they knew for a new form. Jesus said that a wise man counts the cost of building a tower before he starts. It's a quote Switchfoot uses in their song "Hello Hurricane." Jon Foreman says to the hurricane, "You can't silence my love." I think that's exactly how people feel when they step closer and closer to marriage. They count the cost, and they consider the one they love worth everything they could possibly lose and then some. It's hard to see things from that angle sometimes, but if you've had friends for a long enough time, you'll know that the closest and truest ones will not just disappear, even when they feel distant. Even though the friendship changes form, true friendship can't be broken.
You may feel indignant toward God because nine times out of ten, you don't see any reason why things should be as they are... See, this is normally the part where people start reciting the gospel and saying, "Well, if Jesus died for you, don't you think God loves you?" And that's normally the part where I give that person the yes-I-know-but-thanks-for-ignoring-my-struggle-anyway look. To be honest, I don't really have a good answer for this one. I can't tell you why God works how He does. I can't tell you why He won't fix poverty, why He won't fix corrupt governments, why He won't fix bullies, or why chooses to let any of us be single when so many of us have the deepest of longings to find another soul to love with all our hearts. I don't know, and I'm sorry that I don't.
I do know that we aren't promised much.
We aren't promised the love of a spouse, but we are promised the love of the maker of the universe.
We aren't promised riches, but we are promised eternal life and peace through Jesus because of the cross and the resurrection.
We aren't promised that He will make any of our circumstances better or easier, but we are promised that He will empower us with with His Spirit to usher change into the world.
So here comes the not-easy part...
What if there isn't someone for you?
Even when we don't necessarily believe we'll find someone, the idea that we could is almost tangible enough that to seriously consider that we maybe won't find someone... it leaves you with an almost ominous silence. It's a hard question to answer. There is little mental energy left to think because we're often trying to hold back the flood of every consequent thought that this one question unleashes.
"Who will see me through hard moments?"
"What am I really contributing to anyone's life in a significant way?"
But wait... Jesus will. Jesus will see me through hard moments. Jesus was there through the hardest nights. He was there comforting me with His promises when it seemed like even family didn't know I existed. When my circumstances had overwhelmed me to the point that I wanted to take my life, Jesus' promise that life was much bigger than what I could see of my circumstances--that carried me through, even though I didn't always believe it. I knew love like His was more perfect than any of the perfect lies I'd ever been told. Selflessness like that can never be matched.
And what about contributing Jesus? He gave Himself to me, and now I have Him to give to others.
Jesus is the one who gives me a purpose. In fact, He is my purpose. Any tangible purpose I have in this life is subject to His greater purpose in me.
Your purpose doesn't suddenly change because you're married or not. The details may be different, but your purpose in life is to be a conduit to others for Jesus and the love He has given us. That doesn't change if you're single when you die. That doesn't change if you're married when you die.
Even when we hope for things in this life, including finding a spouse, a spouse can never provide what Christ provides. If it can't keep carrying you, it isn't hope, at least not sustaining hope. You can hope for someone, but your hope cannot be sustained by the proposition or the actualization of finding a wife. Only Christ can provide sustaining hope.
Regardless of what most people may think, it's okay to stare into the void. As a matter of fact, it's better that way. You can't really appreciate hope until you've experienced despair and been shown the way out. And you cannot be shown the way out of despair if you aren't willing to admit that you are deep in it.
It's okay to grieve the fact that, yes, you could die alone. It's okay to not want to be cheered up by kind words. I know they can seem less than genuine sometimes. It's easy to say you'll find someone. It is easy to say that hope in Christ is more powerful than the slow death of the familiar, including our dreams of how our lives should go. It is not always easy to believe. It's the times when you can't see how things are going to turn out, yet still push forward and still hold onto some sense of hope, that you know faith is real. That isn't easy, nor does it feel like it.
So are we willing to accept the possibility? Maybe things are as bad as they seem. Maybe for some of us, "perpetually single" really does mean perpetually single. I don't know. I hate not knowing, and I hate despair, but I love that my despair could be wrong. And I love that even if I'm not wrong about my despair, Jesus is my hope. He is my life, my reason, everything. Even when I'm full of sorrow, He will bring life from it.
P.S.: Here are some pro tips.
Don't shove "hope" down people's throats. The "shoving" part automatically makes it not hope. Hope has to be authentic, honest. That can't happen when you're pushing an agenda to force someone to think a certain way about their problems, and when you're engaging the problems more than the person.
The most important thing you can do for someone in pain isn't to invalidate their pain, but to just be there in the despair of the one you want to comfort. Offer your sorrow (not pity, sorrow). Offer your shoulder. Ask if they want to talk about it. Matter of fact, if you must talk at all, just ask questions. Ask how they're dealing with things. Ask them to help you understand what they're going through. Whatever you do, don't push it. Don't shine a blinding light into their eyes because they will just recoil. Your friendship itself is a candle, and it can be enough for the moment.
Don't tell someone to do anything. Don't suggest anything without their permission. It's also really helpful to start off your suggestion like, "Do you think maybe..." or, "What do you think about..." That way, rather than glossing over a person and their problems and beating an intellectual nail into their heads, you're actually engaging the person and showing them that you acknowledge their suffering. That's the most important thing. If you don't show a person how much you care, it doesn't matter what you have to say. You have a choice to positively affect a person or not. Everyone needs encouragement, but we need to learn boundaries so that we can respect others' feelings.
Even if people react negatively at first, people do want hope. Everyone needs encouragement sometimes, but believing in hope can take time, and trite platitudes aren't a great faith-building tool. I'm not trying to be a jerk, but a lot of people just don't think about these things. So go forth, and be an awesome friend to someone. :)