for the Perpetually-Single Christ-Following Dudes in the World, Episode 8: Brave
I'm finally closing this chapter.
I've wasted a lot of time here.
I'm angry about that.
I'm not angry at myself. I'm just angry that it happened when it didn't need to...
... except it did need to.
When I reflect on my relationship history, it's hard to miss the utter mess it was.
I've never liked being alone in any sense. Anyone can probably relate to that. I've always craved the company of friends. Being in a crowd of people even if I don't know them makes me comfortable. I love having an audience, not because I want to be the center of attention but because I have a lot I want to share with people.
It's only when I need to concentrate or rest or study or read or pray or meditate on the Word or grieve that I want to be alone, and even then it's only because I have to. At the end of the day, nobody else has to deal with my thoughts, my restlessness, my fears. There's a certain level of comfort and help a friend can offer, but ultimately, dealing with any part of life is my decision, not theirs.
In episode 7, I talked about how easy it is to let relationships become an idol, and ultimately that it is ourselves that we make the idol. Hang onto that thought. It's going to be important here.
I think the biggest idol I have is a need to be safe.
As much as I crave the company of others in many capacities, I learned early on that people aren't safe. That's a dangerous lesson to learn for an extrovert. When I was in elementary school, bullies taught me that I couldn't trust people my age. When I was in middle school, my parents separating multiple times taught me I couldn't trust the people who were meant to train me in God's ways. When I was in high school, legalistic religious hypocrites taught me I might not even be able to trust God.
Oh, and I already didn't trust girls. For the most part, they didn't know I existed. The ones who did thought I was gross, and I maybe had a couple that were kind of friends-ish... and that's in total after about 14 years of being alive. Because even though relationships aren't as central to your life at that age, it still matters, and it still affects you.
But I'd never actually, you know, dated one.
Then suddenly, I did.
Understand the shoes I was in. Every other type of relationship had basically let me down. This was by my estimation the one shot I had left at having an actual tangible connection with another human being.
(Translation: I was desperate in every possible way for closeness. So I got into a relationship that was definitely not the right relationship to be in to begin with. The desperation only made it worse.)
Then it ended five months later.
Then I wanted to die. Literally. Not even the over-dramatic 16-year-old wanna-die-but-not-really kind. The willing-to-do-something-about-it kind. I was alone with my desperation again, and I didn't want to be. I didn't want to be.
Then God intervened. He placed specific people in my life that led me to a place where I could see Him for who He truly is, and that the entire time I was looking for a way to not be alone, He was the one I needed, and that He had been there the whole time. A relationship with the one who made me was the exact thing I was missing. By June 2009, I finally believed Jesus is who He said He is, and that's when I believe my journey with Him truly began.
He brought me so far from where I'd been, even into His salvation.
But guess what.
I still had something to learn, and I had no idea how hard it would be to learn.
"Arrogance and fear still keep you from learning the simplest and most significant lesson of all... It's not about you."
-- the Ancient One, Doctor Strange (2016)
The thing I hate most about following Christ is that when He's trying to lead you out of places and mindsets and sins, a lot of times, it takes pain to make it happen. So He gave me pain.
I didn't understand at the time how any good could come of pain, especially when losing a friend was the way it came, but God knew what was going to come of it, and He was right to let it happen.
I know I'm not the only one who has been left behind because He had feelings for someone. I was never alone in that sense, nor was I alone in the sense that God had left me because He never does. I was just highly conscious of this one specific way in which I was alone.
The irony of it is that even though by all rights in a perfect world that shouldn't have happened, and even though the pain was understandable, I needed that loss and the pain that accompanied it. The very thing I wasted years of my life resenting was the very thing I needed.
Pain is the very thing we often try to avoid, but pain is just a natural part of removing what doesn't belong in your life. Some of you probably think I'm saying she didn't belong in my life. I'm not. I'm talking about my view of relationships. They have always been the idol that hung on the most. It takes the absence of your idols to be able to see clearly the presence of God. It took the absence of safety, even of her friendship, to see the presence of God.
See, in the end, the irony is that it was never about her... and now you're probably thinking, "Wait, what?" I'll explain.
It was about me. I didn't think it was, but it was. I liked her, but I was too afraid of what I would lose (and ultimately did) to say anything. I never said anything until she asked, and that was the night that I lost her. But saying nothing was for my safety, not for her anything.
I said nothing because I was afraid, but in saying nothing, I hid the real me, which starves even basic friendships, let alone anything more. Not being real and honest is the opposite of what God intended for us. So was sin, but in a world that has fallen, even honesty comes with risks. Authenticity can get you stabbed in the heart. Locking yourself away can seem like the only viable solution to protect yourself, especially the more times you get hurt and the more ways it happens.
For the longest time, I tormented myself over how I could have made things different, what I could have done to keep me from losing her. At one point, I wondered if I had been the one to say I liked her rather than her asking me if I did, if that would have been the thing that saved our friendship. What if I had been willing to be more upfront, open, and honest about how I felt? What if I had taken the risk instead of hiding? What if I had just been brave enough? Would that have changed anything? Probably not... but that doesn't really matter. What matters is that I hid, but I still got hurt.
It's noble to want to protect the heart God gave you, and you do have a responsibility to do that inasmuch as you can... but ultimately, even if you do everything you possibly can to guard your heart, it's still up to God to keep your heart safe. Eventually, protecting your heart becomes little more than an excuse to hide from what you fear, rather than surrender that fear to the God who can overcome it.
What's more is that you’re not protecting your heart by not telling people how you feel. You’re actually poisoning it. You're keeping something inside that's meant to be let out. You can always get back up from rejection, but you can’t move past a choice you never made... at least not until you learn what it takes to move on: bravery.
When you refuse to move past something, your whole life tends to suffer. Colors turn dull. Career choices aren't nurtured. Opportunities aren't taken. You could say I'm an extreme case of this. Even though I moved past resenting her a decent amount of time ago, I didn't move past the fear of losing. How ironic it is that by refusing to let go of the fear of loss, I have lost years that I could have spent doing what God called me to do. For example, I felt the call to pursue full-time worship leadership for the church. Yet for fear that I was wrong about that direction and would therefore fail, I didn't pursue it. Until roughly a year ago, when I took my first taste of bravery, I was doing nothing to truly walk the path God had laid out for me.
As much as you miss by hiding, though, wanting to hide is a sign that you actually do value yourself. After all, you're just trying to protect yourself. But what it actually says is that you think the other person is out to get you, regardless of who they are, that they have a problem, that their motives are ugly. Whether or not you mean it that way, it's often taken that way. That is a natural end of that thought path.
Sometimes, that's an assumption about one person, but it often becomes an assumption about people in general. When you think that way, it may seem like you've formed an opinion about others (and you have); but really you've mostly formed an unspoken opinion about yourself: that causing you pain is the main purpose of others' relationships with you. It paints you as automatically good and them as automatically bad, which is pretty narcissistic. Not only that, but holding this mindset renders you completely incapable of seeing any human soul as truly beautiful.
A simple assumption about things you don't even know can completely disable you from having relationships with others. How can you know what's really going on in someone's heart unless you get brave enough to open yours up and ask? It's tempting to stand at a distance, maybe even wait to see some kind of sign of interest you can read (which, yes, generally there are signs, but when you're wrapped up in your own emotions, sometimes it's hard to tell), but nobody is a fully-open book. And either way, why do they have to approach you? What more obligation do they have than you do to make it obvious? Are you interested in them, or are you interested in whether or not you can get them?
Don't concern yourself with being able to read whether or not someone likes you. If you're basing your actions on what you can read, that's neither brave nor honest. It's manipulative because it is evidence of a need to control the people in your circumstances. If that's what you're concerned with, honestly, you probably don't really like them to begin with. You're more concerned with what you can get and whether or not you can tell than you are with the person themselves. It may be that you care more about whether or not they are attainable than being sure you give them everything you've got.
But maybe it's not all about control. Maybe it's not truly a heart that wants to manipulate. Maybe you really do like someone, but you want to be in control of the safety of your own heart more than you want to be with them... It hurts to even consider that we could claim to love yet prize ourselves above the ones we claim to want. If you're ever going to join worlds with someone, you have to start somewhere, right? But if you're more concerned about what you could lose than what you could gain, you're placing more value on what you possess than whom you care for.
Once you've stopped and considered whether it's really that person you're after, make a choice. Risk nothing and lose the possibility, or risk everything and potentially lose a friendship. "Die in love [or] live in fear." This is one of many things you can't have both ways. You have to choose.
I chose wrong.
I chose to hide how I felt, but I still got hurt. It wasn't my fault that I got hurt. It was my fault that I stayed hurt. Because I chose to hide rather than be brave, I never took a risk on her. I never truly showed her that I cared. Even though it probably wouldn't have changed the outcome of things, it would have changed my heart. Maybe I wouldn't have held a grudge. Maybe I would have gotten on with my life quicker.
The thing people miss about bravery is that it's not about what you can endure or what you're afraid of. Fear is about you, not the thing you fear. So to conquer fear, we must conquer ourselves. We must conquer the need to have things our way. We must conquer the need to save everything, including friendships, including the idea of relationships, when it is God's alone to save what He will. And we often aren't given the details of what He has next for us.
It's the unknown, the uncharted, the hidden, the darkness, the realms that remain to be discovered, that He calls us into. His love cannot cast out the fear we refuse to acknowledge or step into. It's easy to do in theory, but at some point, you have to actually step into what you fear in order to truly see what His love is capable of.
About a year ago, I had this crush. She was one of those people who leaves an impression. You know the kind. But I deduced that I was probably not thinking straight, that my feelings were probably one-sided. Yet for some reason, I couldn't just let it go. I went on for months without saying anything. Then one day, it was all just too much to hide anymore. It was too much to be stuck wondering if my feelings were right or my deductions, if my desires were true or my doubts.
For the first time in a long time, I decided to be brave. I knew I could be wrong. I knew I could lose her. It happened once, and it could have happened again. In my experience, it's too awkward for people. They just walk away. But I couldn't stand not being sure. So I took a leap... Turns out I was right about being wrong. She didn't see me that way. But it also turned out that just as much as I didn't want to lose her, she didn't want to lose me. If anything, we became better friends on the other side of the situation.
Ultimately, if you like someone, it doesn't matter whether or not you can tell if they like you back. You have to deal with your own feelings. If you can't read them, or if you're not sure, so what? Do something about it for your own sanity. You don't have a clue until you say something. You can speculate all you want, read people all you want, but without hard proof, you are clueless. And that fact will wreck you quicker than anyone else could in response to you saying something. If only for this reason, be brave.
There are much greater reasons, though. I know it's not easy to get things right in this fallen world, but it shouldn't come down to being wrecked with uncertainty to make you say something. Say something because it's right to be honest about how you feel. Say something because you want them to know just how well you think of them. Say something so they know how amazing they are, how important they are to you. Say something because they deserve a chance just as much as you do.
Maybe you lose them. Maybe you don't. Both have happened. But that's their choice. If they have a problem with you, that's theirs to deal with. Unless you did something wrong, that's not on you... but none of this means you should stop being brave.
If you haven't already, eventually you will meet someone so amazing that you aren't even sure they actually exist. You will be too afraid of losing them to say anything if you're wrong, but you will be too afraid to let them go to say nothing if you're right.
That's the great thing about that person. They make you brave, or at least show you how brave you've always been. They leave such an impression that your fear, which is more about you than them, is cast out and replaced by love, which is more about them than you.
I chose wrong the first time. But what I meant for evil, God meant to break me so that I could see what was good. All this time, when I was torn up about how hurt I was, I overlooked how brave God wanted me to be. I overlooked the fact that I've spent most of my life running away from what scared me rather than into what I love.
I did that with singing until I was 15. I did that with relationships until... well, a year ago, I guess. And I still do. I did that with college until a few months ago. I did that with my home church for the last 8 years until He called me in a new ministry direction. I've done that with the house, the city, the state I live in; and now I'm just waiting for that to change, too.
Point here being: I've been afraid much longer than when I got hurt. It wasn't her fault. It wasn't even the result of my first relationship. I already had the problem long before anyone hurt me, but God knew I wouldn't be able to see the problem until I faced something like that. He knew I wouldn't be brave until my ultimate fear was realized.
Every aspect of my life has been dictated by the fear of failure and rejection.
Jesus chose to die in love so that we don't have to live in fear.
How then can I continue to live in the shadow of a fear that has been defeated? I will lose people, but Jesus will still be there. I will gain people, and Jesus will still be there. I will fail, but Jesus will still be there. I will succeed, and Jesus will still be there. He will be the flame by which I am able to shine in a dark world, and He will be the light in which I rejoice in the company of love.
He will be my bravery when there is no other way but bravery, because there is no other way forward but in bravery. A time comes when you can do nothing to save what you're losing, so if God chooses not to save it, He is giving you a reason to trust Him and move forward, holding fast to love.
Love must be brave when fear stands in the way. It cannot be rivaled with loss. It cannot be rivaled with pain. It cannot be replaced by hiding your heart away. Love will never leave you. Love made a way where there was no way. Love gave Himself for you. Love was brave.
So be brave.
I'm finally closing this chapter.
I've spent a lot of time here.
But I needed to.
Now, it's over.
The past is the past.
I've learned what I can.
It's not about me.
But that doesn't mean I'm not brave.