Left Behind

TFO - Table for One Ministries- Ministry for Singles and Leaders to Singles - Blog - Left Behind

As a single guy who is old enough to be pondering questions such as, “Am I contributing enough to my 401(k)?” or, “Does my potential new job offer dental benefits, because I might need dentures soon…?”, I have been around long enough to have witnessed the marriage of many of my best friends. Heck, most of my friends are on their second or third kid and are worrying about which school district has the best honors program for their supposedly gifted offspring!

Single adults often have to act enthusiastic in uncomfortable social situations, but perhaps the most painful and awkward act we have to perform is putting on a big smile and offering a heartfelt “Congratulations, that’s awesome, I’m so happy for you guys!” when our best buddy or childhood friend finally decides to tie the knot – and we have no prospects on the horizon whatsoever!  Maybe you have “made your peace” with the whole Being Single thing and are content with where God has put you in life – good job, great friends, nice place to live, a church you feel really plugged into, etc. – but, to my mind at least, there is nothing that will challenge this state of contentedness more profoundly than the news of a close friend that’s getting engaged.  Sometimes it doesn’t even take that much – we’ve all had those friends who were mainstays of our social group and who we hung out with all the time, but as soon as they found and began dating their soul mate they immediately vanished from the group and were gone from our lives as suddenly as the flip of a light switch.

Now don’t get me wrong – as someone who hopes to be married someday myself, but more importantly, as a Christ-follower who, in my better moments, attempts to treat others the way I would like to be treated – I am definitely not saying we should not or cannot truly rejoice with our friends when they come to us with the news that their lives are going to be permanently changed – far from it!  But if we are painfully honest with ourselves, we will admit that sometimes it is like attempting to grin cheerfully during a root canal to try to be as sincerely happy for our soon-to-be-married friends as we hope they would be for us if it were our turn.

So what to do?   First of all, acknowledge that it stinks – not that you necessarily need to tell them that (and if you do tell them, pray long and hard beforehand that God would give you the right words, the right time, and the right spirit in which to have that conversation).  Just be honest with yourself and with God and admit that, yes, you are losing someone, at least for a while.  In fact, it’s almost like someone close to you has died.  For a romantic relationship to strengthen into a God-honoring, rock-solid marriage, the couple has to enter into a much more exclusive relationship than any they (and you) have ever experienced.  Know that your engaged or newly married friends are not (99% of the time, at least) intentionally trying to leave you, their single friend, behind – they just need to spend a lot of quality time together in order to enter into that intimate relationship that God desires for them to have so that they can truly become one.   But none of this changes the simple fact that you’ll miss having them around like they were before!

And of course, as a single adult, having a friend get engaged and married is just another not-so-subtle reminder that we are not.  It’s not that we mean to be childish or jealous, it’s that our minds are being bombarded with thoughts like, “Why not me?” “Am I going to be the last one standing?” and on and on it goes… So yeah, just say it, “It stinks!”

Having said that, know that genuinely rejoicing with your friends while at the same time mourning the passing of an era and the permanent alteration of your friendship is not only possible, it’s also not “wrong,” so you shouldn’t feel guilty or weirded out about being in this seemingly conflicted state of mind.  As a guy, I’m not too proud to admit something like this, but let’s face it – God also made men just as capable as women of feeling loss.  We men probably don’t express it the way the ladies do, but yeah, we’ll definitely miss not being able to spontaneously call up our buddy to go skeet-shooting on a Saturday morning without him having to first check with his “social planner.”

Finally, remember that your “couple” friends still need you!  Yes, they will withdraw into themselves for a while and yes, your relationship with them will never be exactly what it used to be, but just because they are getting married doesn’t mean they don’t want or need your friendship any more.  It may take them a few months or so to realize it, but they will wake up one day and realize that their husband or wife, however wonderful he or she is, cannot satisfy their every human need – and God made each one of us with a deep need for friendship.  They need your friendship as they enter their new romantic relationship, and they will still need your friendship months and years after they get married and start having kids.

God is not the author of pain, sadness, or loneliness – His word tells us that all these things are the by-products of our fallen and broken world and will one day pass away with the coming of the new Heaven and Earth. Sometimes, though, I believe God allows us to deal with the “loss” of a good friend so that we will be reminded that He is, indeed, truly enough. He and He alone is our constant companion, and in a world of constant turbulence and change, we need this reminder often.  He always has a way of providing exactly what we need at just the right time – and sometimes He has to take away what we think we need to show us what we really need. Thankfully, His wisdom and timing are always perfect, and when nothing else in the world makes sense, we can trust His heart and know that, as a gracious and loving Father, He will never fail to provide for our needs in ways that are far greater than we would ever imagine!

Single Struggles: Wanting to be accepted for being single

TFO - Table for One Ministries- Ministry for Singles and Leaders to Singles - Blog - Single Struggles- Wanting to be accepted for being single

I’ve been single for 20 years of my life. Yes, I was born single. Not that I thought about it that much throughout my life. It was just something I assumed. But as I approached 17-18, people began asking that question; “Are you dating someone? But I never was.

I am a single man, happy in my lifestyle, and ready to take on the world. It’s not that I dislike marriage. I think it’s a helpful social institution. But my current goals and the calling God seems to have for me don’t seem to include marriage (yet).

Emily Maynard once said it well; “I don’t feel like half a person because I’m single. I only feel like that when my society, my Church, or groups of people who cannot see beyond their own coupled lives, push that half-hearted position on me. I only experience that when I read another Christian book about marriage that talks it up in glorious grandeur for two hundred pages, then adds ‘but being single is better because, as the Apostle Paul says, you can do more ministry as a single person!’ I’m single for now, and plan on being single for a while. I’d love it if I could….just….be accepted for it.”

Now that I’m approaching a life on my own, away from parents, it feels like my general culture and my church culture are all pushing me to marry. But I haven’t found anyone to marry, or any reason to marry at this time. I struggle with finding my place in the church as a man who isn’t actively seeking out marriage.

Yes, I’ve read all the editorials about “marrying young” and “marrying to avoid immaturity.” I’m taught with one word that I’m sufficient, that I don’t need a wife to complete me, but with the next, I’m implored to seek out a mate, because marriage as soon as possible is the best human option for growing as a person. I’m getting mixed messages. Which is it? There are some legitimate points in there. Young Marriage is good; it provides opportunities for growth, fulfillment of unkempt sexual desires, and it helps focus and “mature” some. But it’s not necessarily good for all persons. Some should wait, for the sake of others. But the popularity of these arguments have caused the church to accept this idea that marriage is totally necessary to complete one’s identity. The result is I don’t feel as though I’m okay being single.

I love the Church, and I love my culture. I simply wish that singlehood is accepted as a longer-form lifestyle, supported by my community around me.


Come and Follow Me

TFO - Table for One Ministries- Ministry for Singles and Leaders to Singles - Blog - Come and Follow Me

We live in a world of would-be leaders.  An American adult who ventures into a bookstore or spends time browsing on Amazon will find hundreds of titles that promise to unlock the hidden potential of our “inner leader”. Books claim to distill the essence of leadership by examining the lives of successful CEOs, entrepreneurs, and statesmen. Leaders are the ones who make headlines, who supposedly make history, and who our culture is constantly telling us we should emulate if we want to have lives worth living.  Being a follower, we are told in many ways, is for the lazy, the not-so-clever, the unoriginal, the weak.

Little wonder, then, that so few people speak, preach, or write about how to follow!

And yet…the command for anyone who would call themselves a Christian is unmistakable: we are to follow Him who had mercy on us and saved us from a life of sin and despair apart from God.  Jesus used the same words for each of his disciples: “Follow me.”

Okay, fine, says the Christian.  We know on an intellectual level that we are called to be followers of Christ, but in a culture where there is so much talk about how to lead, what are we to make of (and, more importantly, do with) Jesus’ unavoidable calling to follow Him?  Strange and somewhat morbid-sounding words and phrases such as “obey,” “lay down one’s life,” and “take up one’s cross” are used in the Bible to describe the posture Believers must have if we are to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.

I would guess that when many, if not most, Christians hear phrases like these and have a vague, somewhat ominous view of a God who wants to deprive them of their every comfort and happiness in life. A God who might call on them to go live in the jungles of Africa and eat the insides of strange animals.  This fear has served to paralyze many people (myself included) from acting at times when they have sensed God speaking to them.

One of the many subtle and ingenious lies the Enemy whispers in the ears of many Christians is “following Christ” implies merely a vocation (often a change of vocation), when in fact it means something simultaneously much greater than, and also more ordinary than, a simple change of careers.

In Matthew 4:19-22, Jesus calls Andrew and his brother Peter to “follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”  Verse 20 says, “Immediately they left their nets and followed Him.”  Verses 21-22 tell of Jesus calling James and John, who also “immediately left the boat and their father, and followed Him.” It is significant that Matthew uses the word “immediately” in both cases–there was no hesitation on the part of any of these men when Jesus issued his very radical call for them to leave their families and give up their livelihoods to accompany Him on His earthly mission.

How many of us can honestly agree we would follow Christ’s command with no second-guessing or “a sober weighing of the pros and cons,” regardless of what He asks?

There is another point we often forget. Jesus’ calling for the disciples wasn’t really as much about giving up their families and changing their vocations as it was about just being with Him and spending time learning His ways–learning to love Him and absorbing His very presence. What Jesus really wanted from them, of course, is the same thing God wanted from Abraham centuries before when He called on him to sacrifice his precious son, Isaac:  an utter trust in Him which results in a willingness to immediately relinquish whatever or whomever one loves most on this earth to follow Jesus with one’s whole heart, mind, and strength.

God doesn’t want just our vocational service; He wants our hearts and our very lives.

Yes, this does sometimes involve a radical change of direction and even career path, but most of the time following Christ means following Him in the everyday, ho-hum routines of life–as we fight traffic to get to the office, eat lunch with friends and co-workers, or interact with the people we see at the gym.

 For me, at least, this constant obedience to Christ in the mundane things is usually far more difficult than a dramatic act of “sacrifice” such as giving up a career and moving to a faraway land.  I firmly believe the heroes of the faith are not necessarily those who answer the call to preach, move overseas to be missionaries, or give all their possessions to the poor, but are those who faithfully serve the Lord unnoticed, day in and day out, by being the hands and feet of Christ wherever they may be.

Any act of following Jesus requires a trust born only out of love for Him, a love that in turn can only happen on our part when we have spent so much time in His presence that we no longer believe the lie that God wants to rob us of our joy and make us do something dreadful to prove our love for Him.  It is only by obeying Him in the first place that we begin to trust Him to be who He says He is. Single or married, we all make a choice every day when we decide to either ignore God’s voice out of fear and rebelliousness, or to trust in our loving Creator, who knows us infinitely more than we can ever know ourselves.  Who will you choose today?

Curmudgeons Corner Valentine’s Day

TFO - Table for One Ministries- Ministry for Singles and Leaders to Singles - Blog - Curmudgeons Corner Valentine's Day

Ah, Valentine’s Day!

As late winter exerts its seasonal charms (whether, in your region, that means snow turning to dirty slush, or dismal, chilling rain, or a cheery snot-fostering burst of early pollen…) our society arranged a trite holiday celebrating infatuation, and requiring (as all holidays do) an outlay of precious cash for proper observance. We’re conditioned to it early, from compulsory participation during most boys’ formative “I hate girls!” stage in elementary school; Valentine’s Day is Something You Have To Do. More particularly, it is Something You Have To Do So That Nobody’s Feelings Get Hurt. That, too, is reinforced in the elementary school classroom, where everyone has to give everyone else a valentine–or else!

Naturally, once freed from the classroom and out in the world, the hearts of the young and single on this special day, turn lightly to thoughts of self-pity, anxiety, and that special sort of wishful thinking that easily degenerates into resentment. “Does anyone care about me? Am I sending the right messages to anyone I care about? Would spending more money help?

Whose idea was this horrible annual ritual, anyway? Is there someone I can sue?”

Since the historical St. Valentine’s connection to romantic love is far from clear, it surely wasn’t HIS idea. Some suspect church officials trying to replace a previous pagan festival, “Lupercalia”, which involved sacrificing goats and running around naked. (I would apologize to the Pagan-American Community for perpetuating stereotypes, but it so happens that Lupercalia involved precisely those behaviors.) In any case, it was probably a rather pleasant festival until modern advertisers got hold of it and began carefully shaping our anxieties so that they could subtly suggest spending money to assuage them.

The earliest commercially printed Valentine cards appeared in Victorian England. In those times, however, things which were commercially produced were considered a bit impersonal for the expression of affection. Instead, the Comic Valentine became popular. These ancestors of the grade-school mass-produced Valentine seem more appropriate, today, to April Fools’ day, rather than to February 14. A typical example has a gorilla in a bonnet, with the legend “One Of Your Ancestors”; another one shows a leering rogue declaring “It is your pocket full of cash that I would wed, my beauty!”

Comic Valentines

Comic Valentines mocked their recipients soundly, with insulting caricatures and verses; a casual examination of these barbed little taunts might well lead to a feeling of gratitude that whatever February 14 brings, it won’t be a postman trudging along to hand=deliver an insult. Yet, contrarian that I am, I can’t help but thinking the Victorians might have been on to something. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend,” says the Proverb, “but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” Would you rather receive an insincere insult–or an insincere compliment?

Whether flirting or just commiserating with friends on Valentine’s Day, you might do better to regard the commercial pressure of the holiday with the cynicism it deserves–and restore a little of the playfulness that made Valentine’s a whimsical relief from the dreary last days of winter. And in the end the seasons always do that–one more reason not to let this one get you do.