Alone

According to Wikipedia St. Valentine’s Day was first associated with romantic love around the time of Geoffrey Chaucer, in the early fourteenth century. I was planning on making some cynical comments about what it’s become since then, but that’s not the purpose of this message. If you have a partner, and if you want to share romantic moments with your loved one today, go for it, and God bless you.

But my thoughts today are for people like me, who are alone, and who don’t like it. I’m alone. Often it gets me down. Sometimes it’s hard to bear.

Some people, and I’m thinking particularly of Christians, will tell you it’s all right to be alone. They might even say that it’s good, because you don’t have to dedicate time to your partner and your family, so you can dedicate even more time to God. For some, that’s true, I’m sure.

And some people will extend that argument and tell you how great it is that without the shackles of a relationship you are free to do good works for God and for people. You can devote yourself to mission work and great Kingdom causes. For some, that’s true too.

Some people will tell you not to obsess over finding ‘the one’, not to turn that search into your mission, and not to turn the object of your search into an idol. Wise words, certainly.

You will often be told that ‘relationship’ is not just about the romance that leads to marriage, that you should treasure your family and friends, your church family and wider community. You will be told that these relationships are where you can offer, and experience, real love. Yes, yes, we know that love has many forms of expression, and yes, we want to love our neighbours, and our enemies, of course we do.

And then comes the killer blow: “Isn’t Jesus enough for you?”

Wow. Just wow.

Don’t get me wrong, singleness is right for some people. And there will most likely be seasons of life when it’s right for each of us. Paul, a single man, has a lot to say about singleness (and marriage) in 1 Corinthians 7, and he touches on several of the arguments I’ve just listed. But he isn’t entirely dogmatic about it. Indeed he says in verse 7, “I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.”

If, like me, you don’t believe your singleness is a gift from God, then it can be difficult to hear some of the (usually) well-meaning platitudes like those mentioned above. I want to reassure you that you’re not the only one who feels like this. And I have responses to those statements.

First, is it good to be alone? God doesn’t think so.

The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’ (Genesis 2:18)

It’s the first time in the story of creation that something is not good. Don’t be fooled by the word ‘helper’ and think that somehow God just wants people to help each other out, to be friends, and somehow this will make things good. No, Genesis continues to describe the union between Adam and Eve, the first marriage, referred to by Jesus in Matthew 19, and thus held up as an example by church leaders ever since. If singleness suits you, good for you, but if it doesn’t then know that God understands your pain.

What about the work you can do for God as a single person? Yes, you can do much, but consider Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. He talks about the qualifications and character of those who lead the church, and a faithful marriage is mentioned several times, not as an instruction that elders and deacons must be married, but certainly confirming that marriage is no bar to such a position. And there is no pattern anywhere in the Bible to suggest that God’s work was done better, or more often, by single men and women. Couples can certainly do mission together, and the support they can offer each other will be invaluable. If they are blessed with children, then their priorities will change, but raising children is precious work in itself.

Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.
They are a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck. (Proverbs 1:8-9)

To make an idol of anything, including the search for a partner, is clearly a big mistake. I would never argue otherwise. I would just say this – to honestly desire something that is good is not to idolise it. So don’t unquestioningly accept such an assertion from others, especially others who have that one thing that you lack, and who don’t necessarily understand, or remember, what that lack feels like. Instead, guard your heart (Proverbs 4), bringing your needs to God and trusting Him through the hard times. You can find a helpful article about guarding your heart here

Your life will be richer if you can enjoy all kinds of relationships. That’s undeniable. Friends, family, colleagues, neighbours, fellow believers, they all have something great to offer, and you have something great to offer them too. But equally undeniable is that there is another kind of relationship, one that Paul describes as a kind of reflection of that between Christ and His church in Ephesians 5. Think about it. What would the church be without Christ? Doesn’t that tell you something about the power and the value of this most intimate of relationships?

But isn’t Jesus enough? Isn’t that actually a God-shaped hole that you’re trying to fill?

Go back again to Genesis, when the man was alone. This was the time when, as described in Genesis 3, the Lord would walk in the Garden in the cool of the day. Whether or not you take Genesis literally, it’s clear that in God’s eyes, even His own immediate presence is not enough to satisfy our desires in this world. Complete intimacy with another human being, “bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh,” is a basic human need, like food and shelter. If you are without food or shelter do you just ignore that want? Do you tell yourself that your cold and hunger aren’t important because Jesus is enough? No! You trust in the Lord to provide, but you also do your part to make it happen.

Some people might say there’s a difference, that human intimacy doesn’t have the same immediate priority as protecting your physical well-being. But we are starting to understand the weakness of that argument. We are starting to see that emotional well-being is just as important, and its deprivation can be just as deadly as physical damage.

And if you have any doubt about how important the church considers intimate relationships, just think of the amount of time and energy it spends arguing with society and within itself about the rights and wrongs of all aspects of marriage and sexuality.

So this is my message to you, if you’re alone, and like me, you’re not ok with that. My message is that it’s ok to not be ok with that. I pray that you’ll be filled with the Holy Spirit, and that you will be able to patiently endure the loneliness while you trust for God’s provision.

If you feel blessed to be single, then you are, and that’s wonderful. But if you don’t, then don’t feel guilty for desiring, and seeking, a partner. And take comfort in the knowledge that, in one respect at least, you are not alone.

Feeling Low

In this article I’m going to be deliberately vague. I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again. Why? Three main reasons, in no particular order:

  1. To protect my own privacy. I don’t think it’s wise for anyone to lay bare the full details of their private life to the world. It’s no secret that I’m a sinner, because we all are. My own sins may be viewed by the world as greater or lesser than anyone else’s. What I consider to be sin in my life may be viewed as nothing of the kind by others, and the reverse is also possibly true. Small groups and close Christian friends provide the outlets for detailed discussion, confession and repentance.
  2. To protect the privacy of others. Do I need to explain this? The people closest to me, or those involved in whatever situation I write about, may well recognise incidents and individuals. Some might even feel offended or exposed that I’ve publicised something about them. But I will always be careful not to reveal personally identifiable information about anyone I know in this blog. If I speak on public matters then I’ll try to use wisdom and discernment. If I make any mistakes along the way, I trust you to let me know.
  3. Ultimately I should be able to refer to issues broadly and vaguely without losing sight of the meaning behind them. And by keeping to generalities rather than specifics I hope that more people will see parallels with their own lives, their owns journeys, their own struggles – and in that way we can encourage and support one another.

So… I’m feeling low.

I expect that nearly all of us have experienced the pain of rejection. It’s just one those things we have to go through at some time in our lives. I’ve been through it several times in mine – well I’ve been around for over 40 years so I can’t be too surprised at that. But I went through it again this week and it hit me hard. I don’t know if it feels different because it’s the first time I’ve really been through it since I found Christ.

It isn’t the only thing that I’m going through. My other issues are less usual, but equally difficult. All I can say is that I’ve got a lot of painful situations all going on together, and I’m really struggling to come to terms with them all.

And that’s where my head was when I went to church on Sunday, and I wept as I worshipped, and then some of Jesus’ words came to me and I didn’t understand exactly why.

Then a dispute arose among them as to which of them would be greatest. And Jesus, perceiving the thought of their heart, took a little child and set him by Him, and said to them, “Whoever receives this little child in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me receives Him who sent Me. For he who is least among you all will be great.” – Luke 9:46-48

I can honestly say that I have no desire at all to be great, either on earth or in heaven. I have no interest in status, or in fame or fortune. I’d like to think that I’ll make a positive difference in some people’s lives, and I wonder if one day I may make a bigger impact for God, but my satisfaction will be in knowing in my heart I did well, not in any external recognition.

So in theory, to be least is just fine with me, just fine.

In theory.

But I broke down inside at that moment, because it suddenly felt as if I was not even least, but I was nobody. And as little as it matters if I’m ‘nothing’ to ‘everybody’, I have such a need to be ‘something’ to ‘somebody’. And not just ‘something’, but something significant.

I’m not alone, I have family and friends, and I know I mean something to them, but it isn’t enough.

I’ve heard on more than one occasion that God is enough. That we can find complete fulfillment in our relationship with Christ. I’m sorry but I don’t believe that, and I don’t think it’s a Biblical viewpoint either. Read Genesis, and notice that everything God sees in His creation is good, or very good. What is the first thing he sees that is not good? In Genesis 2:18…

And the LORD God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.”

Some people can live a successful single life, Paul wrote about it in 1 Corinthians 7, but that isn’t my gift.

I need to make clear at this point that I wasn’t just yearning for a wife on Sunday. I had an overwhelming vision of myself as servant to everyone; putting everyone’s needs before my own; wanting to talk to my spiritual brothers but not wanting to interrupt them, because I don’t matter as much as the people they’re already talking to; not wanting to be in the conversation I was in, but unable to extricate myself from it because the person who was speaking to me was more important than I was.

That isn’t the real me, well not the whole of me. Yes I try to put other people first most of the time, but I certainly have a selfish side as well and it manifests itself more often than I’d like.

But at that moment I was small, I was insignificant, I was nothing.

There have been some times in my life – and I think this is also something that many Christians experience – when I have been acutely aware of my insignificance as an individual, but at the same time I have felt God’s love for me, and been overcome by the awesome wonder that the Creator of the universe knows me intimately and cares for me deeply. Those moments are among the most amazing of my life.

On Sunday I still knew of God’s love for me, but I couldn’t feel it. I still don’t feel it now, so I’m still struggling, but I know it’s there. I think I’ve just allowed the temporary troubles of life to take over my mind and flood my heart with sadness. God hasn’t gone anywhere, but I’ve shut myself off from Him.

I need to reconnect with Him. I need to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness. I need to keep praising His holy name because he has been so good to me. I don’t need to keep feeling low. I need to lift up the name of Jesus, knowing that He will in turn lift me.