© 2012 David's Harp and Pen
DISCLAIMERS: This blog is based, in part, upon actual events and people. Certain actions and characters have been dramatized and fictionalized, but are inspired by true events and real people. Certain other characters, events, and names used herein are entirely fictitious. Any similarity of those fictional characters or events to the name, attributes, or background of any real person, living or dead, or to any actual events is coincidental and unintentional, so I don’t want to hear from any theologians accusing me of heresy or Christian counselors and dating websites claiming I am advocating a new alternative lifestyle. In many ways, a dog is better than a husband in that a dog is less expensive and much easier to housebreak.
I get asked romantic advice a lot, and I don’t know why. I have only had three boyfriends, and the longest relationship I ever had lasted five months. And did I mention my last relationship ended in 1996? There’s also the embarrassing, yet well known fact that I can’t even talk to a man I find the least bit attractive without hyper-ventilating and breaking out in hives. Maybe I am like Jane Austen in some ways. She wrote all these great love stories and was sought after for relationship wisdom, yet she never married or had any real romance of her own. Of course, there could be other things that draw people to me when they need help with love. I am a critical thinker and help people think outside the box. Also, I have never had any messy divorces that have involved Dog the Bounty Hunter trying to locate an ex, nor have I ever been on Maury or Jerry Springer for any of the paternity episodes. Whatever the reasons, it seems of late I have been asked more than my fair share of relationship questions, and almost all of them have been from those who are unhappily single. A lot of the questions have been asked out of a place of brokenness, frustration, and shame. A lot of the people I talk to who are unhappily single are embarrassed to feel what they feel and they think no one understands what they’re going through. So, for every single and miserable person reading this, let me be your voice for the next few pages.
As I said before, my last boyfriend and I broke up the day after Christmas of 1996. Until about two years ago, I had gone about ten years without being interested in anyone. For the most part, I don’t mind being alone. There are several reasons why. First of all, I am an introvert, and so I need lots of alone time to recharge my batteries. I have never seen solitude as punishment. Next, I’ve not seen a lot of great relationships modeled for me, and so for a long time I simply believed romance was more trouble than it was worth. Lastly, I know all too well the danger of the “grass is always greener” mentality. For all the single friends I have who bemoan being single, I have a bunch of married friends who miss the freedom and smaller number of responsibilities that come with singleness. So, I see the importance of learning to be content in whatever circumstance I find myself in, because even the ones that seem more appealing have their own set of challenges. There are certain moments, however, when I crave Boaz (the name I use when I pray for my future husband) more than others, and those moments come when I am going through trials.
There is something about being in the thick of adversity, whether it is some challenge or loss or spiritual warfare that makes me long for that companionship something fierce. I used to feel guilty that I wanted Boaz more when things were going badly, because I felt it was selfish, as if I only wanted him around because I couldn’t handle the stress of the difficulties I faced on my own. As I gave it more thought and prayer, however, I realized that wasn’t the case. It’s fairer to say that tests and tribulations force me to come face to face with my shortcomings and faults. Trouble makes me realize that there’s more to life than just me, because the little world I build for myself can come crashing down without the slightest warning. Adversity reminds me that I am not complete in and of myself, and that true fulfillment can only come from finding my identity in something or someone greater than myself.
I have felt a sense of incompleteness in the past two years for many reasons. I have faced a lot of financial and health-related challenges. I saw some friendships go bust. God had me do a lot of spiritual housecleaning, and it was painful to look at myself so candidly. I lost a lot of people I cared about, including my mom. Thankfully, I wasn’t alone when I got the news of her death, and I had a strong shoulder to cry on that evening. However, it was a different story when I went home to New Jersey. Before her funeral, the funeral director opened her casket and let the family members have alone time with her. (Why people like alone time with a corpse, I have no idea.) Now, not only am I okay with solitude, I’m okay if there are long stretches without physical affection. I only scored a 1 in that category on the love language quiz. Yet that’s not the case when I’m going through something hard. Being there staring at my mom’s casket made me want Boaz and want to feel him close to me like I have never felt before. So what did I do? I asked the young, very sweet, and extremely cut assistant funeral director if I could hold his hand and put my head on his shoulder during the “alone time.” At first I felt very foolish and forward to make such a request of a stranger, but then I thought that hey, he’s getting over nine grand out of the deal; a little sympathy spoon is the least he could do. So, all that to say I understand a bit how one can come to feel so desperately alone that the loneliness is almost tangible.
So what do we do with this loneliness and feeling that we are somehow incomplete? Let’s be honest when we say the world and the Church often make us feel worse about it. The world’s view on singleness is obvious: it sucks, and so we should try to find whomever we can as fast as we can. Our Christian friends’ views run to all kinds of extremes. There are the ones who love to say how it’s not good for man to live alone, and so finding a spouse is considered a sacrament, right below getting saved, baptized, and taking communion. Then there’s the other extreme that says it’s better not to marry, Jesus is our Bridegroom, the world is going to hell in a hand basket so wanting a spouse should be at the bottom of our list of priorities. For those of us who don’t prescribe to the latter or believe that we’re called to lifelong singleness, we are bombarded with a lot of unsolicited advice as to how to get a husband. Just the other day, I saw a quote from a relationship book by a Christian author, and she said that women need to be “mysterious, peaceful, and captivating.” What in the blue blazes is that supposed to mean, anyway? Can the author possibly be more vague? By mysterious, does she mean when I’m out with a guy, I should obsessively look at my cell phone every five seconds and gasp, and then when the man asks me what’s wrong, bat my eyelashes and sigh, “Well, I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you”?
What’s worse is the comments we get about why we’ve reached such-and-such age and are still single. I am 37, and I have been told every reason in the book as to why I am not married: I’m too fat, I talk too much, I don’t talk enough, I don’t have pierced ears, I am too passive, I am too aggressive, I have a bizarre sense of humor, I am too goofy, I am too serious, I am not spiritual enough, I am too high-minded, I have impossible standards in men, I share too much, I am too closed off, and my all-time favorite, I don’t carry a sensible purse. All these messages can be summed up like this: “You’re still single because you’re lacking in some form or fashion.”
Boys are starting to notice me, and I’m sorry to say that all this male attention has caused some embarrassing insecurity to come to the surface. I have made it a point to not be that girl who looks for a guy simply because she is on the take. I want to be that girl is first focused on the kind of wife she should be and what she can offer a Boaz. Therein lay my problem. Not just mine, but also something most of us single people have thought about but been afraid to admit: we don’t feel like we have anything to offer. Last week, I was driving around town thinking about the guys who had asked me out recently, about a drive-by, hit-and-run marriage proposal that I turned down, and how it seems that the ones we like are never the ones that love us back. I had a lot of those messages in my head of how I could get Boaz to fall in love with me if I only ________________________________. Then out of the clear blue, God said to me, “Sharon, there’s nothing you can do to make Boaz love you.”
I began to cry and protested back, “What do you mean, God? If there’s nothing I can do, what hope do I have?”
God repeated, “Sharon, there’s nothing you can do to make Boaz love you. If you have to earn his love, it is then conditional and ceases to be love. You can’t make Boaz love you any more than you can make me love you. It is a free gift.”
Sometimes, we have the tendency to think that our salvation is a free gift, but everything else is a salary that has to be earned. We strive and perform and jump through flaming hoops of fire to impress God enough to give us something we really want, forgetting that it’s up to him to do all the hard stuff. That’s not to say that we don’t do certain things, or that we don’t work on our character, but our motivation to do all those things should be in response to and acceptance of God’s extravagant love for and blessings to us, not in order to earn His love and blessings. For those of us that long for a Boaz, it isn’t a matter of working and doing to get a mate as much as accepting that we have a loving father who will give us what and who is best for us, and do it in his perfect timing.
So, if we’re still single because it’s not God’s timing yet, and not because we’re really messing up, what do we do in the meantime? How do we bide the time while we wait for Boaz’s appearance? There are some of us who are doing all we can in the waiting. We are studying God’s word, serving our fellow man, giving sacrificially, and everything else we’re told to do. Some of you that I talk to say the loneliness kills you sometimes, and you’re trying to be good while you wait, but you don’t think anyone, including God, understands. To you, I will say what my pastor says all the time: don’t make the Bible the unreal book. Every page contains a story of comfort and edification and provision for whatever situation we face. For those in that season of loneliness, I present the Biblical account of Isaac.
Genesis 24 tells the story of how Abraham sent his servant Eliezer to Haran to find a wife for his son Isaac. Sarah, Isaac’s mother, had recently died, and I bet anything that Abraham didn’t want Isaac to succumb to the temptation to settle for a pagan Canaanite girl just because he was lonely and grief-stricken. I don’t know if Abraham told Isaac what he was doing. Isaac was 37 when his mom died. Just like me. Most of us know how the story continues, that Eliezer found Rebekah, who agreed to go back to Canaan and marry Isaac. The text says that Isaac was praying in the open country at night when he looked up and saw Rebekah approaching. I wonder if he had the same anxious evening prayer sessions that we do. I wonder if he knew that the answer to his prayer was so close. Rebekah didn’t come on the scene until Isaac was 40. Was he also in panic mode? Did he wonder if maybe he wasn’t lovable because of his background, or his standing in life, or any of the things we think disqualify us from finding that one person to share our lives with? I wonder if his prayer that night went something like this:
“God, it’s me again. Work’s done for the day. I tended the fields and fed the animals and kept the evil Philistines at bay—again. Nothing new to report. Just continuing to be the good Jewish boy and dutiful son, like you want me to be. I don’t mean to be a pest, but 40 is creeping up on me, and I was wondering, just in case you forgot, if you could maybe put a rush on the wife? I mean, it’ll be really hard for me to become the father of many nations without one. Not that I’m trying to question you or your timing or anything like that. It’s just I’m really lonely. It’s not the same since Mom died. And I know Dad won’t be here forever. Sometimes I just really wish I had someone to go through life with, you know? Oh, whom am I kidding? Maybe it’s not you holding up the program. Maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m too picky. Maybe I really can’t do any better than a Canaanite girl. Look at me! I’m almost 40; I really don’t have anything of my own. I mean, it’s all Dad’s. And speaking of Dad and Mom, not that I don’t love them dearly, but what’s gonna happen when the right girl comes along and I try to explain to her the craziness that is my family? ‘Oh, yeah, my parents. Well, you should know that my mom is also my aunt. Well, half-aunt. See, my parents had different moms but the same dad. Siblings? Ah, yeah, I have this half-brother who’s 13 years older than me, but we don’t see him any more, and I’m not even really supposed to talk about him. I mean really now, why would Mom and Dad, or anyone else, for that matter, think that having a kid with your wife’s housekeeper would ever be a good idea? Just ask the last governor of California!’ Sorry, God. Now I’m just rambling. Anyway, you know what I mean, because it’s the same thing I asked for last night, and the night before, and every night since Mom died. Not that I think you’ve forgotten, but in case you have, the desire of my heart is still the same. Thanks for listening. Again. Amen.”
Recently, I had an anxious single moment, not unlike the one I am sure Isaac experienced. I’ve tried very hard to pour myself into God and into other people, but some days the hole feels like a black hole. I asked God to give me some kind of hope, something I could put my hands on to show me that all these years of waiting, saving myself, and working to improve myself weren’t for nothing. I didn’t realize that the promise of Boaz wasn’t any further away than the four-legged, fur-bearing Boaz curled up at my feet.
I have a dog named Bruno. He is large and friendly and affectionate and over-bearing. He is the first dog I have had as an adult. Someone asked me how he got the name Bruno. I asked the woman who had owned him before I did, since he came to me with that name. I was told her grandfather had bought her grandmother a large German shepherd and named him Bruno. Her grandfather had to go to Europe to fight in World War II, and so he got his beloved the dog to keep her grandmother company and protect her until he came back. As I reflected on the story, I looked at my Bruno, and God said to me, “Sharon, I’ve given you Bruno as a sign of my promise, and he will keep you company until Boaz comes for you.”
In John 14, Jesus tells his disciples he is going away, but he will send the comforter in his place. I don’t want to say anything theologically incorrect here, because I believe in the Trinity and that each part of the Godhead is indeed fully God. However, I don’t think that the Holy Spirit was ever meant to the take the place of having Jesus Christ in the flesh with us. What I mean is that even though the Holy Spirit is fully God, his presence in us was never meant to squelch the longing for the physical presence of and fellowship with Jesus that we will have in the world to come. Just as me having Bruno could never be quite like having Boaz here in the flesh by my side and being able to commune with him on that deepest soul level. However, just as Jesus didn’t up and leave the disciples to fend for themselves, neither does God in our singleness.
Today was another day I needed to be reminded that God hadn’t forgotten me in the Boaz department, even though in the last few weeks I have had to contend with Boaz’s evil twin brother, Bozo. I went to my mailbox, and there was a package from my aunt. I opened it to find a beautiful wedding veil. She didn’t include a note or anything. My guess is it was my mom’s wedding veil. As far as I was concerned, it was sent straight from God, to say once again, “Don’t worry. Boaz is on the way.” God gives us the comfort of his Holy Spirit, and he will give us little pick me ups here and there as we serve and love to comfort us and remind us we’re not totally alone, we’re not unloved, and we are not forgotten.