July 9, 2020No Comments

The Hidden Problem of Singleness

“People don’t know what to do with me.” 

I was already scribbling notes with a fury when she said this. While interviewing Kat Harris, who also writes for singles, I asked about particular challenges she’s experienced as a single woman in her creative work. The line struck me because it was one that I’d written in the latest iteration of my book introduction months prior. It was also in a piece from Relevant called "Why Are So Many Single Women Leaving the Church?", which a friend sent my way.

In those repeated words, I felt a nudge, an invitation to lean in. And as I considered them, a new question floated to the surface.

I thought about what drove me to write those words. They came out of me as I thought about my experiences as a single woman in both the church and in the broader culture, both in the South and after moving to New York. And this was the phrase that summed up the implicit and explicit, direct and indirect messages I received about myself. As a single woman who does not actively date, an ambitious woman, and a celibate woman, I don’t fully fit anywhere. 

Whether in the South or the city, there is something about that space next to me, the space that a spouse would fill, that seems to make people uncomfortable. In my time writing about singleness, I have noticed a myriad of unnamed assumptions that exist between married people and single people—assumptions that are as varied as the humans who hold them. We assume that single life is miserable, and romantic love is the ultimate cure for that misery. We assume that singles are selfish and immature. We assume that sex is the best and only way to truly experience intimacy and satisfaction. We assume the church as no interest in helping singles in an authentic, humanizing way. We assume that marriage should be the ultimate goal for every Christian. We assume that someone who remains single is defective in some fundamental way, and their single state is exclusively their fault. And we assume that everybody is on the same page as we are. 

And so, as a single Christian woman who lives with both satisfaction and longing, I defy that logic. 

Whether I am at a bar or at church, I don’t fall into anyone’s bucket about who I should be as a woman. I am not a wife or a mother. I am not sexually active. I am not sad that I am single. I am not anti-marriage. I am not a threat to the institution of marriage. I am not a stumbling block for men. I am not particularly girly. I do not exist to make those around me comfortable at all costs. And people don’t know what to do with that. 

The problem of singleness is, I think, that we want it to be one thing. When in reality it is a million things. The “single experience” is as nuanced as the humans living it, and so to talk about one is to talk about the other. They cannot be separated. There are commonalities and there are particularized challenges that arise from not having a romantic life partner. And yet, it might shock many of our married counterparts—as well as some singles—that our lives are filled with meaning and joy as well. 

If we approach the “problem” of singleness as one that must be addressed by making all singles un-single as quickly as possible, we have missed the point. If our solution is that singles need to cut themselves off from the painful parts of singleness with the pat answer that “Jesus is enough,” we have also missed something. 

What if the solution is simple without also being reductive? What if the solution is that you don’t need to “do” anything with us? What if the solution is the difficult, everyday work of unity? 

The work of unity is not to make everybody the same, but to see our differences as an imperative part of a whole body of Christ. Could it be that the married majority of Christians have something to learn from me about following Jesus, a man who was, lest we forget, also single? How can we expect this growing population to be valued when the vast majority of people making decisions in the vast majority of churches have no concept of the complexities of our lives because they are married? How can we single women in particular be seen and valued when our lack of a husband can, at worst, render us an ostensible “threat” to married, male leaders? 

How can those of us gifted with leadership lead, and the teachers teach, and the preachers preach, when marriedness is equated with spiritual maturity and singleness with spiritual deficiency? And how can we even have an honest conversation about these things when so many cannot be honest about their own blinddspots? In her article for Christianity Today, Holly Stallcup writes, “Christians cannot begin to learn to show up for the single people among them until they learn to see.” 

My friends, we are thinking about this “problem” all wrong. Singleness is not the problem. The problem is the number of singles who feel undervalued, underrepresented, and invisible in the church. It is not a problem that can be addressed by quick fixes and easy answers. Trustworthiness and steadfastness take time to demonstrate and cultivate. And the solution starts with each of us. 

Since moving to New York, and now attending a church that is roughly 50% single, I’m seeing this in action, and I’m seeing the work it takes on both ends. I have a tendency to expect people to read my mind and know what I want; couples and families can have a tendency to be insular. But I am also seeing how deeply beneficial it is to the health of the body when it is done well. 

But there is still room for growth. We’re talking about a cultural shift, and those are never easy, particularly within an institution. But the good news about culture is that we get to make it. We each get to buy in and determine what the culture will be. We have the guidance of Scripture. We have the Holy Spirit working in and through us to extend grace to one another as we are collectively, communally transformed from one degree of glory to another. 

For the singles having their dating app profiles ogled over by married friends like they are something alien, the ones who ultimately leave the church because it is clearly communicated that they have no place in it, the ones who have not been able to name their particular struggles, and the ones who cannot see the joy, we have to do better. If we want to build a church freed from the crushing idolatry of marriage, we have to start seeing singles as those who have already been made whole in Christ, as essential members of the body who have valuable gifts to contribute to the work of the Kingdom of God. 

If we feel a compulsion to make assumptions about each other based on generic labels like “single” and “married,” let’s choose to be curious and compassionate instead. If we want to ask, “Why are you single,” let’s instead ask, “Will you tell me one thing that’s hard about your life right now, and one thing that’s great?” Let’s treat each other with the enormous value we have been given in Christ, and as those who bear the image of God. Let’s be the church, as it was intended to be. 

May 14, 2020No Comments

Why A Great Question Is Sometimes Better Than A Right Answer

I sat in Dr. Therapist’s office recounting my week. It was my Monday ritual, to start the week sitting on that couch and untangling the thread of ordinary and extraordinary incidents. As we came to the end of the session, he concluded in the usual manner: “Any last thoughts or questions?” 

Instead of my customary “no,” I said, “Actually, yes.” I went on to describe a situation wherein I’d caught feelings for a guy who was about to move away from the city probably forever. My brain decided that I needed to confess said feelings before he left, but I was uncomfortable at the prospect.

Dr. Therapist asked why I thought that was a good idea, and listened to my reasoning. I pontificated for a few minutes about the need to be honest. He then asked two questions which hadn’t crossed my mind. “What exactly do you expect him to say if you put him on the spot like that? What would you say?” We walked through both hypotheticals, and I felt a little better. 

But the questions he left me with, the ones that wriggled their way into my brain and refused to leave me alone: “Why do you feel the need to pass off uncomfortable feelings like they’re a hot potato? Why are you unable to just sit with them?” 

I was immediately indignant. First of all, rude. Second of all, you don’t know my life. Third of all, the ever living nerve of this dude. I skulked out of his office, brows furrowed and lost in thought. 

As I pondered the questions, I remembered that Dr. Therapist does know my life, and he is very good at what he does. But my defensive instinct gave me pause. The more I sat with the questions, the more I saw moments of uncomfortable confession peppered throughout the course of my life. And with this new filter, I experienced the memories in a totally different light. I recognized the story my brain told itself to justify those decisions, to make them righteous and noble-courageous acts of honesty and vulnerability.

In those instances, I believed I was making the obvious morally correct decision. But sitting with these questions, I realized that the situation and my motives for confessing might not have been as straightforward as I thought. 

While Dr. Therapist did, in this instance, say, “No, absolutely not, that is a terrible idea,” he also took the time to ask questions that helped me reach that conclusion as well. He gave me some alternative action steps. But he left me with these questions that revealed a deeper reality that had never crossed my mind, something I’d hidden under my desire to see myself as right and good. 

As I gave the question time to settle, indignation turned to curiosity. The clarity was dazzling at first, and I had to wrestle with the uncomfortable feeling of exposure. But eventually, I realized that I also felt a release, a new found freedom to breathe. And that’s what a great question does. 

A great question is one that stops us in our tracks. A great question rankles, equal parts repellant and compelling. It feels a bit like a sucker punch, not because it is especially painful or aggressive but because there is that brief moment of breathlessness and disorientation. It takes off the blindfold we didn’t realize we were wearing. 

A great question cuts through the noise and dithering and the assumptions we clutch with white knuckles and shows us what’s underneath our desperate search for information. A great question is an hourglass, on the cusp of running out of sand, being turned over at the last second and releasing us from the pile we didn’t realize we were trapped under. 

A great question uncovers what we keep hidden, even from ourselves. 

It takes the problem we see one way and reveals a truer side to it. It takes our assumptions about the direction in which we think the solution lies and turns us around to see that it’s actually nothing like what we supposed. 

A great question humbles. It takes us outside of our limited perspective, removing the blinders and showing us an alternative we could never have imagined. 

Information is good, as is knowledge. But so are mystery and nuance. So is the inherent finitude of our humanity. 

I took Dr. Therapist’s advice, sitting down for coffee with the guy and having a normal conversation, at the end leaving the door open to friendship moving forward. Even as I felt the instinct to firmly slam that door out of a desire for certainty and comfort, I sat with the discomfort and chose to engage. And because of that decision, my brain was able to learn that discomfort would not be the death of me. 

The discomfort still happens, but this moment became an example of resiliency to cling to in future uncomfortable situations. And having Dr. Therapist’s question in my back pocket gave me a better filter for making nuanced decisions in my relationships. I realized the wisdom required to resist the temptation to give a blanket answer for what is actually a symptom, and the power of listening in between another person’s words. 

Sitting in my office the day after surviving the uncomfortable conversation, I scribbled a couple of notes and taped them to my office wall. 

The first, “Ask better questions.” 

The second, “Don’t settle for symptomatic solutions. Always go for the root.”

April 1, 2020No Comments

The One Thing You Need When Working from Home

Never have I ever wanted to clean my grout more than when procrastinating work. Sitting at the 29”x29” Ikea table in my living room/kitchen, facing a deadline of my own design, I had a thought. Not one soul will notice if I don’t finish this essay

That’s when the negotiation began. I reminded myself that it is important to keep the promises I make to myself, and that I set up that deadline for a reason. Well, I told myself, the grout isn’t going to clean itself. I replied that this reasoning was a fancy way of avoiding the mental speed bump that arises whenever I sit down to write. 

My brain went back and forth a few more times until I made my choice. I cleaned the grout. 

In my early days of self-employment, this scene was common. It took time for my brain to adjust its habits. Prior to this moment, my apartment was exclusively a chill zone and I had a boss who told me when to be where and what to do. Now? Those lines were all blurred. 

It took me a while to adjust and figure out what I needed when I suddenly found myself working from home, aka alone most of the time. At first, it was bliss. Then, I realized how much time I had to myself and that any structure my days may or may not have was completely on me to manufacture and uphold. 

Even now, I’ve had to make some adjustments. As I’m sure anyone who is self-employed can attest, working from home in a pandemic is different. My home is now my gym, office, recreation and relaxation area, restaurant and bar, and sleepy time area. And it’s all of 450 square feet.  

I’ve spent the first two weeks of quarantine noticing what works and what doesn’t, and the one thing you need when working from home is boundaries. This is not different from what is necessary during non-pandemic times. It is, I would say, even more important now. Dr. John Townsend, one of the authors of Boundaries, wrote on Instagram yesterday, “Our brains crave order. Set up your daily and weekly routine.” 

Part of the beauty of taking the time to set up some semblance of a routine (boundaries on your time) is that it gives your brain fewer decisions to make throughout the day. This increases your overall bandwidth and allows you to focus your energy elsewhere. Today, I’m going to walk you through a couple of boundaries that have worked really well for me. 

Don’t try to implement everything perfectly all at once (guilty). Instead, pick the area you want to start with and then go from there. Read all the way to the end to find out which one I recommend starting with.  

Set Up Boundaries

If you’re like me, your tendency might be to think I will be able to do all the things now that I’m home all the time! Unless you have an army of woodland creatures assisting you, I would like to gently pry this delusion from your hands. Two weeks in, perhaps you are coming to this realization on your own. We might have more time, but our habits and tendencies are still there. You may find that time was not the real thing keeping you from working on that big project you’ve been putting off. It was one of the first things I realized when I became self-employed.

So, to minimize distraction and maximize productivity, be a little anal with your time allocation. Know that you have the freedom to stray when you need to, but this is a really great way to begin to notice where you’re self-sabotaging and spinning your proverbial wheels. This year I started using a Full Focus Planner, and it’s been a powerful tool for helping me make meaningful progress in the most important areas of my business and life. One thing I really like? You can only set three big goals for the day (and week, and quarter). I used to over-plan and not have a clear sense of what I was working toward. Honing in on what was essential was a vital first-step in creating meaningful structure. 

Get Up

Mayhaps you are one of these mythical creatures who enjoys getting up early. A coach of mine gets up at 4am every day, like, by choice. But if you find yourself to be more of a night owl, this section is for you. Two years later this is still a struggle for me. If I’m not meeting another person at a specific time, it is very difficult for me to drag myself out of bed. 

I used to be really hard on myself about this. Ok, many days, I still am. But I’ve noticed that my brain is simply less functional in the morning versus the afternoon. So I’ve given myself permission to get my full 8 hours of sleep, but to also put in a full day of work. Most days, arriving at my office around 11 and leaving around 8 works well. Working from home? That snooze button becomes even more tempting. 

Mayhaps this is a good place to set up some accountability. If you have a roommate, you could team up and decide to both get up at a particular time. If you live alone, you could ask a friend if you could text them at a specific time to let them know you’re up. Check out these tips from a recent New York Times op-ed on becoming a morning person.

Plan time to reflect and set a timer. 

I like to start my day in prayer and journaling. I set a timer for 20 minutes, during which I read a short devotional and write out a couple things that stood out and riff off those to guide my prayer time. Once I finish that, I set a timer for 5 minutes during which I sit quietly and listen. I only recently implemented this time in my morning routine, so I gave myself permission to start small. Being still is more challenging that it sounds. When I’m working from home, I then set a timer for 15 minutes and read a non-fiction book. 

If you’re Type B, this timer thing might sound totally psycho. But I found that before I started using timers, my brain would drift aimlessly and I would inevitably end up thinking about work. Limiting my time has trained my brain to focus, and incentivized me to gently catch myself when I find my mind wandering too far afield. 

Move

Perhaps at the office you would have felt weird taking 5-10 minutes here and there to move around. Guess what? Unless your boss is spying on you via your webcam, they will not know if you do this, or if you take a full thirty minutes for lunch instead of shoveling down your food at your desk. What if you used the timer method from the previous section here? 55 minutes for working and 5 minutes to move around. That might sound bonkers to you, but just try it out. Take a moment to stretch, go for a walk around the block (or pace around your living room, I guess), and generally check in with your body. Are your shoulders tense? Are you breathing deeply? 

Maybe a 90 minute work cycle would work better for you (85 minutes of work and 5 minutes of movement). Whatever you decide, you might be surprised how this will help your productivity. Like I mentioned before, something about setting a timer helps your brain focus in. You might find that dedicating 55 minutes to a specific task helps you complete it in less time than you thought it would take. 

My voice teacher recently challenged me to alternate between my work table and a make-shift standing desk (aka my baker's rack/bar area). I mentioned that I am gradually becoming a human question mark and asked for some tips on helping with posture. A change in perspective can also help with focus. Try it out and let me know what you think!

Schedule Social Media Time

I’m still figuring out this one, to be honest. I know it’s important to moderate my social media time, but it’s so tempting to pick up my phone and scroll. A good first step is to notice when you reach for your phone, or open a particular page on your computer. Notice what impulse you’re listening to. Are you bored? Anxious? Curious? Then consider what is a reasonable limit to place. Twice a day for 15 minutes? Thrice daily for 30 minutes?

Designate chairs or areas for work

If you’re like me, you don’t have a ton of extra space. I’m now in a one bedroom, so I was able to put in a small table and chair. But I noticed that when I tried to do both my reflection time and work in that chair, I had a hard time staying on track during my reflection time. So I moved my reflection time to a different chair. It wasn’t an automatic fix (hence the timer system), but it's helped a lot. Some people have designated rooms for different things, but if you’re in a limited amount of space, start by thinking about using different seats for different things. Or even different areas of your couch. Pro tip: Never ever work in bed. Even if you only have a couch or the floor as an alternative.

Make Plans to Get Out

Before I was freelancing, I was working in a restaurant. So when I made the switch, my introverted self was all about spending all of that time alone. If you’ve ever worked in the service industry, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, it has a way of convincing you that humans are garbage and there is no hope for humanity. 

Once that wore off, I started to notice that it was not healthy to be in my own head that much of the time. Things got weird. It drove me to intentionally schedule time with other people and take responsibility for my social life. If you're looking for creative ways to stay sane and connect with friends virtually, check out "How to Stay Sane in Quarantine."

Think about what would be ideal for you and try to work towards it. We can practice social distancing without isolating ourselves from necessary human interaction. 

Have a Solid Out Time

It might feel counter-intuitive, but I think that this is the best place to start. Decide at what time you’re going to stop working and start focusing on keeping that promise to yourself. You might find it helpful to give yourself an action associated with stopping work as a signal to your brain to stop thinking about work. This has been the hardest adjustment for me, because my brain naturally wants to mull over work problems and solutions always and forever. 

You could do a stretching or yoga routine, change clothes, turn off your work area lamp and physically move yourself. If you have colleagues, let them know you will not be checking your email or answering work calls after this time. Unless you are a medical professional or governmental official, it can probably wait. If your colleagues have a problem with this, it is probably more a reflection of their own boundary issues and time management than yours. 

Everything is going to feel urgent for a while, and perhaps many of us are still in survival mode and stuck in living from a reactive place. But it’s better to mentally prepare ourselves for the possibility that we’ll be in this for quite a while. Having a solid out time that we mostly stick to will help us go the distance here. If we are able to give ourselves margin and rest (looking at all the non-essential workers like me), we can avoid burning out and build a sustainable work flow that will continue to serve us long after this pandemic has passed. 

Balance Discipline and Grace

This is not something you will master during your quarantine time. Or perhaps in your lifetime. I don’t know, maybe there are grace ninjas out there who are the epitome of shalom. But this perfectionist is not one of them. 

Setting up structure gives you an ideal to work toward. It is not, however, the end all be all determiner of whether you are winning at quarantined life or not. If you start getting worked up over all you aren’t getting done, come back to your breath. Take a beat to look back at your 3 goals for the day. Set a timer. And do one thing. Then the next.

What about you? What boundaries are you finding helpful right now? Leave a comment and let me know!

March 24, 2020No Comments

23 Verses for Fear and Anxiety

We’ve all got it to some degree--that wiggly, gnawing feeling in our guts. In the last week, I’ve noticed my own moments of upheaval and how my body is responding to them. It manifests in a frenetic energy that must be channeled or feels liable to consume me. That channeling these days has meant writing like I’m vomiting a dictionary, keeping my workout regimen, and posting on Instagram with the vigor of a twenty-something wellness influencer. It has also manifested in so. many. spreadsheets. 

You might get the picture of what one might call a profound lack of rest. I’m still figuring out my own quarantine boundaries along with the rest of y’all. Whether you’re team GET EVERYTHING DONE NOW or team brownies on the couch mindlessly watching Netflix, we’re all in need of some deeper truths to rest on. So, for all of us, I’ve curated a list of Bible verses that we can take to the bank. 

As you are figuring out what life even is right now, mayhaps try beginning each day quietly reflecting on one of these verses. Read them in context, or mayhaps you just focus on one verse per week and use it as a breath prayer. As you go through, notice the tone of your internal voice. Try reading them out loud with different inflections and intentions.

I pray that you are met in these words and you take just a little time each day to train your brain and spirit towards hope, not fear.

1 Peter 5:6-7Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
Psalm 119:49-50Remember your word to your servant, for you have given me hope. My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life.
Romans 8:38-39For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Jeremiah 29:11“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Isaiah 43:2When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.
Hebrews 11:13All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.
Hebrews 11:1Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
Matthew 6:27Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
Matthew 6:34Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Ecclesiastes 3:1There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.
Psalm 62:1-2Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him. Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.
Matthew 6:33-34But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Job 42:2-3“I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.
Philippians 4:6-7Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Job 23:10But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.
Psalm 145:18-19The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them.
Colossians 1:19-20For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Christ], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
Philippians 4:19And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
2 Corinthians 1:20For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.
Isaiah 41:10So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Isaiah 58:11The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.
Philippians 1:6Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

*Note: All verses are from the New International Version

January 1, 2020No Comments

New Years Revelations

Change is slow. I should specify—lasting change is slow. Perhaps you know that already, or mayhaps like me it’s a reality you keep forgetting. I came into 2019 with big ideas about all I would have figured out and accomplished by the time 2020 rolled around. I was going to have Jesus and what it means to follow him, etc down pat. I was going to have made unprecedented strides in my career and personal life. I was going to have figured out the optimal way to date, more specifically date as a slightly feral farm child and as a Christian. I wanted to be realistic though, I didn’t expect to have my book published this year… but I did plan to land my top choice agent and at least have a book deal in the works. 

If you know anything about goal setting, you might have noticed that my method is 1000% not optimal. If you use the SMART template, they should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Based. Well, they met a couple of those criteria. But none were what one might call attainable. In previous years, my M.O. would normally be to wallow a bit, feel like a failure, and resolve to work harder next year. This year things are different. 

Let’s take the example of dating. At the outset of 2019, I resolved to go on a date with someone who wasn’t a sociopath, a seemingly SMART goal. Having been on exactly one date in the previous decade (not an exaggeration), I was determined to get it together. I joined a dating app, then a second. I went on four first dates and one second date. One was horrendous, but the rest were pretty ok. I went in with the ambition to be less intimidated by the process of dating, and mayhaps learn stuff about myself, about my preferences, and about dating… really nailing the “specific” mandate of goal setting. Looking back, I did learn some things, but certainly not what I was expecting. And I can’t say that I achieved anything measurable. So what was the point? 

If you’re on dating apps, or you’ve done speed dating, or been set up by friends, you might be asking yourself a similar question. Or mayhaps you were expecting to make major progress in your career and it feels like you stalled instead. Or you were hoping to have more answers than questions at this point in your life. Maybe you feel like you’ve been working exceptionally hard and you don’t have much to show for it. 

In her piece for The New Yorker last year, Alexandra Schwartz wrote,

In our current era of non-stop technological innovation, fuzzy wishful thinking has yielded to the hard doctrine of personal optimization… It’s no longer enough to imagine our way to a better state of body or mind. We must now chart our progress, count our steps, log our sleep rhythms, tweak our diets, record our negative thoughts—then analyze the data, recalibrate, and repeat.

Perhaps it’s because we are more aware than ever of all the progress the people we surround ourselves with (mostly digitally) seem to be making. But to me, it can seem like, if I am not making measurable progress on all fronts at once, I’m getting left behind. And so I try to come up with a system, a strategy, and a formula to guarantee exponential growth that I can show to the world as proof that I, too, am doing exceptionally well. I may not be perfect, but I am implementing steps and working very hard to become as close to perfect as I can. After all, if I don’t have anything tangible to show for all my effort, then am I moving at all? Questions like this nag at me in my moments of insufficiency, impotence, and impatience. Then derp brain starts in with, You should be doing better. You should be better. You should be going faster

I’ve become a fan of a particular passage in the Bible lately, Jeremiah 29. The Israelites have been exiled in Babylon. I’m not going to get into the minutiae of the history and the implications of that, but there are some false prophets who have been saying that they’ll be able to return to Jerusalem super soon. As is implied by the fact that they are “false” prophets, this is not accurate. In this chapter, we read the contents of a letter that Jeremiah, a for-real prophet, wrote to the exiled people. He writes that, actually, they’ll be in exile for seventy years. In this letter, God asks them to get comfy, to put down roots, to grow crops and get married and have babies. “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (7). After that, God promises to visit them and fulfill all the promises he made to them. 

In reflecting on this passage in the season of New Year’s Resolutions, I’m reminded of all the impossible goals I set at the outset of 2019. I see myself in the impatience of the Israelites, in how easy it was to believe the false prophets who promised a quick jaunt in Babylon before returning to their ideal lives. It must have been discouraging on some levels to hear that they would, in fact, be there for seventy years. Not only that, they should settle in and work for the prosperity of the place to which they had been exiled. God would come and God’s promises would be fulfilled, it was just going to be a bit. 

As I did not achieve my goal of figuring Jesus out this year, there’s a ton going on in this passage that I am not able to see or understand. Here’s a thing I do see. Whether we’re where we want to be or not, we are where we are. Maybe there’s some perceived ideal we’re chasing, whether it’s marriage or living somewhere better or paying off debt. Anything we want to work toward takes time, and while that time is passing, we are in neighborhoods and workplaces and schools and churches. The encouragement here is to hope for good things in the future, but not at the expense of where we are. As an obsessively forward-thinking person, I find myself so caught up in how things could be and where things are going, I forget about the life I’m living right now and the people God has placed in my life. Instead, I expect certain things for and from myself. I expect awareness of an unhealthy habit to be enough to fix it. And, like the Israelites, I expect it all to happen in 3-5 business days. Thank you, next. 

I didn’t figure out how to win at dating this year, mostly because “winning” is not the point of relationships of any sort. I did, however, figure out some things about my motivations in dating. I learned that I am obsessed with achievement in every area of my life, including relationships. I learned that there isn’t a formula to figure out, but there is wisdom to consider. I learned that I like control far more than I care to admit most days. Over the course of the year, I became a more open and emotionally intelligent person, and I had honest conversations with friends about the absurdities of dating. 

I can’t take a picture of that and post it. I can capture it in these words, but honestly, the growth was so gradual that it happened almost without my conscious effort. I can’t pinpoint a single moment where a flip switched and I was different. I just know that I am.

That’s one of the cool things about the God who knows how we operate and what we need. Anything that lasts takes time, and we are not capable of manhandling our way into optimization on all sides at all times. That doesn’t mean we are passive. Remember how God asked the Israelites to do stuff like build houses, etc? I think it just means that it’s way more ordinary and gradual than we, as Americans at least, expect. Whether it’s the change we want to see in ourselves, or the change we want in our relationships, our culture, our church, or our world. As you enter into this new year, by all means dream big, pray impossible prayers. But don’t underestimate the small steps and ordinary moments that make up our lives. They are the things that actually move us forward.


Picking up what I’m putting down?

Comment below and let me know what you think! If you're ready to dive in with both feet, head to the "Join the Conversation" page and subscribe to my newsletter. This gets you access to exclusive essays and guides, then moving forward a short bi-weekly message designed to make you laugh and think. Otherwise, feel free to reach out via the contact page, social media (IG: @maryb.safrit), carrier pigeon, smoke signals, whatever floats your boat.

December 11, 2019No Comments

What Singles Get about Advent

I tried out fasting for a hot minute. Not the trendy, intermittent kind that Chris Hemsworth does, the Jesus-y kind. Let me preface by saying that I love food. I love the experience of eating, whether eating with friends, alone, in a restaurant, or hunched over my coffee table. Doesn’t matter; I’m about it. But I was on this eleven-month mission trip and many of my fellow missionaries would periodically go without food for a whole day. Like, by choice.

Around month 8, I started to get curious. I read up on it, talked to my friends, and eventually decided to give it a whirl. For the last two months of the trip, I fasted one day each week. I expected the physical hunger. I even expected a closeness with God, as one spends the time previously allocated for eating in prayer. What I did not expect, and what ultimately proved the most difficult to deal with, were the other feelings and desires that bubbled up in the absence of physical fullness. Fasting became a time to feel what I normally avoid. 

I haven’t fasted in that way since I returned to the States six and a half years ago, but the topic came up recently. In a podcast interview that will release early next year, my guest mentioned a time when she fasted in anticipation of a big business decision. It got me thinking about you and the specific kind of hunger you might be experiencing this Advent (the forty days before Christmas). Singleness might be an experience you’ve chosen, like a fast. Or it might feel more like a famine… maybe you wake up every day longing for a partner or missing one that you’ve lost through divorce or death. Advent is an opportunity to consider where we are hungry and what that hunger might be communicating.

Personally, I love Advent. I grew up in the Episcopal church, where we take Advent extremely seriously. As in we don’t sing any Christmas hymns until the services on Christmas Eve. Advent is a time to reflect and consider the implications of Jesus’ birth. It’s a time of preparation during which we pause and ponder the darkness, the reason Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection were necessary in the first place. We have particular Advent hymns that connect us to that purpose, the most well known of which is O Come, O Come Emmanuel. Something about the haunting melody and the longing in the words guided by the old pipe organ floating through the rafters resonated with me. It’s melancholy and rich in tradition and I’m about it. 

Perhaps, like me, you feel pressure to be content or even exuberant, “on” at all times. In her recent op-ed for The New York Times, Tish Harrison Warren writes,

American culture insists that we run at breathless pace from sugar-laced celebration to celebration — three months of Christmas to the Super Bowl, Mardi Gras, Valentine’s Day, Cinco de Mayo, Fourth of July, and on and on. We suffer from a collective consumerist mania that demands we remain optimistic, shiny, happy and having fun, fun, fun. But life isn’t a Disney Cruise. The tyranny of relentless mandatory celebration leaves us exhausted and often, ironically, feeling emptier.

Advent invites us to honestly consider our longing, our hunger, our dissatisfaction. But it seems that nobody likes a wet blanket. We might hear things like, "Can’t you be more positive?", or "Singleness is a gift," or "Maybe if you prayed harder you would have [insert desire], because the Bible says, 'Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart' (Psalm 37:4)." Perhaps you’ve started to wonder if something is wrong with you. Perhaps you feel guilty about or even afraid of your own hunger. But in pondering what Advent means for singles, I started to wonder, What if the hunger doesn’t indicate something bad within us, but rather communicates a human need that remains unmet?  

This time of year, I feel a very particular hunger. Watching my friends who are married or in long-term relationships, I see a team. And yes, being on that team would mean having to check in with someone all the time and not being able to starfish on my queen-sized bed any more. Most days the idea of having someone who is just there all the time seems unfathomable. But as I watch my friends support each other with such tenderness and compassion, when I see them being a constant and committed presence for each other through the challenges that Christmas can bring, that’s what breaks me open. It can feel like admitting that I want that and I don’t have it, and that I might never get it in that way, a result of some failure on my part. There must be something I'm doing wrong and I just can't see it. Someone who chooses to be single is strong and independent, and we like that. Someone who is single but expresses any sort of unmet desire becomes a problem to solve, a failure, or a tension we don’t know what to do with. 

We live in a culture that says that if you want something, you can get it. You just have to be willing to put in the work. And if you can’t get that thing, then it’s your fault. And perhaps there are some things that operate that way. But when we’re talking about human beings, the variables multiply exponentially. Suddenly it’s not a straightforward matter of cause and effect based on a series of neatly graphed data. There are a myriad of motives and factors over which we have no control. Feeling and expressing that hunger is our way to reconnect with the reality of living in a broken world, a world where there are problems beyond our capacity to understand, let alone solve. And when it comes to relating to other human beings, perhaps fixing and solving aren’t even the point. 

The Old Testament is filled with promises of a coming salvation, and a kingdom, a restoration and redemption of this weary world. In that story, we see God working, moving, and remaining silent sometimes. We see God’s people move with God and away from God. We hear them grumble and curse and praise and rejoice. And with the hope and longing and hunger of generations, the light finally comes. Not because Israel was behaving especially well at that moment. Not because they had finally “learned their lesson,” and were ready to receive God in their midst. The light came because it was time. 

Advent reminds us that God is not a genie or a vending machine that dispenses health and wealth on demand if we just put in the right combination of good deeds and prayer. We remember that God entered into the darkness willingly, that God came to us not because of our goodness or our right answers or our five point solutions to life’s biggest problems. God incarnated, that is “became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood,” because we can’t set things right on our own (John 1:14a, MSG).    

Whether our singleness is more like a fast or a famine, Advent is a time to honestly admit that our hunger is there, even if we’re not sure why or what might ultimately satisfy it. And listening to the nudging of the Holy Spirit embedded in that hunger moves us from a place of fear and defensiveness to a place of compassion and curiosity. We can honestly sit with it and ask God to show us what we might be reaching for to fill ourselves. It connects us to each other and to God in our midst. The call of Advent is to remember and listen to both our personal longing and the ways the universally human longing for wholeness manifests itself in our neighbors, our friends and our world. It is a call to trust and hope in the God who promises to “...satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong” (Isaiah 58:11a). And it is a reminder that God doesn’t always show up in the way we expect, but he always shows up.


If you're ready to dig into your feelings and hunger, I've created a guide to help! Click the "Download" button to get started. If you're feeling overwhelmed or distressed, please reach out to someone you trust, call 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit https://nami.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/categories/360001837134-HelpLine

November 20, 2019No Comments

What’s Up with Ruth?

The following is a re-post of a blog I wrote around this time last year. As we are headed into the holiday season, which can be extra tricky for singles, I thought it was worth sharing again. I've made a couple of minor edits for clarity and tone. Enjoy!


It occurs to me that many of the singles who read this blog might be spending Thanksgiving awkwardly and anxiously dodging questions about their lack of a life partner. Holidays can be filled with unsuitable feeling moments for people who happen to not be married. I'd like to use this platform to address both those who are excited about Thanksgiving and family, and those who are dreading it.

Stylistically, this blog will be a bit of a departure. Instead of a personal anecdote, I'm going to talk about a story from the Bible, mainly because I'm in one of those mythical Sasquatch families that doesn't pressure me to get married or have kids. Don't worry, we have plenty of other dysfunctions. This week I want us to reexamine a story the might be familiar from a slightly different angle.

Let's talk about Ruth. I know, classic Christian lady move. I'm right there with you. I avoided the book of Ruth for a long time because of all the cheesy stuff I'd heard about it. But when I started writing my book, I decided to dive in and y'all... Ruth is a boss. If you think that Ruth is only a sweet love story about a poor woman faithfully following God and being rewarded with a husband, I strongly encourage you to read it again. Because this is just a blog and not a full blown sermon, I'm going to peel back a layer or two and ask questions that encourage you to keep digging into this story on your own.

Ruth opens with a family that leaves Bethlehem to live in Moab because of a famine. We don't have a ton of context as to why this family left when there isn't any indication that the Israelites were fleeing en masse. In fact, the implication is that most families did not leave Bethlehem in spite of the famine.

The dad and two sons die within five verses, but not before the sons marry Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah. By verse six, we now have three single ladies as protagonists, one displaced by ethnicity and two by their conversion to Judaism, all living in a world that was often hostile to women in their situation. Naomi, Ruth, and Orpah are now almost completely reliant on the generosity of their neighbors for survival.

In verses six and seven, we read:

Then [Naomi] arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the Lord had visited his people and given them food. So she set out from the place where she was with her two daughters-in-law, and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. (ESV)

There is an initial presumption in these verses that Ruth and Orpah are in it to win it, ride or die with Naomi. They are bound together by their situation and their commitment to men who are now dead. But in verse eight, Naomi relinquishes Ruth and Orpah from their familial obligation, and gives each permission to go back to her "mother's home". After much weeping, Orpah leaves. Ruth unfathomably stays.

Why?

In verse 15, Naomi pleads,“Look... your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her” (ESV). Ruth ups the ante, saying, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me” (Ruth 1:16-17, ESV). 

Ruth and Orpah would have both converted when they married into this Jewish family. Both women were part of this family and this religion for ten years before their husbands died. So why is it that Orpah and Ruth react so differently to Naomi's plea?

To me, Ruth's proclamation sounds like she is a woman with nothing to lose. We don't know the details of Ruth's family or religious background. Maybe her family was abusive, or they disowned her when she married a Jewish man. After all, the Moabites and the Israelites have a contentious history. No matter her specific reasons, Ruth was willing to leave behind her culture, her religion, her family, and her homeland to live a life of certain poverty with her grieving mother-in-law in a hostile culture. Ruth could have gone back to what her life was before; she could have gotten remarried. Moab was not as picky as Israel when it came to the terms and conditions of marriage.

Ruth must have been compelled by a sense that the risk was worth it. She either felt so connected to Naomi and her God, or so disconnected from her birth family and gods, that she left everything she knew. Ruth made a conscious decision to make herself vulnerable, to make her home and belonging with Naomi.

When these women arrived in Bethlehem, they caused quite a stir. Naomi tells her friends, "I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty" (1:21, ESV). In spite of her anger with the Lord, and the fact that she passive aggressively changed her name to "Bitter", the chapter ends with a glimmer of hope and promise of abundance. We read that "So Naomi returned from Moab accompanied by Ruth the Moabite, her daughter-in-law, arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning" (1:22). Naomi couldn't see it, but things were looking up.

I want to point out just a couple of things before I let you go enjoy your turkey. Naomi is understandably consumed by grief and hopelessness. In spite of this, Ruth stands by her and constantly puts her safety at risk to provide for Naomi. Ruth meets Naomi in her grief and takes care of her. Naomi can only see what she has lost and cannot fathom what's about to come her way. And yet, her moment-to-moment needs are met by a woman who also knew what it was to be vulnerable. In fact, Ruth later puts herself in considerable danger of harassment and assault by going out to the barley fields to collect grain behind the reapers.

Whether you are joyful or mourning, married and single, vulnerable or secure, I pray that we would surround each other, and be willing to risk being inconvenienced for each other. We follow a God who meets us in our pain, who has been rejected and scorned, who can handle both our bitterness and our delight. Regardless of what we feel and see, we are promised his love and grace. If you're in a good place, consider reaching out to a friend who might not be. If your family is joyfully preparing for a time of thankful feasting, think hard about who around you can invite to join you. Sometimes, you are God's plan for abundance for someone else.

November 6, 2019No Comments

Audacity

Every couple of weeks or so, I seriously consider whether or not I know anything about relationships or human beings. Conceptually, sure I probably know some things. But every so often I am reminded of some flaw in my logic that plays itself out in my real day-to-day. It’s one thing to sit in my office theorizing and pondering. Part of me believes that if I think hard enough, I will crack the code and find the one-size-fits-all formula that will allow me, and by extension you, to relate to other humans perfectly. And then I go out and relate to actual humans, whose behavior does not lend itself to formulas. Rude. 

Just such an existential crisis occurred this week. Monday, in fact, in therapy. Yes, I am aware that it is only Wednesday. Every week, Dr. Therapist lets me into his office, I fix the pillows on the couch because whoever is before me always leaves behind a disheveled atrocity, and I sit as Dr. Therapist asks me how I am. Existential crises are a bit of a hobby of mine, which is fitting as a twenty-something writer who spends way too much time in her own head.

The past couple of weeks, however, have been jam packed with socializing. I’m recording the third season of my podcast (nine interviews down, two to go), I went on a bachelorette weekend, and my calendar of activities doth overflow. ‘Twas a lot for this 93% introvert, even though I loved everything to which I said yes.

By the time I arrived at Dr. Therapist’s on Monday, my derp brain had internally yelled obscenities at each and every human whomst crossed my path. And, as I live in Manhattan, ‘twas a lot of internal screaming. It didn’t matter what they were doing; it was all wrong and deeply offensive. 

So when Dr. Therapist asked how I was doing, down the rabbit hole we went. One of the main issues that had me imploding was a fun character trait that has made its way to the forefront of my awareness. Over the course of some of my interviews, I found myself returning to this idea of achievement-based relationships. This theory posits that there is a right way to do relate to other humans, and that if I work hard enough, I’ll be able to do it, thereby winning at relationships. In hearing myself explore the idea over and over, I realized I was operating off of faulty logic. That can’t be how relationships work. 

Over the past 7 posts, we’ve looked at several defining characteristics of love. Trust, revelation, kindness, humility, sacrifice, forgiveness, and endurance. In all of them, I endeavored to turn the idea on its head. Sometimes we need that slightly altered perspective to see ourselves clearly.

And that’s what happened on Monday. Dr. Therapist listened to my thoughts and stories from the week as he always does. Then he said our actions are motivated by one of two things: to gain reward, or to avoid pain. In making a conscious or subconscious decision, it’s more natural for me to think of all the things that could go wrong and completely disregard what will happen if it all works out. 

And that brings us to this week’s theme. I’ve spent the past eight weeks talking about some of the ways we derp up this love thing, even when we have the best intentions. There is merit in examining our motivations, to be sure. But shifting the focus to the benefits of love knowing the potential cost takes audacity. Even though, as they say, “Love is like oxygen; love is a many splendored thing, love lifts us up where we belong” (yes, that’s from Moulin Rouge. No ragrets).

Giving and receiving love in its many forms is the lifeblood of what it is to be human. There is always a risk. And to some people, including your girl more often than I’d like to admit, the risk doesn’t feel worth it. And, of course, with an achievement-based filter, why would it be? 

Perhaps you have read this quote before. It’s from C.S. Lewis’ book The Four Loves. “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket - safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.” 

Mayhaps the point of love isn’t to never be hurt and to never hurt, though of course we should endeavor to not hurt each other. Mayhaps the point of love has nothing to do with winning and losing and achieving. Mayhaps the point of love is that we simply cannot live without it. We can’t have the joy without the hurt, and mostly we get them both at once. And mysteriously that is a good and beautiful thing. 

In all the lack and plenty of this life, love in its forms is an experience to be lived, not a problem to be solved. In a commentary on the quintessential passage from the Bible on love, which I referenced last week, the author opened with this quote from G. Campbell Morgan, “examining this chapter is like dissecting a flower to understand it. If you tear it apart too much, you lose the beauty.” We learn how to love by loving. For this high-achieving perfectionist, that is not the most appealing prospect.

The word “audacity” implies a brazen boldness, one that knows the risk but presses on regardless. In my fretful overthinking, I forget that love’s mystery is part of what makes it beautiful. That doesn’t mean we experience and express the same kind of love and commitment to everyone we meet. But no matter how much we ponder and consider, we won’t get all the variables up front. And even if we did, we would never be caught off-guard or surprised by love. Perhaps for those of us who are motivated by avoiding pain, the most audacious thing we can do is say yes to the people who have been brought into our lives. Perhaps the biggest risk is believing that our focus can shift from all the potential hurt to all the inevitable joy. And maybe grace will cover the rest. 

October 30, 2019No Comments

Love Endures

I met my first and hitherto only boyfriend when I was sixteen and was almost instantly convinced that we were going to get married.

Bless. 

Marshall (not his real name) moved to my wee hometown the summer before our junior year of high school. He asked me to be his girlfriend during a sunset stroll along the beach on August 27. Things could not have been more perfect. 

Until they weren’t. 

Marshall and I fell hard for each other. He was unabashedly all about me, like complimenting me and expressing his feelings and stuff. I am not what one might call effusive, so my version of being all about Marshall manifested as a stoic and reserved respect. Until Marshall told me that he wanted to get me a promise ring. Though we had been dating for less than a year and I assumed he meant the pre-engagement type of promise ring. Wow, I thought, he must really love me. It turns out that he meant one of those “True Love Waits” promise rings, alternatively known as purity rings. But still, at the time, I took it at a statement of commitment. And we were planning to wait to have sex anyways, so sure I wore the ring and signed the little card that came with it. 

I don’t know why we were so gung-ho about getting married so quickly into things (it was absolutely because of the whole waiting for sex thing). We even talked about getting married right after high school. As I was sixteen, I thought that, upon turning eighteen, I would miraculously become an adult ready to commit to what might end up being eighty years of marriage. Then I turned eighteen. 

We ultimately decided that we should wait until after college to get married. Four years would be hard, especially as we were at different schools, but we believed our love could endure. After all, we both loved Jesus and therefore we could endure anything. It would totally be worth it once we graduated and could get married. 

Approximately four months after leaving for college, Marshall started expressing doubts about our relationship. And by that I mean he sent me a text that said, “I’m having doubts about our relationship.” I was shocked. Sure, things had been tense for a little while. We were having trouble maintaining the physical boundaries we had set. We went to vastly different schools. I can’t speak to what all was going on with him, but through our separation I realized that I had lost a lot of myself in that relationship and was trying to make changes. But, I thought, we can work it out. We just have to try a little harder. 

In April of our freshman year, we broke up. More specifically, I broke up with him. And yet, even after that conversation, during which he took a phone call from his mother, part of me believed that we would get back together. 

We didn’t. He started dating someone else five months after we broke up. They are now married with at least two kids. 

Love is a funny thing. At several of the weddings I’ve been to recently, the officiant has said something about love being a choice. I get what they’re saying, because when you’re with someone for a long time, you’re bound to drive each other a little nutso. But love endures all things, as Paul writes in the quintessential passage on love (1 Corinthians 13:7, ESV). I looked up the word “endure” in preparation for writing this blog, and Google said, “suffer patiently.” Really selling it, Google. The second definition listed said, “remain in existence; last, " which has a less masochistic connotation. 

In my relationship with Marshall, I thought it was noble and right to endure in “loving” each other. But the way we were “loving” each other was actually hurting both of us. I now realize that in Marshall, I wasn’t really looking for love as much as I was looking for a sure future and stability. I was looking for someone to tell me I was ok. 

I don’t know that there’s a hard and fast rule of when to tough it out and when to walk away, the obvious exception being abusive relationships. There are probably some good guidelines, as there have been a plethora of books written on love. For Marshall and me, it was a little bit of listening to our intuition and a whole lot of Jesus opening our eyes to how unhealthy things were between us. Neither of us could build endurance in love by perpetuating our toxic habits. But it turns out there were other people with whom we could work through a better understanding of love. Mine has been with friends, mentors, and really good therapists so far. In the end, enduring in love has looked more like building endurance than stoically suffering when a thing isn't right. And I think that's closer to what Paul was talking about anyway.


Picking up what I’m putting down?

Comment below and let me know what you think! If you're ready to dive in with both feet, head to the "Join the Conversation" page and subscribe to my newsletter. This gets you access to exclusive essays and guides, then moving forward a short bi-weekly message designed to make you laugh and think. Otherwise, feel free to reach out via the contact page, social media (IG: @maryb.safrit), carrier pigeon, smoke signals, whatever floats your boat.


October 23, 2019No Comments

Love Forgives

In a sheriff's office four hours away, a warrant was issued for my arrest.

I was a junior in college at the time. Seven days earlier, I was leading a Bible Study for a group of high schoolers like I did many Thursday nights. My boss was there, along with a couple other leaders, the family hosting us in their home, and roughly twelve teenagers. Afterwards, I went over to a friend's apartment. I had recently returned from a study abroad trip focusing on social entrepreneurship in Honduras. Our group had gotten close, so some of us were meeting up that night to hang out. I swiped into my apartment building around midnight, and went to sleep.

The next afternoon, I was studying in the on-campus coffee shop when I got a phone call from my dad. "Your brother is in trouble and you need to know that your name is on a warrant. You'll be getting a call from our lawyer soon to sort this out." I didn't know what to say. It was too absurd. My dad explained that my brother and a female friend had gotten in an altercation with a third person. The third person ended up filing charges, and told the sheriff that the perpetrators were my brother and "his sister." So when my brother went to the station to turn himself in, the deputy asked for my name and information. He gave it to them. And now here I was with my name on a warrant for something that happened four hours away while I was teaching high schoolers about Jesus.

After talking to the lawyer, I needed to secure alibi statements from people who could verify my whereabouts at the time in question. As an introvert, it is miraculous that I wasn't, "in my room, making no noise and pretending I [wasn't] there," to quote Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. I then had to call my boss from the Bible Study and ask if he'd be willing to vouch for me. I could have asked anybody in attendance, but he had recently become an official reverend, and could sign his statement as such. A reverend makes for a pretty unimpeachable witness in the Bible Belt. I then needed to email my friend who hosted the get together and ask if he would also send in a statement.

With my alibi secured, I had to wait and trust that the lawyer would do her job, that the sheriff wouldn't do his, and that if I were arrested, the truth would come out. I also had to wrap my brain around the violation of trust that roped me into this mess in the first place. I could very possibly go to jail and have a permanent record for something I couldn't have possibly been involved in. I would have to explain it on every job application, loan application, anything official. 

Though the lawyer was working diligently to clear everything up, one week after the incident, I got another call from my dad. He said that I shouldn't drive anywhere for the foreseeable future. The warrant was finally out in the system, and if Alamance County Law Enforcement pulled me over, the warrant would pop up when they ran my license. And I would go to jail. 

Forgiveness is tricky. In many ways I feel inadequate to write about it with any authority, because I don’t know that I am especially good at it. And yet, forgiveness and love are so inextricably intertwined, I can’t exactly write a series on love without talking about forgiveness. To be in a loving relationship of any kind requires forgiveness, because we humans have a propensity for hurting each other both intentionally and absentmindedly. It’s all well and good when the situation is relatively straightforward and the offense is minor. But when the betrayal or the hurt is deep enough to have life-altering consequences? When my anger is completely justified? And what about when the other person isn’t even sorry? 

Forgiveness requires acceptance, and I used to think that acceptance meant pretending that what happened was ok, or even pretending like it didn’t happen. I used to be a master at burying my anger and pain because they didn’t line up with my understanding of forgiveness. And yet even though I wasn’t expressing them on the surface, they were still there and they festered into a deep bitterness. This has led to passive aggression, avoidance and isolation, and a lack of communication skills in conflict. 

I think that a lot of the work of forgiveness is internal and spiritual. I think that acceptance means being able to acknowledge that the wrong happened and that I can’t change that. Anne Lamott writes that, “Forgiveness is giving up all hope of having had a different past.” No amount of guilt-tripping, passive aggressive comments, or even acts of atonement can change what happened. And yet it is amazing how often I believe that it might. It is a fruitless endeavor, but sometimes I think that if I say or do the exact right combination of things, I will be met with righteous vindication. And once that happens, then maybe I can move on. But there is a part of me that knows that not to be true. 

I’d love to leave you with a tidy ending of joyful reconciliation, but the truth is it's more complicated than that and I still struggle to forgive my brother. There was a moment that week when I was talking to my boss/alibi in which I expressed compassion due to my recognition of how much forgiveness I need on a daily basis. I think that I really meant it, but also my feelings were more complicated than I was able to reckon with at the time. It is, in many ways, a story still in progress. But I think that might be how forgiveness works. Maybe there are times when we are reminded of a wrong we thought we were done being mad about and we have to forgive all over again. Maybe it’s not as linear as I think it should be, that we let go of the hurt once and it’s gone forever. Maybe it’s more about learning to hold sadness and pain in one hand and forgiveness and hope in the other. 

I got a call from the lawyer later that same day. She said that all the charges had been dropped and totally expunged from my record. From the perspective of the law, it was like it had never happened. As I rode to Bible Study with my friend and fellow leader, I breathed deeply for the first time in seven days. 


Picking up what I’m putting down?

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