Closing thoughts of an almost-no-longer-single pastor

C&J

4 days.

Four more days of singleness.

It’s a strange thing to consider — almost 32 years behind me as a single guy, with musings about relationships and romantic interests and sermons on singleness; a lifetime ahead of me as a married man, with a whole host of new joys and challenges.

My counselor told me once:

Change = Loss = Grief

In other words, any change involves a loss of some kind — whether of good things or bad things — and there is a grief that accompanies that. Even if the change is a positive one, a step in the right direction, things are lost that may never be regained.

In the quiet moments with God that I’ve been able to snatch amidst the busyness of wedding preparations, I’ve been excited for what’s to come — getting to spend the rest of my life and the adventure that’ll continue unfolding with Carolyn; I’ve been grateful for the faithfulness of God throughout this chapter — during the times when I was striving and impatient and frustrated as much as the times when I was content and at peace (the latter were far less frequent!); but I’ve also had time to grieve the end of this part of my life.

I like to say — and only part-jokingly — that it took me 29 years to fully comprehend the gift that singleness is. And then I met Carolyn.

But seriously … there are things that I learned to appreciate as a single person, ways in which God grew me, for which I’ll forever be grateful:

  • being present and available and stable for friends as they went through some difficult times;
  • having the time and freedom to see and hang out with as many people as my schedule and boundaries allowed;
  • getting to experience singleness for most of my twenties and into my thirties, and thus being able to empathize with and minister to those who have been — and some who remain — single for longer than they’d like;
  • discovering and pursuing God’s call to holiness and God’s design for us to be in relationship (whether in a romantic relationship or in relationships of family and community) and God’s value of us far beyond our relationship status.

From Friday, I’ll no longer be “the single pastor.” It’s strange to think that that’s been part of my identity, part of the way I’ve labeled myself, but that’s the way it’s been for the last four years — and in a church that’s almost three-quarters single, that’s been a unique point of connection. I don’t know how things will change when I’m married, how relationships will change, how ways of relating will change.

And so in this, just as with any step into the unknown, looking back with gratitude and grief, and looking forward with hope and excitement and eager anticipation, I place my life into the hands of a great, big, loving God, and see what happens. I know that some things will be different and some things will remain the same — I’m not sure exactly what just yet nor all of the details, but I’m stoked that I get to figure it out with two of my favorite people.

Here we go … see you on the other side.

For old times’ sake, here’s the blog series taken from last summer’s “Being Single” sermon:

  1. An Apology
  2. Not a Waiting Room
  3. Not a Terminal Disease
  4. Sex
  5. A Gift

Being Single, Part 1: An Apology

[Adapted from this past Sunday’s message at The District Church, “Being Single.”]

My friend Eugene Cho joked that it can sometimes seem like single is actually a compound word, made up of two parts: “SIN and GLE.” And Erin Dufault-Hunter, one of my ethics professors at Fuller, said in a class, “Being single in evangelical culture is one of the loneliest lives a person can lead.” That’s a reality that I’ve experienced at various points in my life; that may be a reality that you’ve experienced too—maybe that’s a reality that you’re experiencing right now.

This week I asked this on social media: “What burning thought/question/issue do/did you have as a single person?” A few folks responded, including some pastor friends around the country. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, many responses were very similar. In fact, they were questions that I’ve asked God at various points in my own story:

  • “How long will I have to wait?”
  • “Why me? What have I done to ‘deserve’ this?”
  • “Did I miss my chance w/ so-and-so?”

I want to begin this blog series with an apology. I’m sorry for where we as the church have failed to provide a safe space for single people to be who God has created them to be. I’m sorry that we have not always provided a shelter and shield from the messages that say:

  • there must be something wrong with you, or
  • you’re not good enough, or
  • there’s only one person and you may have missed your chance.

And I’m sorry that we have not always challenged you—in love—to refuse to listen to the messages that say you should have as much fun (read: sex) as you can before you ‘settle down’ for a life of boring monogamy, to refuse to be conformed to the mindset of the world that says sex is just one appetite among many that just needs to be fed, and to discover what life as lived to its full potential really looks like. I’m sorry.

Please know that it is our heart as The District Church to provide a home and a family for everyone, wherever you may be on your journey of faith and whatever your relationship status. I’m sorry if we’ve ever communicated that life doesn’t begin until you say, “I do.” Speaking as a pastor, I’m sorry on behalf of the church—and speaking as a pastor of The District Church, I’m sorry on behalf of our church; and I pray that wherever you are, God begins a work of healing in you for whatever harm has been done to you—intentionally or unintentionally—by the church or those in it.

Through this series, we have intentionally tried not to focus exclusively on romantic relationships for the simple reason that this is what the world—and, actually, the church sometimes—already does, placing an overemphasis on romance solving every problem or on meeting the one who will complete you. Fact #1: you are an incomplete, flawed, and broken person. Fact #2: you will not find your completion in another incomplete, flawed, and broken person. Pastor and author Tim Keller writes:

the picture of marriage given [in the Bible] is not of two needy people, unsure of their own value and purpose, finding their significance and meaning in one another’s arms. If you add two vacuums to each other, you only get a bigger and stronger vacuum, a giant sucking sound. (The Meaning of Marriage, 52)

The early church theologian Augustine wrote:

You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.

We are made for God, and God alone will truly satisfy the deepest longings of our souls. And that’s the starting point for where we’re going.

Links of the Day, September 21

Today is International Day of Peace. And the first official day of fall.

News

Obama on health care:

Health care

Miscellaneous

Single?

It’s been a week full of crazy conversations about relationships and being single and DTRs*.

Sure, there are advantages to being single.

But sometimes, as one friend put it, “All I want is to know; I just want to know that in the end, something will work out …”

And when it’s a subject this close to home, just saying “Trust God and he’ll pull through” just doesn’t quite cut it.

***

* Abbr. for “define the relationship”, which may be described as: “‘the talk’ when a male and female who’ve been seeing each other a bit decide if they’re officially a couple.” Go here for the “Unofficial [Christian] Singleness Vocab Guide”. You’ll be enlightened. Seriously.