Monday, June 25, 2012

On Singleness and Relationships and Christ.

I recently read a book by Elisabeth Elliot called Passion and Purity. It was so good and it spoke to me on some issues I have been dealing with and praying about recently. The book is about how she and her husband Jim fell in love and eventually married. It was full of wisdom that she had learned during her life and relationship with her husband.

These are some of the points that I got from the book and my thoughts on them based on my own reading of scripture, my own life experience and what I've heard from others. It should be taken with a grain of salt.

1. It may be God's will for you to remain single.

2. Our culture does not value purity, but why it should.

3. God uses relationships to bring us closer to Himself.

4. This applies to every part of our lives.

--1. This idea is a hard pill for many to swallow. Although people have said that marriage is becoming obsolete I have found that most people desire to be in a marriage. Furthermore, the idea of being single makes us feel like we are undesirable, unlovable and rejected and that this must be our fault. I don't believe this to be true. I think God created men and women for each other not only because He knew we could do good things together for Him, I think He also meant to bless us with that friendship and companionship. God uses marriage to illustrate God's relationship to the church. God is pro-marriage. Chances are really good that marriage is His plan for you. But even if it isn't that does not mean you are unloved or a reject. I think that it means God has other plans for you. If you are kept single, expect to be used by God. Use that time to seek Him and work for Him. Don't waste it. View it as a high calling. Is that hard to do? Yes. But being married is hard too. There are lots of couples out there that prove that merely being in a relationship does not fulfill us. One of the things Elisabeth Elliot mentions in her book is that God often asks the ones He loves to sacrifice their hearts' desires to Him. When we give God the desires of our heart is is an act of worship. It is telling Him that He is greater than what we want. It is saying that we will trust Him even if He does not give us what we want. We can place our desires on the alter and offer them up to Him and say, "give me YOUR desires. And let me joyfully follow you." It is a sacrifice and it is painful. I've only had a very few times in my life where I willingly sacrificed my desires to God and while they were painful they were also the sweetest times of communion between my and my Savior. He was so gentle and loving to me. I can't quite explain it. I've never felt so close to God or more loved by God than in these moments. In the end I know that nothing I give up is greater than God. And my tiny sacrifices can never match the sacrifice He made for me. He is better than anything this world has to offer so in the end although we're giving up our desires we still gain by choosing Him. Times of loneliness and waiting are times for us to offer up our dearest desires and needs to Christ and live out our worship by saying, "You are greater than all these things. I trust you to give me what I need and I trust you to fulfill me whether you give me what I want or not." And then go about living in a way that is about serving Him and others. It reminds me of how in heaven God will give us crowns that we can place before His feet as an act of worship. When we sacrifice our hearts and lives to Him it is as if we figuratively remove our self-given crowns of lordship and place them back at Jesus' feet, where they belong.

--2. Elisabeth Elliot talked about how in her time (and especially now in our day) singleness did not necessarily mean virginity. There have been rather casual attitudes toward virginity and purity for awhile. In fact, purity seems to have a negative connotation. Words like naive, inexperienced, etc., seem to come up in conjunction with it. It is important, especially for Christians, that if we are unmarried that we remain virgins. Why? One of the things she talked about was that the reason virginity should be protected is because our bodies are not ours; they are God's. She said Jim was very careful about protecting both her and his virginity because he acknowledged that she belonged to God and he had no right to her body outside marriage. This is true. I have no right to anyone's body outside of marriage and nobody has the right to mine outside of marriage because we don't belong to ourselves or each other, we belong to God. The book has a letter from Jim to her and in it he tells her how grateful he is "for the rights and responsibilities to her love." I was so impressed by this. We live in a "free love" society. We view sex with a "no strings attached" mentality. The truth is we are responsible for how we treat each other. Matthew 25:40 says "And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'" When we wrong each other we do wrong to God and He takes it personally. We will have to give an account to God for how we treat each other. Be considerate of each others' hearts and bodies. Don't ask for someone's love without being ready to take responsibility for the rights of it. Acknowledge that people belong to God and we should ask Him for permission before we take what is His. Call me old-fashioned, but I think it would be incredibly romantic for a man to ask my Father in heaven for permission to date or marry me and would be willing to wait on God's plan and timing. I think I could trust a man like that with my heart because that kind of man would know that I always belong to God. That is the kind of man I want to be worthy of. That is the kind of marriage I am willing to wait for.    

--3. Both Jim and Elisabeth wanted to get married, but Jim felt that God was calling him to remain single, at least for awhile, but potentially for his whole life so that he could do missionary work. Elisabeth was concerned that getting involved with a man romantically would take away from her ability to serve God as a missionary. Both loved each other. In fact they were crazy about each other. But they were willing to let each other go to serve God if that was what He wanted. They loved each other enough that it was more important to them to see the other follow God instead of have what they wanted. They were willing to wait on God to see if He wanted them to marry. They waited quite awhile. It was hard. Elisabeth said that she prayed that if it was not meant to be that God would remove the desire for marriage from her heart. When it did not happen she learned that God lets us give those desires back as an act of worship. It gives us something to offer to Him. Luke 22:42 "...Nevertheless, not my will, but Yours, be done." She mentioned Paul's weakness, his thorn in the flesh that he pleaded with God to remove, but God said in 2 Corinthians 12:9, "'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses so that the power of Christ may rest upon me." God wants us to surrender our desires to Him. God used their relationship to give them the opportunity to trust Christ for His plan and to learn to wait patiently on His timing. It gave them a chance to learn how to put Christ first in their lives. Their relationship did not suffer for this, it became something beautiful and strong. I understand that married couples often idolize their spouses, or want their spouses to idolize them. It's actually what we've been taught to do. Our world tells us that we deserve to be in self-gratifying relationships. We are taught to find our worth and confidence, our meaning and our fulfillment in relationships. Most married couples I know tell me that marriage shows them how selfish they are and how selfish their partner is. Oftentimes spouses have to put their partner's needs or the couple's needs above their own if they want to have a healthy relationship. Jim and Elisabeth showed their love for each other by acknowledging that each others' spiritual growth and obligation to God was more important to them than their relationship. They gave every step and part of their relationship to God to do what He wanted. I think this is how all married couples should view love. To truly love each other you have to entrust each other to God and desire to see your spouse grow spiritually. I think it also makes me notice that marriage is not just a man and a woman in a is a man and a woman and God all in a relationship together. He never leaves the picture. And just as when you are single you do not own the other the other person, when you are married and have accepted the rights and responsibilities of each others' love, you still acknowledge that your spouse belongs to Christ. Be very careful with how you treat God's possessions.

--4. God wants complete control of our love lives. But He doesn't stop there. He wants complete Lordship over every aspect of our lives. 

This is something I have been thinking about and the book helped me to clarify what was on my mind. I belong to God. My body, my life, my dreams...all are His. As a Christian I do not own myself. If I get mad at God for doing what He wants with my life then I am trying to take over His position of authority. I set myself up as an idol. It's like having control issues. When I try to take control of my life I am setting myself up as my own authority. In reality I do not control anything. Even though God lets me make decisions it is ultimately up to Him to allow me to follow through with those decisions. When I "give up control" I am actually just removing myself as an idol from my life and acknowledging God as ruler. Because I don't actually have control of anything I cannot give it back to God. It was always His. We take this deeper when we say that our whole selves and lives belong to God. As humans (especially Americans) we claim rights to do whatever we want and be whatever we want. When God wants something for us that is outside our plan for our lives we usually get mad. We think He's punishing us, or doesn't love us. He is denying us what we should be able to have. We think we look very spiritual when we say, "God, my life, my possessions are all yours." But how can we gift God something that is already His? He already owns everything, whether we give it to Him or not. He created me, therefore I am His. He can and will do whatever He wants with His possession. My choice is whether to follow joyfully or with a bad attitude. It is actually kind of a painful blow to acknowledge that I realize I am His possession. I do not have the right to say what I'm going to do or to say no to Him. I don't even have the right to be mad at Him when things don't go my way. I was not created to do what I want; my sole purpose was to bring Him glory. And He is so gracious to give us so many good things like marriage, children, passions and pursuits that we can give back to Him in praise. But I think when we view our lives in that way we treat those gifts with more responsibility. We realize that relationships are not meant to be self-gratifying. It is always all about Christ. It is a huge task and calling. So is everything in our lives. I think we have this tendency to say that either marriage is the most important, life-consuming calling we can have and singleness is worthless, or say that marriage is an exemption from going out and doing God's work and single people can go on doing God's work. All of it is God's, all of life should glorify Him. If you are married expect to do God's work. If you are single expect to do God's work.

We sang a song in church the other day. One of the lines in it was 'break my heart for what breaks yours.' I think if we honestly pray that we should be prepared for Him to answer. And it will be painful. Heartbreak always is. I've been coming to the realization that to be a Christian is to ask for death. To acknowledge that I am nothing, own nothing and that God has graciously given me everything and allows me to try to give it back. It is to say that I have no rights to my life or body and I will let God use them for His purposes. In 2 Corinthians Paul talks about being used by God. It can look like this: 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed." 2 Corinthians 6:8-9 "...through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything." It sounds like a huge sacrifice if you base your hope in this world. You have to be willing to give up this life because this life is a vapor. It is so fragile. At any moment we are one breath away from eternity. That is the reality we were made is the reality we are to live for. Expect to take a beating for the Bible. If you ask to be broken, you will see tragedy and you will get your heart broken. You will get your hands dirty. You will be tired and you will be hurt. You will do everything right and be treated like you did everything wrong. You will realize a comfortable life inside a house with a picket fence is not what Christ meant when He said to follow Him. It is to lose your identity and take on His. It is actually the kind of thing I catch myself praying not to experience. This idea used to make me depressed. But now I see an urgency to follow Christ. To show a loved, but lost world that is dying and going to hell that this Love is is for them too. Live for Christ. Show them something different. Force them to see a difference that makes them bring the questions of why we were made to the front of their minds and figure these things out. While I struggle with this dying to self, I now have a purpose that is bigger than me. A worthy cause to live and die for.

I once read a quote that said ''what you're waiting for is what you're living for." So what are we living for? Are we living for eternity? Or are we living for ____? Luke 9:23-24 says "Then he said to them all: 'If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.'" 

After writing this I am pretty much convinced that being single is easier than being married. It's difficult enough to be responsible for yourself. To be married not only means to be vulnerable to and trust someone else, but to be responsible for the spiritual welfare of each other and for any children you may have. What a huge and high calling that is! I once read a quote...I can't remember the author...that said "if you want to serve Christ, stay single. If you want to be like Christ, get married." I've always wanted to get married. I've spent most of my life preparing for it. But now I'm coming to the point where what I want most is to see Christ work and if that means I stay single for a time or for forever than I must substitute that dream for Christ's plan. I'm scared of the responsibility of marriage and I don't trust myself to pick out a spouse. I have my struggles in my walk with Christ, but that is one are where I completely trust His judgment before mine. As much as I want to get married, I don't want marriage unless it is from Him. What I've learned in the few times that I put my desires on the alter for God is that He taught me things about His love through those experiences that I hadn't understood before. Beyond that He protected me and cared for me. I learned I could trust Him. The more I trust Him the more I want to experience Him. It is exciting. But it is sombering to be so young (I'm only 23) and say to Him "Lord, to follow you I know I have to die." To decide to do that is so hard. Writing is the easy part, living is the hard part. But as He said in Luke, to find our lives we must lose them for Him. We are mistaken to be drawn into the idea that to have a full life we must be happy all the time, in a relationship and/or pursuing our dreams. The only way to find our lives is to acknowledge that we are totally, completely and utterly Christ's and to live for Him.

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad you learned a lot from "Passion and Purity"! You mentioned that song they played at church that said "break my heart for what breaks yours" and I, out of all honesty, probably will never say that prayer. I go through enough pain without having to go through God's pain. It's much too big for me, and I can accept that. I actually prayed to God in my head right when I read that. "God, I'm sorry, but I could never handle that much pain. People reject you every second, and I really don't like rejection. People do what they want after You repeatedly told them otherwise. I've been in that position too. I tell people for their own good, but they do what they want to do. The amount you go through, I don't think I could handle it. If You wanted me to, I'd need all Your strength too."
    I enjoyed reading this, Grace. You helped put some insight on certain things in the book I didn't catch. Like giving up control when it was always his. I think partially that might be yours, haha. Thank you for this blog post, Grace. (: