Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Singles, Widows & Widowers, and Married People, Too

I have been pondering the relationship between singleness and widowhood (or widower-hood) for about a year and a half, maybe more.  Several friends have lost spouses and been willing to share bits of their post-marriage life with me.  My grandma has way less experience with singleness than I have, but entered it when my grandpa died over a year ago.  In some ways these people can mentor me.  They can look on single life with the wisdom of more years than I have.  In other ways I get to encourage them, with the perspective of someone who's had plenty of time to think about the consequences of singleness.  I can point them to finding their identity in Christ rather than in their relationships.  I can share with them that I know relationships with every other single person suddenly got more complicated.  I can pray for them as they seek God for what to do with their new-found time.  I can pray for them as they wait on God for remarriage (if that is what He is leading them to do), just as I pray for my single friends waiting for God to bring them their husbands or wives. 
One way or another, there is more commonality between widows and single people than between those who are married and single people.  We always-been-single people have less acute grief, but, if we desire marriage, still have a sort of long-term sadness over the years we have been alone. 
A year ago, teacher and author RC Sproul, Jr. lost his wife to cancer.  He's been blogging on and off about the experience since then.  Today he said this: "The wait that I have has now multiplied, because I am without her. This past year has been not just the hardest, but the slowest of my life. I wake earlier than I wish, and lie awake at night while wanting to sleep. The things I once looked forward to no longer appeal. Isn’t half the blessing of a blessing having someone with whom to share it?And as I read that I thought that he was well expressing something that I'm coming to understand.  Maybe he noticed it because it was a change from what he was used to, and I have not noticed it so clearly because I just gradually came into experiencing life this way. 
But life and waiting seem expanded because the waiting itself keeps me awake, distracts me.  Time is going slowly for me - but too fast when I look backwards.  I'm grateful my days are full.  Grateful that most of the time waiting doesn't distract me completely from living.  I'm grateful even for the earlier mornings or the later nights when I am praying about the loneliness and the waiting. 
I don't think that it is wrong to notice that some activities aren't as appealing when you're single.  It isn't necessarily discontent - though it could be, and it is worth guarding against! 
This is the life that God has given me.  Let us rejoice and be glad in it!  Let us be honest about what it is and isn't.  Let us present to God the desires of our hearts.  Let us not grow weary in doing good.  Let us embrace waiting, and fully grieve things that are truly sad.  Let us celebrate the things that are true blessings! 
Two of my bestest friends got engaged this month.  The two friends who honored me by allowing me to be a bridesmaid in their weddings have each come to Colorado to visit recently.  These circumstances are giving me opportunity to rejoice in the blessing RC Sproul, Jr. talks about: the double blessing of sharing a blessing with someone else.  I'm the voice of "awww!" when a husband holds a door open; when a fiance chooses something that her beloved prefers even though it isn't her favorite; of celebrating the good plan of God in bringing people together and building love and unity between them.  I'm laughing and giggling and sharing with them my perspective of the value marriage has.  I know marriage is hard work, but it is a privilege.  It is a work of faith in a trustworthy God.  It is rewarding.  It is mysterious and amazing! 
This practice, of encouraging my almost-married and newly-wed (relatively) friends, may be rubbing off.  It may be hard for me to stop noticing love and forgiveness and cooperation and complementing gifts and servant-heartedness and fruitfulness - and pointing them out: amongst longer-married people, and between friends, and in the Church.  I'm excited!  God is revealing to me more and more that He desires His people, His image, to be recognized in our love for one another!  I pray for it and seek it and delight in it!   
To God be all glory.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Ladies' Christmas Tea

There’s this thing I do on Facebook pretty often.  I call it “Practicing gratitude,” where I list a whole bunch of recent things I’m thankful for.  Last Saturday this was my list: the stubborn way that human beings will choose not to wear socks for a while even when it's chilly; feeling empowered by just wrapping my hands around a warm mug or teacup; cups with straight lips; what Gene Edward Veith said and Ann Voskamp quoted: "Motherhood is a rebuke to everything gnostic, the heresy that says only ‘spiritual’ things are worthwhile… Motherhood is the perfect illustration of vocation. God has empowered a woman to be a mother, and God works with a mother to sustain that fragile life."; meeting Christmas music softly playing in the living room when I came upstairs this morning; half a dozen warm sweaters to choose from; plans to make scones tomorrow and to talk about the miracle and labor of birth; God who takes His workmanship, His poems, seriously; God who does crazy things sometimes and made us in His image – I suspect – even in that craziness.

Yes, empowered by a cup. 
A huge room full of women
talking and it's a little dark and I know faces but I realize I don't know people - and sometimes it's the reverse: I realize I do know people that I’d not spoken to in years, that I’d remembered and felt the impact of, but not related to...
And I’m at a table and I’m supposed to converse, but I’m not sure why I came or why God wanted me to come or what my friends expect of me…

And then there is tea in my cup and it is something to tinker with, to swirl the tea bag and sip to taste for sweetness or flavor, to meditate on which herbs are releasing their gifts to the water at this time and which will wait for later…

And it's kind of a shield that I hold between myself and people,
and kind of a revelation at the same time: this is me, holding tea, and this is how I treat it and what I think of it and you're holding a cup, too, and the common thing bridges us into each other's thoughts and lives and maybe even spirits.

So I don't feel small and uncertain anymore the rest of the night.  I pray while the man up front sings about Christmas.  I pray about the way the songs penetrate my friends, too.  I pray far away, about the things that always sit on my heart, and
I thank God that He is here, Jesus come to be present.

And when the "program" is complete there is a swirl of women: finding serving bowls and putting on coats and using the ladies’ room and crossing paths in hallways and marveling at snow out tall windows. 
I find it easy to smile; to open doors; to help and to not;
to look for my dish patiently; to hug a young girl I scarcely know but who seems to want to know me and I don't know why because I'm clumsy and silly and she's lovely and capable and assured;
to be thinking of others and not just about them, but of them - if that makes any sense. 

It all starts with wrapping hands around a cup and not putting it down between sips, which isn't very formal, and maybe that's what does it - that this tiny gesture is rejecting formality in the interests of sincerity and love and me choosing to be present with Jesus and with these women He has brought... wondering why He has brought...

To God be all glory.