Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Of Singleness and Marriage

If you think of this world as a place intended simply for our happiness, you find it quite intolerable: think of it as a place for correction and it's not so bad. Imagine a set of people all living in the same building. Half of them think it is a hotel, the other half think it is a prison. Those who think it a hotel might regard it as quite intolerable, and those who thought it was a prison might decide that it was really surprisingly comfortable. So that what seems the ugly doctrine is one that comforts and strengthens you in the end. The people who try to hold an optimistic view of this world would become pessimists: the people who hold a pretty stern view of it become optimistic. –C. S. Lewis

When I read the above quote from C. S. Lewis, it particularly struck me how that analogy relates to my life, and my desire to be married. If I start thinking of this life as meant for my enjoyment, I feel dissatisfied with my current single state, and at the least, a little sad -- at the worst, frustrated with God for not having granted my desire yet. If I remember that this world is not for my pleasure - it's a world full of sinners, and God's purpose isn't to give me a sunny, happy life, but to save the lost - then I know that my purpose is to let God shine through me and use me however He sees fit for His glory. It doesn't matter how He chooses to use me; I am His servant, and if His will for my earthly life doesn't include a husband, would I dare to complain? 

It's tempting to think that if I could only be married to a wonderful Godly man, have my own little home and nothing to do but be his helpmeet, raise children and homemaking duties that I would instantly become a gentle, submissive woman. That's my picturesque dream of a Christian family who is ready to minister and serve others wherever God has them. But I know that there would still be troubles and things to frustrate me, and if I am not prepared to be joyful and content in every circumstance, marriage would not be a magic cure for my flaws.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. - Romans 8:28
All things work together for our good, even if we can't see or understand it. It may not seem like good from a worldly perspective, but isn't it wonderful to know that He is working all things together for our good, even the failures and painful moments? Sometimes I find myself worrying that I might miss getting married because I don't pray diligently enough, or because I haven't already become the person I know I should be. How silly am I? If God intends for me to get married, it will happen, and He already knows if or when that will be, just the same as every other circumstance of my life. Whether single or married, He will continue to use every part of my life to make me more like Christ.

"And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." - Philippians 1:6

So then, as it seems I must continually remind myself, since my life here is for Him, and His glory alone, I must simply follow Him and obey Him and submit and surrender myself to Him every day. If He has chosen singleness for me, I know that is best, and if He has chosen marriage for me, then I know that's best. Either way, I will be content. He alone is the only other Someone I need. 

"The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me;
    your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever.
   Do not forsake the work of your hands."
-Psalm 138:8

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Trying to Define Friendship

 What is true friendship? There are so many definitions for the word "friend":
-One attached to another by affection or esteem.
-An acquaintance.
-One that is not hostile.
-One that is of the same nation, party or group.
-A favored companion.

And then, for further clarity (or lack thereof) we can define "acquaintance":
-To be acquainted (to know personally; familiar)
-A person whom one knows, but who is not a particularly close friend.

These definitions together create an incredibly vague description in my opinion. According to the 4th definition I've listed, everyone who lives in the US might be considered my friends! Anyone who is not particularly hostile to me, anyone I've ever met, however briefly, could be a friend. 

In trying to define friendship for myself, I realized that I considered most everyone I know to be acquaintances, in the sense of "a person that I know, but who is not truly a friend." This doesn't mean that I was uninterested in friendships with any of these people, but simply that we hadn't yet reached a level of familiarity that I would have considered a true friendship. Perhaps I was looking at it from the wrong perspective.

So what is true friendship? Jesus said "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you." (John 15:12-14)
He laid down His life for us, and He commands us to love one another as He has loved us. If we obey His command, we will be His friends, and friends to each other.

"A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity." - Proverbs 17:17
A true friend will love you through the dark days and the happy times, not just whenever it's convenient for them.

"Faithful are the wounds of a friend..." - Proverbs 27:6
A true friend will have the courage to lovingly confront you when they see something wrong in your life.

From those verses, I know I need to be a friend to more people than I currently am, but you can be a friend as Jesus commanded without any reciprocation from the other person and I believe a true friendship requires effort from each person. Close friendships, with mutual affection and intimacy, take time and trust, and can't be built without dedication and love from both friends.

"Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence. True friendship is a plant of slow growth, and must undergo and withstand the shocks of adversity before it is entitled to the appellation." -George Washington

So here's to being a friend as Jesus commanded, and hoping for special friendships to grow along the way! And as to a definition, I think this quote from George Eliot most closely describes what I currently think a close friendship is: "Friendship is the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words but pouring all right out just as they are, chaff and grain together, certain that a faithful friendly hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and with a breath of comfort, blow the rest away."

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Forming Habits

We all have habits, good and bad, and I think we'd all agree that bad habits are much easier to acquire. If you're not paying careful attention, a bad habit might be formed before you even notice. Like eating chocolate every night after supper... and you go to your chocolate stash and realize it's all gone. Then you start forming the habit of buying chocolate every time you see it, completely subconsciously, because you must continue your habit of eating chocolate every night... (Yeah. Thank goodness I noticed before those bad habits turned into a lifestyle of chocoholic-ness.) Good habits tend to be much more difficult. I can start out with the best of intentions, but too easily fall back into the rut of my old habit of NOT doing whatever my new, good habit was meant to be.

For example, the past several years I've started each year with a resolution of reading my Bible every day, and reading through the entire Bible in a year. I can't tell you how many times I've read through the first several chapters of Genesis, only to miss a day, and then give up completely somewhere around January 9. I realized that part of my problem was my perfectionism, I wanted to instantly be perfect in my new habit. Then God showed me that my real problem was laziness. I had plenty of determination when I made the resolution on New Year's Day, but I didn't want to keep exercising my will. I wanted that one burst of "inspiration" to last, and my new habit to be formed as easily as the old. When Genesis became boring and the attempted habit continued to require determination that I thought was exhausting, I gave up. 

Sometime in June of 2010, I decided to try again. I had a new strategy: starting in June, and NOT starting in Genesis. I found a Bible reading record, with each book laid out in chapters, so you could mark off each individual chapter as you read it. This gave me the ability to aim for my goal of reading the entire Bible, without having to read straight through from Genesis, but instead reading whatever I felt interested in. And finally, I decided to accept that there would undoubtedly be some failure days, but that I would just keep trying. But the important part is that forming the habit taught me to rely on God for strength. When my alarm went off and I just wanted to sleep for another half hour, or when I missed a day and felt incredibly discouraged, His strength got me up and reading, and once I started reading, I wondered why it seemed so hard. 

I'm reading "The Pursuit of Holiness" by Jerry Bridges (highly recommend), and I just got to the chapter Habits of Holiness. I hadn't realized before that my behavior, and the way I respond to situations are also habits. It made it much more clear to me what I need to do to change my ungodly responses (criticism, frustration, deception, etc) to godly responses (grace, gentleness, truth, etc). I had thought that it was something mysterious deep in my soul that would gradually change, and then I would cease giving ungodly responses naturally. It's helpful to know that there is something I must do about it, and sobering to realize how much I need to change!

I hope this doesn't seem like a prideful post, because I don't consider this to be a success for myself. It was only when I admitted that I couldn't do it myself and relied on His strength that it became possible for me.
"But he said to me, '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." - 2 Corinthians 12:9

I know I'm not able to do anything on my own, but He also requires some effort from us. You don't become a Christian and grow into Christ-likeness automatically. 
"For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." -2 Corinthians 5:21
"For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live." Romans 8:13
"Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure." -Philippians 2:12-13
Clearly He freed us from sin, and gives us the strength and will to obey, but we still must make the choice. I hope this post might be encouraging for anyone who is struggling with similar issues. 

"I can do all things through him who strengthens me." -Philippians 4:13