Yesterday was Valentine’s Day. I find it ironic that the topic I want to cover this week on Identity Renewed is singleness and love. This was not planned, but it worked out that way. God is amusing like that, I guess. So here goes…
People are obsessed with relationships and love. As children, we watch Disney movies that promise us the prince (or princess) who will take away all our problems. When we grow up, it’s chick flicks and romance novels, songs, and various other sources that promise us this:
And they lived happily ever after.
That’s a great concept, I guess—for people in relationships. They can watch movies and cuddle together and think, “This is so true! I’ve found my other half.”
Yet many people are single. Many people desperately don’t want to be single. If only I had someone! We think. I don’t want to be alone. I can’t imagine life without someone. So often, our identity becomes the Other Person, be it girl or guy. Our identity becomes consumed by that man or woman that we desperately need to fulfill us.
Honestly, in my high school and early college years, this could’ve described me. Outwardly, I was a put together and independent girl. I didn’t date all through high school, and I think many people thought I just didn’t want to. However, the exact opposite was really true. I wanted someone desperately.
I’ve already written about how I’ve struggled with loneliness for many years of my life. In high school and early college years, there was this constant, aching hole in my heart. The hole was so big I sometimes felt depressed and dark. I wanted someone to fill it. And not just anyone. I wanted a guy to fill the hole. Because once you find someone, it fixes everything, right? Once you’re dating, you feel whole and good-looking and ready to take on the world. Life takes on meaning.
So if you don’t have someone…then you really don’t amount to much.
Because I love music, it has always deeply affected me. Because I’m a writer and love words, I think a lot about the meaning in lyrics. Love songs to me have always been very telling on how our culture thinks about love.
You are the prayer I sing.
You brought me to my knees.
You are the faith that made me believe…
(“Dreams on Fire,” Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack)
A song in particular I loved in high school was from Phantom of the Opera. Here is a portion of the lyrics:
Let me be your shelter
Let me be your light
No one will find you
Your fears are far behind you
All I want is freedom
A world with no more night
Always beside me
To hold me and to hide me
(“All I Ask of You,” Phantom of the Opera)
Or how about this old song?
At last, my love has come along
My lonely days are over
And life is like a song
Oh, yeah, at last
The skies above are blue
My heart was wrapped up in clovers
The night I looked at you
I found a dream that I could speak to
A dream that I can call my own
I found a thrill to rest my cheek to
A thrill that I have never known
Oh, yeah when you smile, you smile
Oh, and then the spell was cast
And here we are in heaven
For you are mine
(“At Last,” by Etta James)
Of course, I know there are just as many bitter break-up songs out there. Still, my point is: Culture tells us again and again that our dreams will be fulfilled in finding someone. That is the answer. Ultimately, if we just find our soul mate—the one who will love us and cherish and never leave us—then we can find inner peace and happiness. All dreams will be fulfilled.
In fact, many love songs read like songs that are meant for a deity of some sorts, right? It’s like this strange, bizarre worship. This unrealistic reach for the celestial gods of mythology who will wrap us in bear hugs and answer all our dilemmas. We expect that from people so often of the time. People are our new gods—even if humanists say there is no god. Still, people hunger to worship something.
I worshiped this idea for many years. I was so hungrily searching for this person—this god, I’d even go so far as to say. “The One.” My identity was placed in finding the mythological god who was dubbed, “Soul Mate.”
So how’d this work out? Well, I fell in love in high school with a very disturbed young man only to have my heart completely crushed. The implications of his destructive lifestyle affected me in ways that took me almost five years to work out. But I put my identity in him. I thought I’d be happy if only I had him.
When that didn’t work out, I put my identity in guy after guy. I never had multiple crushes at the same time. I’m too much of a relational being for that kind of silly, superficial crush. No. I usually had crushes that lasted a long, long time. But my worth would be there. I’d try so hard to be the girl that particular person wanted. I’d change myself (or try to), I’d try and be perfect and good and everything they wanted. I’d try so hard to catch their attention. Yet in the end…it always failed. Those guys might’ve played with me, they might’ve liked the fact that I liked them. But they always left in the end.
Even when I finally dated once, I still felt alone and dissatisfied. I still had to pretend to be someone I wasn’t. He wasn’t that great of a guy. I remember feeling extremely disappointed and empty. “This is it?” I thought. In fact, he again hurt me in deep ways that took me several years to process. It ended pretty fast, and he moved on to several other girls right after me.
Yet it wasn’t just my problem, I realized. All around me, I saw marriages that didn’t work out. I saw dating relationships full of selfishness and sin. No one knew what love was. Even Christians didn’t know what love was. I saw so many unhappy marriages, so much selfishness—mainly in the Christian couples I met.
“So what’s the point?” I began asking myself. “Where is love? Do I even believe in it anymore? I’m so sick of all of this. I keep wounding myself, and I see so many wounds in others. Where is this love everyone so desperately wants? And I believe in a God. I believe He is there and that Love does exist somewhere. So God, what is love?”
Around my junior year in college, I came across another love song. But this one was completely and utterly different. It was as if I had written it, it exactly reflects the thoughts and questions of my heart. And it also gives the answer. I’m going to post all the lyrics on here. (Please listen to it here if you can get a chance before reading on).
“What does love look like?” is the question I’ve been pondering.
“What does love look like?”
“What does love look like?” is the question I’ve been asking of You.
I once believed that love was romance, just a chance.
I even thought that love was for the lucky and the beautiful.
I once believed that love was a momentary bliss,
But love is more than this.
All You ever wanted was my attention.
All You ever wanted was love from me.
All You ever wanted was my affections, to sit here at Your feet.
Then I sat down, a little frustrated and confused.
If all of life comes down to love
Then love has to be more than sentiment,
More than selfishness and selfish gain.
And then I saw Him there, hanging on a tree, looking at me.
I saw Him there, hanging on a tree, looking at me.
He was looking at me, looking at Him, staring through me.
I could not escape those beautiful eyes.
And I began to weep and weep.
He had arms wide open, a heart exposed.
Arms wide open; He was bleeding, bleeding.
Love’s definition, love’s definition was looking at me.
Looking at Him, hanging on a tree.
I began to weep and weep and weep and weep.
This is how I know what love is, this is how I know what love is
And as I sat there weeping, crying.
Those beautiful eyes, full of desire and love.
He said to me, “You shall love Me, You shall love Me
You shall love Me, You shall love Me”
If anybody’s looking for love in all the wrong places.
If you’ve been searching for love, come to Me, come to Me.
Take up your cross, deny yourself.
Forget your father’s house and run, run with Me.
You were made for abandonment wholeheartedly.
You were made for someone greater, someone bigger, so follow Me.
And You’ll come alive when you learn to die.
(Arms Wide Open, by Misty Edwards)
This song changed my life. God knew that music deeply affects me, and I believe He gave me this song at a pivotal moment in my life to give me the answers that I so desperately sought.
You see, love as the world shows us is not Love. It’s a school play when you could be going to Broadway. It’s like eating McDonalds when you could have a gourmet meal. It’s like listening to a CD when you could go to the actual, full-blown concert sitting on the front row.
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (I John 4: 7-9)
Love is God. God is Love. And God showed his ultimate Love by sending His son to demonstrate His love. Christ came to teach us that Love is so much more than marriage and dating, or candy and chocolates, or —dare it say it?—even things like kissing and sex (so often the whole focus of relationships in this society).
Love is self-sacrifice and self-denial. Love means putting someone before you for the rest of your life. Christ perfectly demonstrated this when He chose to die on the cross to free us from our sins. He chose to show extravagant Love “with arms wide open, a heart exposed.”
He is the Love I seek. He is the only One who can fill the aching holes in my heart. All smaller loves, all smaller desires point to Him alone. We are hungry for these things because our souls hunger to meet the God who can satisfy all our longings. We were made to thirst for Him and His love as a lover thirsts for his beloved.
This is the God I worship. This is the God I can worship with my whole heart, trust with my entire being. My identity can be placed in Him in the confidence that He will never abuse, misuse, or forsake me. That He always has my best interest in mind, that He went so far as to give His life to cover my sins. It’s something I never deserved. It’s something that is utterly incomprehensible.
He is indeed The One. The One I have been searching for all of my life.
Because He is the One, I don’t have to worry about being single. Yes, there are times when I do wish I had a guy. It’s a natural human longing. Still, I don’t let it consume me anymore like it used to. I am content, I am free, I am satisfied. And yes, I am even joyful. Why? Because my Love comes from another source. Christ alone. Even if I never dated again or got married, I could still live a satisfying, fulfilled life. A man doesn’t define me. Just as a woman shouldn’t define a man. Christ defines us all if we are Christians, man or woman. Our worth is in something outside of us.
My flesh and my heart may fail, But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:26)
Wow. If only Christians would truly act like this. If only they’d truly let God be the strength of their heart and their portion instead of running to so many small things. And I’m preaching to myself. I’m a work in progress, too. Still, at least I’m on the journey. So many aren’t willing to even take the first step. They’re afraid to be alone, or afraid to trust God with their hearts, with their whole lives.
Yet it can be the sweetest thing to walk with God. Yes, there are difficult times. Yes, there are days I want someone. But when I truly let God be the Love who fulfills me, I can face anything with an assurance and a confidence I lacked most of my life. Yes, I’m single. Yes, I face the future as someone who is, in the human sense, alone. However, God is bigger than my circumstances.
My last semester at college, I went through this huge time of fear because I was graduating without someone. I felt like a failure. I felt as if I would step out of my graduation and be utterly alone. How could I face life after college if I were alone? Other people were dating. Other people had security. It wasn’t fair. God was holding out on me. I felt very despairing. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to find an apartment that I could afford, or to provide for myself. I just wanted someone else to help me through it all.
Yet God continually reassured me that He was with me. He kept asking me, “Why do you want a man so badly? I can look after you and love you better than any man could. You are single, and that’s not changing right now. It’s what’s best for you in this season. Trust me in this.” And I, rather unwillingly, tried to trust Him.
God did indeed prove Himself to me. He gave me an apartment that was inexpensive. But more than that, it’s beautiful and has character and—get this—was already completely furnished when we moved in. I didn’t even have money to buy essentials like a bed and kitchen supplies when I graduated, I was so broke. God also provided me with a nannying job that has met my needs. Even when I’m only working part time (like now), somehow the bills get paid every month. I’ve never lacked for what I needed.
Yes, I was afraid when I graduated. I wanted not to be single. Well, that didn’t phase God. He loves me, and He provided. He also gave me wonderful roommates who have been so encouraging. I’m not really alone, now am I? I’m so much better off right now than many people I see who desperately cling to boyfriends or girlfriends because they are terrified of risking being alone.
I’m not saying that God wants us all to be single because that’s somehow better. Still, I think He does have so much to offer us when we are single. There is so much to learn as we walk with Him in His love. And honestly, I probably won’t date again until I meet someone who has found his identity in Christ, who is honestly trying to find his worth in Christ, not in anything else. Yes, someone who fails a lot of the time, but who recognizes his failures and learns and grows. Someone who has experienced the Love of Christ because he has had to truly trust Christ in life-defining moments and painful times.
That’s a tall order in this day and age, I know. But I will marry a godly man, or I will be single. Period. And I’m okay with that. Really and honestly and truly. Because my identity is not found in a relationship. My identity is in Christ alone.
And I’ll live happily ever after. Forever. Single or not.
Will you let Christ fill your deepest aches, your deepest needs, your biggest dreams?
He is willing.