“Alex” is a mechanical engineer. He has a good job that pays pretty well and allows enough time in his week to do many of the things he enjoys. On the surface, he seems relatively happy and pretty well-adjusted in life. And yet, in a recent pastoral counseling session, he reported not feeling like himself; as if he’s in some sort of funk or maybe even a depression. He just doesn’t seem to have the energy he once did. And though he’s always been a relatively healthy person, lately it seems like he’s been sick a lot more than usual; like his immunity is just waning a bit for some reason.
Sure, like many of us, he’d just love to be able to blame it on the pandemic as we do with so many things these days. But there seems to be something more to it. And as we talked, I learned that some years ago, “Alex” and his wife separated. And then, after a little more time had passed, they divorced. He got some counseling and did the best he could to “try some new things,” pursue some long since abandoned or longed-for hobbies; to get adjusted to this new normal. He attended DivorceCare – several rounds of it even – and a few follow-up courses in the Cloud-Townsend series. He says he’s worked hard at maintaining and growing as good a relationship as he can with his kids…under the circumstances. And yet, there’s just this sense of malaise; a feeling of blah…meh or “what for.” Times with buddies are fine or “just okay.” Social media and TV are mostly junk. And dating sites? Oh, don’t even get him started on what a…
There are literally hundreds, if not thousands of “Alex’s” out there – of both genders. Many, even within our Singles’ Ministry. Maybe you can relate; if not to the specific circumstance, then, at least to the frequent feelings of loneliness, desire for connection, but as if something is just…missing. You’re experienced enough of life to know that you really want to try and “do it God’s way.” But you’re beginning to wonder if God even cares; if His way is really even worth it. It all seems so confusing.
We hear all the time that we are “wired for relationship.” So, why is it that some of our relationships have crumbled or have become such a dumpster fire that we don’t even know if we want to continue in them? “I just want to meet more people; to have more friends.” “If I’m really trying to do it God’s way, why doesn’t he just put them in my life or make it easier to find them?”
Well, what about so-and-so, I might ask. “Oh, they’re just such a hot mess…”. Or, “they’ve really got some issues…a ton of baggage they’ve yet to unpack.” “I’m not even sure if they’re really saved.”
(Ouch!) Okay, well…how about if we explore a little more about some of the way’s you’ve tried.
“Alright…well…wait, what do you mean?”
Well, what other kinds of things have you done to pursue relationship? What are some of your expectations in those relationships?
“Well, I mean, I go to church pretty regularly. Wouldn’t you think that would be a good place to meet someone?”
Maybe, but for what?
“Well, you know…I just don’t think I’m cut out to remain single for the rest of my life.”
I see…and yeah, I can relate, in part, to that feeling. After my divorce, I recognized that while some are genuinely called to singleness, I was one who had a deep sense that I wasn’t created and certainly not meant to live the life Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 7: 7-8. I have to admit, I was really more in the verse 9 camp of that chapter.
“Yeah, that’s what I’m saying. I really believe God wants me to be happy; that He made me to be married.” (We’ll overlook, for the moment that these two things don’t just naturally occur together.) J
Is there any possibility that maybe you might be putting the cart before the horse there?
“What do you mean?”
Yeah, I get that a lot. What if… as people much smarter than me, who have been doing this a lot longer than me have said, “What if God is more interested in your holiness than your happiness?”
“What does that mean?” Alex fired back, almost as if, somehow a bit offended by the question.
I’m learning and understanding it to mean that He’s more interested, first and foremost in our developing a well-grounded and meaningful relationship primarily with Him; far more than and way before He’s interested in our being married. Make no mistake; He is the author; the very creator of marriage. The one who looked at Adam and said, “It is not good for man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” (Genesis 2:18 NIV)
And yet, having created us and then having given us the gift of free-will, He recognizes our sin-nature. Our natural tendency to be more attracted to things of the flesh than of the Spirit.
Alex now kind of slumped in his chair, fidgeting his body a little and kind of wrinkling his brow as if, out of discomfort, he was settling in to prepare himself for my “sermon.”
Recognizing this, I decided to cut a bit more to the point.
I’m just saying, doesn’t it seem like the best of any of our relationships begin as friendships?
“Yeah, I guess…so you’re saying I need to slow down a bit on looking for a wife at church.”
What if you were to continue to pursue relationship, but with people of both genders at church; as friendships; where each person seeks to bring out the best in one another and you genuinely enjoy just being in community (or fellowship) with one another, pursuing God together and trying to figure out how in the world His Word is supposed to play out in your lives? Encouraging one another and being there for one another in times of need, concern, ill health or even trouble. Challenging each other, helping one another to figure things out; holding one another accountable and in battle together against so many of the things our current culture tempts us to…
“Okay, okay, I get what you’re saying and yeah, that sounds dreamy.” (He said, with, perhaps more than just a touch of sarcasm or maybe even cynicism, if not outright condescension.)
He stared, for a time at the floor before looking up and saying, maybe it’s time I try another Life Group…if it’s not too late (to register)?
“Alex” is a summary of a conglomeration of some very real conversations I’ve had with many of you over the years. If you recognize yourself in some of these words, don’t be offended or feel condemned (that’s the work of the enemy); be convicted (that’s of the Holy Spirit).
All of us need a little nudge from time to time to move in a direction that’s different from the one in which we’ve been headed or from a place in which we’ve been “stuck” for quite some time.
Through these conversations (and others) I’ve come to learn and genuinely understand that sometimes, the loneliness that we experience is actually of our own doing. Some of the choices we make can actually lead to our feelings of loneliness, isolation or even withdrawal.
But I’ve also come to know that this, too, is of the enemy.
God, in His infinite wisdom did, indeed, wire us for relationship…to be relational and act relationally.
He does not want us to be alone, as we discussed earlier in His creation of Adam.
I believe that His desire, is for us to find connection through community. But He’s not likely to line up potential new friends right at your doorstep. It’s going to take initiative and (maybe even a little more) intentional effort on your part.
And that while people can…be challenging (almost wrote something not so Christian there), Jesus commanded that we love one another for a reason. (John 13:34)
That, as we practice and learn to love others, we actually often become better people ourselves through the process.
For some of us, God will allow marriage; described by the great Christian writer, Francis de Sales, to be quite possibly, the toughest ministry anyone could ever undertake,” as marriage requires a great deal of virtue, self-sacrifice, unconditional love, constancy and other such character qualities.
Others will be called to singlehood, where they will build up amazing relationships with Christ, and be in position to provide example and guidance to many.
Regardless of our relationship status, the Bible says that we should not forsake (neglect or stop) meeting together. (Hebrews 10: 22-25)
So yes, in answer to “Alex’s” question, you probably should, if you’ve not already, join a Life Group. And no; it’s not too late.
And if you’re already in a Life Group, I hope this little vignette will help you to check yourself on why you’re really there and how you might improve the Life Group experience, both for yourself and those in group with you.
Our winter quarter of Life Groups began last week for most here at North Coast. And, in going back and forth in communication with many of our Leaders and Hosts as well as while dropping in on some of the groups that meet on campus – well there’s just such an amazing energy and sense of excitement surrounding these gatherings.
People’s yearning for connection to others through community is palpable.
If you’re not yet in a Life Group and think this is the quarter you might give one a try, I can’t more strongly encourage you to do so. You can get more information via this link. But don’t delay. Groups, as I say, are underway and we’d love to help get you connected. And, if you find yourself needing a little help or counsel, please do not hesitate to reach out. I can be reached at [email protected] and will be happy to do all I can to assist.
Right here with you,