I am totally content with being single. Provided I am married by the time I’m 27 tops. I am totally content with being single. Provided all my friends are too. I am totally content with being single. Provided people assume it was my choice, that it could have been otherwise. My parents and sisters all left university in a relationship with their subsequent spouses, and now we are post-graduation, Christian friends’ weddings are beginning to fill my Facebook news-stream. As they do, the qualifications attached to that ‘contentedness’ become increasingly prominent. For me, not only is there the niggle of statistics, but there’s also the awkward fact that I come with a veritable lorry-load of emotional baggage. I mean, I could plan my outfits to perfection and make sure I always have my face pristinely powdered when I am out and about, but is it date three or date five when I let the mental health bombshell drop? ‘Would you like pudding?’, mystery man would say. ‘Well, see I’d love to because I’m having such a swell time, but if I do, I will probably have a panic attack over whether it is okay to indulge even though I am already full, and then I might totally lose my voice as I become swamped by self-loathing, and it all stems back to when I was sixteen and…’ I’ll pick up my violin as verbal splurges take over and mystery man will be drained of all colour. It’s hardly the next Richard Curtis. When Molly Pohlig blogged beautifully about this from a secular perspective, (I think, but does it matter anyway? Stories are stories) she concluded that there was no good time to tell someone about her mental illness. Particular since everything beforehand had been a series of ding-ding ‘ohmygoshmetooooooo’ mental moments, that was hardly reassuring. She ended by picking herself up and heading back out into the world of self-conscious, stare-at-my-coffee-cup-while-I-offload-and-hope-you’re-still-there-when-I-look-up world of dating. I hugely admire her courage. But I fear premature arthritis if I just keep crossing my fingers.
I know what should follow from this feeling of inadequacy. I know that I am already part of a love story, that I am already Jesus’ bride (Isaiah 54:5; Revelation 19:7-9, 21:2). I know that I can stand before God literally and metaphorically stripped of all make-up and try-hard pretence and, by Jesus’ sacrifice, be loved as I am (Romans 8:37-39). I know that that love is perfect and eternal, and hence surpasses that which any mere mortal could show me (Psalm 86:15; 1 John 3:1) . Hunky-dory. Problem-solved.
If, that is, there wasn’t some reinforced concrete slab somewhere between my head and my heart preventing me from living like I knew all those promises to be true.
I guess I have two options. One, sit alone in my room, making daisy-chains while I sigh melancholically to the sounds of Nick Cave and wait for the day that I morph into Miss Haversham. Two, fake it ‘til I make it.
By which I mean, act as if I knew from the top of my head to the tips of my toes that I lacked no emotional nourishment whatsoever, until the spiritual penny drops.
Because maybe I’ve got my gospel in a muddle. Yes, God loves me. That’s awesome. But He loves me so that I can love. It’s sourdough love. He gave me something that I can pass on unendingly because my jar of sourdough starter will keep regenerating.
And maybe, God’s love for me starts to feel a little more palpable as I start making it real for other people.
1 John 4: 11: “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
Maybe that’s what that fuzzy, heart-lifted, spring-in-step feeling is after you make someone smile. And that love that I can share to God’s world is all the more vibrant for breaking out of Rom-Com clichés. Trust me, I’m a romantic. I would follow the feeling of butterflies and the picture of running with hands held into the North Sea because you’re giggly in infatuation, and if love conquers all that’s got to include hyperthermia, right? But I want to love holding an almost-stranger’s hand while hearing their story more. I want my hands to help people up. I want a love that is always yearning to find new objects, and not just cos it’s bored of the Thursday night telly and the parents’ evenings and there’s a newer beau on the block.
I want to love like Jesus. The one that lifted me up off the shelf. The one that can stomach all the brokenness of the world and so isn’t the slightest bit squeamish about my ‘wobbly bits’ as Bridget Jones put it. The one that deserves my wholehearted devotion for the rest of my days, and not just in times of romantic drought. The one that raises a quizzical eyebrow when I dream about the nuclear family photo sitting on a mantelpiece. “Seriously?” He asks, “that’s as big as you dream? Don’t know if you’ve noticed, babe, but there’s a kingdom that needs building out there. I mean sure, if you wanna keep your love locked inside an open-plan kitchen-diner with white gloss units, fair enough…. But, instead of restoring an old barn in the Suffolk countryside, you could help me restore my world. Jus’ saying.” (Matthew 28: 18-20).
So here’s my prayer (I really don’t want you to think I’ve sorted my heart out on this bish-bash-bosh style- it’s going to take some drilling in):
‘Lord, lift my eyes from my ring finger and fix them on you. Remind me each day that my heart was made to rest in you, that I am to seek your kingdom first and not a husband. I pray for the strength to launch myself into your ocean, and that you would not let me look back with hesitancy. Count me a keen bean for you, Jesus”.
Henry Drummond: ‘God is love. Therefore love. Without distinction, without calculation, without procrastination, love.’