I closed the door behind my parents as they left our two-bedroom apartment near campus.
Bows and wrapping paper, half-eaten cupcakes, stoles cords, and a tassel sprinkled the living room.
I’d gather them later; I just made a beeline to the bedroom.
Still in my graduation dress, I hopped in the bed in the fetal position and sobbed straight into my pillow.
Will and I had only been married six months, but he knew what to ask.
“Do you want to go back to school?”
A muffled “uh-huh” came through sniffs and sobbing.
It felt so alien to embrace a new routine apart from the semester-break-semester-break one I’d known since kindergarten.
A plan was in place, which should’ve provided some comfort. In two weeks, I’d be starting an internship at the college ministry where I was a student. I didn’t even know that one-year internship would precede two more years as the ministry’s assistant director.
I am that woman again (only three years older): the woman furled underneath the covers because her life is changing and a part of her isn’t ready.
Last Friday was my last day at the college ministry. Will and I are moving to New Orleans in July so that I can finish my seminary degree in the classroom rather than on the Internet.
During this season of change, I have closely identified with Isaiah 30:20-21: “Your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.’”
This is the way. I have an undeniable peace in my spirit – a peace that can only be from God.
I reassure myself that change is a good thing – even unavoidable and natural.
But whether I’m coiled up in sheets on graduation day or resignation day, change can still feel less like transition and more like displacement.
Displacement (most of the time) happens to us. We call this a passive verb in English, and this makes sense to my writer’s brain. Writers are encouraged to avoid passive verbs as much as possible.
Maybe this is why the writer in me resists being displaced.
I want to displace my own self.
To displace means “to cause something to move from its proper or usual place.”
It’s in our nature to resist seasons of displacement or change (even the exciting ones like college graduations or big moves) from our usual places. These seasons can feel lonely, uneventful, and unproductive.
I’ve felt so many emotions during the last two weeks as I’ve said goodbyes, cleaned out my desk drawers, and turned in my keys at my (now) former job.
But then I remembered: this displacement feels familiar. I’ve been here before, and I recall graduation day and the days that followed.
“Remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you (Deuteronomy 8:2).” I remember God’s relentless pleas for the Israelites to reflect and remember God’s faithfulness in their displacement time after time.
I take time to remember with God – reminisce with him like an old friend.
I smile at the graduate sobbing in front of her new husband and wanting to go back to school. I smile and thank God for his faithfulness and guidance throughout the years.
Suddenly, displacement isn’t so bad as I remember – take time to remember with God.
But I admit that it’s uncomfortable. I thrive on productivity, but this girl will have no “job” to go into every day for a while (that’s another blog post) besides teaching yoga and writing stories.
When I say seasons of displacement can feel unproductive, I speak from real-time experience. Besides attending seminary full-time, I have no “plan” this time.
But God is the God who sees the woman without a plan. He is the God who meets a pregnant woman in the desert and asks, “Where are you coming from and where are you going?” (Genesis 16:8). Hagar responded to the former part of his question yet couldn’t answer the latter: “Where are you going?”
But God gave her an answer; God answered her with direction and purpose.
Maybe that’s all God asks from us in our seasons of displacement. Maybe all he asks is that we remember where we’ve been with him, and he provides the answers for where we’re going:
Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend [or feed on] faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. -Psalm 37:3-4 (ESV)
Feed on faithfulness. Delight in the Lord. These are the commands for a displaced heart ready to receive God’s desires and direction.
For the follower of Christ that abides in him, all fear in “missing God’s will” is cast aside. He is faithful to make our desires his desires.
The mystery of mysteries is the indwelling Spirit of God’s role in all of this. When our pleas for direction, our complaints of displacement, our cries for a plan feel like silent prayers hitting the ceiling, God’s Spirit in our Spirit is acting as a translator.
God’s Spirit is translating our semi-spiritual prayers into supernatural language, and he is getting it right:
“For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words… the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 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 8:26-28 (ESV)
In all our displacement and disorientation, God simply asks us to remember. Remember and feed on his faithfulness. Take a drink from the well of his faithfulness like Hagar did in the desert.
He is the one who answers his own question of where we are going. He is the one who replaces our desires with his will. He is the one who translates my half-baked prayers into ready plans.
To the displaced furled underneath covers today, you and I are in Good Hands.
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I’ve had conversations recently with Christian friends who are single, and I sense in their voices the frustrations: the glib apologetics to view singleness as a gift; extended family members’ not-so-subtle prompts to ‘settle down;’ and feelings of being overlooked or undervalued in their local churches.
If this is you, my guess is that you know the “right” answers today and every day. You’ve likely wrestled with what you believe and feel you have your theology worked out as it relates to seasons of singleness and marriage.
But some of my close friends have been honest with me that this knowledge can fall short when friends have dinner reservations with significant others or roommates have waiting for them on your doorstep a vase with several red roses and a small stuffed puppy with a heart sown to its lips.
Last week, I came across 1 Corinthians 7 in which Paul (the writer of 1 Corinthians) promotes singleness. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians made me ask, “How do his words inform both my season of marriage and my friends’ season of singleness?”
If you are single and still reading, I am certain of this: you and I share the same Valentine today and every day. Because in every season—married or single—our greatest Valentine as followers of Jesus is always Jesus.
As I read Paul’s words about singleness, I was convinced they are just as much for me as they are for you. The goal of our lives in Christ is never all-out devotion to singleness or marriage but to the Valentine of our souls:
“I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord… the unmarried woman is anxious about the things of the Lord… I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint on you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.” -1 Corinthians 7:32-35
The soul that wholly loves its Maker—the One who loves it most—is “free from anxieties” and “undivided” in its devotion.
Yes, dating and marriage distract from and compete for the soul’s affections, and this is what Paul seems to be driving home. But single or married, the soul’s purpose is unchanging.
I think through this as I read: singleness or marriage must not be the gift itself. No, the gift must be more. Maybe the gift is ultimately this freedom from anxiety. Maybe it’s this fixed devotion to our Maker in this weary world with all of its expiration dates:
“This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy has though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.” -1 Corinthians 7:29-31
The gift is the “get-to”—to experience and participate in God’s kingdom here and now and to know that you and I are living for something beyond Valentine’s Days. Dozens of roses droop as February fades into March. Half-eaten boxes of chocolates go to waste, melting in kitchen trashcans or backseats of vehicles. Spouses disappoint when workdays are too demanding. Texts fade out with realizations of incompatibility. Husbands and wives are taken too soon. Disappointment stirs and stews as well-meaning extended family tells you your biological clock is ticking. Companions fall short when they don’t fully know or understand you.
But there is a Valentine who is a sure and steadfast anchor for both the single and married soul (Hebrews 6:19). There is a God capable of fully knowing yet fully loving you and me. This is the identity of the single and married souls in Christ on Valentine’s Day and every day.
And still, theology takes time to travel from the head to the heart.
But this is what I know:
Your season—single or married—is no holding place for future fairytales or children or ministry opportunities. It is a giving space for God’s present love and promises and purpose for your life.
Your spiritual stature is not defined by your relationship status with some one but by your relationship with the One who spoke the stars and galaxies into existence yet speaks into your soul today.
Yeah, theology takes time to travel from the head to the heart. This is why Paul recognizes both the mourning and rejoicing that we will inevitably face, even if we know what we see isn’t all that is.
One of my favorite gifts is a beautiful bouquet, and I am an all-out celebrator of Valentine’s Day. But isn’t it ironic that we honor a saint by the name of “Valentine”—martyred in his pursuit of following Jesus—with cheap chocolates and stuffed animals that oftentimes find their way in our cardboard boxes with “Goodwill” written on their sides.
Singleness is not the gift, and marriage is not the goal. A soul undivided in its affections for the One who unfailingly loves it back? This is the gift. And it’s the sweetest gift, even when theology feels inadequate on Valentine’s Day.
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This blog was in the works longer than I want to admit to you.
It’s actually undergone two redesigns since I stopped writing in my tiny corner of the blogosphere two years ago.
But Facebook updates and Instagram captions can no longer hold space for the words in my head and heart. (I’m sure my Facebook friends are thankful I’ve made this move, since my status updates are oftentimes long enough to be blog posts. This is my attempt to get away from that!)
How does the most comfortable next step for us feel like the most uncomfortable next step for us at the same time?
This is the paradox of writing for me. It’s something that I cannot completely abandon. There’s a sacred comfort in writing for me, yet there’s also a scary discomfort in releasing vulnerable words from the heart and into the world through writing.
But I’m learning that the most uncomfortable thing we’ll ever do can also be the most comfortable thing we’ll ever do—like the familiarity of pulling in your driveway, walking through your front door, and slipping off your shoes after some adventure. It feels like coming home.
It’s most comfortable because it’s that uncomfortable thing that makes you come alive—that nagging of the soul that won’t let it go.
Dare I say it feels like obedience to God Himself?
Among an audience of college students last week, I heard a pastor share three indicators that you’ve found your God-given gift:
- You experience joy when you use your gift.
- You are equipped for your gift.
- God affirms your gift through others.
Writing is a gift to me, and I say this because I feel like it is more of a God-given “get-to” than a me-given gift to Him or you. There is a deeply satisfying joy when we “fan into flame” (as Paul calls it in 2 Timothy 1:6) God’s gift to us.
Howard Thurman said, “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
I believe this is what Paul meant when he wrote to Timothy to “fan into flame” his gift.
I think Thurman’s question is important, and writing is what makes me come alive most. It’s that space where comfort and discomfort coexist and obedience is born.
Maybe it’s in that tension between the comfort and discomfort—the now and not-yet, the under-qualified but overjoyed, the fearful but brave—where we uncover our God-gifts and take our faith-leap.
After all, we serve a God more than able to grow our wings on the way down.
What is your faith-leap?
Welcome to mine. I’m so glad you’re here.
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