Welcome back from our annual summer break! We are praying that it was a restful, reflective time for each of you. And even if it wasn’t, we’re still praying! To kick off the fall semester, we have the privilege of hearing from Ginny, a dear friend and fellow traveler on this journey. Thank you, Ginny!
[On Mondays at lunch, we fast and pray for men and women to be more and more shaped into Christlikeness, and for marriages to those who desire them.]
On a Sunday afternoon earlier this summer I looked down, saw something unusual, and sprang from my chair to declare, “Uh…My…water just broke!” No, I wasn’t a mom-to-be but rather the winner of the strangest baby shower game I’ve yet encountered. The hostess had placed in each of our glasses an ice cube with a tiny, plastic naked baby frozen in its center. The guest whose baby melted free first was to announce “My water just broke!” and claim a door prize. Pinterest, you’ve gone too far.
After claiming my prize I sat down, pondered the absurdity of the plastic baby floating in my wine spritzer (oh, and was I supposed to fish it out now, or….?), and wondered if I would ever have a more legitimate reason to make such an announcement.
There was a sort of poetic irony in watching the very young, beautiful bride open gifts that anticipated the child she carried, while my own body was bleeding out possibility the way it does every month. It is strange — and at times, feels cruel — to live in a body that reminds me on a monthly basis of its particular, visceral, and so far unmet capacity to create and nurture life. I can escape neither the physical reminder of specific things I desire nor the growing possibility that I may never receive them.
Then the whispered questions grow louder. Are my desires just superfluous? Why do I have them at all? Why do I have a body saddled with seemingly pointless potential? Why, Lord, did you give me so many desires if I’m only ever to be disappointed in them?
Childhood was marked by wild anticipation, dreams, desires accompanied by profound expectation — not a tenuous guess that x, y, z might happen but rather a deep certainty that they would. I was certain of what I was made for and what my life would look like. My heart lived in that vision so fully that my dreams for the future seemed sure as promises, like Old Testament dreams that were trustworthy revelation of the destinies of God’s people.
But life hasn’t gone that way, and somewhere in the last five years I have stopped dreaming. These days dreams seem less like promises and more like vapors – impossible, unattainable distractions. A waste of time when I’m busy trying to figure out reality.
I’ve told people that I’m content. I’m fine. I’m “discovering the gift of singleness” (while still far from sure what that means). But the reality I have to admit to myself is that I’ve stopped living from a place of hope or joyful expectation, instead adopting an attitude of no expectation and called it contentment because that sounds more virtuous. I have taught myself to dull my desires in an offensive against possible further heartache. I looked at the disappointments of the last ten years and, almost without realizing it, let them teach me to give up asking for the longings of my heart. I stopped asking or expecting because I would frankly rather not ask if it only means setting myself up for more disappointment. My response to my hunger was stoicism.
The night following that baby shower I realized I couldn’t bear the dryness of stoicism anymore, but if I wasn’t going to be filled, what other options did I have? What did it matter? I threw questions at heaven, just defying God to actually understand. If He really knew what this felt like, He would take it away, or at least show up with some answers. Perhaps He has general “compassion” toward me, but what does that mean or matter if He never lived the frustrations specific to being a single, childless woman in the 21st century staring down a third decade of unmet longing?
I’m a Presbyterian so these words don’t exactly roll off my tongue, but the Holy Spirit was moving as I asked such ungrateful questions. Hebrews 4:15 wouldn’t leave me alone: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are…” Ok, Lord. Let’s talk about this for a minute. How can the God who took on the body of a man in the ancient world sympathize with me in this?
- Jesus slept alone, like I do.
- Jesus assumed a fully human body with the same capacity for desire and creation — and yet never physically fathered children.
- Jesus knows the pain of unrequited love on a cosmic scale exponentially greater than the heartbreak and disappointment in my past.
I am known and loved by a God who voluntarily defers hope, desire, and good gifts because of His confidence in their eventual perfection. I am reminded of this every time I partake of the Lord’s Supper and my pastor recites the promise: “I tell you I will not drink of this fruit of the vine again until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” For Him, it was worthwhile to forego the enjoyment of this good thing because wine in itself would never fill His true desire: unity and fellowship with His people.
But here is my struggle: How do I live with hope and expectation — not assumption that I will receive everything I want, but an attitude that nonetheless embraces the goodness of desire and expects the goodness of the Lord? How do I hold a contentment with the life I have been given in balance with a still-resent desire for good things I haven’t been given?
I think one key is to usher my bitter, limping heart on more frequent visits to the roots beneath my wish list. Yes, I desire specific things like a spouse, my own home, an income that allows me to travel and be generous and save for the future. But none of those good things in themselves would resolve finally the deeper hunger pangs beneath the surface. I hunger to be known and cherished; to have relationships and resources to use my God-given abilities and nurturing instincts; to be rooted in a place that is beautiful and secure; to have a forum in which to explore, enjoy, and share with others the peerless, expansive beauty of my God. God is big enough and knows me intimately enough to give me all these things in packaging not limited to the scope of my imagining.
The other key is to remember that my definition of God’s goodness is very narrow. My habit has been to judge the goodness of the Lord based on the list of things He has not given me. It’s easy to dwell on interpreting my life as a list of ways in which I’ve been left out, and based on that list define God as inattentive at best, mean at worst. But I must remember that He is not so mean as to withhold husband/house/prosperity and given me nothing else to enjoy.
There is so much that I have, here, now, and to come. I have the family, friends, and church that God knew I needed. I have a job that pays my bills and a cozy place to live and hobbies that bring delight. According to Psalm 16, I have a good inheritance. According to Ephesians 1, I have redemption, riches of grace, hope, power. Whether or not I end up with a home of my own or a magnificent budget for hospitality, I am ASSURED a seat at the one table that will truly satisfy. Whether or not I have descendants I am GUARANTEED a family that cannot be bound by time or distance. I am promised that it is a blessed thing to hunger and thirst, and I WILL be filled.
Perhaps this is the avenue to not resenting my body, my dreams, or my story. What could be perceived as superfluous or cruel loose ends can instead be seen as the arrows pointing to what is to come. They are the messengers shouting out the truth that nothing here will fill me completely — I will always be hungry until kingdom come — so hold the gifts loosely even as I enjoy them deeply. Let my profound hunger rumble along with all of creation as it waits, because I know now that the alternative of a stoic heart kills my ability to receive God’s goodness. As my roommate put it recently, “The first bite of heavenly reality will be far more real for those who have hungered.”