Discontent with singleness

My alma mater’s student newspaper published an “honest round-table discussion” on singleness, particularly as it pertains to Christian folk, and all I can do is roll my eyes so far into my head that they hurt. There were no perspectives from single men, and noticeably missing from the discussion is the viewpoint of single Christian women who really freaking hate being single.

My viewpoint.

Evangelical Christianity presents single persons, especially women, with conflicting teachings:

  1. Marriage (the covenantal union of a man and woman before God)–and, by extension, sex–is the greatest physical/material gift humanity can enjoy. It is a gift given by God for the mutual edification and pleasure of men and women. (Yes, edification is the official term.) Men and women should desire to marry (and raise children).
  2. Single persons, particularly women, who desire marriage are vaguely and unhelpfully told to “wait on the Lord” and “be content.” They are told that singleness is “a gift” and should be cherished. Desiring marriage and sex is a dirty thing, indicating the young woman does not prioritize God.

Whether purposefully or neglectfully, Christian women like me are plagued by these teachings from a young age, especially growing up in evangelical/Southern Baptist circles. If you feel confused, sad, angry, dirty, or some combination of the above, and not at all encouraged or discipled, then congratulations! You understand how it feels to be a product of evangelicalism’s Purity Cult, as I call it.

It’s such a bizarre thing. I am expected to present myself as this asexual being of “godliness” who wants nothing to do with boys until one day, somehow, I manage to find and marry one, at which point I am expected to be wholly enthusiastic about sex. But in the meantime, if I express a desire to date and marry, it’s because I’m not focused enough on God. Huh?

Look, I believe fully that God holds all things. He makes everything beautiful in its time and gives good gifts to his children. But he also gives us desires and dreams for a reason. To some of us, he gives the unrelenting desire for marriage because that is what we are meant to have. For others, he takes away that desire, because a life of celibacy is what they are meant to have. And I swear, if I hear one more person intone “Be content!” as if they have a single damn clue what it feels like to be hungry for the companionship of a mate while having no dating prospects, I will scream.

Because they keep saying be content with singleness. I am not.

They need to say be content in singleness. I am.

I am content in singleness because I am confident in my identity as a person. I do not rely on any human, friend or romantic partner, to give me meaning. My value and identity come from Christ and from exploring the unique traits and personality he has given me to bring diversity and beauty to his kingdom just by existing.

I am content in singleness because going to a restaurant or movie alone doesn’t scare me; in fact, I quite enjoy the time with my thoughts. I am content in singleness because I enjoy a great deal of flexibility in my schedule and activities.

But singleness as a noun, an object, rather than a descriptor of my romantic life? No. I am not content with that. I am not content with singleness because I know there is more for my life than just me.

I am not content with singleness because I have begged God to rip the desire for a husband out of me, and he has not, because it is a desire he gave me. I do not want a celibate life. I want a life partner, a companion, a mate. I want someone to make a home with so we can open our home to others in the way that a single woman finds it more difficult to do, such as hosting those without a home.

I am not content with singleness because I desire the joy of the marriage relationship–not merely sex, but singing songs in the car, going to church together, sitting on the porch during a rainstorm. I am happy to do those things alone or with friends, but there is something special and desperately desirable about sharing one’s life with a mate.

Genesis tells us that when God made Adam, Adam was lonely. He desired a companion. Having a pet from among the animals didn’t cut it. Having a best friend wasn’t going to cut it. “It is not good for the man to be alone,” said God, and he made Eve. The soul-deep ache for opposite-sex companionship that Adam experienced is exactly the pain that I know so well, too. Adam is recorded as delighting over Eve, exclaiming, “Now at last this is flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone!” He might as well be saying, “Yes! This is what I was looking for! Another person to share my life’s adventures with!”

That’s all I want. As yet, God has not granted the desire he gave me, though not because I sat around on my hands doing nothing. I’ve tried dating apps and websites. I’ve tried getting out and meeting people at church and other social opportunities. So far, nothing. I have screamed at him and begged and sobbed more than I can count. And then I see articles like the one I mentioned earlier that essentially blame me for being single because I guess I don’t trust God enough? “It’ll happen when you stop looking for it!” they all say. “Be content!”

Oh, I can be content in singleness, because I belong to a God who is faithful and good and molds our desires to his when we ask. He sees my grief at having no mate, and he knows the bitter pain of my untethered heart. And even though I don’t know when or where, the good man I’ve prayed for almost daily for ten years has to be out there, or else God would have taken this longing by now if it didn’t come from him.

But do not ask me to be content with singleness, because I desire something else. Not more. Other. Do not shame my desire to marry by suggesting I haven’t trusted God enough. Do not insult my fellow discontent sisters by elevating marriage as something to be desired and then tut-tutting us for wanting it. Don’t break our hearts by insinuating our singleness is our own fault based on assumptions about our spiritual journeys. Do not ask us to sit on our hands and do nothing to meet men or learn how to date well and healthfully.

My current status quo is not my status always. Do not ask me to be content.

Per aspera ad astra,

Steph

Reflections on Hope | The First Sunday of Advent

[I posted this on Facebook this evening, so I figured I would post it here, too.]

I was diagnosed with moderate-severe depression and moderate anxiety in October 2012, after a roommate encouraged me to talk to one of the counselors at Union. There. I said it. Six years I have struggled with this plague, this disease, in which my own brain frequently tries to sabotage me because the chemicals that support healthy, normal neurological functioning just don’t have the quantity to be… normal.

I hate the word “neurotypical.” It reminds me that there is a level of mental functioning out there that I cannot obtain but only ever come close to. At least I can come close, thanks to self-care, the cognitive techniques I learned in therapy, and, yes, medication. But that nirvana labeled “neurotypical” feels so very far away at times, as if even on my best day I’m still scrabbling through the muck of existence while people with properly functioning brain chemicals float on clouds and drink champagne. I don’t know what that’s like.

Human existence in general is a lot like this sometimes. Each of us feels lost in the mire while we look around and see others making it. Even if we know, cognitively, that everyone else is as screwed up as we are, it’s hard to believe. It’s hard to see people’s photos on Instagram and think about them screaming at their kids or worrying over finances or crying in the parking lot before entering their office, or, or, or. But maybe we are all just one #blessed away from falling into complete disarray. Our normal is not normal at all. It’s dysfunctional and painful and exhausting. We are weary with no rest in sight. I do not know what “neurotypical” feels like. The rest of us have no idea what real “normal” feels like.

This is the world that Christ came into–a world of bitterness and tired humans, a world so broken that even our bodies and brains don’t work as they should. This is the point of the first week of Advent, when we light the Hope candle in our churches and homes. We light this candle, remembering that it was this same chaos and darkness–a different era, but the same fears and broken people–that welcomed Christ. We hope because as he came the first time to remind us of God’s presence, he will come a second time someday to heal the brokenness once and for all.

He could have done it already. That’s within his power. He could have waved his hand and installed utopia two millennia ago. He could have touched my brain this morning and permanently cleared out the cobwebs and the low serotonin levels. But he hasn’t yet, and I think it’s so we can learn how to hope.

Hope is not some fluffy, feel-good sentiment that makes us deliriously bounce through life, unaware of pain. Hope is a very gritty, persistent thing, something we must decide to grasp. Hope is what we feel when we look into the shadows of our angry world–or our own lives and our own pain–and call out, “The light is coming, just hold on.” Hope is the knowledge that it will not always be like this because the God who came to Earth in the tiny infant body of the Christ Child is going to fix it. It might not be today. It might not be tomorrow, or next week, or a thousand years from now–but it will be someday.

Hope is the shaking arm clinging to the cliff edge screaming hold on, hold on, help is coming. It won’t always be like this. There will come a day when I am healed, when I no longer struggle with getting out of bed, when I don’t seclude myself from people because I just can’t bear seeing anyone, when I no longer take a pill before bed that tries to help my brain chemicals do the things they’re meant to do. Hope is knowing that, one day, I will run to the arms of my Savior, and he will wipe away the last tears of earthly existence and welcome me to true normalcy.

This is hope, the heart and point of Advent. We hold on because the promise of healing is stronger than the pain that crushes us in its vise-grip. I hold on for the restored mind and body that awaits me in the New Heaven and New Earth that Revelation promises. I hold on because Christ, my hope, holds me.

Just Say “Thank You”

This weekend, I had a revelation. It is one that I’ve had before, but I almost always forget it. It is the realization that I tend to apologize for and rationalize even the simplest behaviors. Let me set the scene.

On Saturday, my friend Rachel and I went out yard saleing together. I didn’t have any cash, but she told me that she’d spot me whatever I needed if I found something I had to have. I ended up picking up $6 worth of things at various sales, and we agreed this was fine. At one sale, I bought a pair of popular video games with the intent to go trade them in for store credit at the local game/tabletop store. I didn’t bother to check the cases, so it wasn’t until we got to the store that I found out one of the games was just an empty case–no disc. I felt horribly guilty, but we decided not to go back and harangue the yard sale owners over a $2 purchase because driving all that distance felt pointless. But I still felt terribly guilty for wasting her $2–well, $4 because the store wouldn’t take the other disc due to damage. And it was like I couldn’t shut up; I kept promising her I’d pay her the $6, and that I was sorry I hadn’t checked the games first, and that I was sorry for the trouble, but I would pay her back–

After a few minutes of my nervous chatter, Rachel just said, “Hey, it’s okay. We’ll just call it even. You don’t owe me.” Well, then I felt more guilty and kept talking even more because I felt so bad that I wasn’t paying her back, and, and, and. Then we realized I’d forgotten to bring her roommate’s purse with me (she’d left it at my house), and I was apologizing for that

Eventually I sighed and said, “I realize all I do is apologize for and rationalize what I do.” To which Rachel, a counselor in training, replied, “Try saying thank you instead. So instead of ‘I’m sorry I forgot your purse,’ you’d say ‘Thank you for understanding. Let’s go get it together.'”

I know I should do this, truly. It’s a difficult switch to make. It’s a cognitive restructuring that butts heads with everything I’m used to. (Where else but this blog can you see “cognitive restructuring” and “butt heads” in the same sentence?) As I pondered on this, though, I became less and less interested in “Oh, I need to do this.” Instead, I became more interested in why I don’t–why it’s so difficult for me.

It all goes back to my parents. I, along with my sister, was raised in a very shame-based environment. (Ask my sister about it; she can talk about this for days.) I talked about it some in my last post. Missteps weren’t exactly turned into teaching moments, unless the lesson was “You are a bad child.” Not “The thing you did was bad,” but “You are bad.”

Fast forward to now. I am plagued by a constant sense of offending everyone with everything I do. Surely people are annoyed by me. Surely they’re upset by my every minor, minute move. Surely no one would want to be around me because I’m The Worst. Surely I am obnoxious and insufferable. Surely–

Anxiety is a bitch. In the way that I visualize depression as a hulking shadow monster, I visualize anxiety as a pretentious, snobby old woman named Annette. (Annette, anxiety, alliteration.) Annette likes to stand behind me and criticize everything I do. “You’re not going to wear that top, are you? Fat women don’t wear horizontal stripes, dear.” “Oh, dear, you’ve upset the car behind you by going only five over. They’ll be angry now.” “You’re far too clingy with your friends. That’s obnoxious behavior, darling.”

She’s especially mean when it comes to my friends. “I can’t possibly imagine why anyone would want you. You’re loud and silly and you complain far too much about, well, everything. And you certainly overshare about your mental health. No one wants to hear that. You should just stay home alone.”

Sometimes I do. Sometimes Annette looms over me and becomes 100 feet tall and steps on me until I’m squished beneath her penny loafer, like an ill-fated ant. Other times I have the strength to ignore her or, even better, laugh her out of my face. But she’s just so mean when it comes to having friendships. My friends compliment me or express their affection, and I deny it: “Aw, don’t lie.” They tell me I’m the best (for whatever reason), and I scoff and don’t believe them. They tell me they love me, and I snort, “I don’t know how.”

Because somewhere, deep down, there’s a voice in my head–my mother, my anxiety, whatever–telling me I am not worth loving. I am flawed. I am broken and not worth the effort to repair. I am bad.

None of this is true. Cognitively, I know this. The Gospel makes this untrue. My mere existence as a human, created in the image of the Triune God, makes these thoughts false. It’s just a fight to remember that. It’s such a fight.

I hate Annette so much.

But I love my friends for taking up arms to help me fight her. I can’t remember which friend it was, but she told me she loved me and that I was worthwhile and not a burden to her. I replied, “It’s just so hard for me to believe that.” She said, “I know. That’s why I keep telling you. I’ll say it until you believe it.”

In those moments, when my friends grab me by the hand and repeat “I love you” until I’m sick of hearing it, they are pictures of Christ. I don’t know if they know that, but they should, because that’s the same thing he does. “Come here. Lean on Me. I love you.” Over and over and over until we yell “Yes, Lord, we get it, you love us” and still more until we slump down quietly and murmur our gratitude for his endless patience and gentle wooing.

“I’ll say it until you believe it,” whisper my friends, and in their voices I hear my Savior, calling me into his arms.

And all I can say in response is “Thank you.”

Per aspera ad astra,

Steph

The Tiniest Feline

In a moderately frustrating turn of events, it’s looking more and more likely like Princess Pumpkin Spook will either A) become a forever foster at my house or B) become a foster failure. All my co-workers who expressed interest have rescinded said interest. (She was found in a generator at work, hence why my coworkers had first dibs.) I tried to offload her onto a friend who fell in love, but she can’t take her. I still have a shot at convincing my parents they need a kitten, though.

I’m not opposed to keeping her, mind you. It’s just I tried really hard to convince myself I wouldn’t. But then, maybe Feline Fate has something different in mind. The other night, I was convinced she had chosen me as her human. She crawled up in my bed in the middle of the night and fell asleep on top of me. And I woke up enough to realize she was there and thought “Well, shit.”

She is the most precious nugget though. My friends came over last Friday and she cuddled with them for a solid four hours straight, not even pausing to go eat or use the litter box. None of the FLBs have ever done that with anyone, not even me. So maybe she is destined to stay with me and cuddle with everyone who comes into my home. I don’t know.

I took her to the vet yesterday to get her checked out and get her first round of shots. She weighs 2.4 pounds and is 9 weeks old–3 weeks older than I expected! My vet assigns a probable birthday to every kitten they age, so Pumpkin and my dad almost share a birthday; hers is August 28, and his is August 31. She is FIV negative, which is AWESOME. Unfortunately, she does have a spot of ringworm on her toe and keeps licking off the medicine. I think she’s going to need a cone of shame for that. I freaked out last night because one of her eyes was weeping badly and I quarantined her from the boys in case she had an upper respiratory infection. I cried and cried to think of her alone in the spare bedroom, but it was better to have one potential URI temporarily sad than to have four. I did a little reading online, and it turns out that some cats have an allergic reaction to the feline leukemia vaccine. I checked on her this morning and her eye seems much, much improved, so I think that’s all it was. I’m not overly concerned with her passing on ringworm to the boys (or to, uh, me) because she’s under treatment for it now and the big boys don’t really bother her. Thor likes to tackle her, but I might be able to ward that off if I put the cone of shame on her.

Whew. Pet ownership is hard work but so incredibly worthwhile. I can’t imagine not having them in my home. This is all such a far cry from when my roommate and I adopted Winston right after college and I cried the next day with adopter’s regret. I wouldn’t trade him–or any of the others–for anything. They really are family to me. Plus, it’s a joy to come home to soft nuzzles and purrs. They always cheer up my sad days.

Get yourself a pet if you have depression. It’ll change your life.

Per aspera ad astra,

Stephanie

Rainy Day Introspection

Hello, universe. I am back, trying to write again even though it’s been rough again. I just haven’t wanted to do anything. I’m going to see my doctor next month; I suspect I’ll need to ask her to increase the dosage on my antidepressants. They just aren’t working like they’re supposed to anymore. I took a pill and a half the other day and felt like new life got breathed into my brain. I suppose that’s a pretty good indicator that something needs to change.

Introducing: Princess Pumpkin Spook

I am currently fostering an itty bitty kitty that was found in a generator at work. She is probably no older than 6 weeks, and she is cute as a button. Purrs like a train. She looks just like Trinket did at her size, which is really cute to me. I’ve taken to calling her Princess Pumpkin Spook to be festive, but when my coworker who wants her is ready to take her, I’m sure she’ll get whatever name they choose. The most hilarious part is that while Winston and Trinket hissed and growled at her for several days, Thor took to her almost instantly. I kept her in a puppy crate for a few days while she settled, and he constantly tried to get inside to play with her. He would also just lie in front of the crate and watch her.

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Thor cuddling with her

Now that Pumpkin has been at the house for about a week, Thor doesn’t so much cuddle her as he does try to tackle and wrestle her. He’s still a kitten himself (about 6 months old), but he doesn’t realize that there’s a big size difference between him and her. Luckily, this little nugget yells at him a lot if he wrestles too hard.

It also just occurred to me after looking at that picture how much healthier she seems after a week. She was curled up on my chest this morning, and her fur was so sleek and soft, and her face is much cleaner. This is what happens when you feed a kitten good food! She’s been on a diet of wet kitten food and KMR (kitten milk replacement). The person who initially took her in was giving her dry kibble, which made my eye twitch a little. If Pumpkin were still with her mother, she’d be nursing. She likes to snack on the boys’ kibble (probably not the best thing since it is for adult cats), but her main meals are still wet food and KMR. And boy does she monch. What an appetite.

It’s nice to have a tiny kitten around the house again. I like it a lot. This is the first time I’ve fostered a kitten, which is great because it means I get all the fun and cuddles of a little baby without the stress of “Oh, geez, I’m gonna have four resident cats running this place.” I may not be her home forever, but she gets all the love and cuddles of my boys while she’s here. October is especially a bad month for black cats, so I am delighted to give her a safe home amidst the insanity of superstitious people.

Unnecessary Guilt is Unnecessary

Yesterday at work, I was almost falling asleep at my desk and not feeling the greatest. So, I did what any person who works for a reasonable employer would do: I said “Screw this” and took a couple hours of comp time to go home at 2:00 rather than 4:30. I told one coworker I was going to leave but otherwise just slipped out the back door and went home for a nap.

It was incredibly beneficial for me to do that. I napped for about an hour and a half, then got up and went to get my Clicklist order at Kroger. When I got home, groceries in tow, I had enough energy to do my dishes (I know, right?) and actually cook supper rather than just microwaving shredded cheese on top of tortilla chips. I was very pleased with myself and had a nice, relaxing evening watching YouTube videos and burning incense.

When I got to work this morning, the coworker I had told I was leaving early asked me if going home early had been helpful. I said yes, it was, and I felt much better, and then she was all like “Ugh, I’m so jealous, stop.” I offered the awkward laugh of “I’m not sure what I’m supposed to say now” and didn’t say anything else.

I know she was being sarcastic and teasing me. I know, I know. But in that moment, I felt guilty about taking some time for myself. It struck me just how bizarre the American working world is. Work ’til you’re tired, then crash and finally take time off, then have your coworkers tell you how jealous they are so you feel guilty about it. Don’t be jealous; take time off too! Don’t burn yourself out for this job. We are clerical workers; literally nothing we do is worth dying for. It’s good work, and it directly impacts/helps the students at our institution, but it’s not worth burnout.

That is something that I appreciate about my direct supervisor. He will work hard, but he’s very in tune with himself and knows when to call it quits. The other day he came in and worked a half a day until his sinuses bothered him so badly that he went home. “Everything I’m working on can be done in my pajamas, in my bed,” he said. I’ve never had a boss who was out of the office as much as he is, and I love it. He sets such a great precedent for self-care. Work hard, do good work, be productive, but take time off too. The other day I couldn’t bear the idea of getting out of my bed, so I texted him that I wasn’t coming in, and all he said was “That’s fine, feel better soon.” I rolled over, pulled the blankets over my head, and slept until noon. It was the best.

So take care of yourself, kids. Don’t let the broken American work environment ruin your life.

Friend Care is Self-Care

I don’t have any scholarly sources for this statement, but I’m pretty sure that helping others is one of the best ways to increase happiness and reduce overall stress. Humans do best when behaving altruistically. I think that’s why I spend so much time trying to make sure my friends are okay. We all suffer from anxiety, depression, or both (yikes), and sometimes I feel like it’s my personal responsibility to help them feel better. Sometimes I think it’s because I spent so many years of my life wasting away in my depression that I know what it’s like to be in despair. (I thank God constantly that it never manifested as cutting or any other self-harm like that.) I know what darkness is like, so I don’t want my friends to endure it alone.

Enter sweater and soup weather, my very favorite time of the year. I am hella fond of the concept of hygge (hue-guh). This is the Danish concept of slowing down and being conscious and present in a moment. It is also often accompanied by warm, comforting things like soft blankets and candles. It is a very cozy, intimate feeling. According to the website I just linked, if you don’t feel it, you’re not doing it right.

For me, autumn and winter are perfect times to experience hygge. The very weather makes it easy to come indoors and draw your loved ones close. Rain and snow and cold wind all force you to slow down, to bundle up, to drink tea and find contentment in stillness. In my opinion, if you don’t take advantage of all the slow coziness of cold weather, you’re a moron. Why would you wish away some of the most delightful months of the year just so you can rush through your life again? Summer is for speed. Autumn and winter are for hygge.

I try to create that sense in my friendships. I want my friends to feel that coziness and comfort in our relationship. No rush, no stress, no pressure. I’m not always good at it, because I often get pushy when they’re down (I take a very “Buck up, soldier!” attitude because that helps me sometimes, but I am not them), but I try. If I’m struggling to create the right emotional atmosphere, I usually just feed them and that fixes it.

So tonight, we will try to have a night of hygge. I’m going to make a big pot of gumbo when I get off work, and then I’ll spread fluffy blankets all over the living room. We’re gonna be okay.

KRISTEN I KNOW YOU’RE READING THIS. YOU’RE GONNA BE OKAY. SORRY FOR BEING A DRILL SERGEANT. I LOVE YOU.

Plus, who can be sad when I drop a tiny purring kitten on their lap?!

Per aspera ad astra,

Stephanie

A Difficult Few Days

Turns out it’s really difficult to keep writing every day when every day feels muddled and exhausting. (Maybe that’s when I should really be writing, but that’s a topic for a less tired brain.)

I have been in a depressive slump the last few days. It happens every once in a while; the shadow monster slinks in and pees in my corn flakes and acts like it’s enhancing the flavor.

It’s a hard thing to explain, these slumps. It’s like I’m coasting along to some degree of “normal” and then I trip over nothing and roll down a hill. My clue that it’s “getting bad” is that I get very tired by simple tasks or the thought of simple tasks. My self-care goes all to crap. Hygiene becomes exhausting, and I sponge-bathe rather than shower (though I do wash my hair because I am vain about not having greasy hair ever). I also get emotional and cry easily over… well, a lot. One time, a slump and my period coincided, and I cried for 20 minutes–like straight up sobbed–because Chris Evans’ eyes were “too blue,” whatever that means.

When it gets bad, I also withdraw from people I love and people in general. I don’t go to the store because the thought of a cashier–even the self-check guardian–saying hello is too exhausting. I don’t go through the drive-through for lunch because I can’t bear the thought of speaking to the person behind the order screen. I hide in my office and take too long in the bathroom because I just can’t muster the energy for human interaction. And when I get home at the end of the day, whatever I have done has been so wearying that I often flop onto my bed and fall asleep for two, maybe three hours, then get up and immediately go to bed.

That’s where I’ve been lately. The worst part of it, though, was Sunday. A friend and I were planning to start a weight loss thing together, and we were going to start on Sunday. I opened the box of supplements and powders and potions and got so overwhelmed that I had a meltdown and pushed it off to yesterday (Monday). Once I got myself calmed down, I got ready for church and headed off. I was okay for most of the service, but I felt a low background wrongness, like the tremors ahead of an earthquake, but moving through the liturgy distracted me. Once we got to the sermon, though, and I was sitting quietly, I felt it: an anxiety attack, welling in my chest like lava, threatening to burst forth any second. I sat there fighting tears, but not because of the sermon. I couldn’t even focus on most of it. I kept telling myself if I could just survive to Communion, I could leave. If I could just make it that far, I could slip out and go home and pull myself together.

I was on the second or third row, so I got to go up to the altar rail pretty early. I almost bolted from the nave right after I partook and rushed out to my car, crying the whole way. I’m sure anyone who saw me thought that I had been grasped by the Spirit, but nah, I just felt like I had to run for my life because my brain chemicals told me to. I cried the whole way home, trying not to hyperventilate in the middle of traffic. I didn’t feel better until I had gotten home and locked the door behind me, kicked off my shoes and my cardigan, and went into the kitchen to make lunch. I’m sure the FLBs wondered why I burst into the house in tears, but it was okay after a while. We all curled up on my bed and napped for three hours.

I think I’m on the upward swing now, though. I feel pretty calm and collected, though I’ve caught myself clenching my jaw, which tells me there’s an unresolved background stressor. I’m actually planning to pick up some groceries this afternoon, and I’m not exhausted by the thought of speaking to my coworkers. Plus, I’m writing this post. That alone is a strong indicator that the shadow monster has retreated to its lair for a while.

I am so incredibly grateful for my friends and my sister when the shadow monster emerges, though. It means more than they will ever know when they say “You’re going to be okay,” or “I understand,” or “You and your feelings are valid.” It is such a blessing when they give me small steps that I can do to take care of myself in the grip of a slump, or when they show me patience and grace by letting me be alone while promising they will be there. Then, when I finally crawl out of my cave, there they are, waiting with open arms.

It really does feel like crawling out of a cave into the sunlight, like the worst kind of hibernation; instead of feeling refreshed, I feel spent but somewhat ready to start over. But when I swing upward, I begin to notice beauty again. I washed my hair over the side of the tub this week and couldn’t help but be awed by the flow from the faucet and over my hands. I walked outside and to the mail room at my job and couldn’t help but notice the brilliant scarlet of the seed pods on the magnolia trees. I admired my coworker’s lime green car and appreciated her vibrant personality. I listened to the melody of one of my favorite hymns and thought about writing my own words but found myself utterly without words in the face of trying to describe Divine majesty.

I’m going to try to keep writing, now that I have seen the sunrise. I think that’s the most encouraging thing to keep in mind as I swing through these highs and lows, doing battle with the monster followed by respite–the sun will rise eventually. I just have to make it through the nights.

Per aspera ad astra,

Stephanie

Behold Your King

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Desiring God posted the above image on their Instagram a couple days ago. (This is my crappy screenshot version.) You could have heard me screeching from the rooftops with agreement. This is a topic that is very near and dear to my heart, because I am exhausted by the efforts of “women’s ministry” to pump me up and inflate me with my own self-worth.

Insisting to me in the name of Jesus that I am a jewel or a princess does not assuage the nagging sense that I am not. I am human. I know my weaknesses and my sins. Lifting me up to say “Look at yourself, you’re amazing and beautiful and so capable” does not address the emptiness of the human soul.

How can you say I am amazing when I refused to help the poor, or I was unkind to the cashier, or I said something hateful to a friend, or I had cruel thoughts about that homeless person?

Women are hard on themselves, often unfairly. We know this. But we, like all humans, also know in our deepest cores that we are not good and wonderful and amazing if left to our own devices. We are exactly like all humans, as selfish and wicked as everyone else, tempered only by social mores and childhood instruction of right vs. wrong.

So when I hear one of the dime-a-dozen Lifeway-brand women teachers tell me how incredible I am, I respond with disbelief, if not outright mockery and scorn. Do not lie to me. I know what I am.

This is the way the world encourages its women. Christian teaching should not sound like a Dove ad campaign. It should not denigrate the females of the church, but it should also not inflate self-worth past the level of healthy self-respect (love thy neighbor as thyself, after all) into self-worship.

Christian women should leave a conference not thinking “I am amazing” but rather “Jesus is amazing.”

The church has forgotten the meaning of the gospel, especially when it comes to the instruction of its women. The gospel is not solely personal salvation. It is not fire insurance to keep yourself from the pits of hell. It is not limited to a nebulous “me and Jesus” spirituality that disavows the community of the local church congregation.

The gospel of Jesus Christ, as presented in the New Testament, is the announcement of the King of Kings establishing his reign and forever changing the order of the world.

It is the story of how God promised to redeem humanity from our wickedness and create a new kingdom, a kingdom that operates not according to human whims but according to divine justice.

Is is the story of the King of Heaven, capable of repaying humanity for its rebellion with infinite wrath, setting aside that wrath to personally come down and say “I will give my life to make you part of my family.”

This is not a story that should be met with “Girl, you are a precious jewel in the crown of God!” No. This is a story that should be met with awe and worship, with falling to our knees in adoration of the goodness and mercy of God, rather than sitting back in our pews with smug self-righteousness.

Because here’s the deal. Without the gracious sacrifice of Jesus Christ, you and I are trash. We are sinful creatures, predisposed to pursue our own cravings no matter what. Wouldn’t you behave selfishly and wickedly if you could–if you had nothing else telling you not to? Don’t lie to yourself. Because I do not lie to myself–I know what I am outside the grace of Christ–I do not need a Beth Moore or a Lysa TerKeurst or anybody else telling me how pure and precious and valued I am. Because I am not.

Apart from Christ.

It is only through the finished work of Christ on the cross of Calvary that I have any worth at all. I have been redeemed into the family–the kingdom–of King Jesus by his work and his righteousness, not by mine. I am valued by God because he values Christ his Son, and I have accepted the salvation he has offered me.

But like I said, the gospel is not solely a personal salvation narrative. No, the kingdom of heaven upends everything humanity knows as “normal.” There is no “Blessed are the rich, the famous, and the powerful.” It is “Blessed are the meek, the peacemakers, the mourners.” The world says “Hoard everything you can and protect you and yours.” The kingdom of heaven demands “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth” and “Give all you have to the poor.” The world says “Save yourself.” The gospel says “Whoever loses his life for the sake of the gospel will find it.”

And at the end of the story? Oh, man. At the end, Jesus returns with his angelic armies and remakes the world into the kingdom of heaven on earth, where justice flows like rivers and there is true peace on earth. He brings his glory from above to rescue his creation.

My only response to that is worship, to fall on my face and cry “Holy, holy, holy.” You cannot tell me that the most important lesson for me as a Christian woman is to hear about how beautiful and precious I am. No! If not for Christ, I would burn in hell and miss the glory and beauty of the Savior. I would not know the tender love steering my heart toward him. I would not know the eternity-bridging mystery of partaking in the Eucharist. I would still be broken and helpless to save myself.

But my self-esteem would be great.

May I never worship myself, and may we as Christian women learn to sit in worshipful awe of our King, without whom we are nothing.

Per aspera ad astra,
Stephanie

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