Thursday, August 2, 2012

is God in my singleness?

I had a rough June/July. I tried internet dating more seriously than I ever have before, because I felt that I had waited long enough for something to just "come along" at a time when I was "least expecting it"....everyone keeps telling me that's how it works out, but I had about 7 years of that mindset and nothing ever happened. So, anyways, tried to take things into my own hands and make an effort, and set up a bunch of dates through online services. Most were awful, but one guy was promising. We went on several dates in June, but in July it just seemed he wasn't very into it, and as things fizzled, I had a rough time. Mini-breakdown. It's just so hard to feel like I can't make things work. I know there are always things out of my control, but it's just so frustrating that it feels like there is nothing I can do.  Anyways, my cousin/roomate has seen me beating myself up a bit over this and encouraged me to go to therapy. Blurgh.

So, I went to my first therapist appointment yesterday. Overall, it was ok. I definitely cried a lot, and I articulated a bit more than I have to close friends, so I suppose that was a bit of a release. The therapist was getting to know my situation, and I didn't really have many "a-ha" moments, but perhaps that's yet to come. There was one thing that struck me during my session though. My therapist asked me if I felt God in my pain and frustration over being single. I couldn't respond right first inclination was to give a sunday school answer - "Of course, God has been able to use me in ways I never would have imagined because I'm single"....and although it is true that I think God has been able to use me in particular ways due to my singleness, I have to admit that honestly, I don't feel God in the midst of the pain that accompanies my relationship status. I feel alone, rejected, dejected, unappreciated, unrecognized. It's hard to feel/sense God's love when I'm in that dark place.

I've been reading/listening to some fairly controversial leaders in the post-modern/emerging church movement lately, and some of what Peter Rollins discusses has been reaching me pretty deep lately. He talks about how churches often tell people who are hurting that only God can fill that void in their lives. Call out to God, and he will answer and fill that hole and make you whole and full of joy. Yeah, that sounds great, I've heard that my whole life, but really......? How does that work? When does that happen? Is it really that simple? Since I haven't been able to find that solace and comfort, does that mean something is wrong with me? that I haven't been reaching out to God in the right way, that I'm not listening, that there is even more wrong with me than my pain...that I'm out of touch with God or that he's not even there? If we go on hurting after we have cried out to God and acknowledged the pain in our lives, and he hasn't filled our void/made us whole, do we need to assume he doesn't care/we aren't asking right?  I hope not, because that just sucks.

Some of what Peter Rollins discusses is so much more affirming/ life-giving for me and just feels so much more right as I consider what I believe about God and church. Here's a quote from a blog post of his that I found particularly interesting:
What if the church could be a place where we found a liturgical structure that would not treat God as a product that would make us whole but as the mystery that enables us to live abundantly in the midst of life’s difficulties. A place where we are invited to confront the reality of our humanity, not so that we will despair, but so that we will be free of the despair that already lurks within us, the despair that enslaves us, the despair that we refuse to acknowledge.
In the last few weeks my goal has been to be more open about my pain, brokenness, and doubt. I don't think Sunday School answers to life's problems are going to help me get through my current situation. I'm so glad that I have a solid foundation from growing up an evangelical Christian, and it's such a great springboard for me as I now am starting to take some steps out on the diving board, hop up and down a bit, and get prepared to launch myself into experiencing the "mystery" of God's involvement in my life without the expectations of a divine quick-fix.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

I have a friend who is a writer, and as I've gone to art/literature events where she has read her work out loud, I'm continually blown away by how honest and brave her writing is. It is incredibly personal, but the process of sharing her experience seems to be so life-affirming for her. A publication she is involved with recently had a call for entries for works related to the concept of "Idol."  At first I had no intention of creating anything, but the idea for piece kept nagging at me and seemed to need to be made. I'm not really an artist, and this is certainly the most public I've ever been with anything I've created.  I wasn't sure if I was ok with putting it out there, but I decided to submit it to the publication yesterday. I just felt like I needed to be honest and open with myself a bit more and that this was, in some ways, a cathartic kind of experience that I needed to fully acknowledge and respect for what it was. 

Artist Statement

I finally gave myself permission to explore my visual creativity when I turned 30. I celebrate artistic expression and teach art history, but spent most of my life terrified of creating anything as I felt I lacked natural talent.  However, in recent years I have found freedom and empowerment through exploring my artistic abilities, and have discovered a voice to allow suppressed feelings and frustrations to come to the surface.  I aspire to one day call myself an artist without hesitation. 

Idle Idols is partially created from ordinary office materials such as Bic pens and steno pads, reflecting the mundane and humdrum nature of the images drawn. However when the paper cut outs are fixed on a gold-painted wooden panel the work takes on the air of a Byzantine icon, an object of devotion and reverence.

This work stems from the shame I initially felt in a recent church study that explored “idols” as being objects of desire that distract from God.   A common reaction to feelings of guilt is to busy oneself with acts of devotion and charity, however in the times we allow ourselves to be idle our thoughts often continue to fixate on deep-seated desires. The abstract doodle patterns in the starburst arrangement of paper cutouts in Idle Idols are a reflection of frustrated mental energy, and the drawings within the doodles represent obsessive “idolatrous” thought related to the desire for romantic relationships and physical intimacy, stress over money, release through mind altering substances, and the pursuit of “the good life” through leisure activities.  The synthesis of this work has moved me to consider that the “idle” thoughts and activities that at first caused me shame can also be thought of as a revealing and integral part of me that gives insight into what provides the most significance in forming my psyche.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Is dating worth it??

Well, I've been forcing myself out of my comfort zone by doing some internet dating, and I am not sold that I'm actually doing myself a favor. When I don't date for long periods of time, I start to think I'm making it impossible for myself to ever find love and that I can only blame myself for my singleness/occasional loneliness. However, in the times I've made myself date, I turn into a wreck - it is SO foreign to me that I second-guess every move I make, my self-esteem takes a hit, I stress over everything, and I feel doomed and unable to change my situation.  Blurgh.

I went on a bunch of first dates through an online dating service, and only one was good. He and I have met up four times now, the first two being awesome, the second two...not as great. I worry when I think it's going well - how would he get along with my friends/family? have I been single so long that I don't even know how to act in a relationship? am I ready to give up my singleness?  But, I also worry when it's not going well - did the last text I sent sound stupid? am I interesting enough? is he actually interested in me or just being nice?

The nice moments are so great - I feel desirable, listened to, inspired, valued.....I like those feelings. I like the idea of being able to share life with a romantic partner. I crave intimacy. I want a relationship to work, and I don't want to wait too much longer because I already feel like I'm so far removed from being in a relationship (7+ years ago was my last...I was in my mid 20s) that I might not be able to relinquish my autonomy and feel comfortable with another person so intimately involved in my life.

Ugh. I just don't know. Even though when I wasn't dating I'd experience occasional loneliness and self-doubt about my lifestyle, at least I didn't question my worth/ability. But....32 is way to young to give up, right? I know I could just take a break from trying for a while, but that's what I've mostly done for the last 7 years. And the whole "you'll meet someone when you stop looking" advice is bull. I didn't look for LONG chunks of time and no one ever just fell into place. I feel like if I want a relationship I need to be putting an effort in.


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Advice for everyone....stop looking to the internet for advice about relationships

Iviva Olenick

Yes, I know that by giving advice in my blog to not follow internet advice, I'm basically stuck in a Catch 22, but I'm still gonna put my two cents out there:)  I've come to realize over time that despite the ease of getting advice on how to do just about everything (get out wine stains, hooking up a bike rack, figuring out what movie to watch this weekend) you aren't always gonna be getting advice that is best, or at least best for you. I think the two areas to most avoid internet advice is related to medical issues (every time I look up a symptom I end up convinced I have a brain tumor) and relationships. 

So, I finally started forcing myself to actually go on dates through online websites instead of just looking at them when I was sad on Friday nights so I could convince myself I did have options. I've been on 4 dates, the first three being: a boring date with a guy who immediately told me he had just gotten laid off and had prided himself in being a C student;  an unsettling date with a boisterous guy who tried to kiss me completely out of the blue while we were in line for ice cream (I shrinked back in terror and must have totally offended him...he never called back...which is fine); and a date where I immediately knew we weren't a match but still listened to him tell me about how he had just lost his job and had dropped out of college. Needless to say, I was feeling a bit discouraged, however I was keeping my chin up.

I left my house yesterday afternoon with a quick prayer, "Please, God, maybe let me  have fun on this date and maybe even have a second date...if it's know...ok, talk to you later," and headed out to the restaurant I was meeting up with date #4.  I thought happy thoughts on the way over, walked in, spotted him, he gave me a hug, we sat down, and ended up spending the next FOUR hours together....and it was great. I won't go into all the details, but it was just a really really really nice first date, where I felt we connected, it was comfortable, and we seemed to be on the same page. Ahhhhhhh, thanks God. 

I had some things to take care of the rest of the day, so I went about my business, thinking of him but also trying to focus on my little errands and tasks, and I sent him a little email in the evening saying I had a nice time and giving him my phone number (we had only communicated online up til that point). He texted me about an hour later and said he had had fun. Ok, phone numbers exchanged, check, we both had fun, check. Plans for next time? No check.

I'm definitely aware of the standard 2-3 days that lots of people say guys are supposed to wait to call, and I am  just now hitting 24 hours, so I don't really expect to be hearing from him yet, but I had some time to kill at work today and I started to read some dating forums and advice columns, and I went from being happy about my date success yesterday to be terrified that I had made who knows what mistakes on my first date, that I had contacted him to early, or that if he had really liked me he would have called already (I guess the 2-3 days is old news now - at least that's what the advice columns are saying). I started reading other articles about dating issues, relationship taboos.....and I got TOTALLY overwhelmed. Now I'm freaked out about things I haven't even faced yet, and I hate hate hate that every single article about dating in your 30s emphasizes my ticking biological clock. I don't want to think about that on top of everything else!

So, I went from waking up happy from having a great date yesterday, to being a ball of stress by the afternoon. Phew, I'm gonna take a walk and try to clear my head. And I am DONE reading internet relationship advice! I think playing it by ear, talking through things with friends you respect, and allowing what happens to happen is the way to go!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The problem with "Singles Ministry"

My church closed a few months ago, and I'm struggling to find a new one. Looking for churches as a single person is THE WORST - visiting new churches seems to always be an excercize in feeling uncomfortable, and when you are on your own, there isn't even someone to write notes to on the bulletin during the service. So, I'm doing a lot of internet research to help prepare myself and minimize the amount of churches I have to visit before I find my next church home. As I scan websites, I can't help but notice links to "Singles Ministries."

Singles Ministries have never really appealed to me. I guess I haven't wanted to be labeled so bluntly, and also have thought that if I went to a singles event that it would mean I'd basically be saying I'm desperate and as such I'd feel really mean turning anybody down I wasn't interested in...I get horribly torn up when I feel like I'm rejecting people, especially ones who might already be dealing with issues of embarassment or desperation that might have led them to a seemingly safe zone of church singles ministry.

In recent years, I've felt more and more that many churches and church leaders don't really address single members of the body very well (you might want to check out my earlier post  When segments of sermons are tailored to us, they generally just relate to waiting to have sex until we are married. There are many celebrations within the church related to married and family life (weddings, showers, baptisms, mother's day, father's day) and few dedicated to milestones in the lives of single people. There is little recognition/celebration of the ways in which single people are specially suited to certain types of ministry due to their availability.  And there's a lot of well-meaning, yet almost offensive off-handed remarks many singles often hear:  "you're just not ready yet - God's still preparing you," "The right one is out there, just stay pure," and "You should try a church with more single people."

It's not hard to see why lots of single's groups fail in churches. It's also not hard to see why lots of single people don't go to church. It's easier for me to not feel down about my singleness when I surround myself by single friends, but at church, I'm generally in the minority. But that's not a bad thing....I celebrate diversity in churches. I'm glad to see families, and old couples, divorcees and people like me - that's what the body of Christ looks like.

So, how can your church better serve singles in your body? Here's my ideas:
  • Often single people have more free time- help them find ways to minister in meaningful ways. Now this is a double edged sword - in one way, I hate the attitude that I've faced where people feel I have more time to give because I don't have kids and a husband to take care of, however, I do have the luxury of time. Find ways to offer singles the opportunity to minister in ways that they are uniquely suited to. Recognize those singles who are good listeners and see if they are willing to do visitation to shut ins. Try to find the singles who are good nurturers and encouragers and see if they are willing to help out with children/youth/disabled ministries. Some singles are great cooks but often only cook for themselves - see if they might want to help with meals for people in the midst of mourning, sickness, etc.
  • Integrate, don't separate. It is important for all of us in the body of Christ to recognize the diversity of all of the members. As I'm searching for churches, I don't really go back to ones where everyone is a 20 year old single, or all families, or churches that are all old couples. I want to grow from experiencing life with a community that is diverse in character and life situation. Yes, it is helpful to offer small groups for women, single parents, etc., but there should also be mixed options for those of us who celebrate diversity!
  • Celebrate the growth that can happen during singleness, rather than making it seem like a hardship to get through.  One of the hardest things for me to hear is when someone says "Don't worry, God will bring the right guy into your life one day."  First off, what if he doesn't? Why are you promising me something you have no control over? Secondly, what if I wasn't worrying? It is human nature to start worrying the second someone tells us not to. Thirdly, if eventually there is a "one day" when God does bring the right guy into my life, does that mean everything up til that is a waiting game and isn't important? Oh, and how I hate the "you're not ready yet, God is preparing you" arguement too - no one should speak for God on this matter, and it really hurts my feelings and makes me feel like people are assuming I have some personal sin in the way of God delivering a husband on my doorstep.  If you are talking to a single person in church, don't focus on what you might percieve as "lacking" in their life - instead let them share what they are working on in their life, how God might be moving in their experience, and support them where they are at without alluding to what you think they might be missing.
  • Have singles in leadership. When I scan church website staff directories and only see profiles of married couples I get nervous that I won't hear teaching I can relate to, or that my demographic might be overlooked. I think some churches are scared to have single ministry leaders because of the percieved risk of "inappropriate" behavior. My 21st century sensibilities label that as descrimination, but that's not the direction I want to take this bullet point. I absolutely recognize that God has used many ministry minded couples in phenomenal ways and that they are the basis of many many, many successful church ministries. But, ministers who are single are following in the tradition of so many of the early christians whom we speak so highly of in church: John the Baptist, Paul, Luke, Barnabas and many more. Moreover, single ministers have the ability to empathize in many ways with many church members who can feel broken in their singleness: divorcees, never marrieds, widows, those who are inclined to choose celibacy as they work through issues of sexuality, and more. For those outside traditional marraige, it can be incredibly hard to hear teaching from a married minister.
  • Don't just give singles the token "don't have sex" shoutout during marraige sermons. I've gone to church my whole life, and when pastors inevitably get to their marraige and sex sermons, I feel like the only message I ever hear is to wait and stay pure. I'm not denying that is an important message, but it is FAR from the only message for singles. Try mixing in some encouragement and celebration for the positives of singleness rather than focusing on one aspect that can make some of us most feel like we are missing out or in a very different category from others.
  • Singles in churches should be unified across age barriers, rather than clumped together.  Rather than focusing on having separate ministries for young singles who might be looking to date, divorcees perhaps needing counseling, single parents possibly reaching out for support, and widows and widowers who are often lumped into older adult ministires, try to encourage cross-singles ministry. As a single 30+ year old woman, I would love to get to know a single moms to offer friendship and support. I have a feeling getting to know some divorcees might help me from having the ridiculous ideas I have about marraige being perfect and solving all of my problems. Getting to know older widows would probably keep me from assuming that by getting married I'll never be alone again.  Also, what about people who are struggling with their sexual orientation (in churches that view homosexuality as a sin)? Perhaps by connecting them with heterosexual never-marrieds the opportunity to discuss the challenges of celibacy can be discussed in an honest, genuine and empathetic manner.  I'm know that these types of relationship can and do develop in churches, but are churches helping to foster them, or is it just through the work of the Holy Spirit? Can churches be more pro-active in this regard?

Message to myself: STOP COMPARING!!!!

Well, I've had a bit of a rough time lately, mostly relating to how I feel about being veryvery single. I haven't been in a relationship since my mid 20s...7 years ago. I've tried off and on - online dating, crushing on guys at church, exhausting the options in my friend circle - but for the most part, I've been resigned to living the single life. I tend to be the most content in the times when I'm not really trying very hard, and am just allowing life to happen as it will rather than trying to control and manipulate situations to lead to me being in my dream relationship. 

However, I'm not always so great at just living life and not stressing myself out about being single, and of late I've been feeling a bit depressed. Now, I know plenty of people in relationships get depressed as well, and I have played "Pollyana" and tried to focus on the many, MANY blessings in my life, but I'm just down right now, which is ok - life's not about always being happy, but I also want to make sure I'm not prolonging this gloomy period in my relatively sunshine-filled life.

In analyzing why I might be so down right now, there are some pretty obvious factors:  my cousin-roomate (younger than me) who has been single right alongside of me for the last 6 years just got into a relationship and my sister (8 years my junior) just got married to a British guy and moved to England to start their new life together. Also, my only other cousin (also younger than me) and his wife are about to have a literally all of the people in my generation of my family are going through a major relationship/life/family stage except me...and I'm the oldest.

Right off the bat - note how I am comparing myself to my siblings/cousins. I'm obviously am concerned by the fact that I'm the oldest and am seemingly so far behind. I think even if I wasn't the oldest it would be hard to see the people I've known for so long have experiences that I want but that remain so distant and elusive to me.....and it really doesn't help to think that I'm at an age where most people are already in a very different stage of life than me.

I've definitely fallen into a trap of comparing myself to others, and then feeling bad about myself when I feel that I'm behind, missing something, doing something wrong, failing, unable to make things happen in my life.  This isn't something that just plagues me when thinking about relationships...I've been working on not comparing myself to others in the career arena for years. I'm at a much better place than I was a few years ago, when every time I heard of a friend's job success I was blinded by jealousy - thankfully with God's help I was able to see my  tendency to define success and meaningfulness as being linked to achievement, and since then when I see myself falling into the trap of judging my worth by my successes I am able to stop and remind myself that I'm not important because of what I do, but because I'm God's kid and He loves me and that through and for Him I am able to much more than I ever could on my own. However, I'm not so great at applying that insight to my depression over my single-ness.

Why am I so sad? What's the root of the problem here? Well, I think it's a mix - part of it I think is just natural....we all want to be loved, cherished, affirmed. We live in a world that is oriented toward couples and families, and it can feel incredibly isolating and at times embarassing to be alone. I think when people are single, they often mask it - acting as if they are fine, when really they hang out by themselves in their apartments at night, rather than going out on their own because it feels to sad...and as a result single people are often hidden and go un-noticed and can feel so disconnected from the huge network of other singles out there. Singles events and activities don't really help the situation as they become meat-markets, and don't really develop a sense of community among singles more than a last-ditch escape effort.

I don't really know what the point of this blog post is. I don't think I really have any special insight, or words of wisdom to throw out there. I'm just in the midst of all these feelings right now, and I'm trying to sort through them day by day and not drown. I'm reading Henri Nouwen's "Life of the Beloved" right now, and he talks about how everyone experiences brokenness, and how our brokenness is unique and reveals very important aspects of ourselves. When we share our brokenness with others we share our vulnerability and others are privileged to connect with us in that way. I often am embarassed and try to hide my sadness and loneliness, feeling like it makes me seem weak or that I am unhappy with how I've lived my life and the choices I've made. But I'm not...I'm proud of how independent and resilient I've been, and how I've made a really great life for myself. That doesn't mean I don't get lonely, but my loneliness doesn't negate the blessings in my life either. I'm striving to no longer be ashamed of my brokenness, but to instead claim it as a part of who I am right now, and to share my struggle with those I'm close to, praying that by becoming vulnerable and sharing my life on that level with others that God will bless my situation and work through it in ways I can't even imagine.

A quote from Nouwen:
   "The first response, then, to our brokenness is to face it squarely and befriend it.  This may seem quite unnatural.  Our first, most spontaneous response to pain and suffering is to avoid it, to keep it at arm's length; to ignore, circumvent or deny it.  Suffering - be it physical, mental or emotional - is almost always experienced as an unwelcome intrusion into our lives, something that should not be there.  It is difficult, if not impossible, to see anything positive in suffering; it must be avoided away at all costs.
     When this is, indeed, our spontaneous attitute toward our brokenness, it is no surprise that befriending it seems, at first, masochistic.  Still, my own pain in life has taught me that the first step to healing is not a step away from the pain, but a step toward it.  When brokenness is, in fact, just as intimate a part of our being as our chosennes and our blessedness, we have to dare to overcome our fear and become familiar with it.  Yes, we have to find the courage to embrace our own brokenness, to make our most feared enemy into a friend and to claim it as an inimate companion.  I am convinced that healing is often so difficult because we don't want to know the pain." 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012 happens to the best of us

Melancholy of a Beautiful Day, Georgio de Chirico
Lately, I've been grappling with loneliness a bit more than usual. I think Valentine's Day triggered it, as well as my cousin/roomate starting to date someone for the first time in years, which has lead to me sitting around on the couch by myself a bit more than usual.   I've tried to combat my feelings of loneliness by going out a bit more - going to coffeeshops or fun new restaurants after work to have a drink and skim a book while trying to look somewhat open to conversation....but it hasn't really worked too well for me. Half the time, I walk into a trendy new spot where I planned to get a glass of red wine before heading to my empty home and the sheer number of people and excruciating volume makes me turn around and leave immediately. Oh no...I'm getting....old......

The truth is, when I'm feeling lonely, I don't usually want to be around 100+ strangers. What I want is to be around a special someone. And even my attempts to get myself out of the house just further remind myself of my loneliness. Yesterday, I walked to the beach near my house to watch the sunset, which was gorgeous, but I couldn't help but notice that I was surrounded by couples. Luckily, I was able to walk down about a half mile to a deserted area where I could just soak up God's daily lightshow and regroup a bit.

I don't want this post to sound horribly negative. I'm not depressed...I'm just having a rough spot. I know everyone gets lonely - even people who are in relationships. I've heard some married folk say that the type of loneliness you experience when married is far more devastating than being lonely when you are single, because of the built up expectations for a partner to fulfill your need for companionship.  An old pastor of mine used to tell me that the root of almost every problem that was presented to him in counseling was a deep loneliness.

So, what to do? Well, some days I let myself wallow. Why not? I think we need to get it out of our systems sometimes. Have a big old pity party (like I did on Valentine's day when I gorged myself on Taco Bell). Then, in the days after, I have felt lonely, but I also realized I didn't like that side of me. Seeing my entitled attitude and self-pitying in full force was off-putting.  Yesterday, after my sunset walk, I came home and made the decision to thoroughly distract myself in a productive manner. I started painting at 6, and by 10 it was like the time had flown by. I was all by myself, but my brain was engaged, I was being creative, and I felt a lot better about myself.   I still feel a bit lonely today, but I've moved past the time when I'm allowing myself to wallow, and I'm into recovery mode. And, for now,  it feels good.