joy

Letter to a Younger Me: An Appreciation for Singleness

I recently read an article proclaiming the danger of feminism in the church. It stated that it was a danger because it leads young women away from submitting to their husbands and from building homes that honor God. It begged people to raise their young women better in order to save the church from the ills of culture and urged them to teach women to be a specific version of feminine (“Biblical Womanhood”). To be anything other is divisive.

This is my response as an other.


To a younger me:

I see you, my dear, searching, fighting to define who you think you should be as a Christian woman. You’re hearing messages and learning truths about womanhood that seem opposed to what you have learned from the Spirit and how you have been equipped by the Spirit.

Most messages you hear will shame you into thinking that you’re less than because you don’t fit cultural expectations for what your life should look like. You will read blogs and hear sermons that will tell you that your value in the Kingdom is being submissive to a man and cultivating a household. You will read books that encourage you to wait for your “prince charming” and pray for a man to be a savior.  

You will look at the wonderful, joyful life you’ve created in your singleness and...

All of it will feel a bit much.

You’ll feel like you failed, that your not quite…

Female.

Not an acceptable version of…

Femininity.

You will hurt.

But deep down you’ll know that your worth is not defined by a wedding band, or an expanding family. Your worth is not in your sex organs. I know it seems cruel that the world defines you by your sex appeal, while the church defines you by your utility. It seems cruel, because it is cruel. You’ll wrestle with anger over that cruelness for years, I’m afraid. You’ll wrestle with the thought of not-being-enough, not-having-enough because you don’t fit that very specific cookie-cutter mold.

You will hurt.

But you are enough.

You were created enough.

Married or single, you will feel the joy of submitting to the King. That is your strength.

Mother or childless, you will nurture your world into a place of more comfort and beauty. That is how you will share your light.

You will celebrate weddings and you will cry over newborn babies. Your life will be a technicolor celebration of love and joy and peace. You will be every bit as rooted as you want to be in community and in the intimate life of the church. Your life will have every bit of value as anyone else. You are strong. You are beautiful. You are enough.

Whether you like it or not (and sometimes you will not like it) your independence is a gift. Your ability to go out and serve, to be the hands and feet of love, will be a unique thing that you and your singleness bring to the kingdom and to your community. You will learn to taste and see how wonderful Christ is as you exercise that independence and grow fully alive in yourself. You will learn intimately about your skills, intelligence, and courage and all the ways God has designed you to be fully, unapologetically yourself.  

Your righteousness will not be found at the wedding altar, but at the foot of the cross like everyone else. Just as you appreciate the intimacy a union brings, be careful to appreciate the independence your singleness brings. It is a gift, a healing balm to the world.

Let them call you a feminist. Let them worry. Let them question. Your life is not there’s to own or to judge. Your life is a marvelous dance of redemption and  fully yours to live. Let them talk. And love them well through it. We are all weighted down under the expectations of our roles, married and single alike. Choose to turn your hurt to hope. Choose to live with courage, cultivating kindness in all of your spaces and places.

Just like the saints that walked before you, the Rahabs, the Ruths, the Esthers… the Marys, the Marthas, the Elizabeths… your worth will not be defined by your relationship status, but rather, your courage to love and to serve with adoration and abandon. The more you walk into that truth, the more others can as well.

I believe in you, young woman.

I believe in your worth.

I celebrate your independence and the great gifts you bring to all of those you know and serve. And if you get married, I will celebrate that as well.

Your life brings glory to God.

Your unique femininity and womanhood has something special to say about Him. Don’t worry about the cookie cutters and whispers. Don’t worry about the expectations.

You are enough.

Love,

You

Friday: Receive Joy

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see.

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.

You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls.
— The Hope of Eternal Life, from 1 Peter 1:3-9

 

Happiness comes and goes like the tide, completely dependent on our circumstances for existence. But joy? Joy is eternal because its source is the faithfulness of God, which has never, nor will it ever, change. God is faithful. 

When we choose to believe that the same God who was faithful in the past will be faithful in the future, we can experience true joy. Joy comes alive in us even when we know the Valley of the Shadow of Death to be our home address. Joy burgeons in the midst of darkness, grief, suffering and fear, because even though we do not see him now, we trust him. 

Ask Yourself:

In what ways have I forgotten the faithfulness of God? 

In what relationships, times of day, or patterns of behavior have I chosen to believe I am on my own in this struggle? 

When was the last time I considered my need for true Joy rather than happiness?
 

Thursday: Study Joy

My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
For he has looked on the 
humble estate of his servant. 
For behold, from now on all generations
Will call me blessed; 
For he who is mighty has done
Great things for me,
And holy is his name.
— Luke 1:46-49

Oh Mary and her eternal perspective. 

Her song of praise, sung in the privacy of her elderly cousin's home, sends shivers down my spine. These words are not a result of rehearsing, or camera-ready tips given her. They display a heart rejoicing in genuine praise. I have no doubt that in her life, thoughts like these came in waves. She had so much to navigate. The ridicule she received must have been overwhelming at times- seen as a disgrace, a sinner, her worth in society bankrupt.

What is true today was true then: we are much more likely to believe the lies of the powerful than the truth from the powerless. Mary was powerless in the eyes of now nameless religious men. But God made Mary’s story great. She held in her heart the truth that God saw her and chose her, even if no one believed her. He established a future for her that would long surpass the piety of those who deemed her worthless. 

Faith produces joy.

Mary experienced the joy of her promised future because she genuinely believed it. That is faith: assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1) While God’s calling in her life would bring her down a path of suffering, her spirit rejoiced in God her Savior because she had faith that he would follow through on his promises.

Do you really believe that Jesus came to save you even though the road ahead seems dangerous? Do you believe that if you follow him to the cross that you will follow him in his resurrection? In his inheritance? 

Jesus, the Light of the World, is our source of joy. We, like Mary, can choose to rejoice in God our Savior, rather than wallow in the world’s assesment of our worth. Christmas is a great time to be “bombarded” with the call to rejoice, because it is a season to remember that God looked upon our humble estate, and gave our lives meaning. For generations and generations we will be called “blessed” because God, in his great love, chose us as worthy. He came to live in our story (birth, worthlessness, death) so that we might live in his story (rebirth, importance, eternal life). Jesus changed our forecast from stormclouds of destruction, to the warmth and brightness of the sun. While that joy is not fully realized, if you have faith that he will do as he has said, you can experience the joy he offers now.

As we approach this Sunday, a day set aside to thank Jesus for turning our sorrow into joy, reflect on his promises.

Write down the promises you long for most (not a personal wishlist, but promises made by God) and repent of your unbelief.

And his mercy is for those who fear him
From generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
He has scattered the proud in the
Thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
And exalted those of humble estate;
He has filled the hungry with good things,
And the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
In remembrance of his mercy,
As he spoke to our fathers,
To Abraham and to his offspring forever.
— Luke 1:50-55

Wednesday: Observe Joy

Joy, not grit, is the hallmark of holy obedience. We need to be lighthearted in what we do to avoid taking ourselves too seriously. It is a cheerful revolt against self and pride. Our work is jubilant, carefree, merry. Utter abandonment to God is done freely and with celebration. And so I urge you to enjoy this ministry of self-surrender. Don’t push too hard. Hold this work lightly, joyfully.
— Richard J. Foster, Freedom of Simplicity: Finding Harmony in a Complex World

In Freedom of Simplicity, Richard Foster describes holy obedience. Known for his many writings on Christian discipline, his rich theology of intentional living inspires many Christians in their discipleship and growth. When I imagine someone who is known for discipline, merriment doesn't come to mind. However, when I consider my role-models in the faith, there is a cheerfulness about them that attracts me. This difference of demeanor seems to be the marker of those who are working from a place of need and those moved by desire. 

Contemplate his statement: 

What stands out to you? Do you tend to be a lighthearted believer or does seriousness come more natural? Would you describe your work as jubilant, carefree, or merry?  

Reflect on this Advent season and your preparation for Christmas day:

As you seek holy obedience, do you tend to rely on joy or grit?

What does it mean in your life, and in this season, to cheerfully revolt against self and pride? 

Reflect on your relationship with The Light:

What would it mean to freely throw open the doors to your life and let the Light in gladly? 

What stops you from surrendering fully to the life-giving Light? 
 

Monday: We Need Joy

It’s that time of year again when “joy” is plastered on our decorations, our trees, our commercials, and our clothes. Joy is forced upon us as the only appropriate response to our cultural ideals of all that is good: excess and happiness. To experience anything other than a “joyful” response to presents, food, family, or Hallmark movies is seen as an affront to the season, one that cannot and will not be tolerated. 

Somewhere along our journey joy morphed from a response to The Divine to a cultural obligation. Our holiday has shifted from a religious experience to a cultural expectation. 

My own life is a testament to this. Over and over in this season, I’ve chosen my own light to provide joy, rather than the Light of the World. I’ve chosen to put my efforts and time into cultivating a beautiful reputation and beautiful traditions while neglecting my connection to The Divine.

I’ve chosen performance over being known. 

The chaos of life is too much for me in this season. I often believe the lie that God desires my pageantry and false narratives because, though Jesus came to know and be known, I am somehow excluded from that. My messiness is an exception to the rule. My darkness is too big and too bad for the God of the Universe to handle.  Manufacturing cheap joy is far easier than confronting my trauma, embracing my weaknesses, and accepting my messiness. 

But, eventually, that facade of cheap joy cracks for all of us. We find ourselves screaming through clinched teeth at children just wanting attention or drowning our sorrows in decadent food until we lose all emotions. And we wonder where Jesus is in all of this. Where is that joy we’ve been proclaiming? 

The dark does not destroy the light; it defines it. It’s our fear of the dark that casts our joy into the shadows.
— Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

Too many times we shrink from the light, assuming that our darkness will consume it. We accept our fear and relinquish control to it. But what if we changed our course this Advent season?  What if we dedicated this time to seeking knownness, vulnerability, and intimacy instead of performance and pageantry? What if we dared to trust that the light is far greater than the dark? 

What if we had the audacity to think that Jesus came to Earth as a baby to know and be known? Not just theoretically, but intensely, personally, and completely known. Not just for people 2,000 years ago, but for us. Not just for that one guy with the perfect reputation, but for you with all of your mess and me with all of my mess. 

We are not a people of the shadows. We are people of the light. 

If we decide to concern ourselves with gratitude, adoration, and praise instead of the paralyzing pressure of creating a perfect holiday or being the perfect person, we won’t  need to manufacture joy or cling to our charades. Everything we need is in the Light of the season. Everything we hope for is born on Christmas day.   

Jesus isn’t interested in our Pinterest boards or popularity contests. That’s not the point of the manger. That’s certainly not the point of the cross. 

This Advent season, may we have the courage to experience true JOY and may we proclaim to the world the words of Henry Van Dyke’s great hymn:   

Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee, God of glory, Lord of love;
Hearts unfold like flowers before Thee, opening to the sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness; drive the dark of doubt away;
Giver of immortal gladness, fill us with the light of day!