Really, it’s okay to be single

It’s also ok to read articles on singleness and disagree with them. Which happens often.

But this week I’ve read 2 excellent articles on singleness.

Sex and the Single Woman. I love everything about this article. This is particularly helpful

There are pieces of my testimony that I hate; that I might wish to rewrite. But even in my failure, God has written my life with his divine grace. Perhaps this struggle more than any other has made me more like Christ by forcing me to bank on his resume instead of my own.

Today, in order to worship God, my body needs to be hungry. Today, he is giving me the blessed pain of hunger, because it’s the only way I’m going to make it home. He has promised to do whatever it takes to get me home to him.

If you are ashamed, if you have failed, rest your heart in the fact that the gospel was made for just such a time. We don’t have a great high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses. Praise God that we have Jesus, who has walked in singleness; he was tempted in every way, yet he never succumbed. So draw near to im in repentance and faith, and receive mercy and find grace to help in your time of trouble.

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Really, It’s Okay To Be Single. Usually I wouldn’t read, let alone recommend, an article on singleness written by a married man. But this one is too good not to read. He ends by saying this

And so on the occasion of my 10 year wedding anniversary, I’d like to say this: it’s okay to not be married, really. God is not mad at you because you are single, and you have my permission to scoff at anyone who says otherwise, that marriage is God’s universal will for all people. There are plenty of passages in Scripture that talk about singleness and celibacy with deep honor and respect.

Moreover, marriage is good, even great, but it’s not perfect. There are things that you can do as a single person that I cannot. As Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians, as a married person with kids, my attention and energy is inherently divided among many concerns, but yours need not be. You can live fully for the Kingdom in a way that I simply cannot. Not to mention that you can also stay up late, making a ruckus while drinking beer with your friends, while I tiptoe around my house like a ninja and struggle to stay awake past 9 pm.

But on a more sober note, I know that you worry about being alone. But frankly, so do I, because marriage will not bulletproof your life from pain or loneliness or tragedy. People can be married and still feel desperately alone, or misunderstood, or even hated/hateful, all at the same time. Marriage can be like living with your best friend, but at times, it also can be like living with your worst enemy. In fact, fear, loss, and mourning take on terrifying new dimensions when you are married, because you will be faced with the prospect of losing part of yourself.

No, the antidote to loneliness is not found in marriage, at least not by itself. It is found in our relationship to a God who is always with us, the true Lover of our soul. If is found in friends and family. And it is found in the family of faith, the eternal community of the church.

So tomorrow I’m going to have a wonderful ten year anniversary with my wife, but that doesn’t mean you have to as well. Because REALLY…it’s okay to be single.

Both great articles, worth reading no matter what your marital status.

The Uncomfortable D or The worst Six Things about Living with Mental Illness – Part 2

The following post is part 2 of 2 written by a friend of my about her experience of living with a mental illness. For more info about mental health visit Beyond Blue or Black Dog Institute. Read Part 1 here

Part 2

The drugs don’t work (at least not as well as they should)

To drastically misquote Douglas Adams – the brain is complex, you won’t believe how ridiculously, mind-bogglingly complex it is. You think a Sunday morning crossword is complicated, that’s peanuts compared to the brain.

Not only that, but every brain is different – development, experience and those pesky genetics cough up random variations, any of which might make those squishy grey lumps process drugs differently. In short, it’s not just corporate greed that has forced thousands of products into the market – the simple truth is that what works for one person might have no effect (or worse) on another.

Let me be clear, drugs do help a lot of people, I myself probably wouldn’t be alive if I hadn’t gotten treatment, but it can be a long process – mixing and matching different combinations of drugs until you find a cocktail that works, preferably one with few side effects – it can (and has in my case) take years.

But the key word above is ‘treatment’ – because when we’re talking about mental illness we’re not talking about a cure. There’s no tumour to remove, or bacteria to flush out – no quick fixes or easy answers – most patients will be on medication for years, even decades. Decades of taking the same pills every day, no matter how sick you are, or how sick they might make you. Doctors have a word for this – ‘compliance’ and mental illness has some of the worst compliance issues of any disease.

Taking a pill (or even a dozen) every day might seem like an easy thing – but what if you’re on holiday, and forgot to pack enough? What if they make you sleep 18 hours a day? What if they don’t seem to be working, and they taste funny and what’s the point anyway – you’re a horrible person who doesn’t deserve to keep breathing? Add that to a turbulent home life and poor social support that afflict so many sufferers and you’ve got a recipe for non-compliance.

The actual disease part

Yes. This is the part where I straight up bitch about how hard my life is because of my disease. Feel free to ignore it and then comment about how I’m making my illness out to be so much worse than it actually is. You won’t be proving my first point at all.

Let’s start with the physical. About six years ago they put me on lithium, which screwed up my thyroid (the gland that regulates metabolism). I’ll be on thryroxine replacement for the rest on my life.

And then there’re those pesky side effects. Over the years I’ve been on drugs that have made me put on weight, sleep 18 hours a day and made me so dizzy I had to check in to hospital. And it’s not like just stopping the drugs will help – you have to be weaned off many anti-psychotics, or the symptoms get even worse.

It also affects my finances. I haven’t been able to hold down a job for years, and finding a boss patient enough to deal with someone like me would be difficult even with a full CV.

I pay about $100 a month on drugs, which might not sound like much, but on a fixed income, and with the expensive doctor visits, it adds up – even without Tony Abbotts’ threatened austerity measures.

But none of those are anything compared to the mental issues. I have bipolar two manic depression, which for me consists of massive depressive episodes interspersed with random periods of moderate lunacy – I’ve never walked the streets naked singing My Sharona, but I have dumped a slushie over my head on a freezing day. I spend at least one night a month crying myself to sleep, have days when I can’t get out of bed, and had a panic attack at my sisters’ wedding that meant I couldn’t make it to the reception (am dreading explaining that to any future nieces and nephews). I am, frankly, a mess, and despite being better this year than I have been for the last three, I am still at least six months away from being able to support myself.

Yes, my life sucks, and I wonder everyday why I don’t just kill myself, but I don’t because…

I can’t trust my own brain

About eight years ago I was a medical student. I loved being a medical student. I love medicine. If I could do anything in the world it would be a Doctor. And then I had my first major manic episode.

Out of the blue I quit medicine because… I have no idea, but at the time it was a logical, sane and completely rational reason. I have a lot of logical, sane and completely rational reasons – I had one when I stopped taking all my drugs, when I tried to take my own life, when I bought a puppy with my very last pay check.

My brain is sick, so all my reasoning is flawed – I can’t trust anything that comes out of it. I can’t make snap decisions, because I know that tomorrow might make everything seem different. I can’t argue with people, even if I think they’re wrong, because I know that my logic might make no sense whatsoever. I have to constantly question everything I feel about the world, because what’s in my head might not match up with reality. Can you imagine what that’s like? To never be sure if you’re perfectly sane or off-your-head-crazy? And I don’t even have the hallucinations that other sufferers have to deal with.

So I guess it could be worse. And for many others it is. But the question remains, do I publish this under my own name, or get a friend to put it up for me? Will people read this and shun me, or employers check on it and decide I’m not worth the risk? A cancer sufferer wouldn’t have to worry about this, but I have to, because mental illness isn’t just a disease, it’s a plague that infects everything you do.

The Uncomfortable D or The worst Six Things about Living with Mental Illness – Part 1

This week is Mental Health Week. Despite the fact that 1 in 5 Australians will suffer from a mental illness in any given year, there is still far too much stigma surrounding it. 
The following post is part 1 of 2 written by a friend of my about her experience of living with a mental illness. For more info about mental health visit Beyond Blue or Black Dog Institute

The Uncomfortable D or The worst Six Things about Living with Mental Illness

The Stigma

So you’re having a good day, and then, out of the blue, a friend tells you they’ve got cancer. How do you respond to that?

The correct answer, for all you sociopaths out there, is with sympathy. As a halfway decent friend you’ll support them – bake cookies for them, come visit them in hospital, back them up as much as you can. After all it isn’t their fault, – cancer can happen to anyone.

Now imagine that same friend told you they had a mental illness. Would your attitude be the same?

My guess is no. If you’re like most people I know, your response is going to be less ‘Oh my God, I’m so sorry. What can I do?’ and more ‘Wow, this conversation just took a really awkward turn.’

Why is that? Why does having one chronic, life altering and (at times) deadly disease get you sympathy, while admitting to the other gets you shunned? And having a mental illness will get you shunned – not as badly as in the past perhaps, but even today admitting to depression, bipolar or schizophrenia in a job interview is a sure-fire way to never hear from them again.

Live with mental illness, and you’ll find yourself splitting the world into two categories, those who can know and those who can’t. The difficulty is in knowing which is which. Tell the wrong person and that’s the end of the conversation and possibly the relationship as well. I try to be an honest person, but if a stranger asks me why I don’t work, I tell them I have chronic fatigue.

But why do I have to lie about it? – Asks the small green alien who’s right now reading this from Rygel 12. You have a disease, and surely one disease is no worse than another. Well, life form from another world, I lie because here on Earth, admitting to a mental illness is tantamount to admitting that you regularly talk to small green aliens from the planet Rygel 12. Tell people that you’re mentally ill, and suddenly that’s all they can see.

I can’t tell you how much I hate being defined by my disease. I’m crazy, but I’m also a good flatmate, good sister and occasionally a good cook. I’m crazy, but that doesn’t make me any less of a person. I am more than my messed up head, so don’t judge me on it. And don’t judge me by what shows up on the news, because if you judge any of us by that the Rygelians will wipe us out for the good of the galaxy.

The Attitudes

Someone once told me that mental illness is the rape of the disease spectrum. After being outraged and offended, I actually came to realise that they had a point. Mental illness and rape are the only cases in their respective fields where it’s acceptable to blame the victims.

Yes, I know that’s not always true. Decent, rational people everywhere recognise that a woman wearing a short skirt is not asking to be raped, that the crime is always the fault of the criminal, and that the perpetrators should be castrated with a hot poker and a spoon, but we’re not all decent people, and we’re certainly not always rational.

With mental illness it’s the same – the responsibility for the disease is placed, not on the bastard son of circumstance and genetics, but on the sufferers, as though we’re sick because of some weakness within us, or because we don’t have the right attitude.

I have been told (or yelled at, to be honest) to just get better, to get over it, as if my disease is somehow under my control, as if I’m just pretending, or doing it for the attention. For what other illness would that attitude be acceptable? How many cancer sufferers do you know get told that they’re not trying hard enough?

‘We all get sad sometimes – I just don’t dwell on it,’ ‘There’s plenty of people out there who have it worse than you,’ ‘You’d be more loved if you made yourself more lovable,’ – these are all phrases I’ve heard, from people who are genuinely trying to help, mind, and all fundamentally fail to understand the problem. I’m not just sad – my brain has forgotten how to be happy. People might have it worse, but I’m feeling pretty bad right now. I need to be loved, because I no longer love myself. 

The Loneliness

Earlier I mentioned visiting friends in hospital, something that I hope most have you have done at some point, or you will do if someone you know gets sick, (if you know someone who is currently sick consider this a hint). Hospitals are unpleasant places at the best of time, and seeing a friendly face really helps you get through it.

I mention this because, back when I was first diagnosed I spent two months in a mental hospital, and other than my magnificent family I was visited by exactly one friend, once, and that hurt more than all of the other stuff that was happening to me.

And that was back when I actually had friends, before I got put in the ‘too hard’ basket because I kept skipping meetings, and my agoraphobia got so bad I couldn’t leave my house.

Do you have any idea how hard that is? To struggle to relate to people who can’t really understand what you’re going through, and frankly are too put off by your illness to even try? And it’s not like I’m not a social person. One day I’d like to meet someone, have a family (although the thought of passing this onto my kids is terrifying), but the way things stand it feels like that’s never going to happen. My disease pretty much guarantees I’ll be miserable for the rest of my life, do I have to be alone too?

(to be continued…)

The Valley of Vision

A Puritan prayer from The Valley of Vision

Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly,
Thou has brought me to the valley of vision,
where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights;
hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold thy glory.

Let me learn by paradox
that the way down is the way up,
that to be low is to be high,
that the broken heart is the healed heart,
that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
that to have nothing is to possess all,
that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,
that to give is to receive,
that the valley is the place of vision.

Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells,
and the deeper the wells the brighter thy stars shine;
Let me find thy light in my darkness,
thy life in my death,
thy joy in my sorrow,
thy grace in my sin,
thy riches in my poverty
thy glory in my valley.

Reflections upon Reflections: General Synod and all the Sydney Women

AdelaideI realise this is a few months old, but someone pointed this out to me today. Some reflections on General Synod from the Newcastle Diocese. Here’s some of what Bishop Peter Stuart had to say.

The General Synod did not talk about human sexuality as part of its business. There were behind the scenes conversations and a mood that suggested avoiding further tension and division. In some ways the building blocks for that discussion were being put in place at this General Synod recognising that actions in other parts of the Anglican Communion and the mood in the broader community will require our national engagement.

It is also impossible to come back from the General Synod without sensing that we have become a more conservative church and will in the foreseeable future become more so. The election for clergy members of Standing Committee saw nominations equally split between two dominant groups for which how-to-vote tickets then circulated. The result was likely to go one of two directions and it went conservatively. It was good to note that our Archdeacon Arthur Copeman was elected with wide support! The makeup of
the General Synod is changing from those that made it possible for the ordination of women and supported A Prayer Book for Australia.

It’s an interesting read, and pretty fair report from someone who, no doubt, is not happy about the moves towards becoming a more conservative church.

But here’s the stuff that really caught my attention.

It is impossible to come back from the General Synod and say that women in Sydney are not involved in ministry.

While I’m very pleased about this, it really does show how much egalitarians misunderstand complementarianism. The suggestion that in a complementarian diocese women would not be involved in ministry is, quite frankly, ridiculous. So I’m really pleased that it was clear at Synod that this is not the case.

Then there’s this.

There were a good number of Women Ministers present each of whom is engaged in creative ministry yet none will be ordained as priest or considered for the episcopate as would happen in this Diocese. At the heart of this position is 1 Timothy 2:12 which those in the tradition of Gore might see as a household rule limited to the time and context whereas those in the tradition of Ryle would see as an enduring command. I was moved by the ministries I learnt about but deeply saddened by the position that means that the insights and learning of these women are not available to men through teaching ministries. I came away with the view that the inclusive God witnessed to by the breadth of scriptures calls us beyond boundaries of race, gender and economic status in discerning leaders in his mission through the Church.

While I’m sure the intention of what’s written here is to point out the value of the ministry of the women he met, when I read this I hear the exact opposite. Let’s look at the first sentence for staters. Notice the word ‘yet’?

There were a good number of Women Ministers present each of whom is engaged in creative ministry yet none will be ordained as priest or considered for the episcopate as would happen in this Diocese. [emphasis added]

The implication being that there is something about the ‘creative ministry’ of these Women Ministers that is somehow lacking because they won’t be ordained as priest or considered for the episcopate. Far from valuing the ministry of women, this values the position one holds.

And again,

I was moved by the ministries I learnt about but deeply saddened by the position that means that the insights and learning of these women are not available to men through teaching ministries.

In this case it’s not the position someone holds but who they teach that provides the value of their ministry. I didn’t get to meet Bishop Peter at Synod and it’s not the ministry I do he heard about, but as one of the ‘Women Ministers’ to whom he is generally referring, I’m insulted at the thought that anyone would be saddened by hearing about what I do. While Egalitarianism claims to be about gender equality, it’s actually about gender uniformity. There is no room for any kind of difference between men and women. So, as a woman, if I don’t do what a man does, I’m not equal to him.

This is a doctrine that at it’s core places value on anyone, not based on who they are – people made in the image of God and saved by the death & resurrection of Jesus – but based on what they do. Whether or not I’m a rector, or whether or not I teach men, shouldn’t factor into the discussion about the value of the ministry I do. But for Bishop Peter, anything less then women being rectors or teaching men, just leaves him ‘deeply saddened’.

I came away with the view that the inclusive God witnessed to by the breadth of scriptures calls us beyond boundaries of race, gender and economic status in discerning leaders in his mission through the Church.

I actually completely agree with this. And I love to ask the Bishop why he doesn’t consider the women he met to be leaders in Jesus’ mission through the Church? They are.

Traditional Sexuality, Radical Community

From the Gospel Coalition 

I looked nervously across the table, fidgeting with my coffee cup. Do you realize what you’re asking of me? he questioned. We’d been meeting for more than an hour, talking about his struggle with same-sex attraction and his decision about whether to enter into a more intentional relationship with his boyfriend. He’d been part of our church and community group for a couple of years, always intelligent and effervescent, exhibiting many marks of a mature Christian. Yet my friend’s dark internal struggle had finally reached its culmination, and here we were together in a coffee shop, grappling with the reality of his decision.

Do you realize what you’re asking of me? I did. I was asking him not to act on his same-sex desires, to commit to a celibate lifestyle, and to turn away from an important romantic relationship. Yet as I reflect on that discussion, I now realize I didn’t fully understand what I was asking of him. I was asking him to do something our church community wasn’t prepared to support. I was asking him to make some astonishing and countercultural decisions that would put him out of step with those around him. In many ways, I was asking him to live as a misfit in a community that couldn’t yet provide the social support to make such a decision tenable, much less desirable. No wonder he walked away.

Several years have passed since that conversation, but it’s convinced me of the vital relationship between sexuality and ecclesiology. There are many churches like ours that believe there are two possible paths for followers of Jesus to live obedient sexual lives: heterosexual marriage and sexual abstinence. But among churches that are committed to a biblical sexual ethic, there are few, I’m afraid, that make living out that ethic possible for the average person dealing with same-sex attraction.

I’m now convinced any church that holds a traditional view of sexuality must also foster a radical practice of Christian community in which living out a biblical sexual ethic becomes possible and even attractive.

This is a great article on the need for Christian community to a place where living a godly, counter-cultural life plausible, practical and attractive. While it focuses on Christians who have same-sex attraction, there’s lots in here that is true of all single Christians. Though this is an important distinction to remember

Those of us who are heterosexual must realize, however, that even though God is calling us to the same thing (chastity), our LGBTQ friends will experience this calling differently. When heterosexuals commit to chastity, they do so knowing they may meet someone, get married, and be able to have sex. When those tempted by same-sex attraction commit to chastity, though, they’re doing so knowing that unless God changes their sexual desires, they may never know the intimacy of a sexual relationship.

Of course for those of us who are still single in our mid-thirties, the possibility that we may never marry is very real. And, speaking on behalf of women, we live every day with the unforgettable sadness that every day that passes brings us closer to the possibility of never having kids. It does often feel like I have to bear this burden on my own. But Christian community should provide a better way.

Now picture the other scenario. Bob’s been introduced to Jesus by a community group at the invitation of a colleague. The group shares deeply and vulnerably, confessing sin and praying for one another. As Bob struggles with the prospect of chastity, he looks around the group and sees ways others in the group have embraced hard things because of the gospel. At least two other singles in the group are straight and have also embraced chastity. There’s a married couple who are honest about their struggles and failings but committed to not leaving each other despite the immense pain. Another person wasn’t willing to participate in the fraudulent activities of her company, and lost her job because of it.

In this scenario the demands of Jesus don’t lessen for Bob, but he does look around and see he’s not the only one being asked to lose certain things for the gospel. He sees a mixed community of married and single, same-sex attracted and straight, all bearing their crosses together and helping one another bear those heavy burdens. Our gay friends must see a church community in which all of us—not just those who battle same-sex attraction—are facing the demands of the gospel and the struggle against sin.

This is so important. I’m thankful for my married friends who are honest enough to share their struggles with me. Because it reminds me that the grass on their side of the fence has just as many muddy puddles as the grass I’m standing on. When I see the hardships that come with marriage, I’m much more likely to see the goodness of singleness. This is how I persevere.

But here is the most important challenge for churches.  Honour singleness & demystify marriage.

Another way we can create healthy countercultural plausibility structures is by removing marriage from the idolatrous pedestal on which it’s often placed. At times marriage, and the presumed sexual joy therein, is cast as such an objective for Christians that it starts sounding like the supreme goal, surpassing Jesus himself. Talk about “family values” cements this idea, suggesting God’s basic desire for human flourishing is for you to be married and start a family and, if you’re not experiencing that, then hurry up and try.

But the great chapter on love, 1 Corinthians 13, isn’t describing love between husbands and wives or parents and kids but love between Christians in a church community. The Bible sees the church, not the nuclear family, as the primary level of relationships in our new kingdom life.

Further, we must return the New Testament’s high honoring of the single life. Whenever we treat singleness as a “second tier” calling or minor league to marriage we’re communicating to our single brothers and sisters that they’re experiencing less of the full human experience. This is obviously not the case. Jesus was single, and he was the perfect human. Paul advocated for singleness and even dubbed it a “higher calling” than marriage: “He who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better” (1 Cor. 7:38).

Imagine a community in which many celibate singles, both same-sex attracted and straight, are taking full advantage of their singleness as they live the life of the kingdom together. Imagine a community in which sex and marriage are seen as good gifts but not ultimate gifts—indeed, things a follower of Jesus can live without. In such a community, the possibility of a single life of chastity wouldn’t be the fate worse than death it’s sometimes portrayed to be.

In short, we should not call our single friends to sexual abstinence until we create the social environments (plausibility structures) that make such a life meaningful and viable.

Spot on. Read the whole article here.

Book Review: True Friendship by Vaughan Roberts

9781909611511The past 2 weeks I’ve been taking advantage of school holidays (i.e. no SRE to teach) to give myself a little reading time each day. I’ve been working my way through Don Caron’s Love in Hard Places which is excellent, but a tough read. So today I decided to take it easy and start Vaughan Roberts’ True Friendship instead.

What a great book! Which I can say because I finished the whole thing in about an hour.

Friendship is such an important topic. Despite the multitude of social media that supposedly keeps us connected, one of the biggest needs we have is for true, deep friendships.

True Friendship is …

Crucial, Close, Constant, Candid, Careful & Christ-centred.

The book starts by reminding us that the Bible is a story of friendship. A friendship between God and man, ruined by sin & restored by God himself. The gospel is a message not only of restored friendship with God, but also restored relationships with others. We are called into a new community.

[Christians] have been called, as brothers and sisters, to belong to Christ’s family, as we travel along the way of the cross throughout our lives, with our eyes fixed on the destination of the new creation to come, which Christ will introduce when he returns. It is a long journey, with many challenges along the road. We will often fall and need someone to pick us up; waver, and need another to spur us on. Let us resolve therefore to obey the Bible’s instruction: ‘let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds … let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching’ (Hebrews 10:24, 25)

Roberts’ quotes a colleague of his who once said of her friends “For those of us who are single, our friends are our lifeline”. I love this. It’s so true for me. And yet as I read this book I realise how easy it is to forget how important friendships are, and therefore how important it is to put in the effort required to do friendship well.

Chapter 2 reminds us of what we should already know – there’s a big difference between being Facebook friends with someone and actually being friends with someone. There’s also a difference between friendship and marriage – though marriage should be more than friendship, it should not be less.

The Bible certainly has a very high view of marriage, but it is not designed to bear the weight that is placed on it when a husband and wife expect all their relational needs to be met by one another. The result is that they not only put impossible burdens on each other, but also give insufficient attention to other friendships. Single people suffer from the same delusion, too often believing the lie that they are bound to experience miserable isolates live unless they can find a spouse. In their commendable desire to protect marriage and the family from contemporary challenge, churches can unwittingly become part of the problem by giving the impression that romantic olive is an essential ingredient to human flourishing.

Something that really stands out to me is the need for friendships to be candid. I hate criticism. Yet I recognise they need for it and that, when it comes from a friend, it is motivated by love. As Oscar Wilde says ‘a true friend stabs you in the front’.

Above all, what we need from out friends is the application of the gospel in our lives. The ministry of God’s word is not limited to those with public responsibility for preaching and teaching out churches, but is shared by all of us. We are to teach and admonish one another with all wisdom’ (Colossians 3:16). As we seek to be helpful to out friends, we need to ask how we can bring the gospel to bear on their lives.

Very helpfully the book both starts and ends pointing us to Jesus. The final line of the book says

[Jesus] is the perfect friend who enable us to be true friends ourselves.

At the end of each chapter Roberts has helpfully includes some questions for reflection & discussion that are worth taking some time to prayerfully work through. It’s a great book and definitely worth the short amount to time it takes to read.

You can buy it here or as an ebook here.