Whoever invented the idea of displaying useless items by the checkout counter was a genius; I’d like to punch him in the face.
That’s not entirely true, but I would like to lecture him about the havoc his “brilliant plan” has wreaked on the unsuspecting children and families of America. Example: last month I was at a clothing store (which shall go unnamed) with my sister and three-year-old nephew. As we finished up our shopping and approached the maze of toys, purses, lipsticks, and candy that stood between us and the checkout counter, I braced myself: I don’t need these things. I will regret buying these things – ooh shiny! NO. Face forward. Keep walking.
Proud of my resistance as I rounded the final corner, I readily agreed to watch my nephew while my sister ran to the restroom. I’d already overcome the obstacles, what was the worst that could happen?
Oh yeah. I could get caught between a three-year-old and a giant display of candy. My throat swelling to twice its normal size, I turned to look my foe in the eyes, “Y-Yes?”
He was as cute as I feared, and his hands were gleefully holding a package of Big League Chew bubble gum. With a grin as wide as it was confident, he raised the colorful item in my direction and proceeded to inform me: “I want this!”
I took a deep breath, “Buddy, I’m sorry, but,” I was about to crush this kid’s soul, “we can’t get that today.”
“Why?” Then again, this kid’s soul was pretty resilient.
Mine, on the other hand, felt like it had just been dropped in a blender, “Uh, well, we…we, we just can’t, okay?”
Undeterred, he looked up at me with the roundest, bluest, most earnest eyes I’ve ever seen in my life and said as if it was the most obvious solution in the world, “But I want it.”
I sighed and wished for the thousandth time that I could’ve said yes. But until he learned to chew gum…“No.”
That did it. As the gravity of the situation settled, his shoulders sunk a few inches, his hands fell by his side, and his gaze dropped to the floor. A little more slowly and a lot more sadly, he repeated, “But I want it.”
I get it, buddy. I really do. But it doesn’t always work that way.
It’s vulnerable to want, even more so to need. When you allow yourself to want something, you run the risk of not getting it, and as my sweet little nephew discovered that day in the checkout line, not getting what you want is painful. Always.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted three things: to go on adventures, to live with purpose, and to get married. At the moment, I’m scoring pretty well in the adventure and purpose categories; in a few months, I’ll be living in Southeast Asia (adventure) to fulfill one of my lifelong vocational dreams (purpose). The marriage category, however, is not as impressive (i.e. nonexistent, lacking, sparse, uneventful, and with no chance that’ll change any time soon).
Up until a few years ago, I really didn’t mind being single. According to my infallible life plan, I was supposed to get married at 22 (because that’s what people do), which meant that the first 21 years of my life as a single girl were perfectly within the rules. Then came 22. And 23. And 24. And the day I woke up a few months away from 25, dating nobody, and about to move to a place where the pool of english-speaking options is, shall we say, limited.
My reaction to these developments has gone a little something like: “This is great! I love being single, and hey, you never know when you’re going to meet someone. It could happen anytime. Like now! Or now. Or – on second thought, dating someone across the world is a terrible idea (unless you particularly enjoy misery, which I don’t) so I’ll wait. Yeah. That’s a much better idea. Besides, waiting isn’t so – unless that guy reading C.S. Lewis at the corner table asked for my number, then I’d be crazy not to…no, no, NO! This is better. Much less drama, much less to worry about, much less – holy cow I’m bored. This is awful. I’m never going to meet someone. I’m going to die alone.”
It’s sort of like riding a Ferris wheel, over and over again. Some days I’m at the top, having so much fun I don’t give my relationship status a second thought; other days are so far down it takes effort to think of much else. And while I think we can all agree that Ferris wheels are fantastic, living that way gets tiring. And lonely.
Which is why a few months ago, I decided to be done. Rather than go through the ups and downs of wanting a relationship, I decided to stop. I stopped looking, stopped praying, and definitely stopped asking for one. It’s like when your mom says no to ice cream and you snap back with, “Well fine, I didn’t want it anyway!” Not the most mature response, I’ll admit, but you can always make it sound mature with phrases like, “I have so many other things to worry about right now,” or the infamous, “I’m really content being single.” Whether it’s true or not, it sure makes you feel better.
Or at least, it sure makes you feel nothing.
I probably would’ve stayed in that place for a long time – numb, yes, but mostly intact – if I hadn’t come across this:
“For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering.”
For all the times I’ve read through Romans, I’ve never really paid attention to this part (turns out, referring to childbirth is the quickest way to disengage my brain). But something caught my eye when I stumbled over it a few weeks ago, so I tuned in.
What I read amazed me. Not only did the writer describe how the natural world was discontent with the way things were (i.e. droughts, famines, natural disasters, etc.) but he also claimed that we have reason to follow suit. If we believe we were made by God to be with God, then we live in a world we were not created to live in. Not only is it expected, it seems, but right that we ache, groan, even beg for the day when that will change.
Understand: my unmet desire to be married is not comparable to the destruction wreaked by natural disasters or the fallout from injustice and sin and death, I know that. But it is my personal experience of what it’s like to want and not have – my own version of living in a world that is wrong somehow. Reading the passage again, I thought about my singleness, and I started to wonder: if the guy who wrote one of the most famous, most powerful books in the Bible thought it right to acknowledge our collective pain of wanting and not having, should I do the same with my personal one?
My life is full of good things. In two months, I get to board a plane and go after one of my lifelong dreams. I am completely known and desperately wanted by the One who flung the stars in the sky. And –
I’d really like to be married someday.
I don’t tell you that to gain your sympathy (neither does the situation call for it nor do I need it), and I’m definitely not asking you to fix it (however lovely your cousin’s best friend’s brother may be). I tell you that because I’m starting to believe if we’re ever going to lead lives that are adventurous, purposeful, and real, we must first acknowledge the imperfectness of our world (our personal one and the bigger one we’re a part of) and let ourselves ache over it. We must cry and rail and rave “But I want it!” when we are denied the Big League Chew bubble gum. We must groan.
It sounds counterintuitive, but that’s the only way we’ll go about life with anything resembling wholeness. I think it has something to do with being authentic, or maybe it’s the fact that as we voice our desires, we realize what we already possess, or it could simply be that in recognizing our lack, we make room for hope (or as the writer of Romans puts it: “Who hopes for what they already have?”) I’m not sure.
What I do know is there’s a Ferris wheel waiting for me, and that view is too good to miss.