Single and Selfish

“Singleness is freedom!” the multitudes say! Our individualistic, “all about me” culture encourages us “unhindered” ones to travel, squeeze singleness for everything it’s worth, and do whatever we want whenever we want.

There are certainly good upsides to the unfettered single life and I think I’m taking advantage of many of them.

However, I have to be careful because singleness has a tendency to make me incredibly selfish! After all, without some intentional rearranging of my life, the natural flow of my day does revolve around me.

I cook what I want, I eat when I want, I leave my stuff where I want, I arrange my schedule how I want, I go where I want… You get the idea. The list could go on.

Basically, singleness gives me the chance every day to think only of myself and what I want. And that’s so tempting for a self-centered person like myself!

Regardless of whether the single life is chosen or not, the problem is that it can easily and sneakily reinforce selfishness and self-centeredness.

In general, singleness — as opposed to being married or having kids — puts me in a unique position to have to work a bit harder to turn my heart outward to others instead of inward to myself.

Many of my married friends, old and young alike, tell me that marriage pretty quickly trains the selfishness right out of you. Or at the very least it reveals your selfishness to you left and right. Sounds horrible and like exactly what I want all at the same time.

Sure, if life is about putting myself first, then my singleness is all about me and I should live it up accordingly. But, if it’s not about me and fulfilling my every wish… then what?

What does it mean if my singleness should make me not more self-centered but instead more giving? And if my singleness is meant to, somehow or another, be for the good of other people and make God, not me, look beautiful and desirable?

The great magic of all of this is that we know that when we give joyfully and humbly of ourselves, we are filled more than we could’ve imagined. Living in a giving, selfless way is not a sacrifice or a loss.

I’ve tried to think of some practical ways to be considerate of others on a daily basis and train my selfishness out of me even in singleness.

One way I try to do that is to be intentionally considerate of whoever I live with.

While there are days that I wouldn’t mind living alone, I also know that living with someone is not only fun, it also “forces” me to, at the very minimum, be considerate of another person on a daily basis.

Living with someone is one practical step toward training that selfishness out of me (though I’m sure it’s a fraction of how marriage or kids trains it out of you!).

I bop my selfishness on the head when I pick up my things or wash my dishes. I bop it on the head when I take their plans into account before I invite people over. I bop it on the head when I apologize for something hurtful I blurted out when I get home at the end of a long day. Again, I could go on here.

It’s one small way, but it’s a start.

What other ways can you think of to do away with selfishness and consider others in your daily life?

In the end, the point is that I want to healthily take advantage of the time and freedom that singleness allows me while at the same time using it for personal growth and most of all the good of other people and the glory of God.

From what I’ve seen, this is no easy task and I have a long way to go, but I’m ready to put my hand to the plow!

Death

A few weeks ago, Cáceres put up a memorial for those who passed away from corona. I personally know more than one person who will stand before it and mourn for their family members.

Death is never welcome. We want life and we want it to the full and it’s right to long for that.

During lockdown, for 48 days I leaned out of our window to clap for the medical personnel who were, as they say in Spanish, “at the foot of the canon” — fighting for life, watching suffering, and holding hands with death. I thought of the nurses I know and love and they are plenty, both in the States as well as Spain.

Forty eight times I clapped for them and more than that I prayed for them and checked in on them.

Then one day I saw the video of someone I know being wheeled victoriously out of the ICU while all the medical staff did their own clapping, celebrating that one victory over corona.

We celebrate life because we were made for it. We were made for fullness of joy and vibrant life and wholeness.

I’ve thought more about death — in general, of friends or family dying, of my own death — in the past five months than I have in a long time. I hope I’m not the only one.

This virus threatens to take our health and even our very breath; send us to the grave early, if you’ll pardon the frankness.

I was meant to inhabit this physical, 5’5″ body for a number of years. But, my days are counted. I have a birth date as well as a death date. I will grow old and get wrinkly skin.

If I don’t die of corona, I will die of something else. It takes a while for this to sink in and I don’t love to ponder it, but we must.

GB Caird says, “All men must die, and the question mark which death sets over their existence is just as great whether they die late or soon, alone or in company, violently or in their beds. Their ultimate destiny is not determined either by the moment or by the manner of their death… But by the opening of the heavenly books and by the true and just judgments which proceeds from the great white throne. The idea that life on earth is so infinitely precious that the death which robs us of it must be the ultimate tragedy is [idolatry].”

Jesus is the one I want to walk me through the gates of death and represent me before that throne. We must have more to stand on in life than a probability that we will survive this crisis or the cheap encouragement that “everything will be okay.”

Everything in our lifetime on earth might not be “okay” and you or I or someone we love might not live another day.

Although that uncertainty is actually how life always is, this odd, unknown virus puts us face-to-face with our humanity, our fragility.

We feel deep in our bones that we were made for fullness of life, not death. We were made for a perfect, flourishing, rich garden. I take comfort in the fact that the God who created us for that full life swooped down in human flesh to taste human suffering, to die and turn death into merely a seed that brings life.

I find myself afraid of the process of dying, but not death itself.

We westerners have a limited perspective on the supernatural. In general, we have eyes to see our physical life and little else.

It’s worthwhile to admit that we know so little. What if death isn’t the end — what if it’s the beginning? What if this life is not the most precious thing but merely a shadow of real life?

I’m currently studying the book of Revelation. That, combined with reading CS Lewis’ Space Trilogy, has helped me begin to imagine what is happening in the kingdom we are often unaware of and with the King we dare to ignore. Let’s peek behind the curtain and catch a glimpse of what we can’t see with our earthly eyeballs.

There is a King on a throne who is wiser than I can imagine. When I’ve chosen the privilege of connecting with him, trusting Him, and joining His kingdom, fullness of life starts now and continues even after I change this body for a brand new one.

In Christ, the one who conquered death, death can not steal from me.

““The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” – Jesus (John 10:10)

How do you think about death?

Using corona to kick selfishness to the curb

If I wanted some extra opportunities to grow in selflessness (and I did… kind of), I got them.

We all did. Hello, corona!

I don’t want to pass them up! I don’t want to miss the chance to take the 💩 of living in a corona-world and turn it upside-down — use it for good in my heart and for blessing in the lives of people I know.

If I can leverage this as a super duper opportunity to kill selfishness in my heart, forego my comfort for the sake of someone else, prioritize the needs of others, think first of my neighbor and esteem them highly… friends and family and brothers and sisters…

Well, if I can make it work for me in that way, I will be a bit closer to the woman God wants me to be, my tiny world will be a bit better, and the people I (figuratively) rub shoulders with will, hopefully, feel a bit more loved, valued, and cared for. Seems like one great way to make all of this worth it in the long run.

I think this has to be an active and purposeful training-out of the selfishness inside my heart, though. It’s possible to live in this time of corona and still be a selfish person. The year 2020 isn’t going to automatically take away my selfish side.

Maybe it should look like intentionally asking myself each day how I can prioritize someone else; who I need to take into account; where I can give, not take.

How would you put 2020 to work to train the selfishness right out of your heart? I’m taking suggestions!

I’m here to squeeze corona for all it’s worth.

No problem, 2020: I see you and with the Lord’s help, I’m gonna use you to kill a bit more of the self-centeredness in my soul.

Stars and Space

One night at an observatory meant one impressive telescope, a sore neck from craning to look at the heavens, many words I didn’t understand, precious glimpses of the reality beyond view of the naked eye, and a lesson on our solar system that blew me away.

Did you know that there are stars that are a few hundred times the size of our sun? I didn’t. Forget twinkle, twinkle little star. More like burn, burn, gigantic ball of fire.

Take that fact about how big some of the stars are and remember that our sun is much larger than earth (where we feel dwarfed when we simply go to a big mountain) and your mind is ready to blow. We can’t conceive of the size of the known universe and certainly can’t imagine what exists that we don’t yet know about.

The theoretical lesson at the observatory ended and we marched outside to bend over the telescope. We sat in a circle around the machine, awaiting our turn to peek behind the curtain of the naked eye into the heavens.

Saturn’s rings are real — I saw them. The moon is riddled with craters. And, even under the telescope, there are groups of flaming stars that look like someone spilled salt.

Space has always scared me. The black, gravity-less unknown. It can feel like we are on a planet of life travelling through an abyss of scary nothingness.

But what do I know about it from looking up from little ol’ earth into the world of celestial bodies, gaseous planets, and ginormous stars that burn and soar?

We know nothing in the scheme of things and we don’t know what we don’t know. Maybe space is pulsing with life itself and we are living a shadow of it here on earth. What do we know?

This world is magical and glorious and if there is even more glory and fullness of life beyond what we see, what must it be like?

In C.S. Lewis’ novel “Out of the Silent Planet,” the main character finds himself hurtling from earth to another planet.

He comments on his fear of space: “Some moments of cold fear he had; but each time they were shorter and more quickly swallowed up in a sense of awe which made his personal fate seem wholly insignificant. He could not feel that they were an island of life journeying through an abyss of death. He felt almost the opposite.”

He goes on to talk about the majesty of traveling through space:

“He wondered how he could ever have thought of planets, even of the Earth, as islands of life and reality floating in a deadly void. Now, with a certainty which never after deserted him, he saw the planets—the “earths” he called them in his thought—as mere holes or gaps in the living heaven—excluded and rejected wastes of heavy matter and murky air, formed not by addition to, but by subtraction from, the surrounding brightness. And yet, he thought, beyond the solar system the brightness ends. Is that the real void, the real death? Unless . . . he groped for the idea . . . unless visible light is also a hole or gap, a mere diminution of something else. Something that is to bright unchanging heaven as heaven is to the dark, heavy earths.”

Doesn’t this imagining of space stoke your imagination?

The reality we see on earth is not the only reality. There is much we cannot see and are incapable of knowing. And I think it’s good to let my mind run wild with the possibilities of the majesty and glory and beauty and brimming life that is beyond what we see with our eyes.

The insignificance I feel before a great mountain is nothing compared to my insignificance (and even fear) before the galaxies. Yet the Being that oversees the celestial bodies was stuffed into the skin of a man —dignifying humanity, coming near, closing the gap, and bringing life. Our existence on this small planet might be minuscule but it is not overlooked, unwanted, or unimportant.

Swallows

In the evening, before the sun goes down, the swallows take over the Cáceres sky.

I went for a sunset run with a friend and as we stopped to admire the painted sky, I looked up at the swallows and said, “I just love those birds because it looks like they’re just flying around for the joy of it.”

They don’t look like they’re flying to get somewhere important. They flit around and dive through thin air as if it’s their invisible roller coaster. Maybe they’re all surprise-attacking little bugs for their dinner or maybe some of them truly are flying around simply for fun.

You know how kids run just because? Outside play with their friends almost always includes running. Or, without thinking twice they, they break into a trot to get somewhere quickly. I did that today. I needed to get something from the other side of the yard and I ran for it. Why not?

Life isn’t always a piece of cake but I think we can sprinkle in enough just-because joy to get us through the days and then some.

Flit around the sky, run and skip through the lawn, dance across the kitchen, and sing for the sake of making music.

Confinamiento

Así pasamos el confinamiento juntitas. Pasé mucho tiempo así, tendida en el balcón como una prenda de ropa, buscando el cielo azul, el sol en la cara, el viento entre las pestañas, acercándome tanto como pueda a los árboles frente a nuestro piso.
 
Aún está en nuestro portal una noticia que lleva la fecha “19 de marzo.” Informa sobre el uso de lejía para limpiar y desinfectar todo el edificio.
 
Eso me recuerda del olor de lejía de esos primeros días, cuando realmente pensamos que serían dos semanas, cuando lloraba cada día por la carga que llevaba en el corazón.
 
Me recuerda como yo intentaba, con mucha dificultad, enfocarme para trabajar ese primer lunes, un día después de que anunciaron el estado de alarma.
 
Me recuerda de la primera noche de juegos que hicimos mi compañera de piso y yo, comprometidas a no mirar al móvil y no hablar nada del virus (era difícil).
 
Me recuerda de cómo me dolía la espalda por un cambio tan abrupto de actividad y entrenamientos.
 
Me recuerda de escuchar ambulancia tras ambulancia, sin más ruido en la calle.
 
Me recuerda de las risas con amigos a través de Facetime y Zoom, buscando maneras de mantener el contacto y divertirnos, y también del cansancio que provoco en mí tanto tiempo hablando por pantalla.
 
Me recuerda del momento en que la rutina en casa empezó a parecer normal y el miedo que me daba de que se convirtiera en algo normal.
 
Me recuerda del abrazo que le dio a un árbol al poder salir del piso.
 
Ahora el confinamiento me parece un sueño. Mejor dicho, una pesadilla. Pero la palabra “pesadilla” tampoco expresa la sensación. La sensación no es de ser bueno o malo, sino de algo distante, algo separado, algo que pasó y que ya no me acuerdo bien.
 
Ya que hemos empezado con lo que es, más o menos, una vida parecida a la vida antes del 15 de marzo, es como si hubiéramos cerrado el libro do confinamiento. “Una lectura interesante y rara y ya se acabó,” decimos sin palabras. Las rutinas ahora son tan distintas que por un lado tiene sentido. Ya no abro la ventana a las 20:00. Ya no entreno corriendo por el pasillo del piso. Ya no hace falta una pantalla para ver a mis amigos aquí en Cáceres.
 
Las rutinas que formaban la vida diaria durante el confinamiento he dejado atras de repente. Aunque eso es normal, lo que me parece raro es que no estamos hablando más de nuestra experiencia de confinamiento; de que tal nos fueron esos días encerrados; de que hicimos y como nos sentimos. Porque vamos… vaya experiencia! Algo raro, triste, duro, a veces interesante, y tan tan distinto para cada persona.
 
La necesidad de mirar atrás un poco para asimilarlo y procesarlo no necesariamente nos hace personas negativas. Puede ser al contrario. De hecho, quizás la intención de preguntar y reflexionar echa fuera el positivismo falso que no da para sanar y crecer como personas. Quizás el preguntar y reflexionar da para ver bien los aspectos positivos junto con los aspectos “negativos” y difíciles de los cuales hemos crecido y aprendido.
 
En fin, que procesemos y reflexionemos. Que nos hagamos preguntas uno al otro que nos sirven para crecer. Que pongamos el enfoque no en nosotros mismos pero en los que tenemos al lado (como me cuesta eso!). Que tengamos conversaciones que sean para beneficiar a la otra persona. Y que nunca, nunca volvamos a estar encerrados durante 48 días. 😉

 

 

 

think

“There’s no point in thinking through it, because there’s no way to know the answer to that question.”

Or is there a point?

I love to think, even about questions that don’t have answers. Or rather, questions that we won’t know the answer to while we live on this earth.

They don’t frustrate me. Because in asking the unanswerable questions, I’m increasing my wonder and amazement. I’m putting my heart and mind in a position that makes me remember

that I am human and God is not;

that my knowledge is limited and God is all-knowing;

that I have a pea brain and God thought up everything in existence.

Framed the right way, all those topsy turvy thoughts and mind-boggling questions about life can end in wonder, not frustration. What better place to be?

I can think through impossible questions for the sake of thinking about them.

I don’t have to be frustrated because I don’t understand. Instead, I can be amazed that He does.

“Daniel replied, ‘No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries.’”

‭‭- Daniel‬ ‭2:27-28‬ ‭

Returning to Normal

While we were still in lockdown, I walked alone to the grocery store. I passed a park with a grassy area — uncharacteristically sloppy, unkempt, and overgrown, making the deserted streets look even more like a ghost town. Looking up, I saw Spanish flags with small, black bows in memory of the ones the virus has taken.

Last week as I was buying groceries, the entire store fell into a hushed stillness as we paused for 60 seconds to remember those no longer here.

A few days ago I spent time with a friend who told me she still feels a bit “messed up” from the seven weeks we spent in our apartments without leaving. No doubt many of us are, in various ways.

With more freedom to move around and gather, funerals are finally being held for the ones that were buried in a hurry. Tens of thousands of people are grieving right now, even as Spain’s street cafes and bars begin to pulse back to life.

While we return to shop and spend and do business and see friends, to return to “normal” after all of this would not be right or healthy. To move along as if nothing happened would be a mistake.

To skip the step of processing and mourning would be a mistake. Although of course we rightly delight in moving around and seeing loved ones and enjoying life, hurriedly returning to superficial happiness and comfort is not the priority here.

Landing in peace and joy after wading through grief, hard conversations, and a good bit of self-examination is more important right now.

I want myself and all of us to meaning out of all of this. This strange virus is not a random biological event. There is meaning and much to learn and we have to mine for it, sift it out, and be okay if that process involves sitting in some discomfort and awkwardness.

I hope we take a uncomfortable moment to think about life and death.

I hope we treat each other more kindly and tenderly than we used to.

I hope we cherish relationships and look into each other’s eyes.

I hope we stop to ask friends how they’re really doing right now, then listen to the answer.

I hope we learn how to be more human and less like our own gods.

I hope we remember for a long time to come that we can’t count on our perfectly-laid plans for the future.

I hope we reflect on how we want to change and ways that this has shaped us.

I hope we cry with those who are crying and rejoice with those who are rejoicing.

I hope we feel our spirit yearning for life and listen to the One who created it.

War

I felt it — the wreckage that selfishness and pride can cause. I was no distant observer. I was stumbling from the blow, a recipient of the trickle-down effects of others’ choices, wincing with the ache.

I saw it, cried over the pain, then declared war — war on my own heart, my own selfishness and pride, realizing the havoc we can wreck on each other’s lives.

We live and leave behind a trail of wreckage from the selfishness and pride in ourselves that we don’t see or haven’t addressed. Darkness we haven’t had the guts to bring to light or that operates like a secret agent, undetected even by the one in whom it lives. It’s not even only the ugliest of ugly — it’s also run-of-the-mill, daily thinking (even subconsciously) that it’s all about me and making decisions accordingly.

I could no longer make friends with my own self-centeredness. I don’t want my darkness to tag along like a wrecking ball, hurting those closest to me as well as others whose names I may never know. If kindness is a ripple effect, so is my own self-centeredness. I will fight that part of my heart to keep you safe.

The battle begins in my heart and it’s fought not by determining to be good — that just leads me to believe that I’m better than those around me who haven’t decided to be better people. That feeds my pride.

No, the battle is fought by turning away from myself and toward the God who sees the blackness I’m warring against (and what I cannot yet see), loves me still, and changes me slowly but surely into something better. I am humbled and raised up at the same time. No false assurance that I’m a perfect person and no shaming in an effort to make me shape up.

I can acknowledge my selfishness and pride without being bound to it or despairing because of it, because I know that I’m loved and being changed into beauty, and I will participate in that change process.

My heart is steadfast, resting in love and begging for more light to expel my darkness.

Heavy Hearts

Today I cried. My heart is heavy, thumping inside of me.

Yesterday I put my boots on and took them walking to try and process everything: Spain’s lockdown that now seems like a dream (a bit of a bad dream), thousands of Spanish families grieving simultaneously, my friends in the US arguing about coronavirus, a man who was killed and the other man who had a hand in it, protests that highlight the hurt, people who riot, and my own selfish heart that I see more clearly every day.

All of these things (and so much more) wrapped into this moment of our existence. I am heartbroken and bothered by all of it.

Silly me! As if all of that can be predictably processed with a pen and paper in one afternoon. As if I could arrive at some sort of clarity after pounding out several miles.

I’ve felt so heavy and so confused the past few days thinking about George Floyd. I’ve prayed formless prayers with long silences. I’m having a hard time sorting through my own thoughts and certainly haven’t had words to say. I don’t know how to be or what to do.

This morning, I woke up to hear that one of the cities I‘ve come to care for was trashed last night. I caught up on news and have watched the riots with disbelief and the protests with my heart in my throat and tears in my eyes.

Finally, I cried.

When talking and words seem like too much and not enough all at the same time, it seems like the only thing to do is grieve along with everyone who is grieving — most of all the Lord who is, no doubt, more brokenhearted than any of us as He looks at what we have done with this world and His images. “I’m sorry” is appropriate, because I know I have disrespected the humans in my circle who He loves dearly.

I must take a long, awkward look into my own heart and ask God to “search me and see if there is any hurtful way in me” (Psalm 139:23).

I do that knowing that I am not perfect,

knowing that there are “hurtful ways” in me,

knowing that I need to see what needs to be fixed,

knowing that Christ will clean me and change my heart as I also work to change.

And finally, I have the ability to look inside the dark places of my heart without despairing because I know I am loved by Him in the middle of the whole process.

May I follow Jesus and sacrifice myself, my comfort, and my pride for the good of every person around me.