Wednesday, June 25, 2008

If Only: A Reflection on Misguided Envy

Friends, stay where you were called to be. God is there. Hold the high ground with him at your side (1 Cor. 7:24 Mssg.).

I’m a single adult tonight. Well, not really. It just feels that way.

My wife is in California at the General Assembly meeting. My son is still away at camp. My daughter and I, along with my Mom, are in a hotel in Greensboro, North Carolina. We drove up here today to visit my grandmother who hasn’t been doing so well lately. I’m sitting here trying to write something meaningful about God and the single life while my little girl is down the hall in Mimi’s room watching TV.

It’s quiet in here. I’m by myself. And I really don’t like it. This surprises me because I spend a fair amount of mental energy dreaming of just this. A quiet room, books to read, time to write and think and pray. My wife says, only half joking, that by marrying me she saved me from a monastic life. Sort of funny . . . sort of true.

I never feel like I have enough of this kind of thing. I live with a low grade frustration over not being able to read and think and pray enough. If only there were wider margins in my life I could be a better pastor and a better writer and teacher or whatever. But here I am in the quiet and I don’t really want to write or read or pray. I miss the family. Quiet and solitude are overrated.

It seems that we’re always living under the weight of misguided envy. A different kind of life looks appealing. Not just appealing, but curative. If we could have more of this and do more of that we’d be better at you name it.

This means that single people often look at married life and yearn for the particular demands of being a spouse and a parent. And married people look at the single life and yearn for the freedom, the time to do whatever, the mobility and the options. And both are misguided.

Sometimes it happens. The single person marries and raises a family and finds in quiet moments of near exhaustion that this whole thing is not what they thought it would be. Sure, it’s good. It just looked different from a distance. And sadly, sometimes the married person finds their freedom again. And even though the marriage was difficult, the freedom is hollow.

Paul’s advice along these lines was simple: whatever your life was like when God called you into fellowship with himself – stay that way. Don’t try so desperately to change your place in life. In one of his letters to Timothy, Paul spoke of contentment with godliness.

There’s a quality in the life of every soul that we spend a lifetime trying to develop. It’s true for married people and single people alike: Contentment. Receiving with thankfulness the life we’ve been given right now in all of its detail and particularity.

So what does your life look like today? Aspire to be all that God calls you to be, and in your aspiration do not despise the life you’ve been given now. No more “if only” excuses. No more “if only” fantasies. Take what you’ve been given and determine to live well for the glory of God right where you are. Whatever life is like for you today, God is in the midst of it.

My soul is too often restless, O God, searching and waiting for something that will make me right and whole. Teach me what it means to rest in you, content with the life you’ve given me today. Help me to live this day with a heart that is thankful, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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