When I was a young kid what I wanted more than anything was to be good at sports. I practiced a ton. I played imaginary games in my driveway and back yard. I dreamed of playing for my favorite pro and college teams.
When I got to my freshmen year of high school I was still dreaming. I wanted to be a star. I wanted people to notice me and I wanted to win. I remember seeing the seniors in their letter jackets with patches for championships and individual awards. Oh yeah I wanted that. And I got one.
I lettered in basketball my sophomore year and got my jacket. My junior and senior year I racked up awards to sew on and newspaper articles to put in the scrap book. And I had a couple of championship patches as well. I wore that jacket with pride. People knew who I was, not just in my town but the ones around it. I had “arrived”.
Here’s what funny. I graduated in May, went to play football in college. Do you know how many times after May 31 1991 that I wore that jacket? Exactly zero. Because now I had new things to drive me.
Now there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be good, working hard and accomplishing something. And really so what if I then made new goals. But here was the bad part. The whole way, I thought if I could just get good enough, my life would be full. I thought it would mean a lot more than it did.
The truth is that my identity was wrapped up in it. It wasn’t just what I was doing, or the context I was in. It was who I was. And that is why the empty feeling when it’s over. It’s a feeling most of us know. The big project is over, you hit your bonus and get to buy that item you wanted, you meet a ministry goal, or heck for that matter, your favorite teams wins a championship. You enjoy it and then it’s gone. If your identity is in it, there’s emptiness.
This is a huge trap when it comes to singleness and marriage.
First of all, if you have marriage as an idol you’re in trouble. In other words if you think that if I can just get married then life will be ok, that’s going to make both singleness and marriage (if you get married) rougher than it has to be. Marriage is not the answer to “what is missing”. That’s setting yourself up to fall. I’ve known people who have gotten married (accomplished their dream) and then thought, “now what?”. That is a rough place to be. Marriage is a beginning, not an arrival and that’s understating it.
But as a single, there is another trap. That is that your identity get’s wrapped up in the whole thing. It is so easy to make one of two big mistakes. The first is to be dominated by the desire to be married. The second is to shun the whole process. Both of these are desperate and often angry, places to be.
Usually what I would do was swing wildly back and forth between the two. In my early 20’s I was constantly desiring a spouse. I wanted to find the “one“. Or I thought I had met her and of course then had to chase her down. But then in my late 20’s after crashing and burning over and over, I just decided to shun the whole thing. F it. I would bury myself into work. Of course I still wanted marriage, but I wasn’t going to actively pursue it. God would just “bring me someone” anyway right?!
I spent a lot of time mad. Mad at God. Mad at other guys who didn’t deserve what I should have because I was a “good” guy. Mad at women who weren’t attracted to me (because they should all be attracted to me right?).
But in the middle of all of it, it became my identity. It was constantly a part of my prayers, conversations with friends, heck conversations with anyone. What can we pray for? A wife.
Whether I was constantly pursing or saying F it, it was still what I was about. And that is the trap we have to avoid.
The reality is that we need our identity in Christ. We need to know that married or single that comes first. As I’ve pointed out before, you can get married next week, and two weeks later your spouse could die in a car wreck. Are you a single person? A married person? Know what I’m saying? Not to mention as long as you need someone, you can’t love them well. They have too much power.
We are not what we do. We are not our marital status. Our identity should not be defined by what we do, or the context (marital or otherwise) we live in. Our identity should play out in what we do, and in the context we are in.
What is your identity in? Are you dominated by the search? Are you hiding by doing nothing?