Should We Touch Each Other?

In the movie Tommy Boy Chris Farley’s character says to Rob Lowe’s character as they are introduced as brothers, “brothers don’t shake hands.  Brothers gotta hug.”  This is of course followed by a very awkward moment as Farley’s youthful innocence meets Lowe’s disdain.

In the Church, as well as society as a whole, we have a touch problem.  It’s real, and we need to actually start addressing it.

A few month’s ago I wrote about The Snuggery.  This is literally a place where you can go and pay money to have someone snuggle with you.  No lie.  Look it up.

As crazy as that sounds, it makes perfect sense.  We live in a world more and more devoid of proper touch.  There is a lot of abusive and sexual touch.  There is very little good touch, if we can even figure out what that means.

But the value of touch in our lives can not be understated.  It is vital and we can’t hide in a corner as the Church and just tell people no.  We need a different answer.

As a guy touch is even more complicated because touch is also a strength thing.  Here’s what I mean.  A lot of times as a young boy or teenager, touch means getting pushed around.  Are you tough enough means can you take a hit.  Are you strong enough means can you dish one out.  We get all sorts of answers to these questions growing up and those answers stay with us, even if they aren’t true anymore.

I was never a wrestle around kid.  I didn’t really know how to get hit or hit back.  Looking back, I wasn’t really weak over all, but I thought I was.  That affected how I viewed touch as I got older.  How you interact with other men physically matters and affects your confidence.

Then there is the touch of the opposite sex.  This is also all jacked up.  And in the Christian circle we are basically told don’t touch each other.  That sounds good, and I get it, but at some level, with no physical interaction at all, we just end up pushing people into a weirder and more awkward place.  If we accidentally equate all touch with shame or sin, we are setting ourselves up for failure.

When you throw in how isolated we are in daily life as singles this can be a disaster that just continues to build.  It hurts.  Touch matters.  The reality is people are doing something with their need for touch.  Touching the wrong way, burying the desire in escapism or fantasy, or just falling into isolation and awkwardness.

Many of us basically work alone.  Then literally half of us go home alone, eat alone, go to bed alone, and then get up alone and do it all again.  That does not lead to healthy touch. That leads to isolation.  Is our advice to single people going to be don’t touch?

We need a different answer than that.  The Church, and we as single people, need to engage this issue.  We need to talk about a right thinking about touch and then we need to live it out.

Touch is all over the Bible.  Jesus is constantly touching people.  This is actually one of the amazing things about Him.  He became flesh.  He lived in a place and at a particular time, just like you and me.  He sweat and smelled, and got tired and sore and He touched people – literally.  The leper, the blind, heck, even the dead.  And he was touched. Women of ill refute, came and touched him  – with their hair and kisses.  Scandalous.

I’ll admit to not having all the perfect answers to this but I believe it starts with something Zack Eswine writes in his book Sensing Jesus.  He writes, “in the New Testament, two kinds of physical touch are set in brutal contrast”.  He points out that the misuse of touch used “to consume or preserve it’s own selfish wants, lusts, desires or agendas” and in contrast a different kind that “envisions a way for Christian community to recover in Jesus how humans were originally meant to touch each other.  Physical touch is meant as a holy act.”  He goes on, “Jesus touched people.  He touched bodies.  But his was not the sexualized touch of a pornographic mind, a controlling cling, or a predator heart.  The way of Jesus’s touch graciously intends to reform our own.”

Here’s my take.  As the Church (and especially if we are going to reach out to the half of the country that is unmarried) instead of running from touch, we need to reclaim it.  In other words we need to own the discussion and do it well.  We need to freaking lead instead of reacting in fear.

This will mean confronting wrong touch and helping both the wrongly touched and the toucher deal.  As men it means dealing with our insecurities and learning our strength and then offering it – physically.  With the opposite sex on a date it means reaching for her hand without thinking about reaching into her pants and realizing that they are not the same thing.

What we can’t do is say, don’t touch, don’t experience that or grow in it, and then if you get married don’t worry, it will just turn on.  That’s ridiculous and irresponsible.

What do you do with your need for touch?  What would holy touch look like?  What have you learned about touch in your life?

Who Diagnoses Your Life?

One night a couple of years ago I began to have severe pain in my abdominal area.  At first it was small, but as the night wore on it got worse.  I remember being at the gas station and barely being able to get out of my car.  I went home and went to bed.  I was breaking into chills and sweat.  As I laid there I began to think of the possibilities.  Could it be my appendix?  An ulcer? Worse?  Was it food poisoning?  I thought about what I ate that day and self diagnosed that indeed that Ranch dressing and salad was the culprit.

I stuck it out and the next day felt a little better.  But I was still hurting some.  I took it easy, went to the bathroom about 10 times and by the next day I was practically normal. Looking back I think about how stupid this was.  What if it would have been my appendix?  At what point would I have self diagnosed that?  At what point would I have called for help?  The funniest thing is I actually know doctors.  It’s not like I even had to start with the hospital.  It could have been disastrous.  If I’d gone down that night in my house who would have known.

It’s one of the perils of being single.  28% of Americans live alone.  That means that somewhere in the neighborhood of 50% of singles live by themselves.  This can be bad for practical reasons as I’ve written about here.  There really is a safety factor.  What if you fall or pass out etc.?  What if I had self diagnosed wrong?  Who would know?  On top of this many of us work alone, or at least without a big office?  How long would it take for someone to know you’re missing in action?

But the safety factor pales in comparison to two others.

The reality is it’s pretty easy to get isolated.  Now I don’t mean that you don’t see or work with other people.  Of course we communicate and live in the real world.  But it is very easy to avoid real community and therefore end up without anyone speaking into our lives. As bad as self diagnosing a physical problem wrong could be, misdiagnosing our lives is worse – and we all do it.

All of us are deceived about our own story.  We misdiagnose both our sin and our wounds.

We look at our sin as minor and we never know the impact it has on others.  There is sin in our lives that never even sees the light of day because no one else is there to view it.  We might literally not even know we are doing it.  There is often no one to see it or call it out. There is no one to confess to.  We desperately need this.

Maybe worse, we end up believing lies about ourselves that affect everything we are doing.  If we only have our view of our story, we are in real trouble.  Things that were never our fault end up being.  We end up agreeing with ideas about our hurt that simply aren’t true.  We can spend our whole time fighting against things like, “I’m ugly”, “I’m stupid”, “I suck” etc.  It’s hard to see God’s view of us if we don’t have people in our lives who know our story and can speak into it.

In short we will take responsibility for stuff that isn’t our fault and brush off the stuff that is.  Everyone does this, married and single, but as a single person we are more likely to face little or no resistance to it.  And that is a problem.  We can hide if we want to – and we often do.

Some of us are thinking food poisoning when we need to be thinking appendicitis.  We need to reach out for some help.  Even if we have tried before and gotten burned.  We have to fight for community as a single person.  There is no doubt that it is harder.  Maybe not if you are 25 but as you hit 30-40 it is harder as a single.  I’m not whining, that’s just reality.  The Church culture is not set up for us.  28-40 is when all your crap hits the fan and you can not face that alone and win.  You just can’t.

If you misdiagnose your life at 25 you have a chance.  Do it at 35 and you’re screwed.  

1 John 1:5-7 says, “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.  If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”

As a single we have to find this.

Who besides you has a view of your story?  Who helps diagnose your life?  Where are you being deceived?

You Are Not Called To Be Alone

One of the great struggles of singleness is the feeling that you are alone.  Now I know that even if you are married you can still feel that way, but it is almost a guarantee that if you are single for any length of time you will feel it.

It can be made even harder by the fact that we live in a culture that has become more and more individualized.  Not all of that is bad, we have more freedom to move different places, explore different options and take different opportunities.  But there are a lot of unintended consequences.  One of those is that we end up switching friends all the time and not really going deep.  And this can lead to feeling alone or to for all intents and purposes, actually being alone.

We end up not really knowing how to have real community.  But we need it, whether we are single or married.

In Genesis, God creates Adam and then says, “It is not good for man to be alone.”  You see God was not alone.  He has always been in perfect relationship as the Father, Son, and Spirit.  And He created us in His image, which makes us relational beings.  It is critical that we get this.

In our world we are told that it is all about the individual.  It is all about you, making your way and doing what you need to do.  It is about self advancement.  Even in the Church it can become about my relationship with God, my ministry, my spiritual growth.  Now there is truth in that.  You and I have an individual role to play in the story – but heres the key – we are not THE story.

I think one of the many reasons we have more single people than ever in history is that we are more alone to begin with.  We get used to operating on our own and going after the stuff that helps mainly us.  We are not used to working stuff out in community, let alone with another person that I have to be with every single day.  It’s hard work and even though we are made for it, we are resistant and we’ve been trained to be.

It’s gotten to the point where it is just kind of accepted.  “I’m on my own.”  But you are not supposed to be.  Even if you are called to celibacy (to be single and not marry), you are not called to be alone.

People who are truly called to celibacy typically get this.  Priests and nuns are typically less alone than us.  Throughout time, they’ve typically lived in community.  They get that the call to celibacy is not a call to aloneness.  (By the way I learned more about the call to celibacy and marriage and the difference in about an hour sharing a panel with a priest and nun than I have in 20+ years of being in the protestant church – but I digress.)

The point here is that we are not created to be loners.  My pastor spoke on this last week and he brought it perfectly at the end.  He said, “What if you didn’t have to navigate your marriage alone.  What if you didn’t have to navigate your singleness alone?  Or your parenting? Or your career? Or your wounds? Or your success?”  Exactly!

We need people in our lives who know us.  People who know our story – both where we’ve been and where we are trying to go.  Yes I’m talking about accountability, but more than that.  Yes I’m talking about meeting together, and sharing together, but more than that.

Marriage is not the only covenant relationship available to us.  If you get married it is the number one covenant relationship in your life (behind Jesus) but it doesn’t have to be the only one.  It’s all over scripture.  Look at the early church.  Look at Aaron and Moses or Jonathan and David.

But it takes work and more importantly it means making a decision to be in it no matter what.  This kind of community doesn’t “just happen”.  If it can “just happen” then it can just as easily “unhappen”.  That doesn’t create security, trust and unity.

I think one of the huge traps as a single person is that we can, over time, become more and more independent, to the point that we are actually alone.  And alone is bad.  We are not meant to carry our burdens, sins, decisions, fears, dreams, and celebrations alone.  If we are indeed called to be married we will be way more prepared if we have real community that we have had to work at.  If we are called to celibacy then it is just as critical so that we don’t become isolated.

Do you have real community?  Who knows your dreams, fears, sins, successes?  Who knows your heart?  Whose heart do you know?  Are you single, or are you alone?

Don’t Live Life Alone

When I was in 7th grade my family moved from a suburb to a small town. Making new friends can be tough – especially as I was a pretty awkward middle schooler (hard to believe I know).  But I had two big things going for me.  1. My family was moving with me – we might be in a new house but the same five people were there every day, and 2. I had to sit in class for eight hours a day with all these new people.  In other words I had forced community.

After high school, I went to college.  Again, there was forced community.  I played football so I met 80 people before class even started.  I had a suite full of 8 other people that I was forced to share space with.  Many of these people became my friends.

What’s interesting is that when you are younger, whenever you take the next step, while it might be hard to leave some people, there’s a whole new group of people waiting.  You are almost forced to make friends.

Even as most of us start out in our early 20’s community is relatively easy.  Everyone is in the same boat.  For the first few years out of college, I always had roommates my age, people that were in the same place in life.

But as you get older and remain single, this becomes harder.  Every time you move, you start all over.  This became really apparent to me when I moved to St. Louis. If you are married and you move it can be tough, but you still have each other.  You wake up with the same friend every day.  As a single, you don’t have that.

In our culture, the older you get, the more you are alone.

Some people would say we choose this and there is some truth to that.  But if you think about it some of it is just reality.  We don’t have as many jobs where you work in large group anymore.  People also switch jobs more often and don’t even stay with the same company for 5 years let alone 20.

As a single person it is really easy to become more and more isolated.  Our peers are getting married and our roommates keep getting younger and younger.  Know what I’m saying?  I had a time where I was the only one in the office.  I went to work alone, I did ministry alone, I went to Church alone and I went home alone.  I remember one time my boss was saying we needed to make sure we had times of solitude.  I thought – yeah I’ve got that covered.

This is a dangerous situation for us as singles.

First of all it can lead to more time in our own head or what I call The Pretend.  I’ve written about this previously but it’s not good.  It can lead to us being disengaged and isolated. This, in turn, can make our interaction with others less full even when we are with people. All this is bad, not to mention it can decrease our ability to engage the opposite sex.  In fact as we have less and less engagement with the opposite sex, our ability to pursue a marriage relationship takes a beating. Finally, it also leads to more selfishness.  I can just do what I want, when I want.

We have to fight this.  There are no perfect answers but I want to give just a few practical ones.

  • Fight for community.  You can’t just hope it happens.  They don’t have to be like you or even your age.  Do what it takes, you have to do this.
  • Have a roommate or several.  I know, I know, you’re thirty something and the only option is a 25 year old – I say do it anyway.  It’s better than the alternative.  Take someone in who you mentor.  Buy a house and rent out a room.  Don’t go home alone.
  • Don’t lose your friends because they get married.  Your friends should be your friends no matter what.  I get that it might look different but if you are only going to have single friends you are in trouble.
  • Serve.  Even if it is in a small way this is one of the main places where community happens – around a common mission.
  • Listen to sermons and talk radio now and then – not just music.  Trust me on this – it makes you engage and helps keep you out of the pretend

Finally, as “Churchy” as this sounds, you have to engage God.  Learn to talk with God.  If we could take half the time we spent in our own heads and pray we would be changed forever.

So how do you keep from being isolated?  How do keep from being all alone?

Most Sin Happens Alone

Who knows the worst thing you’ve ever done?  Seriously.

One of the traps of singleness and especially (although not limited to) as you get older is that of isolation.  This affects all sorts of things.  What we’ve got to start realizing is that it is now normal to be 30 and single.  I’m not saying that is the way it is supposed to be (I’d lean no) but that is the reality.  Here’s a crazy number – In 1940, 59% of men and 68% of women between the ages of 20-34 were married.  In 2010 66% of men and 56% of women in that same age bracket have never been married.  That is a whole different ball game.

One of the advantages to being married, if you do it right and fight for your marriage, is that you have another person who is there ALL THE TIME.  Now sometimes, according to my married friends, this can be extremely difficult.  But it also has huge advantages – not the least of which is that you have someone who has seen you at your worst and stuck around anyway.

As a single person it is fairly easy to never have anyone see you at your worst.  Think about it.  You are set up to “get away with” sin.  Especially if you live alone, which according to Time Magazine 28% of Americans do (if 28% of Americans do – what % of singles would that be – it’s big).

Sin festers in isolation because it stays secret.  And if it’s secret it’s wrong. We end up rationalizing some sin, giving ourselves pep talks on others, and mostly feeling guilt ridden with most.  There is often no one to call us out, stop us from doing it, or walk us through it.  Sin is almost impossible to root out by ourselves.  We need people in our life who know the worst about us.  This is really, really hard to develop.

The only way this really changes is to have people that are in it with you no matter what. People that are more than just “running buddies” or “going out buddies”.  People that know everything, good and bad. The main reason most people don’t have this is that we are not intentional with it.  We don’t actually go to our friends and say let’s do life together. We don’t trust people will stay and of course half the time the last thing we want to do is actually deal with our sin in the first place.

We need more than a small group, bible study, or accountability group, although that is a great starting point.  But one or two things almost always happens.  Most people switch small groups at least every couple of years (which is fine – as long as this type of “in it togetherness” is not the goal) and/or they become a place where you can share stuff but no one actually does anything about it.  While these can be somewhat helpful at some point it dies out.

The first step is admitting that even though we are created for it, we don’t naturally gravitate towards this.  I think the second thing is to pray for it.  Then we have to actually engage it and fight for it when it presents itself.  Most people don’t have this because it’s hard, not because it isn’t possible.

Who knows everything about you?  If you died who could tell me everything about you, sin and all?  Is there anyone you can trust?  If so – engage it.  If not pray for it.  We can’t fight the battle against our flesh alone.  It will kill our heart, wreck or spirit, and limit our ministry.

Kill The Pretend

When I was a little kid I had a really active imagination.  In the same day I could be a soldier, Luke Skywalker, and Major League pitcher.  My stuffed animals all had different personalities.  As I got older I was the Missouri Tigers in the driveway winning the national title (talk about imagination).  As I got a little older I was me, playing for the Tigers.

Imagination as a little kid is vital.  Taking time out from reality creates great play and creates visions of who we can be.  It is good for a little kids’ emotional health.  However it can be our enemy as an adult. As an adult it can take away from reality – and for the most part, escaping from reality means not dealing with reality which is bad, bad news.

One of the huge traps of Singleness is isolation.  As a society as a whole we have become more and more isolated.  We drive to work alone, often work alone and here’s the kicker, as a single person we come home alone.  In fact the latest stats show that 28% of American adults live alone, and that number is rising.  I’m not saying living alone is always bad but it can be.  One of the results is that it is easier to slip into what I call “The Pretend”.  It is the world in our head that doesn’t actually exist.  It’s not real.

“The Pretend” includes all of our daydreams, speculation about what people are doing or thinking, and fake conversations with others (often with the person of the opposite sex we like) among other things. (By the way – for free – one of the ways to find out who you are not reconciled with is to ask “who do I have pretend arguments with in my head?”).  It also includes secret sexual thoughts that lead to fantasy, porn, and masturbation, etc.

Here’s the thing.  Besides being a colossal waste of time, it never turns out the way we speculate, most of it is bad, almost all of it is wrong, and none of it is real.

Now to be sure all people deal with this, married or single.  This isn’t just a singleness problem.  But one of the advantages of having a spouse, and especially kids, is that you are snapped back into reality over an over again.  You go home and there they are.  Now of course you can hide from your spouse or kids, plug in the ipod, jump on the internet etc.  You can definitely be physically present but emotionally and mentally absent.  But at least you have a physical person as an option.  You can choose to disengage but you can also choose right and engage.

But as a single person this can be even more of a battle.  There is no one there to snap you back to reality.  Once you head down the path of getting into your own head there is often nothing there to stop it.  I shutter to think of all of the time I’ve spent in the world of my head, in “the pretend”.

The cost of this is monumental.  It can cause us to miss the real stuff.  It can stress us out and tire our minds.  It can lead us further into isolation and escapism.  It can make us awkward around real people (especially around the opposite sex). It can keep us from engaging others and most importantly God.

We have to fight this – and it is a fight pure and simple. The road to victory is to engage.  We have to engage God. Several years ago I started praying against “the pretend”.  When I start to go there I just flat pray, “I come against “the pretend” in the name of Jesus.  Give me the real.  I want the real with you.”

 What if instead of speculating, or daydreaming we prayed.  Think about that.  Crazy right?!

We have to engage people.  The most sure way to not be awkward around someone is actually engage them.  We need to get out of our head and into the real.  This is one of the keys to mental health and it is a absolute necessity if we are to avoid the trap of isolation.

When do you go into your own head?  Does your “pretend” honor God?  Do you have anyone in your life who snaps you back to reality?