Singleness and The Death of Options
By: Hope Johnson
I stared at the worst version of myself in the bathroom mirror, hating the hot tears streaming down my face and the rabid desperation in my eyes. Pounding my fist on the sink in both self-righteousness and self-loathing, I accused God and accused myself. Another man had rejected me, one who seemed to embody all I’d prayed for these past fifteen years. It seemed that God had been teasing me, and I told Him so.
But the desperation went deeper than an unfulfilled desire—I knew true life meant dying to myself, yet I was still pursuing a life defined by human love rather than Jesus. Trapped in the prison of my own distorted longing, I feared that my dreams of freedom were only a mirage—an image of hope that God dangles in front me, but never lets me catch.”
Imagination and Idolatry
In Counterfeit Gods, Tim Keller defines an idol as “anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.” (xvii) By Keller’s definition, I was certainly in the throes of idolatry.
My imagination had been ravished by our culture’s Siren song of romantic love as the ultimate source of satisfaction. For years, I had striven to tear down this idol; but my methods had only increased my frustration. Combining self-flagellation with self-determination, I’d tried to white-knuckle my way to freedom, only to find myself pacing back and forth in the same prison cell.
Unclenching My Fists
At the height of my desperation, three wise people in my life suggested the same thing: “Hope, can you just put this aside? For a time?” Instead of white-knuckling the process of tearing down my cherished idol, they counseled me, perhaps I needed to unclench my fists. Seeing the wisdom in their idea.
I decided that for three months, I would commit to a dating fast: I would not date, look for someone to date, or pursue a man’s attention.
I knew I needed rewired thoughts if I were ever to break free of my mental prison, and I knew I needed to relate to Jesus for who He is, not only for what He could give me.
And as I shifted my gaze from human love to the face of my Savior, He took my hand, walked with me, and ushered me into a freedom I’d never known. Here are some of the beautiful truths Jesus taught me as I followed His lead during my dating fast:
A Transformed Mind Is A Process
The fast did not start out easily. Almost immediately after I made the commitment, I was tempted to pursue a particular person’s attention and was bombarded by cynicism surrounding singleness in both social media and personal conversations.
In the past, I’d made bold declarations that I would never again put a person before God. When I inevitably fell short of my commitment, shame would engulf me. This time though, I realized that the transformational renewing Paul speaks of was not a moment, but a process.
Neuroscience tells us that our brains are flexible, and the more we think a thought or repeat an action, these thoughts and actions form well-worn mental pathways. After 15 years of rehearsing the same toxic thoughts, it was no wonder that my well-intentioned declarations hadn’t led to change, but to shame. This time though, when I was tempted toward shame, instead of retelling the story of my brokenness, I told myself the story of Jesus, of His love so fierce that He chose to be broken for me.
I made His words in John 6:32-40 the theme of my fast: Jesus was the bread of life, and only in His love was my hunger eternally satisified. And the more I looked to him, the more I slowly read His words, the more clearly I saw that His love makes human love pale in comparison.
The key to rewiring my thoughts, I found, was not in chastising myself when I fell short, but in allowing the Savior’s words to gently cleanse my mind again and again.
Jesus also revealed I’d been staring at the gaudy silver and gold of my idols for so long that I’d believed their beauty outshone His. Isaiah 40:18-19 says “….What image will you compare [God] to? As for an idol, a craftsman casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold and fashions silver chains for it.”
Just as the Israelites sought to beautify their ugly, powerless idols, I had been gazing at my culture’s beautification of human love so intently that I’d been deceived into the lie that it was far better than Him.
Seeing the Northern Lights has always been #1 on my bucket list—I’ve always longed to experience their untamed, vivid colors against the backdrop of an onyx sky. The photographs and videos I’ve seen whet my appetite, but I know they are nothing in comparison to the real thing.
About a decade ago, I was quickly falling for an unbeliever. As I wrestled against this desire that I knew went against God’s best, the words washed over me, “Hope, he’s the Northern Lights on TV. Although a relationship with this man seemed to hold the key to the romance I longed for, God revealed it as a cheap copy of the real thing.
During this dating fast, these words resounded as He revealed my idols for the dull imitations that they were. What I had been holding onto was the Northern Light on TV, and I wanted the real thing—this boundless love in Christ as wild and vibrant as the aurora borealis.
A Bottle of Water or a Well?
Whether it is pornography, hooking up, or an obsession with romance, we often settle for a distorted reflection of the love and intimacy that Christ offers.
Genesis 21:14-19 tells of Abraham sending his concubine Hagar and her son Ishmael into the desert at his wife Sarah’s request. Abraham did what he could for them, “[giving] them some food and a bottle of water.” Of course, the water quickly ran out, and Hagar feared that she and her son would die. Hearing her cry, God did what Abraham couldn’t: he led her to a well! What a striking illustration of the contrast between what man can provide and what God offers.
For years, I’d been trying to quench my thirst with the flawed finite when He beckoned me to His bottomless well.
My mind still needs a lot of renewing, but after these three months, I am more in love with Jesus than ever, and for the first time in my life, I am content with my relationship status, whatever it may be. I’m learning to listen to Him when I fall rather than listen to the voices of shame. I’m learning that freedom from an enslaved mind comes not from stubborn striving, but from surrender.
And most importantly, my mind is being renewed daily by the simple but profound truth that He loves me, boundlessly, fully, and without reservation.
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Hope Johnson is a teacher and writer based in Upstate New York. She has a passion for writing through the hard questions of the Christian life to lay hold of the truth. She blogs at hopeunyielding.com.