Seven years...that's how long I've been single. Yes, seven years in a row. Yes, that is a long time, although for the first 2.5 to three of those years, I wanted it that way.
And then, I didn't.
I still remember my shock at the realization that I might be ready to move on...or at least ready to find out if I was ready. I was hanging Christmas lights outside and along came this quiet thought: Maybe next year I won't be doing this alone. That would be nice.
I'd like to tell you that I haven't hung those lights alone since. But this is not that kind of story.
"Next year" has come around three or four times now, and each year I've hung the same lights and thought the same thought. It's become a kind of alone-a-versary for me.
Of course it's not about the Christmas lights. It's about the season, and believing that the holidays would be better, would be more - more fun, more meaningful, more special - with someone to share in the decorating, shopping, cooking, baking, wrapping, fire building, tree trimming, movie watching, celebrating, worshiping...
And the ice skating. Now there's an activity that simply does not make sense without a hand to hold.
A few times, I've ventured into the world of online dating at this time of year. I've e-Harmonized and Match dot com'd and gone Plenty of Fish-ing. And while I met some nice men and some...well...interesting men, the most important person I met was myself. Nothing like trying to be someone you're not to remind yourself who you are...and I am so not someone who dates.
One day, overwhelmed and exhausted from weeks on end of reading profiles and writing profiles and winking and liking and e-mailing and texting and phone calling and meeting and greeting and (on more than one occasion) thinking I'd been stood up when, in fact, he was at a different Starbucks thinking the same thing, God talked to me. In the same quiet way He had placed that new and unexpected longing in my heart while I was hanging icicle lights, He told me in no uncertain terms that I was free to stop trying to MAKE this happen. He was simply not done with me being single yet.
Well...that doesn't seem very fair. Why not hold off on inspiring the desire until He's ready to deliver??
Because, apparently, that's not how it works.
It would be easy to dismiss the dating experience as a huge disappointment and waste of time. It didn't work out as I'd hoped. I didn't get what I wanted. But by taking a risk that challenged and hurtled me far outside my comfort zone, I got something un-hoped-for, unplanned, unexpected. I got information that helped me define and refine what I want and who I want to be. I got insight into the fears and insecurities that hold me back in every area of my life. Most important, I got the courage to take even bigger risks.
I stopped dating and found a much more dangerous way to spend my time...writing. And I began to understand the truth that all I ever have to do is be willing to take the next risk -- whatever it may be. Because when I risk, I reach out. When I reach out, I'm available. When I'm available, God can show me the way, the next risk to take that will -- directly or, more often, indirectly -- bring me closer to the fulfillment of my heart's every desire. Closer to Him.
The biggest risk of all is to let myself want what I want while at the same time fully inhabiting the "what is" of my life. I'm not very good at this. I live in close proximity to the wasteland known as Ambivalence. And always, just below the surface, there's a know-it-all voice that tries to convince me that the relationship I think I want would, in reality, be too disruptive, too distracting, too time-consuming, too messy, too scary. A voice that says, It's safer to simply want what you have. And "safe" is good.
Safe IS good. I'll admit, I am a big fan. But I also know that if I buy into my human definition of safety, my life gets smaller. And smaller. And smaller. And that is not what God wants for me. So when I feel myself shrinking, when I feel my heart closing down to the truth of the connection I so deeply long for, I know God's asking me again to risk. To commit. To hold with reverence and awe the contradictions inherent in this human existence. To live fully this beautiful life that's mine while at the same time making space to grow into the life that is becoming. And to trust that the growing pains are as temporary as they are real.
I know I'm not the only single person who finds the holidays challenging. So to the rest of you, just know that we're alone in this together. But we each have to choose. To rush headfirst into the longing or shut down to it? To embrace those very human, hurting parts of ourselves or to deny them? To (as Brene Brown puts it) live disappointed in an attempt to avoid feeling disappointment or to make way for a deeper level of faith and hope only available to those willing to risk being vulnerable?
All I know is that every time I make the difficult choice to stop fighting and allow what is to simply be, there's grace undeniable. There's God.
And there are words that come along at the perfect time. Like these, from Jan Richardson's Night Visions: Searching the Shadows of Advent and Christmas:
Blessing for a Lonely Night
May you befriend the darkness.
May Sister Night be a tender and fierce companion.
May Longing lie down with you;
may you trace the curve of Desire's face
and sleep in Memory's embrace.
May the spirits attend your dreaming
till absence gives way to flesh
and the shadows return your touch.
Merry Christmas, all. And Merry Risk-mas, too. :-)