Do you remember when you lived down here where we all scrape
To find the faith to ask for daily bread?
Did you forget about us after you had flown away?
Well, I memorized every word you said.
Still I’m so scared I’m holding my breath
While you’re up there just playing hard to get.
Last month I wrote about the danger of allowing our disappointments — over not being married, over marriages ending, over the various hurts that beset us in life — to make us bitter. Bitter isn’t pretty. It isn’t attractive. It doesn’t draw people to ourselves. And, more importantly, it doesn’t allow God room to work in our lives. I talked about how we have to believe that God meets us where we are, and that He can and will create something beautiful out of our lives — disappointment an all — if we only allow Him in and turn everything over to Him.
I believe that with every fiber of my being. I have seen it play out in my own life.
But it doesn’t change the fact that being single can be very difficult and painful sometimes. In my last post I was responding to a letter from “Timed Out,” who was clearly struggling coming to grips with the fact that he hadn’t married and suspected he never would.
The response was a warning against bitterness. But, in writing it, I was aware that Timed Out was in real pain, and I didn’t want to diminish or deny that pain. And so I promised another response to go into more detail about the pain.
The lyrics above are from Rich Mullins’ song “Hard to Get.” Rich was a Christian songwriter and recording artist who was known for his unblinkingly honest lyrics. “Hard to Get” was the last song he wrote, penned just days before he died in a car accident. It’s probably the most frank song he ever wrote — about the experience of praying to God when we feel like He’s not listening.
Rich was single, and just shy of his 42nd birthday when he died. He died driving to Wichita, Kansas, where he was planning to enter the Catholic Church that very weekend. I have often thought he is a kind of “patron saints” for those of us single Catholics who are trying to follow God as best we can.
On one hand, Rich frequently joked that being single is okay, “except between 10 at night and two in the morning.” But then, he added, “that time is a tragedy for most married people, too.” He said that he couldn’t imagine life could be happier married than single.
But he also spoke very publicly about the relationship that “broke his heart.” And he penned lyrics like this.
He acknowledged the good parts, but he didn’t gloss over the hard parts.
This is what we need to do. I have always said that the single life can be very rewarding, very fulfilling — if we turn our hurt over to God and allow him to use it.
But that doesn’t mean the hurt doesn’t hurt. When I was younger, I was always suspicious of older single people who said, “Yes, I’m single. And I love it!” They seemed a little too defensive, a little too quick with the “not that there’s anything wrong with that” response.
Every state of life has its difficulty. For us, that difficulty comes primarily from the fact that we were created to give ourselves to another in love, and we haven’t had that opportunity. It is an “unnatural” way to live. Of course, since original sin entered the world, it can feel very “unnatural” to be with someone else day in and day out, as well.
Basically, we struggle with loneliness. And with disappointment. And with wondering where God was — why he hasn’t answered our prayers.
It can all be very painful.
The answer is not to wallow in the pain. When we lash out, when we grow bitter, when we define ourselves by our pain, we close in on ourselves and shut God out.
But, on the flip side, if we deny that there is pain, we deny God the opportunity to meet us in that pain. We skate on the surface, never finding Him in the depths of our hearts.
They say that “the quickest way out of a feeling is through it.” And I believe that. We have to face what we’re feeling. We have to be honest — with ourselves and with God. We need to bring our pain to Him, to spill it all out, to invite Him into it. And we need to do that over and over.
What’s the difference between that honesty and “wallowing”? It’s our attitude. It’s coming to God honestly and saying “I’m hurting.” But then “I trust you. Even if I don’t feel it, I trust you. I trust you to bring good out of this.” It’s acknowledging His sovereignty. It’s believing that our suffering, even if it continues, can be united to His sacrifice on the cross. It’s the sure knowledge that He is there, even if He isn’t making his presence felt.
“Hard to Get” ends like this:
I can’t see how you’re leading me, unless you’ve led me here
To where I’m lost enough to let myself be led.
And so you’ve been here all along, I guess.
It’s just your ways and You are just plain hard to get.
I know it hurts sometimes. I know it hurts a lot. But He is there, in the midst of it. Trust Him. He will bring good out of it. He will bring joy.
And joy is the enemy of bitter.