Blessings of singleness #5: Lack of physical intimacy
In our culture it seems ‘healthy’ or ‘normal’ when women desire sex as a means to emotional intimacy. But no one believes that a woman could struggle with the purely physical. So, I’ll go ahead and put this blog out there just in case it might be an encouragement. This struggle has provided for me the biggest challenge and deepest ‘suffering’ of singleness.
I believe that one day, I will look at my life and say with confidence that the single greatest blessing I have experienced of singleness has been pain of learning to live without physical intimacy.
Part of why it’s been so painful is it is probably the struggle that has confused me most. It’s been (and is) a pretty hard sell to get my body on board with the idea that I’m not missing out on what I was created for. It’s challenging to not feel entitled. And in a moment of absolute vulnerability, it’s one of the things that has made it the hardest to trust my sweet and faithful God. And in some ways – in dark and frightened places – I feel forgotten and betrayed and confused.
Because I know He knows me. I know He knows my body and my heart and I know He designed and wired this desire inside of me in the same way He wired my belly to grumble slightly around 11:02 AM. My hunger is designed to prompt me to eat. And so I do. And yet, my Father has told me that when I am hungry in this sense I must trust Him and not find food for myself. And He has seen fit not to give me any guarantee that this hunger will ever be satisfied.
There is pain. There is pain in watching my friends be fed one after another with the thing I feel like I need the most. There is pain in facing each morning with the knowledge that today there will be no daily bread for this hunger. There is pain as I sit, feeling as though I am starving to death, and listen to my married friends try to explain to me that eating is overrated.
And the truth is: this is the biggest blessing of my life.
You know what it makes me think about? Fasting. Fasting is strange. I think it’s weird that God is about physical fasting. It involves a need that is seemingly purely physical.
When I am lonely, I ultimately want God. When I am sad, only God can bring true joy. When I am afraid, it points me to the promises of God. When I feel rejected, unwanted, unloved, alone, in all these needs, God alone will bring true and lasting peace.
But, when I’m hungry, I want a cheeseburger and some fries.
Physical desires seemingly terminate on physical things. And that’s the beauty of fasting. God commands us to fast, not so that He can prove He is as good as a cheeseburger by making our hunger go away. God commands us to fast so that we learn to feel hungry and trust Him in the midst of that gnawing sense of need.
The goal of fasting is not for God to remove our hunger, but for us to learn that in the midst of hunger He is trustworthy. The feeling of hunger is the point of the fast. God wants us to feel hunger so that we are reminded that we are not supposed to be satisfied and we are supposed to long for Him. We fast to reflect that we trust God regardless of what our bodies tell us. He is our authority, not our bodies.
Today, my body wants something tangible and physical. My body doesn’t know that God will satisfy all my needs. It just wants what it was made to have. And today, I don’t get to have that. And so the line is drawn in the sand and the challenge is made. Today, what will be my source of truth? Who will be the one who determines what I need? My body? Or my God? Who knows my needs better? Me or Jesus? When I feel so clearly what I ‘need’, will I trust Him that there is a greater need? Will I learn to be hungry so that I can trust Him in hunger, not just in plenty?
There is no area in my life that makes me more likely to doubt the promises of God than this area. I have told friends through tears that many days I do not feel like I have everything I need for life and godliness because of this. I do not know how I am going to persevere in light of my hunger and in light of my Father’s gracious call to purity.
And so, this pain, more than anything else will teach me to trust. Each day, as the sun goes down and I still find myself securely held in the arms of the Father, my faith is built. He doesn’t promise to give me everything I need to never be hungry. He promises to give me everything I need to not starve to death on the road home to Him. And today I’m alive; He has proved Himself faithful. He doesn’t promise to give me everything I need to never ever falter. He promises to give me everything I need to finish this race. And today I love Him; He has proved Himself faithful. He will finish the good work He began in me. There is only one thing I really need. And it is secure.
I have failed. Make no mistake. I’m ashamed to say that more days of this life than not I have behaved as an orphan. Though adopted, and promised provision, I have refused to trust but instead I have taken for myself what has not been given. When He has not provided for me, I have stolen and cheated. But He has never forsaken me. The price He paid to buy my freedom is more than enough to secure me despite my human frailty. He has delivered me time and time again.
I am typing this today. And today I love Jesus. And that is by His grace alone. I have traded Him for the fleeting pleasures of this world too many times to count, but He has never traded me. And He will never trade me. And He has met me in the pig pen and He has led me home. And so I trust Him more today than I did yesterday.
And so today, by His grace, I will say – your commandments are not burdensome. Today I will say – I trust that you know what is best for me. I trust that you will not withhold. I trust that you – the maker of my body – know exactly what it needs today to worship you.
Today, in order to worship God, my body needs to be hungry. Today, He is giving me the blessed pain of hunger because it’s the only way I’m going to make it home, and He is nothing if not faithful to the promise to give me what I need to make it to Him.
You will waste this suffering if it doesn’t cause you to long for death. Sounds morbid. However, I want to stand with Paul and say that ‘my desire is to depart to be with Christ, for that is far better’. It might be that the pain of a life without physical intimacy was part of what equipped Paul to proclaim through the Spirit that to die is gain. To die is to gain a glorified body that feels and experiences the truth that all our needs are met in Jesus. To die is to gain the heavenly reality that earthly intimacy can only reflect in shadows. To die is to gain full oneness with God; fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore. To die is to gain Jesus.
You will waste this suffering if you fail to use it to witness about the greatness of God. Our God is a God of pleasure. He is not calling us to hunger because he wants us to be miserable. He is calling us to hunger because He wants us to experience the greatest pleasure available to man. There is nothing that sounds as foolish to the world as a person who would pursue purity, not out of some sense of religious obligation, but out of a faith that there is a greater pleasure in store for those who would trust in the Creator. There is nothing that makes God look as beautiful as when we, who have tasted His goodness, would use our lives to testify that we will forego any momentary joy in order to taste more of Him.
There are pieces of my testimony that I hate; that I might wish to rewrite. But even in my failure, God has written my life with His divine grace. Perhaps this struggle more than any other has made me more like Christ. Perhaps this struggle more than any other has proved the truth of Hebrews 4:14-16 in my life. If you are ashamed, if you have failed, rest your heart in the fact that the gospel was made for such a time as this. We don’t have a great high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses. Praise God that we have Jesus. Who has walked in singleness; tempted in every way, and yet never succumbed. So draw near to Him and receive mercy and find grace to help in time of trouble.
Thanks be to God.