I often forget that although I live in a large city (Phoenix, AZ), I am a mere 5-10 minute drive from beautiful mountain preserves. So when a coworker suggested a nearby trail, and since I’ve been promising myself a proper hike for several years now, I dusted off my Fila spandex capris (because those are the only workout pants I have with pockets), grabbed a bottle of water, and off I went.
The weather was gorgeous and the flowers were blooming. Everything was green and coming to life.
And how wonderfully, perfectly fitting for me to find myself on this mountain today of all days!
I’ve been struggling with being alone. It has been almost three years since I was in any kind of relationship. Most of that was my determination to learn how to be without a mate. A lot of it was from residual hurt and fear over my last failed relationship, and in a more general sense the three big heartbreaks I’ve endured.
I could write a book about this three year journey, but I’ll keep it short for the sake of making my point and explaining how this fits in with hiking.
Basically, I had a lot to learn about myself and about God. I also believed that God had a job for me to do, one that couldn’t be done if I was preoccupied with a relationship. So there has been plenty of self-sacrifice, at least in the way I looked at it.
After nearly three years of this I’m doing okay. I found my rhythm and it has become a sort of a victory and a challenge. How much longer can I go? Can I make it to five years? Ten?
But there are moments when the loneliness consumes me, often catching me by surprise. It happened yesterday afternoon as I drove home from work, facing another weekend alone. This time I didn’t feel like being strong, and since I was alone in my car, I allowed myself a few tears.
Just a few.
And then I prayed. The answer astounded me.
I felt this undeniable impression on my heart, in my spirit, that God wasn’t keeping me single just for Him, so that I could do His work, but also for me and my happiness.
It’s such a simple thing. I think I’ve thought it myself a few times. I knew there were old hangups, hurts and crutches that had to be dealt with, but through it all was this underlying feeling like I had messed up so horribly and I was so undesirable that God had no choice but to seal me off from all people. Not just romantic relationships, but friendships as well.
Hearing from God in this way changed my perspective. So many times we go through hard times and we tell ourselves we are building character, but I don’t I think I really believed it until yesterday. Or if I did believe it, I looked at it as some sort of punishment.
But there are some bookends to this story…
Several weeks ago I was reading Joyce Meyer’s “The Everyday Life Bible,” in which her commentaries are interspersed throughout, and I happened to be praying about loneliness. I came across a commentary about baby trees. I really wish I had bookmarked it so I could tell you the verse to which it was referring, but at the time I just took away the message and printed out this picture to put on my desk:
In the commentary Joyce Meyer explains that there are times when God allows us to be supported by the people around us, as this baby tree is supported by wooden posts, but there are also times when He takes the support away in order to allow us to rely on Him to keep us upright.
I also believe that the purpose of people in our lives is to support us so we can grow our own roots, and then we do the same for our supporters. Filling our lives with negative people who don’t – or can’t – support us actually does more harm than good, even if it is nice to have someone to sit next to at the movie theater. Friendships are meant to lift us up, not bring us down. Negative people zap your energy. This was the beginning of my understanding of why I am alone, and for the first time I was grateful knowing that certain people were no longer in my life.
Back to my hike:
The second bookend….
As I hiked downhill, and being the novice hiker I am, I hesitated a lot, especially going down steep slopes and over loose or big rocks.
Another hiker going the other direction stopped to let me continue my painfully slow trek down a particularly tricky area. I thanked him and said “Sometimes downhill is harder than uphill.” He responded: “You just have to let gravity do its thing.”
You just have to let gravity do its thing.
Huh. And it got me thinking…
The reason I was so scared was because I could feel the force of gravity on me, pushing me down the slope and I didn’t trust that it would not cause me to tumble all the way down.
What about the other forces that act on us? What about God?
All this time, even as I embraced my singlehood, I’d never really yielded to what God was/is doing in my life. I have stood strong, declared that I was alright with this, but I have been terrified of it, feeling it weigh down on me. Pushing me down the mountain toward the dark valley below.
I thought I might tumble, that there would be nothing to stop me. I’d just go deeper and deeper into my loneliness until I was a bitter, old and angry woman.
So rather than taking in the scenery I’ve been fighting it, just as I fought the force of gravity on my hike by going slow and hesitating on every step. Looking down at my feet instead of what lies ahead, and using far more energy than if I had just trusted gravity to do its thing and for my feet to land as they should.
I never spent much time considering this was good for me, but God is so wonderfully clever, no matter how much I’d rather He just give me what want.
During the rest of the hike – and yes, I did let gravity do its thing, among many other forces – several things occurred to me about…well, me:
- I like hiking
- I like weird art and trendy coffee shops and vegan eateries…not because of the food and coffee, but because of the people that frequent those places: artistic, genuine and flawed.
- I enjoy geeky things, like Doctor Who and Star Trek
- I don’t really care what people think of me as much as I cared three years ago, or five years ago…and especially eight years ago
- I need to sleep with a night light
- I like to be the center of attention, but only when I have something to say. Otherwise, I’d rather be in the background.
- I don’t like being told what to do in personal matters
- I get really cranky and snappy when I am fearful (also helps me understand why others might seem rude or angry. Deep down, that all stems from fear)
- And so so so so much more…
I know who I am now. That’s what God has been doing in my life. Not punishing me or giving up on me. And it’s so silly and simple and a total cliche – the writer’s nemesis – but that doesn’t make it any less true.
What forces are you fighting today? What would happen if you just gave in? Do you trust God enough to keep you from falling?