The flame of concentrated desire: What singleness is teaching me
I was 23 and dreaming up things to do. I was out of college, all healed up from my first big heartbreak, and ready to change the world with my future soul mate. But that was the problem, he was still stuck in the future. God and I had talked this over a time or two and I’d decided after the successive proposals and marriages of my best friends, that my life at 23 was not going to look like the rest.
I distinctly remember praying this prayer, one that I later tried to retract many, many times over:
God I know you’re paying attention to my story and that you haven’t forgotten about me. Yet somehow, I know this isn’t all going the way I had planned. So take my life, my singleness, and do with it what you want to. I’m not getting in your way anymore.
To date, that is the scariest prayer I ever prayed because I am still single.
While I meant it from the bottom of my heart, it also terrified me deeply. I think I covered my mouth at what I’d just said out loud, after I said it. I could not believe I’d just given God that kind of permission with my future. What the heck was I thinking? I don’t want to be single forever!
There was no sigh of relief after that prayer, in fact, I felt like I’d just jumped off a cliff and someone hit pause for me to watch my potential landing, dangling endlessly below. The ending where no one is standing next to me. The “alone” ending. In that defining moment, I couldn’t go back. I’d really done it this time.
I write this for every single woman who is still gripping tightly to her “plan.”
I feel you. I passed mine up about 2 years ago at my ideal marriage benchmark age of 24. After that point, a few people started suggesting EHarmony.com to me and it took everything in my power not to slap them.
Did they think I didn’t want romance and adventure? Did they think I was too weak, or too busy, or too shy to have a boyfriend? Did I look like I needed help? Probably. But that’s beside the point.
Being single, I’ve had a lot of time on my hands to read books. In one of my favorite Christian allegories, Hannah Hurnard’s Hinds Feet on High Places is something called the “flame of concentrated desire.” If you haven’t yet read it, do yourself the favor. You will identify very much with the troubled main character, Much Afraid, who is very shy about taking the Good Shepherd up on his promises, and believing them to be true.
This is an excerpt from her chapter called “Grave on the Mountains:”
She felt nothing but a great stillness in which only one desire remained, to do that which he had told her because he asked it of her. The cold dull desolation which had filled her heart in the cave was gone completely; one flame burned there steadily, the flame of concentrated desire to do his will. Everything else had died down and fallen into ashes.
The flame of concentrated desire means facing what is in front of you with a beautiful wholeheartedness
It doesn’t mean you direct your desire for a husband elsewhere, or go and lock it up in a closet to forget about it. It just means you lean in, you self-examine, you quiet your heart in the morning and ask God what stays and what goes in your life right now. I don’t know about you, but this season of singleness is one that I’m done complaining about.
So here’s a list of 3 really good things I’ve learned from being single:
1. I have a fantastic dad.
He cooks scrambled eggs perfectly. He’s drives cross country road trips with me and my broken CD player. He navigates complex tax law on a high school education, fixes industrial freezer leaks, keeps hundreds of thousands of animals on his farm alive and then comes home to sit on the couch and will sit for hours trying to untangle one of mu favorite necklaces. He’s taught me to drive stick shift on the backroads and helped me launch my own writing company. He makes me feel safe. He never judges my errors and always has grace for me. Being a single woman has taught me to value him more. He is a pillar of work ethic, generosity and honor in my family.
2. I’ve learned how to float.
Before teaching me stick shift, my dad instructed me on the finer points of floating. As a little boy living in Florida, he got stuck in a rip current once and nearly drowned while chasing his inflatable Shark toy out to sea. From that harrowing experience, he taught me early how to swim.
In one of these floating lessons, I wobbled like an unsure buoy on my back at the indoor pool, studying the wooden arc of ceiling above. He told me to fill up the chambers of my lungs with air, tilt my head back and trust the water to carry me. Floating is a posture of absolute trust.
As we floated together in the Pacific while on vacation recently, he spoke of how easy it is to get tired of swimming. His famous advice goes: “If you get caught in the rip current, whatever you do, don’t fight it. Let it take you offshore and eventually it will spit you out.”
The truth is, I’ve spent the past couple months of my single life thrashing around in open water, crying out for help like I’m drowning. While precious hopes seemed to distance themselves from me like land from shore, I realized that I was just stuck in a rip current, a trial that soon enough spit me out. As soon as I flipped over in surrender to God and stopped fighting the current, I learned to float.
3. I’ve learned to love God for the person he is, and not always what he can do for me.
God gives generously because it is consistent with his nature. The fact that He desires prosper my dreams or desires is because he gets joy from watching my face light up. That’s the kind of God I serve, a God who delights in me. A God who loved to the point of giving up that which he loved most, his precious son. It stands to reason that if I am not willing to give my singleness to God in this same posture of sacrifice, then I must not be very much like him at all.
4. When we understand the nature of God, we are more comfortable living in the “but if not.”
Even while everything is on fire around us, we can still see that God’s nature is good. In these moments, we wont distort the nature of God in the face of our fear or pain. We can trust on the foundation of who God is; the Father of Lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. And we won’t do it perfectly either. Look at Abraham. He went back on God’s promise to him many times over, lacked trust, faltered and still was called the father of many nations.
Don’t forget that God sees your flame of concentrated desire for him. You may think it’s not capable of illuminating much, but just think of the beauty of not one, but an entire room full of little flames, making a galaxy of breathtaking faith. I believe that’s what he sees when he examines all of these single lives devoted to him. It’s really about the big picture it turns out, and your one little flickering aim to choose him day in and day out. Don’t burn out.