Category Archives: Identity in Christ

A word for graduates, a lesson for all of us


Graduation season is upon us. It’s that weird season of both endings and beginnings, of both tears and smiles, and of both sadness and excitement. I must admit that I teared up as I stood outside the field house and watched past students exit in their caps and gowns with their degrees in hand and their future before them. I remember these times in my own life vividly. I am not someone who likes change and yet graduation was such a tangible symbol of the previously unseen work poured into exams and assignments the previous four years. Each commencement was filled with such an intense mixture of bittersweet emotion – joy and pride at the accomplishment, excitement for what the future held, and sadness at having to leave the place I’d called home for so long. Some of my peers experienced only sweetness as the previous four years had not been as kind to them as it had been to me and the day it was all over with simply couldn’t come soon enough.


It’s also the season of, “What are you doing after graduation?” A question dreaded by all but by none more than those who just don’t know yet. I guess I was one of the fortunate ones. I always had an answer to this question. But having an answer is much different than being confident in the direction the answer is taking you. And as I work with high school and college students, that’s the sentiment I hear expressed most often. Students ask me, “How am I supposed to know what to do when I don’t even know who I am?”

The field of psychology often talks about “identity development”. I’m more interested in character development than identity development. Identity isn’t developed, it’s discovered. Your identity has already been imprinted on your heart by God, your Father and Creator. It needs to be discovered because over time our identity is buried – buried by our own sins of greed and pride, buried by fear, buried by others’ expectations of us, buried by pain – just to name a few. In the midst of trying to discover my own identity, a professor told me, “Decide what you are passionate about. Identify a need in the world around you. Then find the point where those two intersect. There you will find your purpose and calling in life.”


Those wise words changed my life. I began to realize that my passions and preferences are part of what makes me uniquely me. And it is true of you as well… follow your dreams as they are likely God given! So often fear and insecurity cause us to make practical choices, the safe choices, but not always the God-ordained choices. We follow our head and our fear instead of our heart and God’s lead. And we are left uninspired and unfulfilled as a result.

So to any recent or future graduates longing to uncover your identity and God’s plan (or really anyone experiencing a holy discontentment with their life), may I urge you to first be bold and courageous. Forget convention and do not give into fear. Stop worrying about what you are “supposed” to do and focus only on what God is calling you to do. Want to know your true identity? Ask the Creator. He knows each and every detail of every masterpiece He’s ever made. He knows how to uncover the places that have been covered. He knows how to make the dark areas part of the beautiful whole. He knows how to make your heart sing and soar. He knows you inside and out and if you trust Him and follow Him, you’ll not only discover your own God given identity, but you’ll also find God.

“I love those who love me,
    and those who seek me find me.” Proverbs 8:17 NIV

Throwback to graduation from Fuller in 2008. Finally, Dr. Cleveland, YES!

Confessions of a Single Life: Part 2

“You’ll find him when you stop looking for him.”

“God will grant the desires of your heart so just keep praying for him everyday.”

“When you are the woman God wants you to be, He’ll bring you the man you’re supposed to marry.”

And my personal favorite: “Jesus is your first love anyway. He’s the best boyfriend you’ll ever have so just focus on him.”


While there may be hints of Scripture and some truth in each of these statements, they have typically been much more hurtful than helpful. Yes, I know people who met their spouse the minute they stopped stressing and simply started living. Yes, I believe in praying for your future spouse. Yes, I believe in focusing on becoming the fullness of what God designed me to be. Yes, Jesus’ sacrificial love for me is incomprehensible and complete. However, can I just let you know that although Jesus has given me more than anyone else ever has or ever will, he still has never sent me flowers on Valentine’s Day, he’s really hard to cuddle with, and people stare when they see you talking to an empty chair at restaurants.

These statements are hurtful because at the heart of many of them is an implication that a spouse would appear if only I did or said the right thing. There is a subtle message that if only I had more faith or prayed the right prayers or had the right posture towards life then everything would be working out like I want. I spent way too long believing that if I just prayed the right prayer or had the right amount of faith or lived my life in a certain way then God would FINALLY provide a husband. It’s just not true. There is a major theological problem with this – God cannot and will not be manipulated. He is not a puzzle to be solved, a genie in a bottle that will release 3 wishes with the right words, or a magician waiting for the right spell to be spoken.

And though Jesus’ love for me is complete, no, he is not my boyfriend. He is my Savior. He is my Lord. Two things a boyfriend or husband can never be. In fact, according to Courtney Reissig, “Marriage to Jesus while waiting for a husband can often trivialize our Savior in a way that makes him more like a sweet boyfriend who takes us out on dates, rather than the God-man who paid for our sin on the cross. Jesus did not accomplish redemption to marry us individually. He died for the church corporate, of which we are a part. His death accomplished something much greater than simply meeting our deep-seated desires for a significant other. That is what Paul is getting at in Ephesians 5:22-33 when he speaks of the mystery of marriage.”*

So, to all my single ladies (and gentlemen) who deeply long for a spouse, allow me to offer these words that I pray will give hope instead of cause hurt and maybe bring clarity instead of creating more confusion. First, yes keep praying for and about your future spouse. Make your requests known to God! Like any good parent, he does give good gifts (Matthew 7:11), does give us the desires of our heart (Psalm 37:4), and does invite us to persist in prayer (Luke 18:1), However, sometimes what we want and ask for is not in line with God’s plan for our lives. And so like any good parent would, he says no, or not yet. Second, instead of trying to find the magic formula to get God to give you what you want, set your heart and mind on Him (Colossians 3:2), recognize that God’s ways are not your ways (Isaiah 55:8), and trust that God’s specific plan for your life is bigger and better than anything you can imagine and that he will faithfully carry it to completion (too many to cite). Trust. That’s ultimately what it comes down to. Either you trust God is good and His plan for you is better than your own plans, or you don’t. Third, remember that Jesus and many of those early apostles set an example of how to live as a single person. Jesus himself knows what you are going through! Finally, follow the leading of the Holy Spirit in all aspects of your life, including your marital status!

And to the “paired up” friends wanting to be helpful, may I encourage you to listen, seek to understand, validate, and empathize with your single friends. May I kindly suggest you refrain from offering advice? (“Have you tried Christian Mingle?” is not a helpful thing to say!) It is also not helpful to tell your single friends about the ways marriage drives you nuts. It is REALLY not helpful to complain about your sex life (at least you have one). It IS helpful to pray with and for your single friends, but ask them specifically how you can pray. It IS helpful to grieve with them, to hope with them, and to go out to dinner with them so they don’t have to keep talking to an empty chair. And it MAY be helpful to introduce them to people you think might be good for them, but do so with their permission and only if they are open to being introduced to someone. If you have someone in mind for a single friend of yours, simply ask, “Are you open to meeting someone I know and think might be a good match for you?”

Married or single, we are all part of God’s beautifully diverse family. We all have a special role to play in advancing His kingdom, in spreading the Good News, and in loving others well in Jesus’ name.  Single or taken, we’re all awesome because we are made, adopted, and loved by an awesome God!


I’d love to hear your thoughts. Share your experience! How can we honor, support and encourage one another regardless of our marital status? Does the church need to do anything differently to invite those who are single more fully into the church? Let me know what you think!

*”Why Jesus Isn’t Your Boyfriend: A Critique of Dating God.” Christianity Today, June 25, 2012

Confessions of a Single Life – Part 1

So here’s the deal. This blog has been in process for months. There is so much I want to say (and have been wanting to say) but the words have not come easily. Writing is like that – sometimes you have to untangle the thoughts and wrestle with the words. But here it is – the one to put questions to rest and clear the confusion. What kind of questions? The polite ones: “So…are you dating anyone?” The awkward ones: “Who are you bringing with you to the wedding?” The funny ones: “You’re not unattractive so why aren’t you dating anyone?” And the ones that are left unsaid: “What’s wrong with you?” Yes, it is time to talk about my single status.

It is odd to me that I am such an anamoly and it is especially strange to me that even many churches don’t know what to do with someone who is single. After all, Jesus was single! (So all you singles out there – remember that Jesus knows and can relate to what you are experiencing!) Paul was single and recommended it as the preferred marital status. It appears that many of the prophets were single. And yet…

But I digress…back to the questions. Let’s get right at it: Why am I still single?

Is there something wrong with me? No. I mean, yes, there are lots of things “wrong” with me – but no more or less than any other person who walks the earth. I’m not damaged goods. I’m not inept at relationships – in fact, I think I’ve learned to be pretty good at them!

Am I just disinterested? NO. I am very interested in finding “Mr. Right”. In fact, wanna know a secret? I’m a SERIOUS romantic. I’m as sappy and gushy and Hallmark greeting card as it comes! (If you are interested in assisting in the search, you may send all prospects to

Am I just too picky? NO! (For one thing, is that even possible? This is a spouse, not a pair of shoes or my coffee order!) However, I do know what I am looking for and I am willing to wait until I find him (or he finds me).

So what’s the deal? The deal is that in college I prayed a very dangerous prayer that God has continued to answer every day since. I looked around at the married couples that I admired, including my parents, and noticed one commonality: they all complimented one another in ministry and service to God. I noticed that without the other, they would be much less effective in their work advancing God’s Kingdom. And so my prayer was this: “God, may I only marry if and when I am able to do exponentially more for your Kingdom with him than I can do by myself.” I’m telling you, if you pray, God will answer – so be careful!


May I suggest that  being single is not a “less than” way to live? I am not incomplete because I do not have a husband. And being single does not necessarily mean that the person is broken or weird or clueless or anything else. Single people do not need pity, a sympathetic head tilt or looked at as if they are aliens. They need the same thing married people need – relationship, community, love, grace, affection, and understanding. Yes, I get lonely. So do married people. Yes I feel misunderstood. So do married people. Yes, sometimes I feel life would be easier with someone to share it with and yet my married friends tell me they think life would be easier if they were single!

single 2

Marital status does not define me and it ought not define you! Single or married is not your identity – your identity and my identity are found in Christ alone and in carrying out the unique calling he has placed on each one of our lives. Yes, my heart’s desire is to be married someday, and I believe that in time God will grant or change that desire. Until that day, I have so many blessings and am doing my best to live life in a manner that honors God and fulfills the calling He has given me. I have a career I love and can devote a lot of time to because I am single. I have friends I love and who love me. I have the ability to bless others with time and resources that I likely would not have if I were married. And the things I fear I am missing out on because I am not married? Such as kids, what leads to kids (we’ll talk about this more in a future blog!), and the unique companionship of a spouse? Well, I trust that God’s current plan is better than those things and I choose to trust that I am not “missing out” but carrying out the unique life God has blessed me with.

So, to my married friends, be kind and gentle to the singles in your life! Include them in your community and family life. Invite them over for dinner and to your children’s activities. They will gladly be “aunt” and “uncle” and will likely treasure being included! And take an interest in what is going on in their lives! Even confident singles are hurt by exclusion or assumptions so offer grace and seek to understand.

To my fellow singles, please live life to the fullest! Do not  alienate yourself from friends that have gotten married. They still need you! Do not sit around pining for that perfect someone or expect the pizza delivery person to be that someone! (I’ve tried it – they were always awkward high school students and that much pizza created a bad health situation.) Remember, you are not less than because you are not married! You have a special place in God’s kingdom. You have a special calling to carry out! Don’t wait to start life until you have someone to share it with. Instead, start living life and expect God to provide someone to join you in the process!