saint sarah: let there be night
When I say I went on 15 of the worst first dates of my life, I'm not kidding. There was a guy who listed his height as 5'10" on his profile, but he was actually 5'1" in person and he talked with a squeaky, high-pitched voice, like Mickey Mouse. He was a professional photographer. Half-way through our dinner, he mentioned he had a portfolio of his photos on his website. I pulled my smart phone out of my purse so I could look up his site, and I saw that I had a dozen texts from him, all sent during the last half an hour while we'd been sitting at the table talking, and they were all emoticons.
I was so confused. "Have you been texting me?" I asked.
He coyly shrugged one shoulder and squeaked, "I just wanted to let you know how I was feeling about our conversation."
So, yeah, he had his phone in his lap and had been texting me his emotional responses to what we were talking about during our date.
Another guy talked about himself for three hours straight. I was so desperate to get away that when he went to the bathroom, I ran and tracked down our server, paid the bill, and was standing at the door with my coat, ready to leave when he got back from the bathroom.
I went on two dates with another guy, who had the most potential out of any of them. At the end of the night, he walked me to my car. I leaned up to give him a kiss and he whispered, "I don't really like kissing. Can you just lick my neck instead?"
The following week, I went back to my spiritual director. "Are you sure God told you to pray for a husband for me? Maybe that was a word for one of your other clients?"
She introduced me to Centering Prayer and Lectio Devina.
I tried to practice them, but I had a hard time sitting still and calming down. I felt so lonely -- and the stiller I became, the more overwhelming the loneliness became. I was like prey running from predator. If I stopped for too long, the predator caught up with me.
Part of me really did want to get married. I craved companionship and physical touch, someone to not only notice, but witness, my life.
And the other part of me realized that getting married at that point would be like taking a shortcut, and I would miss out on the process of personal transformation that needed to happen in me.
I stopped online dating. I stopped seeing my spiritual director.
I slid further into the Darkness.
One afternoon, I walked to the beach, sat in the sand, and prayed for hours. Prayed for the darkness to lift, prayed for God to come close, prayed for me to know Love again. I was so desperate to get close to God, I decided to baptize myself.
With curious tourists watching me, I waded into the ocean with all my clothes on and sank beneath the water.
God, I'm yours, I'm yours, I'm yours, I said. Why are you hiding from me?
I stayed underwater until my breath ran out. While I was under, I thought of Virginia Woolf, who died when she waded into a lake with rocks in her pockets. Maybe she, too, was desperate for God to lift the darkness in her head. Maybe she, too, decided to baptize herself, the same underwater begging for God to come close. And maybe her breath ran out before she expected it to, or maybe she decided she'd rather die than take one more breath in the Darkness.
There's a fine line between self-baptism and suicide, with no one laying you down into the water, and no one lifting you up.
I brought myself up out of the water. It was the most dramatic thing I'd done to try to get close to God, and I thought maybe, just maybe, this crazy act of devotion was the key to the lock I couldn't get open.
But nothing happened. There was no cloud parting or dove descending or voice speaking from the heavens.
There was just me, standing on a Santa Barbara beach on a Wednesday afternoon in sopping wet jeans and a black t-shirt, with German tourists looking and pointing at me, as my tears mingled with the salt water dripping from my hair.
It was a low moment.
As soon as I got home, I called my dad. When I heard his voice, I started crying.
Now, let me just say, I have been independent for as long as I can remember.
I mean, I never get homesick and I love the feeling of independence.
So I was surprised as anyone when I found myself, at age 35, crying on the phone, telling my dad, "I just want to come home."
I was exhausted from my schedule -- working long hours at the clinic, then traveling across the country for speaking engagements. I was even more exhausted from my inner struggle to find the Light, to arrive at some kind of peace.
Through a series of conversations with my parents, I decided that I couldn't keep going as I was. I couldn't keep up my schedule, and I couldn't go through life feeling so lonely and disconnected. I really felt called to continue writing and speaking -- not as an expert, but as a fellow traveler, providing truth and healing to people walking my way. And I needed to spend more in-person time with family and friends.
In order to live into that calling, I needed to reorient and reorganize my life. I sold everything I had, except for a few boxes of photo albums, dishes and keepsakes that are still on a shelf in my friend's garage in Los Angeles. I left my car with my brother in Chicago. I packed a duffel bag of clothes, and began traveling and speaking. In between events, I spent stretches of time at my parents' place in Illinois, sleeping and eating and playing Wii games and resting in those family relationships.
My family loves me dearly, and my family loves me well. And yet, their love was not enough to dispel the Darkness in me.
A few days before Christmas, I was playing Scrabble with my parents at the dining room table. In between turns, my mom asked me how I was doing. I burst into tears.
"I feel like I'm adrift in the ocean and I just feel really......lost," I said.
One day I read this from Nouwen:
When we are impatient we try to get away from where we are. We behave as if the real thing will happen tomorrow, later and somewhere else. Let’s be patient and trust that the treasure we look for is hidden in the ground on which we stand.
For me, the ground on which I stood was singleness. It created literal, physical loneliness, and served as a symbol of my emotional and spiritual emptiness as well.
It would've been easy to perseverate on the future in order to try to escape the present. It would've been easy to lose myself in "preparing for marriage," as my spiritual director had said, as a way to avoid being single.
But what if.
What if I stayed and practiced patience in this place?
I started writing more about why it was hard to be single -- especially in the church. Those blog posts got more comments than anything I've ever written, mostly from singles who tried to commit to their churches, but found that most evangelical churches are severely slanted towards people who are married with kids.
Even at the church I loved in Portland, there was a Pastor of Marriage & Families, but no pastor for single people. There was a marriage mentorship program, but no formal mentorship for single people. There were classes on how to parent well, but no classes on how to do singleness well. There were weddings and baby dedications, times when the community came together to publicly celebrate its members. But no one ever threw a party or a shower or a ceremony for me.
I started mining for the treasure in the ground on which I now stood, and I came up with two things.
The first "treasure" I discovered in the ground was that I was able to be a voice for a lot of single people who were struggling in the church. I had lots of conversations with church leadership about how singles were unwittingly excluded and even (accidentally) discriminated against. About the lack of discipleship for single people in the church. About how if we were taking Scripture at face value, why weren't we taking I Corinthians 7, "It's better to remain single...." seriously?
The second thing I knew was that I had to work with my singleness -- to find the connection between singleness and sainthood. I had to explore the loneliness of celibacy. I had to not only accept the deprivation of physical intimacy, but allow that deprivation to transform me somehow.
And so, around Christmas of 2014, I began to accept the Darkness. I had no idea how long it would last, but instead of trying to get past it, I needed to take a deep breath.....and plunge deeper into it, as deep as I could go.
Let There Be Night! I said to God.
And there was night.