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When Gender becomes “a thing”

Written By Krysti Wilkinson, USA

“Ha, ‘That’s not the gender I associate with’. Can you believe that’s even a thing these days? The world has gotten so ridiculous.”

A friend and I were discussing how you can’t be too quick to assume one’s gender these days. He was trying to be funny. And, in a way, I understood where he was coming from. The language we now use, the things we are encouraged to say to be politically correct or to avoid hurting a person’s feelings, do seem, at times, a little ridiculous.

But I paused and thought about it a bit more.

“You know, I’ve never felt like I was born into the wrong kind of body. And I’ve never felt like I belong to a different gender than society tends to classify me in. So I can’t speak for them, but I can imagine that must be a very scary experience. And, for the sake of bringing a little comfort to people who must spend a lot of time in fear, I don’t mind it ‘being a thing’.” I replied.

The Church seems to be spending a lot of effort trying to figure out how to react to society these days. And it makes sense—we want to be in the world, but not of it; we want to be a light in the darkness. We have to walk a careful line of embracing humanity while also pointing to a better way. It’s a confusing place to be.

I’ve heard all the science back the gender fluid debate and all the science against it. I’ve heard the “there is no gay gene” defense, and the “born this way” claims. I’m no expert on the situation, but I’d like to think of myself as, at the very least, well versed in the opinions. And while it can be a pretty complicated situation for the Church to find herself in in 2017, I’d like to think the response is quite simple: What would Jesus do?

When I look back on Jesus’ life on earth, I see Him seeking out the marginalized and the hurting. Not condemning them or correcting their way of life, but including them in His story and inviting them into something greater. He chooses compassion, time and time again, when it would be so easy to do otherwise.

It was the religious teachers who were too caught up in laws and regulations, whom Jesus ridiculed. It was the Pharisees who so convinced they had life figured out, whom He was quick to correct. The people who were looked down upon, judged, or completely forgotten about—those were the ones He drew near to. Those were the ones He cherished.

We can debate the potential effects of bathroom laws, but I wish we were more focused on the current reality that 84 percent of transgender youth feel unsafe at school. We can discuss gay marriage, but I wish we were talking about LGBT young adults having the highest rates of suicide attempts. When Christians want to debate numbers, I want to remind them of Jesus’ two greatest commands: Love the Lord our God, and love our neighbor as ourselves.

We’re to be known by our love. Do we remember that as we bicker over what pronoun to assign to a person? Are we choosing love, or denouncing people’s ways of life? Are we loving our neighbors, or are we trying to tell them how to live, what to do, and who to be? Are we only reacting to society or actively loving the members of it?

We’re called to love, above all. Love involves hard conversations and discipline and all of that. But it’s ultimately about drawing close to Jesus and wanting others to draw closer to Jesus as well. We can’t do that if we’re too busy focusing on what is indicated on their birth certificates or rolling our eyes at their use of pronouns or keeping ourselves as far away as possible from them.

I’m still learning so much about this conversation, as I think we all are. I’m trying to ask more questions than offer answers, and trying to forget everything I “know” in an attempt to learn a thing or two. We can tend to cling to the truth we’ve always assumed to be absolute and deny any other ideas as illogical when entering in to difficult conversations. I’m trying to put all the weapons down. Conversations are much easier when we both agree to show up with open hands.

So, when my friend scoffed at people associating to a different gender than they are born “being a thing”, I asked him how he felt about it. I didn’t claim to have better answers than him or to know more than he did and I tried to see where he was coming from. Loving others includes granting grace. And I’m always in need of a constant supply of grace.

While we’ve been so busy searching for cold facts, scientific evidence, and indisputable truth to back one claim over the other—I can’t help but think Jesus doesn’t care. The Jesus I know chose compassion, time and time again, over condemnation. I hope to do the same.

Should I Download A Dating App?

Written By Krysti Wilkinson, USA

I still remember the day my best friend and I were hanging out, complaining about dating and boys and life in general, when we decided we were going to do it: download a dating app.

We did it at the same time, clicking through the questions and giggling as we sifted through an unknown world, trying to figure out what to put in our profiles and what pictures to use. How old a guy am I willing to date? How young? Do I put something about Jesus in my profile, or is clicking “Christian” enough?

The first time I tried online dating, I found it to be incredibly liberating.

I felt like I was taking control of my own dating life—putting myself out there instead of just sitting around waiting for a boy to ask me out. It also seemed to open up a whole world of singles that I didn’t know existed. As someone who hung out with a lot of couples and a lot of girls, I almost forgot there were single men in existence. It was a nice reminder.

And then it got old quickly—sifting through profiles of people I had no interest in, hoping that one of the few matches would actually message me, hoping that of those who did message me, they’d be somewhat normal, actually be a real Christian, and able to carry a conversation. I spoke to a few. Then we met up. But things went nowhere. Again and again and again.

I’ve gone on and off dating apps—deleting them, re-downloading them, re-deleting them, trying out new ones. Sometimes, I really enjoy the freedom they bring and the way they’ve re-invented dating. Sometimes, the last thing I want to do is message a stranger and wonder what the world is coming to. It’s hit or miss, for me.

Based on the many, many conversations I’ve had about online dating with friends, there are many different views on it. But there’s one thing that remains the same: All single millennials stress over it. “Are dating apps okay?” “Tinder?!” “Coffee Meets Bagel?” “Whaaaaat?”

Yet, when it comes to church, online dating seems like something that no one wants to discuss in the open.

These days, when I ask a couple how they met, I can tell when their reply is going to be a dating app—they pause, smile at the floor, then at each other, then lower their voices and respond with “ . . . we met online.” Considering the number of relationships that start online these days, people still seem pretty embarrassed to admit they are part of the 35 percent. For Christians, it’s even worse—it seems like we should be ashamed for not dating only within church and not trusting God to drop our soul mates onto our porch, or for turning to something as “worldly” or “superficial” as a dating app.

But here’s my take: Dating apps are nothing to be embarrassed of.

Would I smile at a cute guy in a coffee shop or bar? Would I chat with him for a bit before considering giving him my number? Yes. So why is this seen as so different when basically, I’m doing the same thing through an app on my phone? I’m big on pushing back against the stereotypes of online dating, so I try to be as open and candid as possible about it: I’ve been on some apps, I’m not on them right now, I’ll probably be back on them at some point. I will gladly tell anyone that if the subject of dating apps comes up, because it’s no secret to hide behind! We need to stop treating dating apps like a dirty little secret. Being single and ready to mingle is nothing to be ashamed of—and neither is being on Christian Mingle.

So, as Christians, are dating apps okay? Yes. As “okay” as dating is. Working in a youth ministry, I’ve had many kids constantly ask if dating as a teenager is okay, how they would know when they’re ready to date, and how to go about Christian dating? I’ve given everyone the same reply: when you know who you are and you know what you’re looking for. That takes an incredible amount of maturity—which some people have at 16 and other people are still missing at 26.

When you know who you are, it’s pretty easy to know what matters to you, what you aren’t interested in, and what values you aren’t going to back down on. When you know what you’re looking for, you aren’t going to waste anyone’s time—yours or the other person’s—in a relationship going nowhere. When you know what you’re looking for, you can say no to things or people whom you see no future with. When you know what you’re looking for, you don’t get emotionally invested in relationships that are unhealthy. So if you’re dating in a healthy way, there is nothing wrong with dating apps in my book.

Here’s what I will say:

Know why you are using dating apps.

Are you looking for a serious relationship or a date for Friday night? Are you looking to actually connect with another human being or are you looking for someone to entertain you? If you don’t know your intention going in, just like in dating, you’re probably going to end up disillusioned and frustrated. Dating apps aren’t a cure for loneliness or a guarantee of a relationship—if you’re turning to apps to fill voids that only God or true Christian community can fill, you aren’t going to end up very happy.

 

Know how you are using dating apps. 

Here’s the biggest problem I always see people running into: dating through the app. Dating apps aren’t ways to date people, they are ways to meet people. You cannot actually get to know a real human—and they can’t actually get to know you—through a screen. Be intentional about how you’re actually using these apps. Are you just browsing to see pictures of various single people in your area, or to date various people in your area? Are you messaging people just to message them for the night, or are you messaging them to hopefully meet up next week?

 

 Remember there are people on the other side of the screen.

Technology is really wonderful, but sadly, the more removed we are from real interaction with others, the more removed we feel from the emotions of others. Remember there is a real living person on the other side of the phone—with real thoughts and feelings and emotions. So don’t say things in a message that you would never say in person. Don’t agree to meet up with someone and not show up. And don’t message someone incessantly, toying with their emotions, because you’re home alone and bored one night, and have no intention of talking to them the next day.

 

There’s nothing wrong with using the Internet to help us meet someone—it all depends on how you go about it. There’s nothing to be ashamed about. The way you meet someone has no direct effect on how successful the relationships is going to be; it’s how you go about the relationship that will make the difference.

 

This article was originally published on the writer’s blog here. This version has been edited by YMI.

Why Am I Still Single?

Written By Krysti Wilkinson, USA

I was sitting in church, listening to our pastor, when my eyes fell on the couple a few rows in front of me. They did something cute—maybe she leaned her head on his shoulder or he kissed her forehead—that caught my attention.

I knew the girl, and knew some of her current situation. To me, she wasn’t necessarily in the healthiest place to be in a new relationship or making the best choices in life at the moment. And yet, here she was at church being cute with her cute new boyfriend.

I sighed. I shifted in my seat, and looked up and down the row I was sitting in. There were seven or eight of us girls, all with our journals out and pens poised. Some of us had even brought our Bibles (extra holy points!). We were Christian. We were cute. And we were all single.

I remember thinking, “We’re doing everything right. We’re following all the rules. We’re going above and beyond over here—where are our cute boyfriends?”

It felt like a slap in the face when I heard God come back with, “. . . when was that ever part of the deal?”

That was the day I realized I had been viewing my dating life, and my faith, as a merit-based system. If you go to church every week, maybe you would get asked out. If you’re involved in a weekly Bible study, you might get a boyfriend. And the holiest of holy people? They earn enough points for marriage. Apparently, I was not playing the Christian game correctly, for I was still single.

Written out, I know how ridiculous it sounds. But I also know how real it felt for so many years and how easy it is to fall into these lies. When a relationship feels like something you need to earn, finding yourself single feels like you’ve somehow messed up.

Here’s the thing: dating is not an accomplishment, and marriage is not a merit badge. We were never promised 2.5 kids and a perfect spouse to live happily ever after with behind a white picket fence. God never, ever promised that faithfulness will bring happiness, prosperity, or a blissful life (often it brings the opposite). Yet, when we see our friends seemingly living out the picture-perfect life, we find ourselves questioning: Why not me? Why not my life? Why am I single?

It’s okay to ask those questions. It’s okay to be honest. It’s okay to feel whatever it is you’re feeling. I think the problem is getting stuck in those questions.

Maybe you’re wondering why you’re single, and it causes you to do some self-reflection—are you open to a new relationship? Are you in a healthy place? Have you been caught up in some bad habits that are affecting your relationships? Those are good questions to ask.

Maybe you’re wondering why you’re single, and it causes you to spiral into a dark place— dwelling on all the mistakes you made in your last relationship, obsessing over every interaction with the opposite sex, and pouring all your energy into getting someone’s attention.

May I suggest that instead of asking yourself why you’re single, ask God what He wants you to do with your singleness. I don’t like the church cliché of “singleness is such a gift!” because I know to some it can feel like a prison sentence. But God uses gifts and prison sentences alike.

You don’t have to necessarily love being single or cherish every second of it—but you can invite God into every second of it. Ask Him what He’s doing in your life, where He’s leading you, and what He wants for you next. It might be a relationship, or it might be the exact opposite of a relationship. I don’t know what He wants for you, but I do know that He is good and so are His plans.

That day, a few years ago, asking God why I was single caused me to realize the unhealthy way I had been viewing my faith. It also helped me check my intentions of doing all this church stuff— am I doing it to earn a man, or out of love for my Father?

At various other times I’ve asked Him the same question, I’ve realized that there are ministry opportunities, areas of growth, friendships that needed nurturing, and even a few guys I would have never considered dating.

God has a way of surprising us. Sometimes we just have to ask the question.

Watching All Your Friends Get Married

Written By Krysti Wilkinson, USA

I go to a lot of weddings. Like, a lot—five this summer, five last summer. I hang out with a lot of couples. And I write a lot about singleness. Go figure, right?

My life, humorous to many, typically brings about a lot of questions. Isn’t it awkward to hang out with couples? How hard is it to be the token single friend? How much does it suck going to weddings alone? And what’s it like to watch all your friends get married?

What is it like? How does it feel? Allow me to let you in on the biggest secret of Krysti’s Wedding Season 2016: it’s normal.

I don’t know how else to describe it, because it’s just my life. It’s all I know, really. It just happens to be where God has me right now. I’m pretty sick of society telling me over and over again that I’m supposed to hate it, and I’m getting pretty tired of having to explain to people that I actually don’t detest my current reality.

At its very best, it’s incredibly wonderful. I’m happy for my friends because they have found the person that makes them come alive, pushes them to be a better person, and points them back to Jesus. My friends have navigated the hard conversations, put in the effort, and have now found someone to promise themselves to forever. That’s exciting! That’s wonderful! I get to be a part of this treasured season, and I get to celebrate with them on one of the most special days of their lives. That’s great. That’s an honor. That’s to be cherished—no matter what my relationship status is.

At its very worst, it’s incredibly unsettling. My friends have found their other half and I’m not sure where I fit in the equation. Their lives are now characterized by compromise, communication, and putting another person before themselves—whereas I’m in the season of life where I get to be selfish, focus on my needs, and go wherever God leads. While they can be the most important people in my life, I know I’ll never be the most important one in theirs. At the end of the day, they go home to their best friend; I go home alone. They’ve found someone and I . . . haven’t.

Typically, however, it’s right in the middle. It’s incredibly confusing. Sometimes I see my married friends’ relationship dynamics and I am so grateful I am single; sometimes I see their relationship dynamics and I really wish I am not. I don’t understand why God brought someone special into their lives and has yet to do so in mine. At times I feel loved and secure in my friendships; other times, I feel constantly put on the back burner, constantly forgotten about. I am loved in my singleness, and yet I am constantly set up, introduced, and nudged to be not single. I try hard to care about marriage problems and empathize with things I know nothing about, but my single problems and issues can feel brushed aside. That boy texting me? Never mind that, what about her husband?

I don’t feel lesser, I don’t feel unloved, and I definitely don’t feel like something is wrong with me. But watching all your friends get married while you remain single is like watching all your friends graduate college when you never had the chance to go. Are you any less intelligent? Are you automatically lesser? No. And yet . . . it can feel a bit like that at times. When you’re all the same age and yet in very different life stages, it’s easy to feel a bit left behind.

I’m now recovering from wedding season busy-ness, while my friends are recovering from their honeymoon. As I’m falling back into old routines and familiar patterns, they are trying to create new rhythms and seeking new routines with their new spouse. Like getting rejected from your dream school and having to watch friends live the life you expected, I see my friends living out a life stage everyone assumed I would be in by now.

It’s like having a lifelong conversation about a place everyone in the room has traveled to, except you. Everyone has had this experience and seen these places, and you’ve only heard about them. Although you’ve also traveled and know things about traveling, and although you’ve had so many conversations about traveling to this place, you can’t really join the conversation. You can’t talk of your experiences there. You haven’t even been given a visa yet. You can try all you want and give all your advice, but some people will never take your word, simply because you haven’t seen it. You haven’t experienced it. You haven’t been there.

Sometimes, all you want to do is to talk about something other than traveling. Something you all have in common. But marriage seems to affect everything—everything! Where can you go that feels safe, neutral?

Sometimes, it seems, nowhere.

I know it’s not quite the same—but when I moved back to the US after living in Malawi, Africa, I felt like no one understood, no one knew exactly the reverse culture shock I was going through. After spending so long so far away from family, friends, and my norm, I suddenly found myself home and smack dab in the middle of “normal”—except it now felt foreign. All my friends were wonderful and well intentioned, but no one knew. And did I push them away and claim we couldn’t be friends because we had different life experiences? Did I shut them out and try to find new friends who might understand me better? Did I give up on our friendships because we were at different places in life? Of course not.

I try, over and over again, to emphasize that my friends are my friends—single, married, male, female, whatever. I believe God brings people into our lives to shape us and grow us—not to be exactly like us. I’m beyond blessed that the majority of my friends have married wonderful, wonderful people who have since become my friends. I understand this isn’t always the case, and I get that it’s hard when someone you’re close to marries someone you aren’t—and probably will never be—close to.

I’m part of a group of five—my two best friends and their husbands—whom I hang out with all the time. All the time. People always ask me, in hushed tones, about how hard that must be for me. How is it, really, constantly hanging out with two couples? Answer: It’s the best. Because it’s never my friends and their husbands; it’s my four friends. It’s not Krysti the Single and Them the Couple; it’s a group of friends committed to each other, despite any differences. It’s not uncomfortable, awkward third wheeling, because we’re all equally present and all equally cherished. Why should my friends’ marital status—or mine—determine how much I love, care for, or invest in them?

Some days, I don’t even notice it. We sit on the couch and we all catch up and we all make fun of each other. We all love each other so much and we all know each other so well—it isn’t Krysti and two couples, it isn’t us and her, it’s a group of friends. It’s my team. We get up to say our goodbyes and it’s two by two by . . . oh, just one. Just me. I get in my car alone and I drive home alone and I go to bed alone. And it’s okay; I’m okay.  

Other days, it’s all I notice. I sit on the couch and hear talk about weddings and couples and grocery shopping together—things I don’t quite have a voice in. It’s hand holding and discussing communication patterns and laughing about fights we’ve had . . . uh, they’ve had, and it’s marriage talk. I’m thankful to be a part of it; I’m glad I’m given this insight, and I’m grateful my friends love me enough to give me the real-life, front-seat version of their happily ever after. But then we part ways and I get in my car alone and drive home alone and get in bed alone and I can’t help but think, they aren’t doing any of these things alone . . .

I don’t know how long this will be my life. How many more weddings will I go to before it’s my wedding? How many more proposals will I help plan before a boy gets down on one knee in front of me? Will that ever happen? I don’t know.

It can be easy to assume I missed some train, that singleness will forever be my norm. It can be easy to assume—in a culture so obsessed with relationships—that somehow God forgot about me and my happiness. It can be easy to believe a whole host of unhelpful, untruthful lies about singlehood. But luckily there are a few things I know to be true.

I know that God is bigger than my relationship status, my friendships, and my life stage. I know that I serve a God who cares deeply about my happiness and about my growth. I trust Him with His timing, His promises, and His omnipotence—even when I don’t understand it.

I also know there are far worse things than being the single friend among marrieds. There are worse things than feeling like the odd one out. And this is: Not having these people in my life. Losing these cherished relationships. Choosing to focus on our differences and therefore pushing away our similarities—all these would be so much more painful, so much more disheartening, so much more unsettling than dancing solo at all these weddings. Even during the slow songs.

 

This article was originally published on the writer’s blog here. This version has been edited by YMI.