The Do’s and Don’ts of Dating and Singleness

Six practical tips on how to honor God and run an excellent race during your single days.

Introduction

If there’s one Bible verse that Christian singles hear referenced more than any other, it’s Hebrews 12.

“Sad about being single?” says your well-intended married friend. “Don’t worry. Just run after God, and fix your eyes on Jesus!”

Now, it’s possible, the last time someone recommended taking a run after God as a panacea for your painful and unwanted season of singleness, the insight provided new clarity, and you said, “Of course! Why didn’t I think of that?” But maybe, if you’re like me, you nodded politely and thought “Sounds nice. What does that mean, exactly?”

I used to think “fixing my eyes on Jesus” meant staring at my Bible Gateway app screen to the point of clinical eye strain. And likewise, that “running after God” looked like a more frenetic church schedule, with unblemished attendance to the kind of Bible studies that discussed the meaning of meek in Greek. After seeking more understanding, however, I discovered the Bible’s references to running and relationships, are far richer with wisdom.

Looking again at Hebrews in more detail, the verse says: “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Fixing our eyes on Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”

Regardless of relationship status, we are all running the race at this very moment. In the rest of the article, I’ll offer some thoughts specifically to those who are single or dating, on ways to run the race well.

Starting with what not to do.

# 1 DON’T MAKE MARRIAGE YOUR STARTING LINE

During college, I ran track and specialized in the 5k and 10k races. In the traditional order of events, the distance races don’t start until the end of the day, which makes each track meet a long day of waiting, and also begs the question: “What does a runner do with all that lead-up time?” And the honest answer is,

Absolutely nothing.

First of all, other than skip around the warmup meadow, you can’t really do anything physical, because you’re supposed to save your body for the race. But it turns out, you can’t do much mentally either since just thinking about the race messes with your brain and makes you lightheaded. So instead, you fill the hours with distracting time killers and participate in the following 8 activities.

  1. Sip coffee
  2. Do easy homework, just to make yourself busy.
  3. Apply waterproof mascara, and re-braid your hair 3 times.
  4. Analyze the competition and conclude that their new microfiber red spandex uniforms might help them win.
  5. Visualize the ideal race.
  6. Worry about injury, especially if you’ve been hurt on the track before.
  7. Eat a series of small snacks, like grapes and granola, which taste fine, but aren’t really satisfying, and just whet your appetite more.
  8. Cheer for friends in their earlier events and try not to feel jealous or annoyed as they saunter around taking pictures of their finisher’s medals.

Basically, the entire day is a big lead up to the moment when you march to the starting line, cast off your sweatpants, and gallop into the twilight.

  • A foolish runner expends so much anxious energy anticipating the race, that they have little reserves left over to put up a good fight during the race itself.
  • A wise runner accepts waiting is just a part of the sport.

The Problem with the Starting Line

As singles, if we make marriage the starting line, and believe the “real race” has not yet begun, then we grant ourselves permission to delay important work God has for us. We are already running, and there is too large of a gap between earth and heaven to disqualify ourselves from meeting the needs of the world.

That said, if God calls your name on the loudspeaker (or the still small voice speaker) and tells you to use your gifts and talents in a specific area—be it school systems, sustainable city gardens, or startup companies—it can’t wait on your event calendar, and you must go.

# 2 DON’T MAKE MARRIAGE YOUR FINISH LINE 

One of the lesser-known truths about runners is that they are a bimodal species of people, who oscillate between strenuous training, and shameless laziness. Take a cross country championship race day, for instance. At the smoke of the gun, you run relentlessly, over steep hills and through freezing rain, in a valiant pursuit of one goal: get to the finish line as fast as possible. Alas, you cross the line, and what happens next?

Well not much. You feel pretty useless, although you will manage to do the following 8 activities.

  1. Mingle around the finishing corral reception area
  2. Give celebration hugs
  3. Line up for team photos
  4. Eat a feast
  5. Go back to the hotel and take a nap
  6. Soak in the hot tub
  7. Feel relieved and satisfied that your most important work for the day is done
  8. Let yourself off the hook from all the usual disciplinary routines

Singles and Finish Lines

Finish lines are important for our vision. If runners were instructed to run as fast as possible, for an undefined distance, with no end in sight, they would get discouraged, and easily tire.

Likewise, if the not-yet-in-sight wedding day event is your finish line, the race is dangerously unsustainable. Your hope, in that case, lives only at the mercy of external factors like personal preferences, or variable life timelines. If your hope gets deferred for too long, an insidious weariness can creep into your soul and sicken your heart. On the contrary, when your hope flows from God, the only renewable energy source, you will soar on wings like eagles through all the ups, downs, and inevitable uncertainties of relationships.

Couples and Finish Lines

The second problem with making marriage a finish line is that when the wedding day finally does come to pass, all that motivation and sense of purpose driving you forward during the chase, evaporates at the altar.

How would you feel, if the first time you walked into your newlywed couple’s cottage, your spouse called out to the Amazon echo dot and said, “Alexa. Check “wedding” off the list. And block off our calendars for the next 60 years. Just AM brunch, and PM naps from here in out.” As dreamy as this might sound, that relationship rides a fast track train to implosion. To thrive both relationally, and spiritually, we need to be about something bigger than ourselves by sowing seeds in a field beyond our own backyard.

As singles, we get to choose whether we date people who work the field, or people who play the field. In the interest keeping your heart intact as you run the good race, pursue the former and flee from the latter.

# 3 DON’T SETTLE FOR ANYTHING LESS THAN THE HONEST PACE

There are many ways to run a race, but the simplest and purest strategy of them all is to run the “honest pace,” giving it everything you have, from start to finish. When the whole field runs honest, it’s beautiful performance, that makes records fall, and stadiums rise. But sometimes, even the most talented runners hold back from running their best. Front-running, you see, means wind resistance, a target on your back, and no guarantees as to who will go with you.

If nobody is willing to lead, then you just jog along, jostling elbows, stumbling on each other’s feet, and scanning the scene with your peripheral vision in case someone makes a move forward. The pace is laggard enough to snapchat selfies to the crowd — that is now upset, at watching their favorite athletes sell themselves short in mediocre efforts. Later, when the results are posted, and the times downright pedestrian, you tell your coach it was all the group’s fault.

What does it mean to “run honest?”

The way we carry ourselves in the various facets of our lives — the company we keep, the commitments we hold, the way we steward our time, money and attention — all come together to create the cadence of the pace we run. Our pace is “honest” to the degree that we are true to ourselves and obedient to who God has called us to be. But make no mistake, the honest pace, is neither nor common, nor easy, especially when single.

There’s an unspoken assumption, you see, that if you were to take off full speed ahead, at the pace of your true capability, that others will no longer be romantically interested in you.  As singles, if we believe this collectively, then we act like a coed jogging club of bobbleheads, looking around at what everyone is doing, and holding back from going anywhere forward, lest we miss out.

Here are a few examples I have witnessed

  • I know women who have been advised against diving into ideas that excited them, such as starting a small group at church, because it might “intimidate the single men.”
  • I know men who have resigned themselves doomed to dealing with relationship drama full time because, apparently, “that’s just how it is.”
  • As for myself, I’m not immune either. In fact, I once mentioned my friend, Mike that if I really wanted to get serious about dating, I should probably start by reinventing myself — maybe become more extroverted and edgy, and less innocent and whimsical. In slightly kinder terms, Mike said this was the worst idea he had ever heard because then I would betray myself, and nobody wins.

Now, it can be tempting to make compromises in hopes of winning the approval and affection of the common pack, but you don’t have to.

Instead, run at the pace, at which you wish to be caught. The lead pack always sets the precedent for the chase pack.  If you set yourself on fire for God, and whatever makes you come alive, you will not cease to be romantically attractive. In fact, front-running while on fire makes you certifiably organic, drama free, hard to get.

The right person will not be intimidated by your pace. Rather, if you are equally yoked, they will keep you even more honest. Dating discernment can be challenging, but it doesn’t have to be a 50 step algorithm. Start by asking some simple questions. Such as, do we help each other run a more excellent race? Or are we signing up for a lifetime of a 3 legged race hobble?

Now, after 3 Don’ts in a row, you may be wondering “How then, shall I run?”  I have three suggestions.

# 1 DO RUN UNENCUMBERED BY SIN

The 1980’s film “Chariots of Fire,” has a classic opening scene, where a parade of Scottish young men, dressed in white jogging suits, trot barefoot on the shores of West Sands, St Andrews to the sound of triumphant orchestral music.  Even in slow motion, their light and free strides, capture the epitome of unencumbered running. Other runners, however, get a bit more tied up.

In basic running jargon, “speed goggles” refer to the rosy, and often deceptive, lenses that cause you to see the speediest runners of the opposite sex as significantly and more attractive and trustworthy.

In relationships, sexual intimacy gives you “oxytocin” goggles. The trust enhancement, heart bonding factors are ideal for a lifelong marriage commitment, although problematic if trying to see another person’s character clearly. The Bible says to flee from sexual immorality, but unfortunately, the world has no interest in protecting your purity or bolstering your sin fleeing energy. Sometimes, “playing dead” to sin is the more effective option. My personal recommendation is this:

Learn to be unimpressed, to the point of borderline apathy, by anyone or anything that slows you down from running an excellent race. For example, if I am in the middle of something meaningful—like writing this blog post, for instance — Enrique Iglesias could knock on my door, accompanied a team of well-built boy band backup dancers, ready to personally serenade me with the 2011 hit song, “Tonight I’m Lovin’ You,” and I would call out to my roommate with a sigh of annoyance and say “Aimee! Can you deal with that ruckus outside? It’s Enrique the encumbrance, and I have important work to do for the Kingdom of God.”

# 2 DO RUN FOR THE PRIZE

“Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:12-14).

In April of 2017, Jordan Hasay, a 25-year-old from San Luis Obispo, CA blazed through the streets Boston, clocking the fastest Marathon debut time ever by an American woman.  Now, close your eyes for a moment and zoom back east to Boston.

Its mile 22. The fans line the streets of New England in a roaring tunnel of noise, as the lead pack comes barreling around the corner to the hydration station: their parched throats yearning for Gatorade. And all sudden Arie Luyendyk Jr, of the most recent Bachelor TV season, struts onto the course holding a rose in one and hand a bottle of wine in the other. “Jordan, will you accept this rose?” he asks. “You look tired. Why don’t you come take a break at my place? You can always jump back in the race later and get serious then.”

Hmm. There is a $50 prize purse waiting to be divvied up among the top finishers at the line. Not for a single second, would Jordan consider accepting a single petal. She has trained too hard to even entertain any compromises. Jordan wants to win. Her eyes are on the finish, and she will stay the course marked out for her–which most certainly, does not include a stopover at Arie Luyendyk Jr’s.

It’s easy enough for us to understand delayed gratification when its framed in the context of an earthly prize. And yet the Bible tells us, we store up riches in heaven, according to how we live on earth. “Goof off now, and get serious later” is a commonly accepted, but severely misguided belief among many singles. How we live now, and who we are becoming, matters not only for our marriage on earth, but also for our rewards in heaven. So just like Jordan, stay the course, and run for the prize.

# 3 DO RUN AGAINST THE CLOCK

Few people understand the value of a second as well an Olympic sprinter. In a 100 meter race, the difference between a crown of laurels and a last-place finish can be decided in one-tenth of a second. A sprinter knows that time is not on their side, and the race will over in a blink.

If you are single and desire to be married one day, the chances are, that you will eventually get there. But what you will not get back, are moments abandoned, or days wished away before marriage. Time is a precious God-given gift, equally valuable before and after your wedding day. Thus we need to grasp the unconditional urgency with which we are called to live our days.

Sometimes I have to remind myself, that death is not a question of if, but a matter of when. How many heartbeats, breaths, or laps are left?  I’m not sure. But I am sure, that when I lean into the heavenly finish line, I’ll be running honest.

The Bell Lap

Now, the next time you feel discouraged about your singleness and someone tells you to “run after God,” you can look them in the eye with sincerity and say, “Thanks! I know just what to do!”

So go, and run the race set before you.

  • Run with perseverance and an unshakeable hope
  • Run away from darkness, and sprint towards light
  • Run after truth, and stay the course.
  • Run past evil with doppler effect of a Ferrari
  • Run the honest pace and give it everything you have.
  • Run powered by the fire of the Holy Spirit and let your life leave a legacy like a streak of light in a dark night sky

Signs of Interest

 

Reasons NOT to google the phrase “How to know if a guy likes you,” and thoughts on the distinction between attraction and intention. 

“Dear Chrissa, after reading  the comprehensive guide to texting men, I’ve been wondering…I’m texting and hanging out a lot with a guy who’s showing all the signs of attraction. How can I tell if he’s interested in more?” – Anonymous blog reader.

The Problem with Subtleties 

Indeed, this reader is not the only girl who has tried to figure out the question of a guy’s signs of interest; in fact, it’s so common, that the google search “how to know if a guy likes you” will conjure up over 30 million results. Full of hints and clues, each one of the articles claims to hold hidden secrets to the male subconscious mind.  Articles advise women to watch for signs like a 1 mm pupil dilation in the absence of light, a subtle posture shift, playful punches to the upper ⅓ quadrant of the left arm, intense eye contact, shifty eye contact, dry mouth, sweaty palms, or the way he acts differently in the presence of his friends and second cousins.

 The checklists are overwhelming at best and neurotic at worst. While the suggestions may hold a few nuggets of truths,  I remain doubtful that encouraging women to fixate their hope on subconscious unintentional subtleties will accomplish anything in the realm of relational health or mental well-being.  

These articles  are supposedly about men, but they were written for women, and by women, who most likely double majored in reverse psychology and irrelevant over analysis of men studies. As a result, a paranoid population of the females seeking advice, believe that they too must earn academic degrees in complex man code as a relational prerequisite.

Here’s what the online articles forget to mention: attraction and intention are two separate things. 

Sadly, many women believe if they are single it is because they are not pretty enough. Seeking solutions at Sephora, they buy brighter bronzers and blacker mascaras with the assumption that a more attractive cheekbone structure will solve her “problem.” 

Ladies, I sugar coat not, the odds are in your favor that others have long since noticed your beauty; however, your faulty reasoning perpetuates the destructive  not enough lie. Also, there’s a much more prominent reason why your looks are probably not “the issue.”

Cupcakes and Salsa

See, it’s quite possible for attraction to exist without the intention of romantic pursuit; this is perfectly normal, and happens all the time. For example, when shopping at Safeway,  I am attracted to the chocolate peanut butter cupcakes;  I look at them with lust and longing every time I walk in. However, I have no intention of courting the cupcakes to the checkout stand. I fear the wheat gluten will reject me—because sometimes it does— and the thought of risking a sugar coma drama dynamic comes at too high a cost.  On another note, keep in mind the possibility of the “salsa picante effect.”  Salsa picante appears unapproachable because it sits on the top shelf as though it’s trying to play “hard to reach.” The Salsa feels unwanted or unattractive, but ironically, it’s just so hot, it’s intimidating.

Cake and salsa aside, all this serves to illustrate, that the quest for “knowledge of attraction” can waste time and mental energy. Even if someone does match all criteria of the top ten signs of attraction, this does not make them automatically interested, or for that matter obligated, to start a relationship with you.

Sure Signs of Interest

Alas, I can already hear the readers asking: “Is there ANY way at all, of knowing whether a guy is interested? Well, yes. After a bit of qualitative research of a circle of council much wiser than that google, the results are unanimous. Drum roll, please.

  1. He asks you out on a real date.
  2. He tells you he is interested.

If this is your case, congratulations! But if not—and if you prefer to let the guy be the  pursuer—then relax, be patient, and relish in the freedom of playing the part of the pursuee. Make friends, listen to people’s stories, live life, and never again google how to tell if a guy likes you.

The Comprehensive Guide to Texting Men

9 texting tips to avoid unnecessary drama, and help you make sense. *Disclaimer. This guide is not FDA approved. Based on personal experiences, observations, and anecdotal evidence of friends. 

The written word is one of my favorite modes of communication. It’s delightful to feel as though I can slow time and craft the exact phrase to say what I mean. But in regards to texting, this preference has landed me in trouble a couple of times in the past. Men and women have different modes of thinking, and therefore we don’t always communicate or interpret messages in the same way. While this guide is geared more towards the single woman, if you have a brother, boyfriend, father, friend, husband, or any other man in your life with whom you desire to stop getting lost in translation with, read on.

# 1 Separate your questions

 Women tend to speak in paragraph narratives, naturally stringing together the dots of far-flung content all in the one breath. But our male human counterparts, however, excel in the laser focus of single tasks and can find this habit frustrating. Thus, over time, I have learned to avoid compounding my questions. 

A standard compound question text: “Hey! how was your day? Are you hungry? I was thinking of swinging by the grocery store to pick up some dinner food. Should we meet at Trader Joe’s or Chipotle? Unless you want to go straight to the movies? BTW, did you check the showtimes for Ghost Busters?”

Despite your well fired shotgun round of six questions, he will most likely respond to one, saying something like, “yes.” or “I already ate.” Now your feelings are hurt, and you’re both lost all because you forgot that men are single question organisms.

The better alternative: “Hey,  A) Are you hungry? B) If so, would you rather meet up at Trader Joe’s or at Chipotle? C) What time is Ghost Busters?  D) [insert a brief but kind ending signifying positive anticipation about catching up when you see him].” Discuss the details of his day upon your arrival, and for best results, divide the questions into different texts altogether.

#2 Practice “Emoji Integrity”

If used well, emojis can bring a sense of fun and facial expression clarity to the texting threads :). However, never leverage an emoji to launch you into a false realm of relational reality. For example, if you send dozens of kissing faces but have yet to extend your arms in a physical hug, the discrepancy sends a mixed message. Likewise, if you frequently “sob” detailed renditions of your latest tragedies via screen, but never share a single vulnerable word to their face, it’s a little weird and invites misunderstanding. Keep emojis as consistent as possible with your live emotional expression.

#3 Say what you mean

The dark side of the intuitive sensitive personality type that so many of us women possess, is an innate temptation to avoid awkwardness or confrontation by describing situations in a circuitous manner. In doing so, we essentially expect the guy to act like God and read our minds.  

The indirect and circuitous text: “Sorry I acted so hysterical earlier. Some gender-specific physiological circumstances  are subjecting me to a greater spectrum of moods… Think about it: How would you feel if you spent an entire month building a state of the art facility chicken coop. But due to the moral code of the hen, and the apparent tentativeness of the interested eligible roosters, the egg went unfertilized, and the construction employees held an emo-punk themed demolition party to rip the chicken coop to shreds in fits of hysteria, mourning, and rage? Anyway, that’s how I feel. It would be nice if you could support me by depositing more of my preferred love language currency in my emotional bank account—if you know what I mean 😉 …” 

 Well, he does not know what you mean. There is a slight chance this could go over successfully in person, but over text– especially if it involves apologies, or asking for something specific–just get to the point. You can always fill him in with a metaphorical illustration later. 

The better alternative: “I felt sad earlier because you neither read my mind nor picked up on my subtle cues. I assumed everyone knew hysterical came from the root word hyster, meaning womb. But I was wrong. I’m sorry about my emotional outburst and act of assumption.” [Hit send, begin separate text] What I meant to say is: I’m on my period. My serotonin/mood levels are  < normal. It would mean a lot if you could provide me with an extra hug for the next 4 days. Thanks :).” And there, in half the words, half the confusion, and double the effectiveness, you delivered essentially the same message.

# 4 “Haha.”  is not an intentional withholding of affection

 Many women place a portion of their self-esteem on the man’s ability, or willingness, to express sheep-like laughter, ie the BAAHAHAHAH, in a timestamped written form. Now, I enjoy the  genuine chortling of a sheep laugh, but if your jokes require constant reassurance sandwiched in “tears of joy” emojis, take a moment and put yourself in his shoes. Seriously, is he the type of guy that would read a text and think to himself… I’m  upset so I will disguise my anger with my stealthy ‘2 ha revenge tactic’ and deprive her of the 4 HAs she craves?”   If this sounds anything other than completely ridiculous, you might have a deeper problem— 0r you’re texting a drama sheep. Realistically, people text at all odd hours of the day, often under limited attention. The guy might have glanced at his phone between sets of squats at the gym and the effort for one more HA would have disrupted to the workout/ recovery ratio. Haha. If they are present when with you in-person, don’t worry about it.

# 5 In the case of an argument, abort mission, and call

If both of you get lost in a thorny thicket of misunderstandings, don’t muddy the waters even more with a complex texplanation. Like a driver in an emergency, pull the conversation car over to the call box, unbuckle the pride restraints, hit the call button or skype icon, and exercise your vocal cords.

# 6 Do not search for hidden meanings     

While careful scrutiny in some areas of life can lead to insight or wisdom, in texting, over analysis is downright dangerous. The content meaning is subject to interpretation and often skewed by your own emotional state. On a day of brimming self-confidence and high hopes, a simple wink face could be read as wildly flirtatious ;-). On the other hand, during a self-perceived bloated or bad hair day, the same guy could text “you looked great,” and you will see a code of sarcasm dripping with underlying meanings of ugly. Symbolism, tone, and allegory are great for English class (or chats with your favorite bloggers) but in this case, it’s unlikely you’re texting Shakespeare. If he says, “you looked great,” or “I had fun,” he probably means exactly that. No more, and no less.

#7 Avoid “text purgatoryat all costs

 In the traditional Roman Catholic faith, purgatory is a place of suffering and waiting between heaven and hell.  I define text purgatory  as the obsessive and shackled place of angst one enters (usually in the realm of a new or insecure relationship) while they await the response, of either acceptance or rejection from a particular and often elusive, person of interest.

The road to text purgatory is paved with ambiguity and a series of premature text confessionals.  Two intentionless, noncommittal co-ed companions, for whatever reason, throw emoji integrity to the wind and exchange the deepest details of the heart.  If sharing occurs like conversational clockwork during the most vulnerable waking hours—ie last thing before going to sleep and first thing upon wake up—textual tension and perceived emotional intimacy skyrockets. Thus if the mysterious, and now idealized, person falls off the grid for a mere 24 hours, the waiting period between responses—much like purgatory—feels life threatening.  

 The best-known antidotes to text purgatory are as follows: Say what you mean, be smart with your heart, fix your eyes on heaven, and immerse yourself in a life on earth so full of real people and joyous happenings that you even forget to look at your phone from time to time.

#8 Don’t use texting alone to discern character

If you text someone so often that they basically live in your purse next to the chihuahua, it’s deceptively easy to believe you truly know them based on the quantity of what they have shared (or vented), or the extent to which they have “listened.” But equally as easy, if all you do is text, is for your own mind to fabricate a picture of what their listening actually looks like. Now, is it possible he sits in a bean bag clutching a mug of tea  in one hand and an iPhone full of only your captivating messages in the other? Sure. But if that’s the case, you probably won’t stay pen pals for months on end. Words are important, but the colors of true character shine brightest when backed by actions. 

#9 Remember texting is just a tool 

Don’t get me wrong,  I am not against texting.  In fact, I probably enjoy a decent bantering text thread more than the average person. Texting can be logistically useful, help people maintain long-distance relationships, and it provides a realistic way to connect with friends or family amidst work week busyness or travel. However, texting should never make or break our relationships;  it should act as a tool to magnify what we already have.

And some stories, I believe, are best saved for in person. The courageously shared riches of a human heart are too valuable to be held inside a 2 mm pixelated static smile, a short line, or a fleeting moment of attention.  In person we laugh, we cry, we cringe, and turn red, or get surprised, and stumble over our words as our voices crack, and we try again to say what we mean. We can’t rehearse and edit our responses, which admittedly can feel quite scary. But life happens in real time, live right now as we speak. So never flee the awkward at the expense of the real. It’s the collective experience, even in the mess, that makes life beautiful.

Generation Nostalgic

A look inside the millennial predisposition to nostalgia. Both the sweet and the bitter. The rhyming version is available here     

I passed a shirt on display in a window at the mall. Across the chest with large bold capital letters, it read NOSTALGIA. Later that day, I wandered inside the Folsom Museum of Wonder and Delight. “You’ll love it.” assured the lady at the front desk. “It’s…nostalgia.”

 But why do we love nostalgia so much?

We live in a culture of paradox in regards to time. Never missing a beat we jump (off cliffs even) at trends like Pokemon Go, or google express. But simultaneously, we ride a retro bandwagon, with a window that only looks back. Obsessed with the 90s, Jurassic park, and the infamous instagram throw back Thursday, we are a generation, nostalgic.

The Hologram
By nature, nostalgia–or a longing for the past– is bittersweet.
On the sweet side, we use our treasure box of memories to pleasantly reminisce, learn from mistakes, or share well-cherished stories. The wistful recall in itself is not problematic.  However, the pursuit of the past, at the expense of the future, will keep us locked up.

Statistical articles reveal it is actually the young adult demographic that tops the charts for reported “feelings of nostalgia.” With social media, our childhoods have never been so documented or easily accessible. Like a lifeboat escape during the turbulent transitional waters, and clouded future horizons, the indulgence of nostalgia offers solace in the certainty of what has already happened. Similar to rereading a book with an expected happy ending, or listening to an old song with a predictable melody, the past, is addictively safe.

It start can start with a spark on a matchstick memory that captivates our attention. But it can progress into a desperate attempt at protecting the tiny flicker from the extinguishing breath of reality. In its bitter form, nostalgia is an imposter flaunting a hologram–always a hint out of reach– of something that once was, but not longer is.

The Memory Matrix
Bitter nostalgic longings whisper that the best has come and gone and that our only hope lies in the remake…That perhaps with a single song or a well calculated familiar event, we could clone the entire experience . Except the memory behind the throwback Thursday snapshot was made in a matrix, of emotions and interactions, that created millions of tiny different circumstances: The humidity’s effect on your hair, the precise medley of moods around the campfire, his ratio of cologne to axe on the date, the lingering burden of yesterday’s budget meeting, the voltage of the mental light bulb during the previous Sunday’s sermon, the manner in which the barista steeped your tea–it’s an impossibly complex and exquisite combination. The chapter we write tomorrow will never match the page of today. But isn’t that a freeing relief? That we can abandon the chase of what we already know as behind us?

Today the sun rose at 6:01am, and tomorrow it will rise at 6:02. In the constancy of change our earth keeps on spinning.

 

Elementary: on Bread & the Unknown

What fifth graders can teach us about living presently in the face of uncertainty.

“It erodes the spirit, distracts the mind, dulls our creativity and wastes our energy…Worry divides us against ourselves. When we worry about what is beyond our control, we devote less of ourselves to what we can control… Ironically, worry keeps us from exercising the one power we have over the future–the power to prepare for it by how we live in the present.” Jerry Sittser, in the Will of God as a way of life

About a year ago, I called my sister for advice on how to wade through the murky waters of my uncertain future. Disheartened by the gap between my “ideal self,” and real self, I rambled  through a list of my “problems,” many of which, were hypothetical. I speculated about the work-life balance difficulties in a job that had not yet hired me. I disparaged over skills I lacked, at a time that I did not need them. And I even questioned whether I would be a good enough mom, to the children I had not birthed, with a man I did not yet know.

This wasn’t the original intent of my phone call, but sometimes the idealistic, visionary personality types require extra effort to use their imaginations well . The“ideal self” is the persona, or illusive image, of who we think we should be. It’s composed  of a mixture of our values, standards, personal prerequisites, and societal influences.  On the one hand, acknowledging our aspirations can serve as motivation towards personal growth, and steps to excellence. However if we demand perfection, and lack the patience to accept ourselves along the journey, we experience turmoil.

My sister listened, and then, consistent with her teacher-by-trade self,  she asked just the right question to re-frame my mindset.

“Chrissa, if you were a fifth-grade teacher, would you ever tell a student to worry if they didn’t understand organic chemistry?”

“Umm, no?” I paused caught off guard, and then allowed her to continue.

“Well hypothetically, how would you advise a fifth-grader who came to you for advice about how to prepare for their unforeseen future.”

Then it clicked, and I realized she was onto something. When I flash back to fifth-grade, I see snapshot scenes of glittery scrunchies, creek walking, basketball, and kinda-sorta complaining about having to square dance with the boys on the Colonial history day. The thought of a 5th grader missing out on all of that due to preoccupation about their future paints a sad picture. But it seems as though somewhere in the growing up process, many of us adopted a belief that a hyper vigilant and fragmented mindset is all just a normal part of becoming a responsible adult.

Ironically, while trying to figure out how to  advise a 5th grader, I discovered what I myself needed to learn; and  the wisdom is ageless.  The  best way for a 5th grader to prepare for their future is neither to stress about their SAT score, nor to skip class to pick dandelions, but rather, to live wholeheartedly immersed in 5th grade. Sadly, I have encountered worried fifth graders, and even 4th grader’s for that matter. They worried that the difficulty of high school might lead to low grades that would then shut the doors on good colleges and good jobs. Surprised by the heavy responsibility they already assumed over their lives, I had little to say to them at the time. But if I could go back, now I know how I would respond.

Dear Future Fretting Fifth Grader,

Congratulations! Your brain is developing at such a fast rate that you are now capable of something called forethought: the ability to imagine a future. But sometimes it can be scary to look ahead into the mysterious dark places, and even grownups feel that way too.

But right now, in 5th grade, you are exactly where you need to be. Don’t wish away a single second of your precious time. The season for high school, college, and even living on your own with the freedom to eat pizza at midnight, will one day come. But before that, your current life, holds something valuable, every single day.

Instead of worrying about the homework load of high school, be a respectful and faithful student today. Take the vocabulary tests seriously. Even the most awkward sounding words could come in handy to communicate with others down the road. Become a whiz on those fraction worksheets, because whether or not you major in math, it’s helpful to know how to split things up and to find common denominators in life.

Instead of stressing about what type of crowd you’ll belong to in junior high,  learn to work together with your chosen classmates of this year. Even if next year takes you to a different district, don’t let that hold you back. Be a loyal friend; stop the gossip in its tracks, and invite a lonely person to sit with you at lunch.  

Instead of wondering about whether or not you will ever be brave enough to give a public presentation at work (like your parents might do), take a meaningful risk within your own world. Try out for the school talent show, or soccer team, and practice good sportsmanship towards both the winners and the losers. Respect the coach, practice your part, and always say thank you to the parents that bring the half time snacks.

Instead of wishing you were older, enjoy the fun that comes along with being in elementary school. If you don’t have one already, the smartphone probably dangles like a highly coveted carrot, just beyond your reach. Inevitably, when you do get one, you’ll be tempted to try and keep up with everyone and everything at every moment. But don’t use screens as an excuse to opt out of reality. It’s okay to use your imagination, ask questions, and read books made out of paper. And by all means, rejoice in all things recess.  Trade snacks, create a complicated code of rules during tether-ball, build puzzles on the rainy days, and play tag until you run out of breath–or can’t stop laughing–or both.

Because one day, in June, the last bell will ring you into 6th grade, where you will find yourself surrounded by a different group of people, and classes that stretch your mind in new dimensions. But regardless of the circumstances, your heart can rest assured that you are already prepared. Every day you showed up fully engaged for 5th grade, you built a toolbox for six grade, and seventh and so on. Finally, fearless fifth grader, do not worry about 6th grade, because 5th grade will have enough trouble of its own.”

Signed with sincerity, thumbprintedchrissa

…And even though I just preached to a hypothetical audience of children, that letter serves as an equally important reminder for myself, to live presently. To be clear, the word present does not mean neglecting thoughtful plans or big dreams. Trust me, I have plenty of those, especially the latter. But instead–and maybe this has something to do with the fact that I’m gluten free and dough deprived– but I keep coming back to the basics of bread.

In Matthew 6, Jesus says, “Give us this day, our daily bread.”

Now, I’m aware that many of you can recite the Lord’s Prayer in your sleep. But is anyone else mind boggled by the word dailyIf I’m not careful, I can grow annoyed at the obscurity of tomorrow, and wish that what Jesus had really meant was give us this year, our fully stocked annually supplied frozen baguettes guaranteed in the earthly freezer. But he didn’t. Instead he said THIS DAY.

So in light of the bread, and the fifth graders, when I wake up, I attempt to take an honest and prayerful inventory of the 24 hours in front of me. I ask God: who are the people to love?  The fears to face, the commitments to be faithful to, the blessings to delight in, and the gifts to steward…FOR TODAY

Because today is all we need, to knead our daily bread.

The 4 Best Types of Study Buddies

On the benefits of collaborative studying, and the 4 types of people to study with.

I once believed that the purest form of studying consisted of flipping through large textbooks in the isolation of one’s dorm room. And yes, this is probably the least distracting.  But throughout college and then grad school, I discovered that studying with others is not only more fun and interactive, but it can also stave off academic burnout and boost your scores. Based on a mixture of experience and observation, I’ve broken down the 4 types of people who make for the best study companions.

  1. The Class Underdog:  Toeing the line between passing and failing, the underdog fights just to stay alive. Now, before proceeding any further, I must note the important distinction between the underdog, and the slacker. Lazy and unmotivated, the slackers survive by becoming parasites of everyone else. Subsisting off of others outline materials, notes, and even test answers, they put forth the minimum effort, so they can save energy for the big weekend party. The underdog, on the other hand, wants to succeed, and will work like a dog to keep their head above water. In many cases, certain circumstances, such as a month-long  mononucleosis absence,  have placed them against all odds. Other times, they excel in one area and fall short in another. Picture the Spelling bee champion who has difficulty wrapping their head around discrete math despite their best efforts. Whatever it may be, the underdog is rallying, and the rest of the class rallies alongside. But why study with someone below your skill level?   Well, the relationship between the underdog student and “the helping student,” is actually quite symbiotic. Taking the underdog under your wing creates a sense of purpose and responsibility in your own learning; it’s no longer just about you. The act of teaching another requires distilling complex material into simple and understandable terms: a valuable life skill. After studying with you, they leave encouraged with improved understanding, and you leave with a solid foundation of your basics.
  2. The Loyal Friend:  Many students complain that their academic life impedes on their the social life.  But I ask, why separate the two? Friends can provide comfort, support, and accountability, through both the A+ papers and the humiliating public presentations.  In my four undergraduate years, I only pulled one all-nighter which was mostly due to lack of planning. I met with a few close friends in a classroom underneath the library with the intention of keeping each other company for a few hours while working on our respective research papers. By 11 pm, when we realized our severe underestimation of the time allotment for the assignment, we resigned ourselves to camping out in the classroom. Obviously, we would have preferred to return to our dorm rooms to sleep, but we decided to make an event out of it. One elected tribute fetched donuts and coffee from the dining commons. Another configured a playlist of gladiator film scores and Disney songs to keep the mood both light and inspiring. And I, assumed dominion over the whiteboard, to make sure we did not forget about our other exam in the morning.  Alternating between periods of silent typing and loud pop quizzing, we completed our projects and shared many delirious and sleep-deprived laughs. Oddly, I look back on that night as one of my favorite college memories. It was far from the most pleasant or comfortable one, but I experienced that together we could tap into mental strength and energy reserves that would have otherwise remained dormant. Note: Don’t make a habit of all-nighters. Find a friend you like hanging out with, of similar study style, and show up consistently for one another.
  3. Your Class Rival : Taking great pleasure out of playing devil’s advocate, the class rival loves to argue–especially against you– and it drives you crazy. If you can’t find a match for this job description, stop looking for rivals in the wrong places.  A fight about the Pythagorean theorem in a  Geometry class can only progress so far. Instead, keep your eyes peeled in the more discussion-based courses. Open a can of worms to debate health care laws, predestination vs free will, or title nine, and the professor may have to step in as a referee to hold students back. Despite the frustration of mingling with your contrarian classmate, there are benefits in the two of you joining forces. Since they make your blood boil, you’ll naturally step up your game to stay competitive.  Expect them to find faults and poke holes in the weak parts of your argument—and learn to welcome that. In turn, this causes you to sharpen your case and open your mind. The debate process will lead both of you to discover new sources, gain understanding, and maybe even cultivate a respect for why the other person thinks the way they do.  Note: Argue logically–not just to be right– don’t forget to listen, and keep shouting to a minimum.
  4. Your Class Crush: So you’re kind of interested in someone but neither of you knows how to break the ice to ask about a real date?  Invite them to study with you, and chances are both your grade, and romantic outlook will improve.  Sorry to point out an uncomfortable truth about your priorities, but its highly unlikely you’ll bail on a study session when it entails spending several hours in close proximity with someone you’re attracted to. Whenever they open their mouth to explain a concept, you’ll pay attention and hang on to every word. Plus, those same chemicals that send the butterflies in your stomach buzzing also enhance memory. Go ahead and skip the caffeine to rest your adrenal glands! And academics aside, if you and this person actually have potential, studying can act as just the right type of starting ground.  Problem-solving provides an organic environment of collaboration on something beyond yourselves and naturally exposes strengths and weaknesses. For example, if someone chronically breaks down in fits of rage and neglects all responsibility under stress, it might take five coffee dates to figure out what you could have discovered in one study session. And who knows,  maybe they’ll find your diligence and devotion so captivating that they’ll cue the music to Six Pence None the Richer, and serenade you with  “…quiz me, beneath the milky twilight.”  Note: Avoid using this technique as attention fix. If you study with someone so often that others start ringing fake wedding bells when you walk in the library together, take a step back and talk about that. Keep academics the priority; dress modestly, and stay on task. 

What kind of people do you like to study with?