with Stacey Schwenker
1) Describe your relationship to/experience with dating/singleness. If it has changed over time, describe the change.I was single throughout high school and did not date or have a boyfriend until college. Then I went through a long string of boys that felt very back-to-back (2 of them were and some could say I was not honorable to one guy as I began a relationship with another). When I began seminary, at the age of 25, I began what has been a long period of singleness. Through this time I have pursued both wholeness/healing (actively seeking counseling and other ways to emotionally and relationally grow) as well as my vocational goals (mostly in ministry). At my current age of 31 and three-quarters, I have mixed feelings about dating and singleness. Mixed mainly because some days I feel consumed by how horrid the situation is and I am convinced that I shall be alone forever. While other days I feel calm and collected and convinced of how wonderful I am and how wonderful God is, so that surely I shall not be alone forever. I question whether my personality, past, or theological achievements (obtaining a Master of Divinity) make me unappealing to men. Yet the desire to share life with another is just enough hope to continue to pray for a partner and believe that God will bring me someone (if that’s even good terminology…).
2) How has that relationship/experience affected the way you think about your body and/or your self-image?Again, mixed feelings. Mostly I put a lot of effort into my body. Not in the sense that I obsess about it and try to look amazing, rather it’s quite the opposite. I listen to it and try to eat healthy and exercise regularly. I care about its well-being and taking care of it. I put more energy into becoming a person who seeks after God and can be a fair friend than I do about my physical image. Even so, I have deep and ugly fears that my body is something that is keeping men away from me. I don’t pluck my eyebrows and I have thicker thighs. My thoughts about my body have come from a complexity of stories melded together. Most likely I came to the current story from three main places. First, is with my family and how I learned to value myself with a body. There’s definitely an overtone of being thin that is present and my father is regularly ridiculed by and in front of the entire family for being overweight. It’s taken a long time to fight judgmental voices that became a constant in my head and plagued me with most outfits and certainly every hair-do. Second, is with my boyfriends. Depending on the day I’ll tell you that I’ve had 3 or 4 significant relationships. Two of them were great and celebrated my body with generosity and complete embrace. One of them seemed great but turned out to be more selfish than loving. The other one was kind of a jerk the whole time and rejected me regularly. It became a game of seduction where I sought to be a master. Even now I am struggling with the repercussions of feeling continually unwanted and unwelcomed by any prospective man. As if I am too much or too little. Mostly it feels like both at the same time. Third, is how my body has changed over the years. It’s been 7 years since I’ve dated anyone and my body is not how it was then. Honestly, I worry about not being attractive and fight against the lie that this has been causing my singleness. I feel more and more comfortable in my skin. Yet somehow men do not come to me. What’s a woman to do…?
3) How has that relationship/experience affected the way you relate to others?There isn’t enough space on this computer to adequately answer this question! I will say that I am completely conscientious, honest, and present with everyone in my life. I strive to love and honor them. I strive to admit when I am wrong and make amends. I am weary of my need to attach to someone (I’m a co-dependent) and have to fight hard to have balance and health in my relationships. Though, I do fight hard. I’m not flippant anymore and I am willing to work. Mostly, the affects have been positive.
4) How has that relationship/experience affected your spiritual life?I’ve certainly experienced a lot more growth. Honesty does that. I’ve let God get closer than I could have imagined. And I also see how much further I have to go. Because I write weekly (and publically) about this aspect of my life – relationships and spirituality – I’ve spent a great deal reflecting on it. And I see things to be so inter-connected. I consider my motivations and the larger networks at play in my life. For example, I can’t think about dating without thinking about how busy I’ve let me life become, the I consider my vocational dreams, then I think about my ability to trust God, then I consider patience, and then faith verses works, and on and on. Ultimately, the more I consider the more peace I have and the more I feel God’s presence. Perhaps the greatest benefit has been being peeled back like an onion in the presence of God. I feel more known with God since I am actively writing about my singleness and wondering where God is in all of it. Though, it doesn’t take away the questions, loneliness, or fear entirely. But it does bring more meaning to my life and a greater calm.
5) What word of wisdom or encouragement would you offer other people on a similar journey?We must be patient and never lose hope. God is a creative God and will bring us unexpected things. We can knead the dough we’re given and see what will rise. Invite Him into where you are. Reflect on what you are doing. We have the potential to do so much, right now! We must not let any lies or fears get in our way. I truly believe that when we pursue Him, He will grant us the desires of our hearts.
What about you?
Have your own answers to these questions? Why not share them? Email your responses and a recent picture to bodytheologyblog at gmail dot com. You can also post anonymously if you wish.
During my recent travels, I saw a lot of sunrises and sunsets from the road, some beautiful, some obscured, some at dangerous angles to the driver. One thing I kept thinking about as I witnessed the journey of the sun across the sky each day was how we talk about what we see.
We speak from our own perspective. The sun rises, it moves across the sky, and then it sets. This statement is true. This statement is an accurate description of how we experience the sun. This is what we see. Everyone in every culture in every location in every age since the beginning of the world has experienced the sun this way, and I think it’s safe to say that everyone would generally agree that the sun rises, moves across the sky, and then sets.
Except it doesn’t.
The sun doesn’t move at all. The Earth is what moves. We move, not the sun. Science and astronomy teach us this truth. It is an accurate description of reality, but it does not describe how we experience the relation between sun and sky. This is not what we see. Everyone in every culture in every location in every age until at least the 1600s would call this truth a fantasy.
How easily we assume that our experience is not only true but also the only capital-T-Truth. How quick we are to dismiss a truth that does not match our experience as fantasy.
Our truth that the sun moves across the sky is true, except that it isn’t. It describes our experience accurately, but it does not describe what is very accurately at all. In fact, it describes quite the opposite of reality.
So now, when we talk about issues of faith, spirituality, God, and religion, I think about the sun. I think about the language I use to describe my experience and begin to consider that while my language is true to my experience, it might not be true to reality.
Maybe when we speak of God’s unchangeability, it is really we who are unwilling to change. Maybe when we speak of God’s unfailing, unconditional love, it is really our desire to be loved that we express. Maybe when we speak of God as male or masculine, it is really we who experience power and control through a paternalistic cultural lens.
The point is that we don’t know everything. No one holds the capital-T-Truth. We all hold pieces of the truth, and if we’re lucky, we are able to recognize more pieces of truth in others and hold onto them all. Until we’re willing to consider the possibility that we could be not only not completely right but also actually completely wrong, we will never be able to consider that someone else might hold a piece of truth we don’t have.
This is the value of ecumenical and interfaith perspectives. We look for our commonalities. We build bridges on our pieces of truth. We rub up against people whose experience is different than our own, people who dare to suppose the sun does not actually rise and set as it appears after all. We learn together. We grow.
We’ve come a long way since the 1600s. Everyone in the educated world, especially those who have access to telescopes and higher-level math, now agrees that the Earth moves and the sun does not. But not a single one of them would argue that the sun does not rise, move across the sky, and set every day, either.
One truth defines reality; the other truth defines experience. Both truths are pieces of the capital-T-Truth that we are all grasping for and falling short of regardless of our intelligence, education, or experience.
Next time you find yourself in debate about who is right, who is in, who holds the capital-T-Truth about faith, spirituality, God, or religion (or anything else for that matter), take a breath, look up at the sun, and remember to start with the pieces of truth we each hold — and build on that.