Blog | Lindsey Smallwood

Marriage

Feeling Lonely is Not the Same as Being Alone

Lindsey Smallwood

This isn't the first time I've written on loneliness. It probably won't be the last. No matter how many connections I make, people I befriend, babies I birth, I think learning to be alone is one of the deep joys, true sadnesses and profound challenges of my life. (There aren't many things I can say that about!) I'm thrilled to be back at Middle Places with thoughts on solitude, extroversion and why Jesus always gets to ride shotgun. 

For someone who's never alone, feeling lonely happens way more than you might think.

I'm raising two toddlers, so on any given day there's a lot of cuddling and carrying and breaking up wrestling matches.

I work part-time at a church, where I lead Bible studies, meet with women and use shared office space.

I'm an extrovert and my free time includes things like workout classes, mom's group and book club.

I'm married, which in my case means I sleep close enough to my husband to feel him breathe.

And add to all that, I'm pregnant, so even when I actually am alone, I can feel a tiny person swimming around inside me.

And yet, even with all of these daily connections, I find myself wondering about the quality of my relationships at church, in my friendships, with my family. Though I'm grateful for all the places I'm connected in this season of life, I find myself searching for more because I'm feeling lonely.

When I think back to the early days of our marriage, I remember long walks with my husband, holding hands as we caught up on life and dreamed dreams together. These days, walks include a double stroller, snacks, a just-in-case diaper bag and a nearly super-human patience to answer my two-year-old’s repetitive questions over and over again without raising our voices.

I long for the days when I’d go meet a friend for happy hour, and we’d talk so long and laugh so hard that we’d have to order dinner to have more time together. Those extended times of just hanging out feel like a distant memory in my current life where every minute has to be coordinated and arranged in advance.

I know this is a season – and I can’t even count the number of times people stop to tell me how quickly this time passes. But I hear about the fun date nights my neighbors do every week, and I notice the way some of my other mom friends seem to make space for fun time together and I wonder if I’m missing out.

The truth is I am missing out. It’s inevitable. None of us can do it all, so there will always be areas where our lives seem to fall short. That’s the danger of comparing our lives with our neighbors.

But here’s the other piece – I always have been missing out. Even during the time I now recall as blissful early in my marriage, if I’m honest, I remember how I wanted us to have more couple friends, or I worried we weren’t planning enough for the future. And for all of those fun friend times, there were nights where no one texted back, where I found out I hadn’t been included, where I obsessed over whether I’d said or done the wrong thing during a coffee date or small group meeting.

I’ve always been searching for more in my relationships, for friendships and connections that are meaningful and deep. It’s a human problem existing since the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve had an actual perfect relationship – with God and with each other – and still they wanted more! It’s that longing that led them to the sin that would take them away from the garden forever.

It’s never going to perfect. My relationships with others, even in my best moments, won’t offer the total fulfillment my heart longs for. But in the midst of the search, of trying to find contentment in the season I’m in, I have this wonderful promise from Jesus –

… I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  Matthew 28:20

If you're feeling lonely, consider this:

A woman in our church decided to try and make that promise seem more real to her during Lent. She created an actual physical space for Jesus everywhere she went to remind herself that He is, in fact, always with her. At work, she pulled an extra chair into her cubicle. At the dinner table, she set an extra place. Even in her car, she made her friends ride in the backseat during those 40 days because, of course, Jesus always rides shotgun.

What a way to paint the picture!

He’s there.

In my loneliness.

In the search for meaningful relationships.

In the longing for more.

In the challenges of this season.

Jesus is with me. Always. Every moment. Ready to soothe my doubts and calm my fears and offering a relationship better than any I’ve ever known.

I’m learning to see Him.

 

This post originally appeared at Middle Places. 

Sharing the Couch

Lindsey Smallwood

Today at Middle Places I'm writing about one of the best pieces of marriage advice I ever received...

Marriage is hard. 

This is not news. If you're engaged or even thinking about getting married, everyone from your pastor to your neighbor to strangers you sit next to on airplanes are ready to chime in with their own stories of relationship struggles. And they're all right.

Chris and I have been married five years this week. Our life-partnership is one of God's greatest gifts to me. Besides the obvious advantages like sharing a Netflix queue, going halfsies on rent and chores, and making cute babies, marriage has meant having someone to speak faith to my doubt, to shine light on my dark places, and to hold hands as we walk down rough roads. 

But marriage has also been hard. In order to make such an important relationship work, it takes time and effort and an intentional honing of skills...

We first started honing our relationship skills in an intentional way when we were matched with marriage mentors during our engagement. For eight weeks leading up to our wedding, we met weekly with a couple in our church who had been married for forty years. They helped us talk through things like making a budget, dealing with life changes and planning for a family.

At the time, it felt like so much advice and so many ideas, I didn’t know how we’d ever use it all. But over the last five years, over and over again I’ve found myself (and Chris) pulling out nuggets of wisdom we gleaned in those sessions to help us stay on track as we work through disagreements. As I’ve thought about all of that wisdom, there’s one piece of advice that I think has mattered in our marriage more than any other:

Sit together on the couch.

It’s literally good advice, healthy relationships require that we spend quality time in each other’s presence. But it was presented to us as a metaphor, one we’ve come back to again and again.

When you’re having a disagreement, especially about something mundane like the dishes, it’s easy to let it escalate and become about more than that.

“You left your bowl in the sink” can turn into “It’s no wonder you’re a slob, your parents are too!” if we’re not careful. So instead of arguing about who’s turn it is to do the dishes and pointing out who did them last and why I’m clearly in the right this time, we stop. We take a deep breath. We sit side by side, sometimes literally, sometimes with our words.

“Let’s sit together on this one.”

In the change of position we’re reminded that we’re a team. Sitting next to each other, the problem isn’t him and it isn’t me, it’s the dishes. The dishes must be done. It’s a problem to solve together instead a wedge driving us apart. When we take a minute to reconnect and realize that we’re in this thing together, often we find ourselves more willing to take on the tasks that we were so eager to pass off moments before.

Marriage is hard, you guys, but it’s so good too. The hard places are opportunities to become better together. Here’s to making the most of yours, one dirty dish at a time.

Liturgical Dancing, A Bike Light, & Enya {Kari Wilhite}

Lindsey Smallwood

Oh you guys - today I get to bring you something special. Kari Wilhite is a writer whose words seem to dance and sing. She and her friend Holly collaborate on a blog I always enjoy reading called Dreadlocks and Goldilocks - go check out their pictures to see which one is which. Today Kari is sharing about how God used a silly moment in her living room to turn her heart. 

We were at a definite low-point in ministry, if not the lowest.  At our church for 13 years we were at a leadership stalemate that was tearing us apart.  For the bulk of our marriage I had been a fan of ministry but the situation we were in brought me to the point of wanting to hit the button that said “just forget it.”  My husband and I were not in agreement and the leadership conflict was taking weeks to mediate instead of just one simple evening meeting.  I gave my husband the silent treatment par excellence for the first time in our 20 year marriage. I would not budge.

One particular evening 3 of our 4 children engaged in a theatrical dance.  It was an out-of-the-ordinary experience and one I could not have anticipated; it must have been birthed in God’s heart. I am sure the kids felt the tension in the household between their father and I, although they had no idea what was going on with “church” stuff.  It was as if their movements were giving physical witness to what was happening within us.

And we just watched...

///////

I wanted to just
get them in bed
so I could too
hoping
tomorrow he would be
closer
to an answer.

I was just done.

Instead, God escorted me
to watch them,
our children,
dance
in an hour of
spontaneous theatrics.

I sat in darkness
arms folded
trying
to muster up
smiles of encouragement
for the cast
as he sat
across the room
in frame similar.

Enya played
beautifully loud
drowning out my
inner discourse
the shoutings of
“I’m just done with this church!
Just make a decision!
Let's make a change!
We don't have to be in "ministry" to serve Jesus!
Why won’t he listen to me?”

Bike-light became
strobe light
in-sync with deep, dark notes
past play-times it annoyed
but that night
its pulsating
soothed my nerves.

And they danced.

They took turns.
They danced alone.
They danced together.
They watched their
        silhouettes flash on the
        wall behind them where lonely fiddles hung.

They moved with the force
        of the strings
        and the drums.
They embraced one minute.
They dramatically, gently
        shoved to the ground
        the next scene.
They shadow-boxed,
        laughed, gave commands.
They switched roles of
        nurture, angst
        rescue, celebration
        respite, safety.

My agitated soul
God just held still
for that hour
as we watched this
play from heaven
from the innocence
of my babes.

At the time
I could only receive
half-heartedly
and now
I see it with
grace-clarity
with
extreme
gratitude.

This unexpected
gift from
another dimension
echoed my pain
nourished my depths
strengthened my moment
in a most
beautiful display.

///////

We made it through that leadership dilemma/opportunity/challenge and we are still at our church. It took time, prayer, vulnerability with friends and even some therapy. I am grateful and overwhelmed by God’s grace and provision in bringing my heart back around to falling in love again with where we are.  

///////

Kari Wilhite used to be a "pastor's wife" and now wholeheartedly enjoys being "Kari" who happens to be married to Steve, who happens to be a pastor. She loves befriending the disabled, solitude in her backyard, watching the Brady Bunch with her kids and doing spoken word at a local coffee joint. Kari lives in Bonney Lake, WA with her husband and 4 children. Find more by Kari at her blog, Dreadlocks and Goldilocks.

///////

Lindsey again. Don't you love how Kari paints us a picture with her words? Is there a season you need to "dance through" this week? Hop on down to the comments and to share your story (and thanks) with Kari.

Do you have a story to tell? Check out my guest post guidelines, I'd love to hear from you.

Purer, Higher, Greater

Lindsey Smallwood

They assigned us to Doug & Katie. 

We were newly engaged and checking items off the to-do lists I had pulled out of the bridal magazines stashed under my bed. Pre-martial counseling was recommended in Modern Bride but the pastor at our church advised us to take a less formal route and instead sign up for a new program the church had started offering - marriage mentoring. Engaged couples and newlyweds were matched with couples who had long and healthy relationships for a season of support and encouragement.

We agreed to meet them at their home once a week for eight weeks. Our first night there was awkward, lots of long pauses, sideways glances and uncomfortable laughter. This probably should have been expected given the list of topics we were covering - sex, money, family planning, relationship histories. But Doug & Katie weren't afraid to dive in deep with us, listening to our plans, fears and insecurities and offering their own experiences and lived wisdom.

Sitting on their couch week after week, we came to love Doug's propensity to tell long semi-tangential stories and Katie's gentle prodding back to the topic at hand. We earnestly sought their advice as we grappled with the changes coming in our relationship. We did hard work on that flowery sofa, preparing ourselves for the harder work of marriage. 

On our last night of formal mentoring sessions, Chris and I talked in the car about how much we'd miss seeing the Spanglers regularly, remarking about how close we'd become over the 8 weeks of meeting together. As that evening came to a close, Doug mentioned that they'd like to share a meal with us sometime, if we were interested. We made plans to do it soon after. 

Our double dinner date was hysterical. Gone were the serious topics, the counseling workbooks, the personality checklists. Instead the table was set with craft brew beer and take out pizza. As we came in Doug mentioned he'd rented a movie for us to watch later on. 

"It's hilarious," he told us. "I saw it with my son and I think you guys will love it. It's called The Hangover?"

Chris and I couldn't contain our laughter - here was a 70 year old man, a former pastor, who had spent the last two months mentoring us toward healthy relationships and now he wanted to sit in the dark and watch a debaucherous bachelor party gone wrong? We were in for the fun, even when it took forever to watch because Doug wanted to rewind the part where the tiger is in the bathroom and watch it again. 

"You guys, there's a tiger. A tiger! In the bathtub." He giggled like a middle school boy.

Over the weeks and months that followed, Doug and Katie would become some of our closest friends, despite the fourty year age difference between us. We found ourselves sharing meals whenever we could - asking hard questions and telling good stories around the table. Doug and Chris shared a love for gourmet food which lead to a lot delicious dinners for Katie and I, including a night out at our first Michelin Star restaurant. When the server brought the first course of "vegetable ash crackers on a bed of hot stones" and walked away, leaving us with a square platter of what looked like garden variety rocks, Doug shamelessly called her back across the restaurant and demanded that she explain exactly what was on his plate. 

"I'm old," he told her. "I don't know what this is, but I want to eat it, so talk slowly and tell me everything."

Classic Doug. Never afraid of the awkward encounter. Always game to try something new.

After our first pregnancy ended in miscarriage, the Spanglers were gentle, faithful friends who generously told us their own story of pregnancy loss and helped us grieve that little life we had already begun to love. When we found out we were expecting again, Katie was the first to offer to host a baby shower in celebration. After Bobby was born, they babysat for a whole day so we could have much needed couple time together in San Fransisco. Doug gave Chris a copy of a devotional book for new fathers that he wrote and Katie sewed us quilts after the birth of both boys.

With our own parents so far away, Doug and Katie became the family we needed as we started our life together in Berkeley. They shared secrets of staying on a budget and giving each other time to develop as individuals. They shepherded us through rough patches and showed us how to love each other by their example. 

Doug & Katie meeting Tommy for the first time

Doug & Katie meeting Tommy for the first time

A world traveler who at various times served as a pastor, insurance salesman, tv and radio personality, writer and community organizer, Doug led a pretty amazing life. And he knew his time was coming to a close. Before we'd ever met the Spanglers, Doug had been diagnosed with a blood condition and given just a couple years to live. He'd already beat those odds when we first found ourselves on their flowered couch and though there were times when he struggled with weakness and fatigue, he was generally healthy these last few years while he and Katie enjoyed trips to dream destinations and time with their grandkids. 

Yesterday morning Doug finished his time on earth with all of us and is at peace in the arms of Jesus. 

To me, Doug's legacy is the lesson that everything is better when shared. A meal. A story. A joke. A bad movie. His gracious welcome and faithful love adopted me into his family and I am forever better for it, my marriage is better for it, my children will be better because of the time I spent with him. 

Doug, I'd like to think that you're enjoying the best meal you've ever had at that gracious eternal table as you tell your long stories to those gathered near. Your life was incredible, both in what you accomplished and your example of faithfulness to us all. But I know today is purer and higher and greater than ever before - as you finally see Jesus, the One you loved and the One whose love shone so bright through you.

Thank you for using your time here to love us so well.


To God be the glory, great things He has done;
So loved He the world that He gave us His Son,
Who yielded His life an atonement for sin,
And opened the life gate that all may go in.

O perfect redemption, the purchase of blood,
To every believer the promise of God;
The vilest offender who truly believes,
That moment from Jesus a pardon receives.

Great things He has taught us, great things He has done,
And great our rejoicing through Jesus the Son;
But purer, and higher, and greater will be
Our wonder, our transport, when Jesus we see.

Praise the Lord, praise the Lord,
Let the earth hear His voice!
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord,
Let the people rejoice!
O come to the Father, through Jesus the Son,
And give Him the glory, great things He has done.

from To God Be The Glory
by Fanny Crosby