The Problem with Platitudes
(originally on Christianity Today)
by Camerin Courtney -Febraury 11, 2004
They mean well, bless their hearts. All those kind, well-meaning souls who offer us answers to questions we never asked.
You know what I’m talking about. You’ve heard these answers, too: “Just trust God to meet all your needs.” “Stop looking and the right one will show up.” “No matter how it appears, God is still sovereign.” “Your maker is your husband.” “Focus on being the right one instead of looking for the right one.” “There’s so much more to life than marriage.”
I don’t know about you, but these quick fixes are usually offered to me right after I’ve relayed some frustration, vulnerability, or messiness about the single journey. In fact, sometimes they’re e-mailed to me from readers of this very column whenever I admit to some of the more vexing emotions or experiences of the single journey.
Experiences such as watching two family friends years younger than me get married for a second time before I’ve even gotten to take one trip to the altar. Emotions such as wondering how my egg count is doing, hoping that at least a few of them will hang on until I might possibly get hitched. Moments of feeling overlooked by God or the entire opposite gender.
Granted, there are times when I’m being a big whiner and need someone to lovingly-or in no uncertain terms!-snap me out of it pronto. But I’m talking about the times we let down our guard and honestly share some of the struggles of this single journey. It’s those moments when we admit we’re not a Perfect Christian but a fallen human being desperately in need of grace. Times when we utter with the man in Mark 9:24, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” Times when we allow all the mystery of a huge God of the Universe to be simply that, mysterious. Unable to be completely comprehended with our human minds.
I know the advice-givers mean well and that some of what they say is true. But the timing and brevity of their helpful words make me fear a few subtle messages and implications of what they’re saying.
I fear these quick-fixes will scare us singles away from being open, honest, and vulnerable with one another, as their words don’t come close to acknowledging the depth of our pain or wrestling and therefore sometimes feel insulting. In a world where true community is as difficult to find as a modestly dressed rock star, it’s not easy to share the real us. When we go out on a limb and actually do so and are met with platitudes, we’re so much less likely to go there again.
I don’t like the implication that Christians can’t lead messy lives. That we’re supposed to have it all together. That every problem has a one-two-three answer, not so unlike a sitcom in which one of the Bradys or Cleavers get into and out of a jam in 30 minutes flat.
I cringe against the subtle message that singleness is a problem that needs fixing instead of being simply another complex stage of life that comes with its own set of blessings and joys, difficulties and heartbreak. We’re simply fellow fallen souls who need to be heard, understood, sympathized with, and occasionally hugged.
And I bristle against the notion that my admission of frustration or perplexity is an admission that I’m losing my faith. Or losing all hope. Or simply losing it.
Most of the time, I’m not looking for answers, I’m looking for someone to sit with the questions with me. Quietly respecting the brain in my head, the faith in my heart, and the mystery that is this life. This fallen, complex life where some questions don’t come with answers, at least not this side of heaven. Where some answers feel inadequate even though they’re true and all we have to hang onto.
And where most days are great, and on occasion we just need a smile, sympathetic nod, or whispered prayer to get us through to the next great day on this journey of singlehood.
When those great days do come around again, if we’ve really been present in the tough times, if we’ve been allowed to truly be there and sit with our questions and hurts, we’ll appreciate the good days even more. They’ll extend past happiness and tread into joy. The kind of joy that just might carry us through to the next inevitable tough time-where, even if no one else meets us there, we’ll find Jesus silently, lovingly waiting for us, questions and all.