Tulips or Tuscany

Welcome to Holland is a poem that describes how our previous expectations can impact our ability to enjoy our current reality. While the original intent of the poem may be about a life situation that is more serious than remaining single, the message can be applied to many different situations because we have all experienced a time in life when our expectations fell short of our reality.

In the poem, the author (Emily Pearl Kingsley) describes the expectations of one situation (in the case of the poem it’s describing preparing for a baby) as planning a trip to Italy. You plan it all out, get on the plane only to find out that you’ve landed in Holland instead and you can’t get back on the plane to go to Italy. She describes how shocking it is at first and how extremely disappointing it is to see your life steered in a different direction than you had expected.

The poem goes on to describe all of the wonderful things that Holland has to offer and how, if you dwell on the fact that your plans didn’t pan out and that you’re missing out on all of the fun in Italy, you will also miss out on all of the wonder and beauty that Holland has to offer you. She states that Holland is not worse than Italy, it’s a clean and nice place, it’s just different from what you had expected. The expectation that you may have had in your mind about how your love life has panned out may be similar to being in Holland when you had planned your entire life to go to Italy. You may have expected to be married at this point in your life. Perhaps you were married in the past or are going through a divorce and you expected to still be married, but life rarely works out the way we’ve planned. The danger is when you dwell on the bitterness you feel about not getting or keeping what you thought you had planned so hard for.

I had the chance, recently, to sit down with a lovely new friend and really talk out what it’s like to be single in the church. She asked me if I had any advice for how to overcome the bitterness that she was feeling as a single person and how to move on from it. I’m sure that her experience and difficulty in controlling bitterness is similar to what many others may feel. I know that I’ve been there before and it was a hard task to dig up those bitter roots and truly find peace in Holland.

My close friends from college, grad school, and my early career life can all attest to the fact that I was basically the poster child for the bitter and cold single woman. I’m pretty sure that’s what precedes the crazy cat lady stage later in life. Not that there’s anything wrong with being the crazy cat lady. I, myself, am probably destined to become more of a crazy dog lady, but hey po-tay-to, po-tah-to. The bitterness that I was feeling really had a deep root in my heart that took years for me to begin to unearth. If you’ve ever been the single friend in your group because all of your previously single friends have found the elusive “prize” of a spouse, then you probably understand what it’s like to carry around some amount of bitterness.

The bible is pretty clear that bitterness is sin and when we allow it take root in our hearts, we set ourselves up for a whole host of problems.

In Acts chapter 8 we see Peter explain that bitterness and jealousy make it impossible to share in the good work that God has planned for us.

“You cannot share with us in this work since your heart is not right before God. Change your heart! Turn away from this evil thing you have done, and pray to the Lord. Maybe he will forgive you for thinking this. I see that you are full of bitter jealousy and ruled by sin.” Acts 8:20-23.

When your heart is consumed by bitterness and sin, you’ve allowed the enemy to get a foothold in your heart which will negatively impact your ability to follow God’s path and complete His good work.

Proverbs 14:10 says “The heart knows its own bitterness, and no stranger shares its joy.” When you allow bitterness to rule over your heart and your mind, it’s nearly impossible to share God’s joy with others. Not to mention that if you’re bitter and angry others will wonder how on earth you could possibly be truly joyful in Christ. This is why it’s such a powerful weapon that the enemy will use if you allow him.

Now that we’ve discovered what the bible says about bitterness, what exactly can you do to help uproot that bulb of bitterness that may subtly (or in many cases not so subtly) be taking root within your heart?

The first thing that I’ve found to be the most helpful is to learn to be okay with being alone. Trust me when I say that I completely understand that this is 10,000x easier said than done. This is especially difficult for extroverted people who feed off of the energy of other people, but I’ve honestly found it to be one of the best ways to fight off the bitterness that I had carried with me for over a decade. Part of the reason that the anger and resentment are there in the first place is because you feel lonely and maybe a bit jealous of others who have what you want, ie. a relationship. When you can feel okay with being alone, then it takes some of the sting out of the loneliness that can easily morph into bitterness if you don’t keep it in check.

I am, by no means, implying that I never feel lonely, everyone does at some point, but when you can be okay with being with yourself then you don’t always feel that constant nagging feeling to be surrounded by someone else. Plus, being around people doesn’t always negate your feelings of loneliness. Often times at a party or in a crowd, I am surrounded by dozens of people, but end up feeling the most alone. When you learn how to be alone, you’re more likely to allow God to fill that hole you feel inside, rather than trying to fill it with someone else.

Another thing you can do to help uproot the bitterness is to monitor your self talk. Once I found a way to be okay with being by myself, I was better able to distinguish when I was leading myself down the “bitterness spiral” with my thinking. You know how it goes. You see a couple walking down the sidewalk, holding hands, maybe stopping to give each other a peck on the cheek and the first thought that rolls into your mind in big flashing red letters is “get a room already!”

Yep, I’ve said that. Many, many times. Sometimes out loud, sometimes in my head, but I even hear myself saying that frequently now. The difference is that now, I catch myself when I say it, which prevents me from saying the next thing that will lead me even further down the spiral. “Why don’t I have someone to hold hands with and kiss on the sidewalk?” which would inevitably led to “What’s wrong with me?” and “Why am I such a potato?” and, worst of all, “Why doesn’t God love me as much as He loves them?” “Why is God holding out on me?”

See what I mean about the spiral? It’s dangerous territory. This is why it’s so important to monitor your self talk. You will inevitably have the opening thought every once in a while (we are only human after all), but you MUST learn to stop it before it bores a hole in your heart that allows the bitter root to sink in even deeper and you slide further down the bitterness spiral.

My last practical piece of advice is to have a list of reasons that you are glad that you’re single always at the ready (you can even write them down and keep a list in your phone if you need to). When those negative thoughts inevitably creep in (and they will, especially early on when the enemy knows you are at your most vulnerable), having this list will help you to be able to challenge those negative thoughts with your own, honest truth. I can’t tell you what your reasons for being grateful are, only you can know that. For me, it’s that I value my time with the Lord and being single affords me more time to spend with Him with less distractions. I also value my independence and the ability to travel whenever I want without checking in with someone else. If I don’t feel like cooking dinner at night, then I don’t have to worry about feeding someone else. So while you’re getting comfortable with being alone, take some time for self reflection and contemplate the reasons that you are grateful for your singleness, trust me, it’s easier than it sounds.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, being single is not a disease. It’s not something to be ashamed of. And it’s not something that is any better or worse than marriage. Holland is not better or worse than Italy. It’s simply different. So while you may have wished that you were eating spaghetti with Michaelangelo and Da Vinci in Italy, look around and enjoy the windmills and tulips with Rembrandt and van Gogh in Holland because Holland has a lot to offer that you may not have even considered if God hadn’t known better and sent you there.

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