As a child, when someone would ask me, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” my answer was always, “A wife and mommy.” Blame it on my upbringing, culture, or gender, but it was the honest truth. Entering college (one that had ‘Bible’ in its title, which students tongue-and-cheek changed to ‘bridal’) that desire continued. While I did not go to college to find a husband, like many young people, I assumed I would find my spouse during those four years and get married soon after graduation. As freshman year faded into memory, senior year reached its climax, and nothing happened, anxiety had set in. Was I doomed to a life of singleness? Was something wrong with me? Was I hoping for it too much?
Questions, unfulfilled longings, and the struggles they bring filled much of my twenties. Well-meaning people made statements meant to encourage, which sometimes accomplished their purpose and sometimes brought unvoiced angst and frustration. After all, I believed God was in control. But what if his control meant my singleness? No thanks, Lord.
Today, I don’t get emotionally charged from comments made by others. Believe it or not, I’m ok, and even enjoy (!) my singleness. But I have found that the large amount of articles, blogs, talks, and incessant online dating commercials on ‘being single’ tend to make me roll my eyes, especially as Singles Awareness Day (aka Valentine’s Day) approaches. I groan and think, “Not ANOTHER article telling me what to look for in a spouse, be like as a single woman, or do in my singleness! Not another commercial telling me to find God’s match for me!” Don’t get me wrong. Many articles have excellent encouragement and advice; we need to hear or read godly input from men and women who have learned to live well in singleness. Many people have found spouses through online dating, and I couldn’t be happier for them. Yet, it can feel like my singleness is a problem to be solved rather than an opportunity to be utilized. With all the helpful information out there to encourage or guide us in being single, there are a few lessons I’ve learned that seem to stay out of focus.
Contentment is not the absence of longing
Christian singles are rightly encouraged to search for contentment in the Lord (married people need to do this too). We’re told that godliness with contentment is great gain (1 Tim. 6:6. Note, the context of this verse is not singleness, but the truth can apply). However, what does it mean to be content? I used to think that if I was content in my singleness I wouldn’t long for marriage or a family anymore, equating contentment with apathy towards marriage. So imagine my concern when the longing didn’t go away. Through a lot of processing with the Lord I learned an important lesson. Contentment is not the absence of longing, but rest in the goodness of God in the midst of less than ideal circumstances. I still long for marriage and a family, but I’ve learned to long for God more, and in the process I’ve found contentment and joy in fulfilling the purpose for which he’s created me; namely, to know and love him.
This one is actually said a lot, but it sounds too simple, Christianese, and like a cheap cliché. But maybe it’s a cliché because it’s true. Loving Jesus is the key to living a full single and/or married life. Without Him, I am nothing; without Him, I accomplish nothing; without Him, I gain nothing; without Him, there is no rest, or peace – all is vanity. This kind of love for Christ does not come easily or naturally. Sometimes there are many other things I’d rather have than him. And sometimes I treat loving him like a good luck charm. If I love Jesus, he’ll give me a husband. We don’t love Jesus like we should, but like the man who came to him begging for the healing of his son, crying out, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24) we can cry out, “I love you; help me love you!” My favorite hymn says it well:
Once earthly joy I craved,
Sought peace and rest;
Now Thee alone I seek,
Give what is best;
This all my prayer shall be:
More love, O Christ, to Thee,
More love to Thee,
More love to Thee!
Learn to laugh
Laughter can be a sign of bitterness (see Genesis 18), but humor can also help keep life in focus and bring relief from stress (Prov. 17:22), demonstrating we’ve found contentment. I’ve discovered that making fun of my singleness is… well… fun! My complete inability to flirt which has generated some very awkward moments, joking that my 5-year-old niece will probably be in a serious relationship before I am, or inviting my other single girlfriends to join me in spinster-hood with 80 cats all make for a good, or embarrassingly painful, laugh (I don’t want 80 cats, by the way).
When I laugh at my singleness, finding contentment in God and pursuing a deeper love for Christ, the reality of being single loses its vice-like grip on my heart. Marriage remains a real desire, but it no longer consumes me. Singleness is no longer a problem I need to fix. I still roll my eyes at online dating commercials and sigh at the plethora of help-for-singles articles (which, ironically, I’ve just added to). But even that becomes an opportunity to look to Jesus, find rest, and share a good laugh with him.