This is the third post in a series about being children of God and how that informs our various roles as women. Read all of the posts in the series here.
I had to take a deep breath before writing this piece. I’ve never liked talking about being single. But I think it is important that we do. Here we go.
As I began writing this post, I was sitting alone on a train, speeding away from Paris towards my new home in a foreign country where I knew no one. I couldn’t help but think how this journey would have been so much less nauseatingly terrifying if I wasn’t very much alone. (I survived it, in case you were wondering.)
According to Barry Danylak, writer of a brilliant book called, Redeeming Singleness, most churches today consist of more than 50% single people (unmarried, celibate, divorced, widow(er)ed,) and this staggering percentage of people is far more likely to be involved in any other charity organisation than in the church. This is an unhappy truth for any church that calls itself a church and any single person in need of companionship. So whatever our relationship status, we ignore it at our peril.
One preacher (whose writing stays with me even when his name does not) wrote about the struggle of the single (or celibate) person, and he said that the misery of the single people often stems from the fact that changes are made without them. One friend marries, another friend becomes a parent, and another friend moves for a spouse’s job opportunity. The single person must accept that none of these relationships will be permanent. It’s a very heavy burden to bear and should not be dismissed as unimportant. I need God’s grace to not be fearful of change or jealously cling to my friends.
The “god” of Love and Family
We worship love as if it were a god. We think on love—in whatever form (job, family, passion), manifestation, act, age, sex, person, married or single—as the ultimate source of happiness. From a very early age, I was convinced I should never make it past sixteen without a good deal of attention, by eighteen I should be seriously attached, and by twenty-one I would definitely be planning a wedding, if not already married. Ah me, I didn’t realise that was optimism.
Restless and Wretched
Growing up, I thought that if I couldn’t fix it in with own efforts, I would certainly be the best informed on the subject. I disillusioned myself quickly that partnering myself off would solve all my problems. I researched in order to ensure that I rid myself of any potential obstacles, you know, like character flaws, unappealing manners or bad fashion, etc. I, unfortunately, read all the magazine features on how to attract male attention (to prove I was capable of doing so). Such obsessiveness cultivates a very low self-esteem which craves attention. And I imagined that the reason I was so unlucky in love was due entirely to my faults, ugliness and awkwardness—which must all be so much greater than everyone else’s. I built castles in the air, entangling my emotions with those they did not belong. I also thought that God might be withholding from me until I loved Him better; for a while I tried fervently to be holier in order to be rewarded, and then realized the superficiality.
For a long time, I felt that loneliness was a secret misery (and a stigma I am still dreadfully uncomfortable sharing about on so public a forum). It was too despairing and monstrous to think on, let alone to pray over. And so it was allowed to fester deep inside of me. On the rare occasion I did pray, my prayers were pleading and almost accusing: Please, please, I don’t understand why You won’t give this to me, save me from my loneliness—it’s not like I’m asking for something that’s against your will! I spoke to God as if He owed me something. I read the blogs and listened to the sermons on trials and suffering. For all the lightness in my tone now, those years were times of deep grief, and I was often convinced of my worthlessness. I was also bitter. Only ever having to consult my own opinion, I was self-absorbed and desperately self-aware. I’m not proud of this. I questioned my worth, something God has made and sustained for many years—even when I didn’t acknowledge it. I deliberately ignored or dismissed my irreplaceable purpose in the body of Christ (see 1 Corinthians 12:14-27).
Mercifully, despair is not the end of the story.
When Jesus preaches on marriage and divorce in Mark 10, we are reminded that He has a very high and demanding view of relationships. We are not halves wandering around seeking someone else to complete us. Committed relationships not only symbolize Christ’s commitment to His people but persist even when the infatuation fades. What does this mean for those who aren’t married? Verse 9 reminds us: “Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” It is God who holds a marriage together, and more importantly, it is God bringing people together, not me.
Chad Ashby has written a brilliant article for the Gospel Coalition entitled “Is God Keeping Something From You?” in which he reminds us that God is full of grace. He withholds in grace. As we remember this, we turn our thoughts not to what we perceive to be a lack—but towards the grace He is pouring into our lives. Sophie de Witt said at the Cape Town Women’s Convention, and in her book Compared to Her, that we cannot think on even our blessings as deserved. It is God’s to give and to decide (see Romans 9:21). We look down on others, perceiving that our efforts have won us better looks, intelligence, perfectly behaved children, a dreamy spouse, or a comfortable living. This is simply not true. The God of grace is in control of our lives. I began to ask myself, what am I waiting for? Happiness? It’s only God who can give it. Companionship and protection on a train to an unknown destination in a foreign country? He is that for me.
The life that He gives to me, in His love and grace, is so much more than the fluff of my high school daydreams. He loves genuinely despite flaws and in a way that humbles me, fills me with awe, gratefulness, and security. He died that I might live, and know Him, because He loves me. This is what I want and need. Even though I hope I will not always be on my own, He gives me rest from all my insecurities—and what a weight is lifted! I can pray in complete faith that He knows what I need and what I want, and nothing is insurmountable anymore.
Even so, I realize I will have to make an effort to integrate myself, to make sure I am not lonesome, and to make sure that chick flicks don’t send me into despair and disappointment. I must be patient as I teach friends how certain behaviours and stigmas can be damaging. It takes continual and persistent prayer, for sure, but I am learning to carry everything to Him in prayer, and in His strength, I can leave it there.
And Grace Will Lead Me Home
“Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted…
Guard my life and rescue me, let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in You.”
Ps. 25:16, 20
I love that there is a verse in the Bible that cites loneliness with affliction and brings them before God because the speaker needs God’s restoration. This is the reminder that I always need, and if I have to repeat this every day, so be it: the love of the Lord redeems me from the wretchedness where He found me, and His righteousness makes me worthy of a place in His kingdom. This true gospel is salvation and membership in Christ.
Later in this series, Amy will continue her discussion on membership in Christ, writing on being a part of His church.