I am happily single. I wasn’t always quite so happy about my unchanging relationship status, but I’ve grown into it and it fits me comfortably like my favorite pair of old jeans. And, oddly, the more my contentment has grown recently, the more I struggle to write about it.
This weekend at my writer’s group (who never let me get away with any excuses) I realized that my current joy in my single status makes me feel almost unqualified to write about singleness. Many of the men and women I talk to who are my age or younger and still single are struggling with it immensely; for some, this is the battle of their lives. And I’ve been there. I lived there for quite some time. But, by the grace of God, I’m not there anymore.
Yes, I still get pangs every once in awhile while watching a romcom or at a friend’s wedding, that lingering desire to be desired, to have a partner, to be loved like that. But, more frequently of late, I find myself having thoughts of gratefulness to God that I’m not married. And, in counseling, I’ve noticed that this isn’t something many single people who’d rather not be single like to hear.
I am their worst nightmare. They don’t want God to grow them into contentment in their singleness, they want God to bring them a spouse. They don’t want me to tell them that there is a possibility they’ll never marry, but it’s okay because God still has plans in that for their good and his glory. They want to hear tales of people who met the man or woman of their dreams the minute they “stopped looking,” about the friend of a friend who married at 40, or of the newest dating app that’s somehow better than the last 5 they tried. They yearn for promises that God will bring them the desire of their heart instead of the truth that they may need to ask God for new desires.
Many a pastor, singles group leader, or self-help guru sees me as their worst nightmare as well. You see, I do not believe the pinnacle of Christian life is to be a wife or husband, a mother or a father. I believe these are incredibly good things to be, gifts and examples of Christ in our world. But I also believe, like the apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 7), that singleness is a gift as well, and that single people are a blessing to the world and the church in unique valuable ways.
Parents of still-single adult children can join in the chorus against contentment in singleness too. The cry of “when am I going to have grandchildren?” or “if you just lost some weight, I’m sure you’d find a man!” has been heard by singles the world over. They do not always want their children to find deep joy and contentment in this state, because they see it as a lesser existence. They sometimes purposefully add to the discontentment of their children in the hopes it will spur them on to marriage. The idea that marriage may actually not be best for them isn’t an option.
Yet here I am, happily deleting e-mails from dating apps trying to woo me back after a couple years’ hiatus. I’ve embraced the idea that singleness is the life God has planned for me, and have even told him in prayer that if he does want me to marry someday, he’s going to have to bring the man to my doorstep and make it pretty darn obvious, because at this time it’s not even on my radar.
I’ve grieved not having a husband, not having children. I’ve gone through years of intense yearning for things I could not have. I’ve wept with friends, counselors, and God over this. I’ve torn myself down for not being good enough for a spouse, and fed other lies like this. I’ve averted my eyes at friends’ weddings as their fathers walked them down the aisle or danced with them, knowing I would never have that moment. I’ve silently and internally grieved the loss of potential motherhood.
So for my friends and counselees who are in the midst of this grief and pain, I understand. I’ve been there. For a couple decades even. The pain and loss are real, and it is good to recognize it. But, for those of you who don’t end up with the romcom ending, there is such joy to be found in embracing the permanently single life. There is confidence in loving your independence and letting the parents, pastors, and friends who are not content with you being single know that this is what God has for you and it is good.
When Moses went up to Mount Sinai for God to rewrite the 10 Commandments and renew his covenant with Israel, the Lord spoke to Moses about himself. “The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness’” (Exodus 34:6). This is the reality of who our God is. Our Lord is merciful and gracious, so the gift of singleness in our lives, whether temporary or permanent, is part of his mercy and grace toward us. He is slow to anger – there is no punishment in our singleness. He is abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness meaning he is the love of our lives and we are the love of his.
Married readers, ask yourself if you are helping your single friends find contentment or are you adding to their pain? Single readers, I pray you will find contentment in your independence no matter how long it lasts. I know the heartbreak that can come with it, but I also know that deep joy and peace are possible.