I went to the Fourth of July parade with three couples. As we walked along, the couples held hands, marveling at the sights. I was keenly aware that my hand was empty.
After the parade we returned to the car. The couples were snuggling and giggling. I tried to feel included, but it wasn’t working. I felt alone as I watched the sparks fly—and I’m not talking about fireworks. This was not the kind of display I had intended to watch on the Fourth!
Have you ever felt like this? Girlfriend, I know you have, or you probably wouldn’t be reading this book. Welcome aboard. This is the place where we can get real with each other about the difficulties single women face.
IS SOMETHING WRONG WITH ME? Let’s face it. There are times when singleness feels like a curse. Like when loved ones tell you they “don’t understand why you’re not married.” (How many times have you heard that one?) When you see the joy in siblings’ and friends’ faces as they hold their newborn babies. When you travel to see family and end up sleeping on the sofa because you’re a “single” versus a “couple.” When you’re overlooked in making decisions because it’s “just you” and you don’t have a family to consider. And how about this one: when other Christians inform you that you’re not married because God is teaching you submission or working something out in your life. I could go on and on. You know what I’m talking about, don’t you?
It seems that single Christian women everywhere struggle with their status on some level. My friend Carol recently attended the wedding of a good friend. Although she was happy for the couple and had seen God work in their relationship, she states,
When I saw them leave the reception talking arm in arm, I felt a mixture of joy and sadness—my good friend was happy, but she was moving five hundred miles away. The next morning grief overtook me. I silently cried out to God, “What about me?” I am part of the ranks of women with an unfilled desire for marriage. Anger at God and disappointment at being unable to find a godly man is rampant among single women in my area. Many of us bury our grief, our pain and ourselves in work and just keep hoping. We turn our desire into prayer and develop friendships. We continue living, but we want God to fulfill our desires.
Rose, a close friend for over twenty years and single by divorce, has talked to me about the pain of being misunderstood. After her marriage broke up, she says, people pointed out her sinfulness for divorcing her husband and were hurtful in other ways:
Several relationships did not continue with my children or me, as though we had some type of disease. Some Christians seem unable to view divorce (and maybe singleness) as normal. Perhaps because God hates divorce people hate it too, and they include the person in the hatred. This has made me feel left out and almost lower class, not to mention lonely. Such comments and treatment feel like a curse.
If singleness is a curse, then more and more people are being cursed. During the last thirty years, the percentage of unmarried women ages twenty to twenty-four has doubled, according to a recent article in the Baptist Standard. The percentage of unmarried women in their early thirties has tripled. The pattern holds true for men as well. In 1970, 81 percent of adult men were married before their thirtieth birthday. In 2000, less than half of adult men under thirty were married. It’s obvious that the single population is growing—not because of divorce, but because people are delaying marriage.
Despite the fact that singleness is becoming more and more common, the recurring theme among women seems to be that everyone should be married. And when marriage doesn’t happen, many of them ask, “What’s wrong with me (or her)?” Questions fly, such as:
• “Aren’t you married yet?”
• “Why is a pretty woman like you still single?”
• “I’m going to pray for God to send you a husband; you need someone to take care of you.”
• “Is there some hidden hurt behind why you don’t want to get married?”
I have heard all of this. I have sought to answer graciously instead of slapping my interrogators. Interestingly enough, many of the people who ask me these questions are miserable in their own marriages. I don’t understand it, except that maybe they would rather be miserably married than not married at all. Who will deliver us from the unhealthy need to be yoked?
Caren, one of the women of my world that I mentor, is forty-one years old. She’s dealing with the reality of no longer being a young woman. Although she realizes that her dream of marriage may not happen, she remains hopeful while keeping things in perspective and living a full life. I asked her recently how she’s dealing with everything. She answered, “I keep repeating Scripture. My Heavenly Father knows my need before I ask him. I try to focus on his character. I seek to stay open to whatever God has for me while getting out and doing things. I want to enjoy life by not worrying about what I don’t have and being grateful for what I do have.”
Are you, like Caren, honest with yourself and God about how you feel being single? Learning to lay it all before God, to get our junk out in the open where we can see it clearly, is a key part of our personal and spiritual growth. I know many Christians who have a hard time being gut-honest with God—and I used to be one of them. I tried to hide my sin, hurt and anger. I didn’t want to discuss any of it with him and hoped that if I didn’t talk to him, he wouldn’t notice and my issues would just go away. Who was I kidding? Only myself. I finally accepted that I can’t hide anything from God. I came to find comfort in the realization that he wants me to be honest. Now I know he can handle whatever I need to share or confess.
THE LORD UNDERSTANDS
On that Fourth of July afternoon riding with the “sparklers” in the car, I emotionally and mentally flung myself upon Jesus. I told him that he was my best friend. And I didn’t feel alone any longer.
The Lord understands our journey as single women. Psalm 42:5- 6 helps me realize this. “Why am I discouraged? Why so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again—my Savior and my God! Now I am deeply discouraged, but I will remember your kindness” (NLT). Thank God that he makes room for us to be honest. This is just one of many Scripture passages that remind us to hold on to Jesus and find comfort in him.
Psalm 139:5 tells us that God places his hand of blessing on our heads (NLT). But do we recognize his hand of blessing? Trusting God’s goodness can be difficult. Surely if he knew me, we say, he would know I don’t want to stay single the rest of my life. If he were as loving and concerned as he says he is, he would guide us to the person we want to be with. He would give us freedom to choose our own way.
The issue of singleness and marriage is big enough to make or break our faith. We find it difficult to accept that we’re precious to God when he doesn’t give us what we think we need. We find that our will collides with God’s. But God has planned our lives carefully and intimately. Are we willing to surrender our will to his? Even though we wrestle, it’s possible to come to appreciate God’s will and presence in our lives, and to find that Abba knows best.
FOR BETTER OR FOR WORSE You’ve heard it recited at dozens of weddings, but the phrase “for
In Psalm 139:3, we see God’s awareness of our lives and his activity in it. “You chart the path ahead of me and tell me where to stop and rest. Every moment you know where I am” (NLT). God does chart the path ahead of us, although we may feel sometimes that he’s charted the wrong path. If we were honest, what path would we suggest to him? Something radically different? The psalmist says God tells us where to stop and rest; are they the same places we would choose? Probably not—at least not all the time. However, if we were to chart our own path, we would find no real rest. True rest and peace are found only in the center of his will. He precedes and follows his children. He is the only wise God.
better or for worse” also applies to the single life. Instead of choosing a man, we’re choosing an outlook on life. We’re declaring that no one is responsible for our contentment but us and God. Blaming others for our circumstances may seem easier, but it doesn’t lead anywhere except to further discontentment. My cooperation with God, or lack thereof, determines how I see life. If I have a positive perspective on singleness, I probably have a positive view of life and God. And vice versa.
In 1981, Barbara went to Pakistan as a missionary. After language study, she worked as a nurse-midwife at a hospital for Pakistani women and children and lived in a bungalow for single women on the hospital compound. A friend of Barbara’s suggested that I interview her for a view of singleness as a missionary. I chose to do just that! She states,
The missionary community became my family away from home. They were the people I lived with, socialized with and worked with on a daily basis. In some ways, that was the most satisfying and fulfilling period of my life. But there were also times when I was terribly lonely, either because friendship was not reciprocated or because of criticism from my colleagues. I left in 1989 for an extended furlough and did not return long-term.
For Barbara, singleness made it easy to pick up and move to various places and afforded opportunities for ministry. Recently, it allowed her to move closer to her aging parents. She continues,
In each of these moves I believed God was calling me. I was
making my career a priority, although I imagined and hoped
early on that marriage would happen, perhaps with a doctor on
the field or someone involved in ministry where I was. There
have been times over the years when I have longed for the intimacy
I saw in a few married couples around me.
I can’t really see myself married now. That’s partly because I can’t imagine a man being interested in me at this point, and also because I would have reservations about sharing my assets—unless, of course, he was bringing more assets into the relationship than I was! It would be hard to adjust my schedule and habits after all these years of living on my own.
Barbara is now fifty-two and lives in the States. She continues to work with the same mission agency as an area mobilizer, informing and raising up more laborers for the harvest. She also works part time as a labor and delivery nurse. For better or for worse.
All of the following questions have come to mind at one time or another in my single life as I have tried to live for better or for worse, and many of them may sound familiar to you too. How would you answer them?
• How can I be patient when it seems everyone around me is finding
the love of their life?
• How do I make the most of my time and not get distracted?
• How can I better focus on God and serve others?
• How do I deal with friends who are not comfortable in their singleness, those who believe their worth is tied to their marital status?
• How can I stay positive and focused when others around me are negative?
We’re going to talk about all this and more in the rest of this book. My prayer is that as you read, you will ask yourself what God wants of you in your life right now. Not in five or ten years, when you see yourself married with two kids, but right now. Are you willing to follow him no matter what?
THE CHALLENGE OF WAITING
Sometimes we’re tempted to think that God is forcing us to play the waiting game while he takes bets on how we’ll hold up. And the odds don’t seem to be in our favor—it’s a couples’ world and society tells us that happiness is impossible unless we’re paired up. Unfortunately, Christians have bought into this lie. But does the God we know really toy with us for his own amusement?
Some people do walk away from God when they don’t find a mate. Disappointment sets in and they find it too difficult to trust his goodness. Rather than acknowledging that he knows what’s best for their life, they blame him for their circumstances. They know he could make it different, and when he doesn’t, they abandon their faith and their values. I admit that waiting on God is one of the hardest disciplines we face as Christians. Deep within we know God will fulfill our desires and needs, but when his timetable seems off, it’s a challenge to keep believing. Yet as we learn to wait on him and trust him, we learn more about his character and discover that his tender care wants only our best, even if that best differs dramatically from what we want.
Our goal is to find contentment in God alone. If we learn to wait on him rather than the perfect husband, we’ll experience contentment much sooner. The fact is, not everyone will marry. And if we force the issue, if we’re determined to have a boyfriend or mate regardless of what God thinks, we’re asking for a whole mess of trouble and turmoil. I’ve seen it countless times and I’m sure you have too. Consider these questions:
• In what ways are you trying to win the waiting game?
• What is your attitude toward God as you wait?
• What do you need from God in order to better trust his timing?
• How can God help you become more content?
When we share our honest feelings with God, he will help us find contentment in him first. If we aren’t careful, our lives will pass us by and we will miss cultivating our love-relationship with God. We will wake up at the end of our lives and wonder what it was all about. We will realize how much time we wasted on earthly versus eternal things. Let’s wake up before then—right now—while we can still do something about it!
SINGLENESS: A BLESSING
It may not feel like it when your best friend rides off in the limo after her wedding reception, or when your back is killing you from sleeping on the couch at your brother and sister-in-law’s house, but singleness is actually a blessing. “Yeah, right,” I can hear you saying. “And how’s that?” Here’s the key: singleness is a blessing because it gives us the opportunity to trust that God desires our very best. And in order to trust God, we must come to know this loving God intimately—an incredible blessing.
How we view our singleness hinges on how completely we give our plans, ambitions and desires into God’s hands. In my small group, the word surrender comes up a lot. We discuss what we think surrender is and is not. We’ve mostly concluded that surrender is hard. It’s tough to give ourselves over totally to someone we can’t see. We read about God in his Word and believe Scripture to be true, but trusting him implicitly is quite another thing.
I’ve found that the key to trust is love. If I know someone loves me, I’m more prone to trust him or her. For a long time I knew in my head that God loved me, but I didn’t feel that love consistently. So I was moody. My happiness and joy were circumstantial. One day I cried out to God and asked him to help me feel his love. Then I started looking for him to do so. Scales seemed to fall from my eyes as I became more and more aware of his numerous, often minute-by-minute expressions of tenderness for me. Now I keep a journal to record the occasions when God has used others’ words to encourage me. I also keep boxes of cards and notes to re-read when I need an emotional boost. Daily I am more aware of God’s infinite love for me.
Singleness is a blessing when we know the peace of God, which also comes from trusting him. Philippians 4:6-7 tells us to “be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” When we let go and relax, knowing he is God, we can be at peace.
Peace also results from an intimate relationship with the Father. In Psalm 46:10 we’re told to be still and know that he is God (NIV). But we find it extremely difficult to be still, don’t we? The enemy has fed us a line that to be busy is to be godly. He tells us we should scurry around in the name of God and leave no time available to relate with our Father personally. We may even think that if we’re busy for him he’ll give us what we want. I’ve often wondered what God’s face looks like as he watches his children industriously trying to do his work without his constant guidance and strength. Our priorities, desires and needs get all mixed up when we’re not relating intimately with God—and peace eludes us.
If you are a single adult woman struggling to find contentment, my prayer is that one day you will know this truth. I pray that you will know God’s love for you. I pray that you will experience his peace that surpasses all comprehension, regardless of your circumstances. I pray that you will be a witness to the world around you that God is trustworthy. I pray that you will know a contented heart, one that waits for God’s best. I pray that you won’t live another day questioning God’s goodness because you don’t have a boyfriend or a mate. In the meantime, I pray that if God desires marriage for you, you’re prepared to be the best spouse possible to the glory of God.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION OR DISCUSSION
1. Have you ever had an experience similar to the July Fourth parade story? If so, how did it make you feel?
2. How would you respond to the statement “Singleness is a curse”?
3. What comes to your mind when you think of “for better or for worse” as a single adult?
4. As a single adult, in what ways do you feel accepted? Not accepted?
5. Do you believe we live in a couples-oriented society? If so, how does it affect you?
6. Describe your level of contentment as a single Christian adult. How would you change it?
7. Do you view singleness as a blessing? Why or why not?