It was one of the most refreshingly honest statements I’d ever heard in my life.
There were no accusations in that statement. No shame-riddled hints that my single status would change if I prayed harder, named-and-claimed a certain someone (or an abstract anyone), lost weight, grew my hair out, shaved my legs, reached enlightenment, or tore down the supposed idol of marriage in my life.
There was no pity in that statement, either. No gingerly stepping around my feelings, no fear of saying the wrong thing, no sidestepping the place I’m at in life or the simple reality of my wonderings.
Nor was there condemnation for experiencing mixed emotions about this socially, and sometimes theologically, controversial season.
Finally, a married person acknowledged single hurt.
Single hurt is taboo . . . primarily because society is coming to terms with the fact that singleness can offer a lot of fulfillment. Relational, financial, and emotional fulfillment can coexist with singleness in the same way that those things can coexist with freckles, weirdly short toes, and educational ambition. (Being blessed beyond measure, I can lay claim to freckles, short toes, ambition, AND singleness!) And because one can experience wholeness in singleness, we don’t dare suggest that singleness can also be painful and unfulfilling – because that could invalidate somebody.
But you know what?
OF COURSE we experience loneliness, and fear, and A MILLION QUESTIONS. In the midst of the tumultuous joy of being wholly ourselves, not burdened by the cares of a spouse or children, and freely pursuing our dreams, we don’t have spouses to pray with us in the middle of the night . . . to drive us to the emergency room if we’re seriously ill . . . to rub our shoulders and take out the trash after the world’s longest day . . . or to stay awake with us while we plod through our homework after a full day of earning a paycheck. Little comments get made that cause us to question things, too. Sometimes these comments are thoughtless, incorrect, and unhealthy; other times they’d be pretty innocuous were it not for the spiritual adversaries who distort them for us. But we naturally wonder, from time to time, why people who are neither better nor worse than us are chosen while we are not. It’s very confusing. Believe it or not, it can be even more confusing when you’re confident and self-assured. I could recite for you a list of my strengths and all of the things that make me attractive, inside and out – just as I can acknowledge that my flaws are not fatal – and in light of that stuff, I sometimes can’t believe I’m not married yet.
On a related tangent, I feel compelled to share some cultural observations. While living my single-and-ready-for-a-Pringle life (plain Pringles only, please – I went vegan two months ago and the flavored ones all have dairy), I’ve awakened to the harsh reality that our world is pretty broken. It’s not devoid of beauty, but so many people are walking wounded. Especially in my generation. Relationships and marriage have not emerged unscathed from our worsening condition. People sleep with each other to make sure that they’re sexually compatible before they get married. People have casual sex because it’s “natural and fun.” People base their requirements for a dating partner or spouse not on maturity, strength, or shared ambitions — but on compatibility in recreational activities. (That’s about 100% of the online dating world, and many of us are online.) People choose not to get married at all because it’s “outdated, just a piece of paper, and marriage isn’t the government’s business, anyway.” Sadly, I also haven’t seen any of this addressed by the church in recent years. I hear comments about sexual brokenness in the gay community from time to time – and that’s an important discussion – but those who identify as LGBTQ comprise about 4% of the population and the reality is that far more sexual sin takes place in the straight community. It’s an epidemic. The nuclear family structure is crumbling, but the war on family starts long before the famed “spark” starts to fade – long before people say “I do,” get engaged, or even enter into committed relationships. The rising number of people engaging in extramarital cohabitation and sex, coupled with the declining marriage rates, have firmly convinced me that many people who desire to be married are still single not because they haven’t learned to love themselves (or whatever cliché you want to insert), but because many others who could pursue God’s design for community and intimacy choose fleeting pleasure instead. This is as grief-worthy for the singles who have their lives together but are missing out on awesome relationships as it is for the singles who miss out because they make bad choices. (Super important side note: we REALLY need to pray for millennials and subsequent generations.)
I hope the above two paragraphs clearly communicate why single grief is a valid and legitimate thing – just as single fulfillment is a valid and legitimate thing. I hope that those of you who think your hurt (or the hurt of your single friends) is invalid have a better understanding of why it’s not. Sparks of fulfillment can occur in seasons of grief and confusion; conversely, sparks of loneliness/frustration/depression can knock us down in line at the bookstore even if we’re in a season of joy and celebration and fulfillment.
And for you single people out there – especially single gals in the church who really don’t want to be single and feel bummed/discouraged/angry/sad – know that Jesus grieves with you. It doesn’t matter whether your Mr. Right is going to sweep you off your feet in the grocery store tomorrow or he’s two thousand miles away and living in utter rebellion. Either way, Jesus cares about how you feel – He cares when you hurt – and He shares your pain even if part of you thinks your feelings are silly or unnecessary. (Don’t believe me? Read this.)
I’d like to conclude with a few thoughts for the single men and women out there:
- It’s okay to long. Truly, it is. One of my best friends in the whole world (who got married young and somehow still totally gets me) told me that. My brain almost broke when she said it, because I’ve been conditioned to believe the opposite…but eventually I grasped the truth of her statement. You can long for a husband or wife and still be all in for Jesus (and/or your career, or whatever).
- Earlier, when I said “finally, a married person acknowledged single hurt” – well, full disclosure: that married person wasn’t actually the first married person in my life to acknowledge single hurt. The ratio of truth to unscriptural nonsense about singleness may be as skewed as the ratio of women to men in the church… but we still need to remember that our married friends do care about us. Some of them it better than others, but most of them are trying. We need to honor and love them even when we feel like they’re missing the point entirely.
- As my pastor has wisely said, “There are no lone wolves in the body of Christ.” Perhaps you’re in a community that’s super supportive and inclusive of singles; perhaps not. But we have some responsibility, too, to create and provide that community for each other. Instead of feeling sorry for ourselves and wondering why the single community’s game is weak, we need to invite people over or out. If we’re invited to safe places, we need to go. (Now, if the people you invite continually make excuses, then by all means feel sorry for yourself. But only for a little while. Then get over it, delete their numbers, and find new friends.)
Finally, if any of my single friends or acquaintances happen to read this, know that unless you have specifically told me that you don’t want to be married, I’m not just praying for my future partner to get his rear in gear and show up already. I’m also praying for yours. I don’t define you by your marriage status, but I wrote this because I’ve seen the grief and confusion in many of my peers. And I see such beauty inside and outside of each of you. Stay strong, and if you need to talk but don’t have my number, find me on Facebook. (I still can’t believe I have Facebook.)
“The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.” – Psalm 16:6 (ESV)
“When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.” – Psalm 56:3 (ESV)