Long-term singleness can be heartbreaking.
For all the church’s teaching on how singleness is a valid season and state of being (and it is), they seem to miss the point sometimes. Or a lot, depending on who you ask.
Some of us don’t do well on our own. We just don’t. The idea of vacations by ourselves seems utterly pointless; every year sees more friends marry off and leave you with less in common; and no matter how much good stuff we hear about self-improvement, no one person will ever be good at everything. Or even remotely competent, as my attempt at steak last week could testify. Such success is rare in my apartment.
For those who never grew up in strong homes in the first place, the search for love, for a witness to our lives, takes on a far greater urgency. Their “love tank” is empty. As the grandchildren of the sixties continue growing, you will see more of that.
It has been said that isolation multiplies suffering while companionship divides it. The mathematics of community. To head into your early thirties without that, without someone to say “I choose you” – well, that’s real. Even as good as God is, you should never be told otherwise.
Half of the church seems to gloss over the single’s loneliness. They offer detached, pat advice with the air of “it’s kind of strange that you’re struggling this much.” The other half is busy singing along with the radio that romance is all that’s worth searching for, though they deserve credit for keeping the “marriage” line the radio cuts out.*
But this is not how the godly sufferer is handled in other categories. I find that strange. Those who undergo chronic illness, persecution, injustice and slander, or death of a loved one, don’t have their trials sugarcoated out of some vague fear that God might look bad if they were legitimized. They are not required to deny their suffering. They are simply told what to do with it. Thus we get the marvelous gift of our Scriptural theology of suffering, a necessary segment of our Christian trail.
And one unmistakable element of our theology of suffering is how we want our trials to be remembered.
William Strickland, whose blog you really ought to be following with full attention, recently posted this highly convicting piece: “Suffering Righteously or Sulking Selfishly“. Beyond reminding me to make the most of life this week, it also reminded me that my life is being watched. I have a witness to maintain, and eternal destines could be affected. That is sobering. And I have a legacy to maintain – not to my own name, but to God’s.
One day (despite our flagging hopes, perhaps), many of us will stand at the altar after all, for God is intimidated by neither odds nor age. Furthermore, we all must stand before the throne, to have our work measured.
And both moments will get us looking backward. Though our brains will hardly be able to process what’s in front of us on either occasion (and does not Revelation 19 teach that the first is a dress rehearsal for the second?), there will be part of us that will be looking back, judging how we handled it all, what treasures we gleaned along the way. Others, too, both within the church and without, will look back on how we handled our singleness.
When that day comes, would you rather your unsaved friends be left insatiably curious over your confidence in God’s goodness all those years, or wondering why your face and actions looked no different from theirs?
Would you rather your wait be marked by righteousness, or by the regret of mistakes made while trying to run ahead of God?
Would you rather your single years be marked by kingdom advancement – spreading the gospel, lifting the hearts of the despairing through service – or by dully jumping between temp jobs and churches hoping to find someone?
Would you rather your counselors and mentors hear bitter and angry words from you, or words of acceptance and seeking, even if they come through tears and gritted teeth?
Would you rather be seen in church with your arms lifted high even in your sadness, or crossed, refusing to honor God until he changes things for you?
Would you rather emerge with your arms full of the knowledge of God’s intimate kindness and strength, or empty, having been given a mate by God’s grace anyway?
Would you rather be worn down from chafing or bowed down from trusting?
Would you rather be remembered as a victor or a victim?
Would you rather the cross be glorified or grumbled at by your life?
I don’t mean any of this as a guilt trip. Please don’t think I’ve been perfect at any of this.
I just know it will be important to me. I know that, should those happy years come for me, I will remember how I walked that valley. I want to be glad of those days. I’m glad for some of them now. As for others…let’s just say that had I a time machine to revisit any season of my choice and slap my younger self over his attitude, I’d have no shortage of candidates. How great the grace of God that covers every missed opportunity to worship.
And how great his offerings for new chances. I have not reached the altar yet, so I still have time to shape how my singleness is remembered. Or better yet, to let God shape it. This clay cries out for a potter.
For no one can lay any other foundation than what has been laid down. That foundation is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on that foundation with gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, or straw, each one’s work will become obvious, for the day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire; the fire will test the quality of each one’s work. If anyone’s work that he has built survives, he will receive a reward. (1 Cor. 3:13)
The fire of memory will come. Jesus, strengthen us to build well upon you this week.
Thanks for swinging by today. If you found this post to be of value, please feel free to share it. Thanks a bunch!
* (My church, for the record, has committed neither error. They’re honestly just not that nosy to begin with.)