My left ring finger is empty. It’s not bare: a freckle marks the spot where a ring might sit. But nothing winds around it as a reminder of a lifelong promise. Because I’ve never stood before God and these witnesses and promised forever to another human.
Our marital status is a huge piece of our earthly identity. Nearly every passport form, visa document, or work permit application asks us to check a box that puts us in a category, as if we don’t already know what box we fit in. Our sending organizations, churches, and small groups often follow the same categorizing system. It’s an identify we cannot escape.
Some people look on singles with envy—mostly because of one word: freedom. And it’s true. I can choose where I go on vacation, I can eat all of my own French fries at McDonalds, and I don’t have to hang mounted deer heads in my living room. It’s wonderful.
But I don’t know many young women who daydream of a life alone. I get a lump in my throat when I think of growing old alone; I long for the consistency of one committed person in my life, and I feel poignantly alone when needing to weigh a big decision. The words single and alone are synonyms. And it stinks.
Both Free and Alone. Few things in my life have brought both sides of this coin straight to the surface quite like moving overseas. Freedom? For sure. The work I am doing now had been a long dream of mine and it was infinitely easier for me to pick up my life and move far, far away than it would have been with a husband and kids. And alone? Oh my goodness, I’ve known alone in deeper levels than I ever wished for.
So, this identity in a season of displacement pushes me to ask questions.
Question 1: What is my singleness for?
I am well acquainted with what singleness is, but what’s it for? The Apostle Paul gives us most of Scripture’s commentary on singleness, and it seems to be wrapped up in this idea: singleness gives freedom to be more fully available for God’s work and for God’s working, in his words: “To promote good order and to secure your undivided attention to the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:35). In her book Let Me Be a Woman, Elisabeth Elliot writes: “It is within the sphere of circumstances He chooses for us – single, married, widowed – that we receive Him. It is there and nowhere else that He makes Himself known to us. It is there we are allowed to serve Him.” This is an avenue that God is using to reveal himself to me.
Question 2: How can I steward this gift?
This has become a big question to me. Paul also boldly labels singleness as a gift, and many-a-day I’ve wished to box up this gift and return-to-sender. But somehow, it’s mine. And just like any gift, it’s to be stewarded. The easiest answer to this question is making a list of who I can serve, how I can use my gifts for the good the body. That’s a good answer, but it’s also incomplete. Part of my stewardship of this sometimes unwanted gift is using it to learn a deeper communion with Jesus. Since I have no one else to talk to while I drink my morning coffee, I steward this well by communing with Him. Since I have no children of my own, I steward this gift well by mothering those God’s placed in my path. I steward it well by making an investment in my own growth for the glory of God and the good of others.
Question 3: How can I healthily grieve?
I can sit and list the positives all day long, but I’d be remiss to skip over how singleness also gifts me with many unmet longings. I may never have the gift of a soulmate. We often hear that the highest calling for a woman is motherhood, and I may never know that title. Holidays, birthdays, baby showers, and weddings can all carry a hint of sadness. And sometimes I don’t know where to go with that grief. I have to battle 1,000 feelings of “you’re so desperate” to admit that singleness stinks sometimes. I’m learning that’s it’s ok to be honest. I’m also learning that there are some places where that honesty is welcomed and understood, and other places where it makes people nervous. Of course, the best place to take your grief is to the hand of Christ, but he has also given us His body, which includes many people who are willing to enter your grief.
I love how The Message words 1 Corinthians 7:17. Smack dab in the middle of Paul’s commentary on marriage, he gives us this truth for both married and single: “Don’t be wishing you were someplace else or with someone else. Where you are right now is God’s place for you. Live and Obey and Love and Believe right there. God, not your marital status, defines your life.” [emphasis mine]
Check out the four action verbs: Live, and obey, and love and believe right there.
The single life gifts you with both being free and alone. But far beyond that, it’s an avenue God uses to do what He loves to do: reveal Himself to His people.
Live and believe and love and obey right there.
What questions about singleness has your season of displacement forced you to ask? What avenues have you found helpful to both celebrate and grieve?