Questions From a Single Nomad

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? 

We’ve put together a toolkit of resources to encourage and equip you for your re-entry journey! Check it out today!

4 Comments

  1. Kristen May 21, 2019

    Everything about this post is “Yes! 100% there with you.” Thank you for sharing it!

    One time, God said to me, “Will you still love me if I don’t give you a husband?”

    Not, “serve me” or “worship me”- “love me”. The vulnerability of the God of the universe saying that to me still leaves me speechless.

  2. Jody May 22, 2019

    Thanks, Maria. I agree with Kristen – well put! I am also there with you. Undoubtedly further down the road as far as life stage. I never would have chosen to be still single at 55. An old maid missionary, I joke. Funny. Not funny. I would have never have chosen this life and at the exact same time, I wouldn’t trade it. LIke you, the big decisions sometimes still send me into “I can’t believe I still have to make these decisions alone, Lord!” And, exactly that – they send me right to the Father because ultimately, I am NOT ALONE! He’s also brought great community around me and has always placed me where I have families to be a part of, children to love on and be loved in return. I have never seen The Message translation of 1 Cor 7:17. It touched me deeply. Thanks for your vulnerability in this piece. I was blessed.

  3. Hannah May 22, 2019

    I’ve heard God ask, ‘what if it’s just me and you the whole way? is that ok?’. It took me a long time to be able to answer ‘yes’ without a frog in my throat, but sometimes the frog still comes back. Some days are easier to be ok with it than others. I could not agree more with the need to grieve and be honest with God about how we feel. Afterall, He already knows and better to vent to the one person who completely understands and can actually do something about it, than sometimes tiring efforts to convince people that this is a valid pain. I have also been reminded in these moments of grief to ‘grieve the right thing’. Get to the root of why this is sad, what is it ultimately that we fear, what is it really a longing for? Grieving the right thing allows us to see more clearly when God answers with comfort and redemption.

  4. Jenny May 22, 2019

    Beautiful post. Several of the single women in our org recently read Barry Danylak’s Redeeming Singleness: How the Storyline of Scripture Affirms the Single Life. It’s a biblical theology of singleness. It’s not an easy read, but worth every ounce of effort. It was wonderful to read as a group (both for accountability and sharing what we learned).

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