Sometimes singleness is just miserable.
I went to a women’s retreat with some teammates and was so uplifted by the week.
But then we came home.
While my teammates returned to children running to meet them, kisses from their adoring husbands, dinner on the table, and banners across the doorway saying “Welcome Home!,” my roommate and I walked into our dark, dusty, lonely house. We flipped the lights on and dropped the bags that we had lugged inside by ourselves.
“Well, we’re home.”
I felt my singleness. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to go through the rest of my life like this – going on long, arduous journeys only to return to an empty house. There would be no meals prepared, no help with my bags, and no ear to listen to my tales. I was looking at a future without welcome banners.
I was daily reminded of my singleness.
Whether it was my neighbors asking why I was unmarried, my employers suggesting that I marry soon, my mentors promising that the perfect man would come along, or my relatives asking if I have ever considered marriage, I was constantly reminded that, despite fruitful ministry and spiritual growth, I had still not met this gold standard of marriage.
I just wanted to be content with being single without being lonely. I wanted to talk about my future without the limitations of romantic prospects. I wanted to recognize myself apart from my relationship status.
Then everything changed for me.
I had gone on another long trip, but now I was returning to a new home. I moved in with a family of fourteen in a neighborhood full of people who might as well have also lived with us.
I journeyed alone, crammed in a 15-passenger van with far more than fifteen passengers, far less than fifteen cushions, and at least one very rowdy chicken at my back. Beneath my feet and strapped to the top of the van were pounds upon pounds of corn, cassava, and peanuts from my family’s rural farm that I had been assigned to transport into the city.
When the van finally made it to my stop it was pitch black outside and I was two blocks away from my house. “Ugh,” I groaned, “I am going to have to carry all of this all the way home all by myself in the dark.”
I forced my way out from the belly of the bus and started reaching for my sacks, only to see them floating away on the heads of my neighbors who awaited me. They gathered all of my things and walked me to my house where a meal was waiting at my door. They unpacked my bags while I ate and we all gathered around the fire to share the stories we had missed over the week. I was welcome, I was part of something, and I felt far from single.
To love and be loved requires no vows or blood relation.
Sharing in riches and poverty does not necessitate a joint bank account. It takes no rings to be present in sickness and health. There is no license for cherishing.
But it absolutely requires your whole heart, mind, body, and soul – and probably your blood, sweat, and tears too. Community is the gift that keeps on giving and taking. To love is to cook for your neighbor’s kid and keep your cool when they steal your last plate. To be loved is to be tackled by hugs and served bewilderingly large helpings of rice and beans.
Marriage is a great image of God’s love, but it’s narrow. It could only be God’s joy that I felt when my little neighbor read her first word with me. Don’t you know I understood God’s grace when I dropped all of my host sister’s wet laundry in the dirt and she didn’t kill me? The love that sustains the cosmos is certainly not exclusive to the bounds of the nuclear family.
You may continue to pray that I will find a husband and dream with me about my latest infatuation. You may email me the blog posts about how it’s better to be single or tell me how many men are missing out. I know you mean well.
But I would prefer you pray for my undying commitment to community. I long for our conversations to be about those people who have, in this beautiful present moment, completely consumed my heart. I wish to see my inbox full of articles on falling in love with God’s vision for the world. I hope you’ll encourage me by saying, “It’s a blessing to be with you,” or, “God is really teaching you in this way,” or, “You have amazing hair!”
Because my identity is not lodged in what I do not have. Who I am streams from divine abundance. My goal in life is not only to meet a societal standard for love. I want to fall in love with a God who long after death will refuse to part. And I want to give my heart to the people who carry the image of that Love.
How is your community embodying God’s love for you? How are you seeking out opportunities to embody that love for others? What hinders you?