“They sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.” Job 2:13
The trouble for the beleaguered single is that their specter is ephemeral—it lacks substance, lacks shape, and lacks form. It is a shadow, a longing and an expectation fueled by desire and sustained by hope. It is as difficult for the single to explain their sorrow as it is for some of our comforters to understand. It is a loss that is not a loss, an ambiguous loss.
I found myself suffering from heartbreak several years ago while working in ministry, but pressed on. The wife of another leader with whom I worked had a miscarriage; he took some time off. I was miserable, hurting, and wounded; my smile was pained and unconvincing. It was obvious that I was not all there. I was rebuked for my “unwillingness to die to self.” while my colleague was comforted in his loss.
I took the rebuke and pondered the truthfulness of the charge. I wondered what it is to die to self and what it is to mourn. Are the expectations different for those in ministry? Are the expectations different for the single Christian? To smile and pretend all was well seemed hypocritical to me. But wearing my heart on my sleeve may have been equally inappropriate.
If someone says, “You cannot compare the death of a child to a heartbreak,” I say, “Yes you can.” True, they are not the same, not equal, not close in measure, but they can feel the same—like death. The important thing is not the category, but the reality of suffering. Each person has his or her moment of deep sorrow, and each person suffers differently. I didn’t feel I could share exactly what the issue was, because I had the sense that my suffering would appear trivial. I’m sure I too would mourn a miscarriage more than a heartbreak, but I didn’t suffer a miscarriage. I suffered a heartbreak, and the pain was very real. The pain was very deep, very profound, and very crippling. But it was a loss that was not a loss, an ambiguous loss.
Pauline Boss wrote, “…meaningful connections can’t happen if people in the community never validate ambiguous loss as a traumatic loss” (79). That is inescapably true. Singles do not want special treatment. They want equal treatment. They want someone to acknowledge that, while mothers have many problems to deal with, the hearts of single women also need care. Yes, many married women muse that single women are “lucky,” but many single women crave that “burden” of children.
Ambiguous loss can isolate people. It not only isolates singles from singles, but singles from married in the church. This is true because we are all so prone to see our problems as great and the pains of others as trivial. That’s why it is easy to say, “Snap out of it!” or “You need to die to self.” It all seems so easy from the other side. There is the miscarriage of a child to consider, but what about the miscarriage of the hope for a child? What about the death of dreams?
It feels like being kicked in the stomach to be treated as though we are children weeping about bruised knees when our hearts are breaking, when our dreams are dying. A kiss will not make all things better, but a little sympathy will go a long way. A little empathy could heal.
I often pray to God, “Lord, I know I have no idea what I am asking for, but give me a wife.” I am aware that “those who marry will face many troubles in this life” (1Cor. 7:28), but there are joys in marriage as well. It would be one thing if the longing of singleness was pain free, but it is not. The joy of singleness is tinged by the longing, just as the wonder of marriage is marred by the sinfulness of both partners. None of us is exempt.
What the single asks of their counselors is some sympathy: not answers and not rebuke. Be like Job’s counselors in the first seven days of their visit. It was a remarkable tale of compassion and love—until they opened their mouths.
We are told that when they “heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him.” Please meet by agreement and come sympathize with us. Come comfort us.
“When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was” (Job 2:11-13).
We are all wounded—married and single alike. We are all in need. But sometimes when we stretch out our hand, it is rebuffed as though what we ask is too great. It is not. We have a need to mature; but there are many immature husbands and wives. What we ask is reasonable. Our wounds are real, and our sorrow legitimate. Come and for once, say not a word, but simply see how great our suffering is.
We know that the single life provides opportunities. We know that we have more time and freedom. We know that God loves us. We know! WE KNOW! Now sit with us. Quietly allow us to mourn. If you are wired in such a way that empathy comes easily, mourn with us. Weep with us. Some of my dearest friends have shed tears, not for their pain, but for mine. In cases of deep empathy, the ambiguity of loss drew us closer.
Ambiguous loss can isolate us, and our counselors’ insensitivity can drive us further into our shells. Of course, we may occasionally need rebuke. We may OFTEN need rebuke. But let that rebuke come AFTER the seven days of sitting with us, quietly showing that you understand how great our suffering is. We will do the same for you, because we are all suffering in one way or another. We all need good counselors who can sit with us and just be.
If you suffer the discomfort of finding you do not know what to say—say nothing. It’s okay. If you find yourself powerless to change the situation—just be. Inestimable is the power of a sympathetic look, a hug, or silence. Who knows what tomorrow will hold? Perhaps all the simple answers are true. It is not that we don’t need to hear them; it is just that sometimes we need a hug more than an answer. Sometimes we need silence more than words.
Oh yes, while we may tire of hearing it, deep down, we need to hear that we are valuable and—a “good catch.” Oh, we will fuss. It may be hard to hear if “being a good catch” has not paid off. Gentle words spoken in love can be like rain on dry ground—it takes time to soak in. Speak life to us after your silence has softened our hearts. And if it appears that we have neither heard nor listened, be assured—it is not true. We both hear and listen.
This article first appeared on www.Crosswalk.com/singles — Wednesday, November 05, 2008