Prolonged singleness can seem like the magic of being sawn in half with no obvious wounds. It is like a cut that hurts, but does not bleed. It is like falling from a great height with only internal injuries. Prolonged singleness is a loss that is not a loss, a pain society will not allow us to feel or mourn.
Here, in the ‘tween’ time, we who are single must face the difficult task of resting and hoping, of contentment tinged with dissatisfaction. What seeks to unearth us is the uncertainty of our situation. Life seems to involve few answers and a multitude of questions. We stand on a Rock that is Christ, but our fears, howling with the wind, cry out:
“Will I ever be married (again)?”
“Does God WANT me to marry?”
“Is God punishing me for my past?”
“Should I wait for so-and-so or should I move on?”
“Should I just settle for anyone?”
“Are my standards too high?”
“Am I already too old?”
And the most brutal of all…
“WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME?!!”
These questions are the seeds of frustration that only multiply over time. As the years go by, we battle not only the loss of hope, but also the loss of “what might have been.” To marry late is almost certainly to forfeit a marriage of fifty or forty or thirty years.
Prolonged singleness means never having the husband or wife of our youth, because our youth is behind us. It often means giving up some dreams like children of our own. It is a loss as any loss, and perhaps more perplexing for its very ambiguity—it is a loss that is not a loss.
It does not count as a loss because it cannot be tallied, weighed, measured, scanned, or sorted—yet it is real. Somewhere in the heart of each of us the future is as real as the present and the past. We each live life purposed towards things that are as yet—not REAL! For those living in prolonged singleness, each year seems to steal from a storehouse of hopes and dreams of what might have been.
Ambiguous loss stems from the uncertainty of the loss, the uncertainty that accompanies a traumatic event that has no closure. Pauline Boss, the author of Ambiguous Loss, wrote, “Most people need the concrete experience of seeing the body of a loved one who has died because it makes the loss real” (26). It seems that our dreams have died, but where is the body? We have no closure because, while we live, hope still exists.
The single suffers a real dying of sorts: a real hoped for life that, in dying, must be mourned. But the ambiguity of the situation makes this process difficult. We dare not be premature in making the funeral arrangements. We dare not prepare the eulogy while hope exists. Yet life is lived perilously, if it is lived in the in-between—in that gap between what is real and what is hoped for.
The hard thing is to move on, to accept with joy the place in which life finds us, and to accept that God is still with us, still blessing us. But being told to “move on” feels like giving up, and I cannot give up while my desire exists. “Move on” feels like surrender, and I am a fighter. But, what if “moving on” means finishing the race in whatever state God gives me—even finishing with a limp? What if it means running alone and hoping another committed soul joins me along the way? This I can do. This I am doing.
We face issues larger than the burden of singleness. Even the married must reconcile the demise of dreams and come to stand on that which is certain. If we seek relationships for love, there is the ultimate love of God. If we seek relationships for companionship, then there is the extended family of God. If we seek relationships for children, then there are the orphans of the world. But each of these, while good, is no substitute for the real longing. What our heart craves cannot be dismissed, masked, or replaced, but perhaps we can learn to live and thrive even in the midst of the loss.
Sometimes emotional paralysis accompanies ambiguity. We must reorganize the roles and rules of our relationships in order that our hunger does not make us ravenous wolves. We must reorganize the roles and rules of our relationships and confess that life is worth living. Life is always worth living.
I do not like to think that I “bear the burden of singleness,” as though it were a scar or a curse. Rather, I walk the path of singleness. My role in the community, in life, is determined by the call from God to love Him, to love my neighbor, and to consider others as better than myself. While these are the qualities that make a good husband, that make a good wife, I pursue them because they benefit me as a single—because they are good.
My relationships are not determined by my singleness. I do not approach every woman, first, on the basis of her availability, but under the command to “love one another.” I do not reject the company of those who are not “possibilities.” I am not perfect, but I seek to define relationships according to the greater love in Christ. I build friendships because friendships are valuable.
Given the sorrow I sometimes feel, I take God’s promise to heart. With all the years gone by, and the feeling that my spring has turned to summer, and summer to autumn, I cling to His words, “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten—the great locust and the young locust, the other locusts and the locust swarm” (Joel 2:25). The years of longing can strip us bare, leave us empty. Yet we cannot live simply for tomorrow. We don’t know His mind completely. We know only that He loves us and will bless us. What form that blessing will take we are not told. What we have is today: a today filled with flowers, and rainbows, waterfalls, kittens, and so many people in need of love.
Today’s certainty is found in the One who is pure of heart, who calls us saying, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). I am weary, but cannot relinquish hope. I am burdened and long for rest. So, I will go to Him and sit quietly near Him, my tears wetting his feet. My comfort is knowing that He is, “gentle and humble in heart.” There I will find rest for my weary soul. Of this, I am certain; for He says, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:30).
There is comfort at his feet for those of us who have been sawn in two, comfort there for the bruised and battered. Prolonged singleness is that wound that leaves no mark, but He knows. He knows and He cares. Go to Him.
This article was first published on Crosswalk.com Tuesday, October 21, 2008.