Prolonged singleness can seem like the magic of being sawn in half without obvious wound.
It is like a cut that hurts but does not bleed. It is like falling from a great height without only internal injuries. Prolonged singleness is a loss that is not a loss, and thus it is a pain that we are not allowed 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?”
The questions are the seeds of frustration that only deepen over time. Time marches on, and we battle not only the loss of hope but also the loss of “what might have been.” Because, to marry now is almost certainly to never have a marriage of fifty or forty or thirty years in which memories on memories are stacked and stowed away for rainy days.
It means never having the husband or wife of our youth because our youth is behind us. It 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, cannot be weighed, cannot be measured, scanned, or sorted and 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 it is the ambiguity of the situation that makes this process so 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” meant finishing the race in whatever state God gives me—even 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.
There are greater truths than the burden of our 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.
Boss wrote, “The uncertainty prevents people from adjusting to the ambiguity of their loss by reorganizing the roles and rules of their relationships. …” Not knowing whether we will be married tomorrow, next year, or ever, can paralyze. We must reorganize the roles and rules of our relationships in order that our hunger does not make us ravenous wolves. But the uncertainty leaves us confused. We must reorganize the roles and rules of our relationships so that, as singles, we return to our sense of worth in 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, 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 immune but I define my relationships on the basis of the greater love in Christ and build friendships because they are worth their weight in gold.
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 winter, 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 longing can seem like a swarm sometimes. Yet we cannot live for what might be 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).