I’ve never related to a line in a sitcom more than I did to a scene in the Dick van Dyke show. Main character Laura (Mary Tyler Moore) is talking with her husband, Rob (van Dyke) about feeling sorry for his co-worker Sally (Rose Marie) who is spending her birthday alone.
“I’d hate to have to go home alone like Sally to a big, empty apartment and spend my birthday washing, ironing, and crying,” Laura says.
Rob pushes back. “She’s not a crier.”
Laura delivered the punch to my gut. “Now you men don’t seem to realize that when a woman reaches a certain age and is unmarried, every birthday becomes a milestone. And every milestone is a millstone.”
As the kids say these days: “rekt!”
Until recently, the wedding invitations and baby gender reveal posts on Facebook had me stating glibly how thankful I was to be single. “I’m content,” I said, and when talking with people about marriage, adding sagaciously. “I’m just thankful to have so much freedom to do what I want to do and when.”
Then one night, I blurted out to God in lowness of heart, “I’m unhappy being single.”
How freeing to admit it, and work through a cocoon of half-truths — the gratitude platitude — that I use to portray myself as a better Christian than I am.
It can be slightly dangerous to admit singleness can feel like suffering. Unfortunately, the church can play identity politics as good as the world. In the past, and even in many congregations today, single people feel the need to move from the burdened state of singleness into the Blessed Realm™ of matrimony.
Singles don’t want such an admission of unhappiness to be met with pity or misplaced encouragement to be grateful for our freedom. Many singles I know appreciate the opportunities for ministry, hobbies and community involvement. Our struggles in singleness are not identical any more than our wishes and dreams are.
I don’t feel incomplete being unmarried. I don’t expect marriage to be blissfully easy either.
Singleness is no more the Blessed Realm™ than marriage is. Each season of life has its joys and its difficulties. God uses both to teach us and sanctify us. Sure, I am afraid of dying alone if I never marry, but dying alone happens every day in my life. It’s not easy having our personal wants and wishes cut away and denying self and learning obedience.
When I finally admitted to God that I had some unhappy emotions with my singleness that day, I realized I now can offer my struggles and sacrifice as a gift of obedience and not just my situation.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.James 1:2-4 (ESV)
Obedience is more than just saying “no” to sexual activity that only belongs in marriage or saying “no” to envy of those in relationships or even to despair. Obedience isn’t pretending that nothing is wrong. That’s denial.
Obedience within this suffering is learning to say “yes.”
“Yes” to gratitude; being thankful for difficulties that bring me closer to my savior. Jesus knew ultimate loneliness when He hung on the cross for my sins. I will never be forsaken by God the Father, and that is something I can be thankful for.
Saying “yes” to faith. Sometimes I wonder if my suffering and obedience will be rewarded. Not that I mope around in my singleness hoping that it will earn me crowns in heaven but continuing to trust in God’s ultimate plan. Continuing to have an eternal perspective in view. That even though I have these struggles on earth, they do not have to define me. That I am wedded to the perfect Bridegroom upon whom I wait for his appearing.
Saying “yes” to hope. Not just hope that someday my prince will come in this life, though that would be nice. But if that is the hope that I am saying yes to, what about those that may not have that privilege – believers with same-sex attraction who are called to celibacy. The widowed who believe they won’t marry again or the divorcees who may believe they can’t.
Instead our hope is in something more than a fleeting marital status of this life. It is the hope that we will one day we will no longer be in the burdened state of fallen mortality and daily dying to self but will have entered the blessed realm of immortality, where all tears will be washed away.
Choosing not to live in denial means I get to live in faith — that all this will work together for my good and ultimately His glory.
And that’s no millstone at all.
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.