By Fern Horst
Whether never-married, widowed or divorced, long-term singleness often comes as a surprise. Because few people expect to remain single or become single, it may take some time before many singles realize that they need to come to terms with their unmarried state. But just as anything we need to come to terms with, the sooner we start the process, the better.
I’d like to introduce you to three characters; though fictitious, they are quite representative of many Christian singles.
Tammy is an attractive and talented woman. At 45 she has never been married. It was deeply ingrained in her that she would grow up, get married, and become a mother. She was taught that God would give her the desires of her heart if she followed Him. She is now angry at God for not holding up His end of the bargain. She is so hurt that she finds it difficult to make any kind of effort to serve Him or to help others. Lately she’s been going out with men who aren’t Christians because she thinks she won’t ever get a Christian man anyway.
George is 31. He was married at 22 to his high school sweetheart. They had three beautiful children by the time they were 30, a big home in a nice neighborhood, and a successful career that would carry them well into the future, including retirement. Life was everything he’d dreamed it would be. That is, until last year, when his wife Lori was killed instantly in an awful automobile accident. Now he can’t imagine living the rest of his life without her and trying to raise three small children alone. He blames God for taking away what was most valuable to him and ruining his life. His friends and family notice that he is becoming more and more withdrawn and recently someone saw him in the local pub.
Heather’s husband abandoned her for another woman when she was 28, after nine years of difficult marriage. She had prayed fervently for the restoration of their marriage, desiring above all else to have a partnership with her husband in the Lord’s service. But instead, she is now a divorced woman. The first two years after Jim left she spent lots of time with the Lord and His Word. Now she feels ready to get involved in something that will help others. She wants to serve the Lord with her life, and do something that will count for eternity. Her friends have noticed that the twinkle has returned to her dark brown eyes and she seems to have an energy she hadn’t had for a long time.
These three fictional characters represent many who find themselves in situations they didn’t want. Deep disappointment and hurt is common to all three of them.
Tammy and George are not at all unusual in their responses to singleness. Given the fact that our society, churches, and families pretty much assume that everyone will marry, not to mention the impact of our own natural God-given desires, it’s certainly not unthinkable that those who find themselves single may struggle immensely with the unfulfillment of their expectations.
At 45 Tammy is now dealing with the finality of the fact that she will never give birth to her own children. Not only is she grieving the loss of being a wife, she is grieving the loss of her role as a mother also. We may wonder how people can grieve the loss of something they never had, but our dreams and hopes are a very real part of us. The realization that they may never come to pass is very much like losing an important part of our lives. George’s and Heather’s losses are more tangible, but no more or less painful than the type which Tammy is experiencing.
The grieving process for someone who is single can sometimes be lifelong. Hopes can be born and dashed repeatedly, and the grieving process repeats itself all over again. There are also stages to the grieving throughout life: grieving that one did not marry at the age others do; grieving that one does not have their spouse still with them at significant events in their lives; grieving that one did not have children when their friends did, or that their children will grow up without their mommy or daddy; grieving that at 30 one is not married, and also at 40, at 54, and at 78; grieving over not having grandchildren when one’s peers do or that one’s spouse isn’t there to enjoy them also; and the list goes on.
At the point of loss each person is faced with a choice: either to resist the acceptance of the loss and gradually become angry and bitter, or to accept the pain and the disappointment and ask God to turn it into something good. When people choose the first path, as Tammy and George did, their lives will keep spiraling downward as they make more and more wrong choices in response to their feelings of disappointment, rejection, and sense of worthlessness.
Heather, on the other hand, reached a point of acceptance, releasing her blame on God for being the party who had hurt her. In studying God’s Word and spending time learning to know Him, she gradually exchanged the lies Satan was hurling at her for the truth. She chose to believe that God is good and that He loves her deeply, even though she was disappointed that He hadn’t done something to make her life what she’d always dreamed it would be. She chose to believe that God had a purpose for her, and that He would work everything together for good if she cooperated with Him. She chose to take risks again in loving others, because she was secure in God’s love and care for her. She was finally confident again that God was for her, and not against her.
These choices aren’t a one-time event for Heather. It will be an ongoing battle between lies and truth, as it will be for Tammy and George. A key choice that Heather made from the very beginning was to deepen her relationship with the Lord and to go to His Word for answers. A close and consistent relationship with the Lord makes it much more certain that we won’t waste our sorrows, and that our grieving can be transformed into a “ministry of suffering”, as someone once referred to it. Suffering opens doors of ministry that we would otherwise never be able to have. But that ministry can’t happen unless we keep close to our Lord so that He can heal our broken hearts and then minister to others through our more enlightened understanding of suffering. Much of the increased difficulty in handling life, such as is evident in Tammy and George, comes about when we have not kept close to Christ, and when we don’t immerse ourselves in His Word. A close relationship with the Lord doesn’t eliminate the suffering, but it does give us a Source of comfort and strength and hope in the only One who can give it to us.
It is always a battle to adopt God’s perspective as our own. There is no way we can if we fill our minds with more of the world’s influence than God’s influence. Do we spend more time watching and looking at the media’s portrayal of people and life, or in studying in depth what God has to say in His written Word? That’s where we find His mind and His heart. Are we committed to finding His perspective enough to work hard at knowing our God and what His perspectives are for every area of our lives?
Satan will always be bombarding us with lies, whispering to us in our weakest moments: “Is it true that God won’t let you have what you so deeply desire, even when He allowed Sally to have everything she wanted?” “You mean God took your spouse away and left you all alone?” Satan did the same thing to Eve: “Did God really say that you couldn’t eat any of the fruit in the garden?” Just as he attempted to make God look like a big old meanie by twisting His one restriction of what they could eat into a very broad restriction, so he does to us in trying to make us think that because God hasn’t given us marriage, or children, or a myriad of other things we may desire, that God is being cruel to us and hasn’t given us anything. Satan wants us to overlook all the many things God has given us, and especially those things we have because we are aren’t married, or don’t have children.
One of the greatest insulators against this type of temptation is gratefulness – focusing with thanksgiving on what we do have, rather than on what we don’t have. Satan’s lies don’t have a chance of bogging us down with resentment when we are being grateful. Resentment and Gratefulness can’t coexist in our hearts, and it’s our choice which one we will allow to make a home there.
No one knows whether they will be a lifelong single or not. The point is, though, to be willing to submit to that (or anything else) if obedience to Him requires it. If we aren’t willing, we will find ourselves in compromising situations where we try to control the outcome, or where we try to get our needs and desires met our own way. The result, of course, is sin. Tammy’s unwillingness to accept singleness caused her to compromise in dating ungodly men. George’s resistance to what God wanted to do through his suffering caused him to turn to alcohol, rather than to the Lord.
We don’t always know what God is asking of us for tomorrow. The key to facing the possibility of a life we hadn’t anticipated is Jesus’ advice in Matthew: “Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” (Matthew 6:34) We need to accept His grace for today. He will give in proportion to what we need for tomorrow, and the next day, and the next. We can’t look at our whole lifetime and figure out how to we will handle it. It is just today we need to make that choice, and perhaps even just this moment.
When we come to the place of full surrender of our lives to the Lord is when our hearts begin to heal from life’s hurts, just as Heather’s did. Whatever we go through in life, for whatever reason, He has promised to be enough, and He has promised to give life abundantly. Are we willing to trust Him with our lives even if that means our dreams will never be realized? Many find that when they do, their hearts began to heal from the broken relationships of the past, and the pain they feel over the disappointment in their lives begins to dissipate. Sometimes that pain returns for a visit, and when it does it’s important to recognize that much of the pain comes from our wrong perspective: we’ve once again begun to doubt that God loves us and is enough for us, and that because of Him life can be full and complete.
Our true comfort lies not in knowing why God allows something, but in knowing that He has promised to be with me us in it and to work it all together for good to conform us to the likeness of His Son, Jesus (Romans 8:28, 29).
“We’ll understand it all bye and bye,” says an old song. But meanwhile, we focus on Christ and live obediently and faithfully for Him.