Growing up, some kids wanted to be firefighters or doctors or zookeepers; all I wanted was to have my own family. As a 14-year-old freshman, I made my plan: date in high school, date seriously in college, marry right after graduation, five years just us, first child at 28. But there was a snag you see: no one would go out with me. Contrary to my plan, I had zero girlfriends in high school, then zero in college. My first serious relationship, at age 23, ended after two months when she cheated on me and then dumped me.
As the years wore on, my timeline completely blown, sometimes people talked to me about the so-called “gift of singleness”. Sometime I raged against God. In the end, though, I finally figured it out. If that is you today— waking up every day praying, hopeful; going to bed every night exhausted, discouraged, alone yet again— I am here to tell you that there is an answer, there is hope, there is a way through. You can find it too.
Not having the “gift of singleness”
In Christianese, we have a term— “the gift of singleness”— which imagines a person, spiritually equipped for happiness through focus solely on God and his kingdom, unburdened by the need for significant human relationship. Let’s just say: as a person with a deep heart craving for marriage, that term was often a source of pain to me.
For one thing, like many pieces of supposedly “Christian wisdom”, it’s unbiblical. The closest you find is Paul’s encouragement to “remain as I am“, which is simply advice, unrelated to any sort of spiritual gifting. In the “gift of singleness” concept, there’s the slightly smug implication that love, marriage, and relationship are for those who couldn’t make the “A” grade of God’s sufficiency. In fact, while Paul does talk about the advantages of the single life, those who desire marriage have nothing to apologize for when it comes to scripture:
- “He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord.” (Proverbs 18:22)
- “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.'” (Genesis 2:18)
- “Two are better than one…” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)
Raging against God
It’s easy to talk about the years going by, but it’s really the days that will get you. In our society, there is so much promise of quick-and-casual relationship that it is easy to wake up every morning thinking that, by nightfall, maybe my situation will have completely changed for the better. By tonight, maybe somebody will love me. And days keep going by like that, one after another after another, for thousands of days in a row. Proverbs says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick,” and that is how I felt.
I kept watching other people have what I wanted, and it just started to seem vindictive and personal. I began to get so angry at God, and I often prayed the words of Psalm 44: “But now you have rejected and humbled us; you sold your people for a pittance, gaining nothing from their sale.”
During all of this, my lifeline was music. Sometimes it was Jewel’s “You Were Meant for Me“. Sometimes it was Alanis Morissette. In particular, almost every day, I replayed a song from Stephen Sondheim’s Into The Woods called “No More”**:
No more giants, waging war.
Can’t we just pursue our lives, with our children and our wives?
‘Til that happy day arrives, how do you ignore
All the witches, all the curses,
All the wolves, all the lies, the false hopes, the good-byes, the reverses…
All the wondering what even worse is still in store!
All the children.
All the giants.
** (They left it out of the recent movie version; I was devastated.)
I had a mid-life crisis when I hit age 25 still single— a “quarter century” felt so old— and my biggest question was, “Can I survive this?” The music helped me know that someone else had felt what I faced, and had found a way through to the other side.
Making Peace with God
In prayer as in life, you may often feel there’s no answer if the only answers that “count” are the ones you’ve already decided on
At age 28, I finally thought I had met “The One”. But, after nine months, it fell apart just like all the others, and I finally said, “I give up.” By now, I was supposed to have a over decade of learning how to love. By now, we were supposed to be starting a family. I had tried everything I knew, I had prayed every prayer I could think of, and nothing was making it happen. And for the first time in my life, I had to face the question, “What if this doesn’t happen?” For the first time in my life, I starting looking for outside help. I became willing to adjust my perspective instead of insisting that the world adjust my situation.
I went through a year of therapy, and two years of a twelve-step recovery program for what is called, “SLA” (sex/love addiction). I realized that, in prayer as in life, you may often feel there’s no answer if the only answers that “count” are the ones you’ve already decided on. As in the line from The King’s Speech, if you’re waiting for God to comply with your instructions, “you will wait a long wait.”
All along, I had felt like nothing was working, because to me, “working” meant “making God hurry up.” But the truth is that God will do what God is going to do. That insight is embedded in the very name of God. So if God has a spouse for me out there somewhere, he will bring her into my life if and when it suits him. The only point at which I had any control over the situation was: how to redeem the time until then.
For the first time, I began allowing people to meet some of my needs without insisting they meet them all. I started to think, “What do I enjoy? Why don’t I do that?” I did a triathlon. I started writing. I began volunteering with kids at church. I became a big brother. I quit my job and spent a year teaching dance lessons.
By age 33, I finally started to feel like I had it figured out. I was letting myself enjoy my life for the first time, accepting what was instead of pining for what was not. I was happy. I found peace.
That year I met my wife; we’ve been married 10 years now. Could I have met her earlier? Sure. But would I ever have had those experiences, and learned those lessons? Would I ever have become the man God intended me to be? I’m pretty sure the answer, to all of the above, is “no”.