When I was in college, the single girls in my dorm had nicknames for Valentine’s Day. The pessimistic ones called it S.A.D., which stood for Singleness Awareness Day. Optimists like me preferred to call it Independence Day.
In college, and then in grad school, I thought it was only a matter of time before I met the man I would marry. However, here I am at the age of 35, still single. I have lots of friends who are single, too, wondering if and when they’ll ever get married. They watch shows like Say Yes to the Dress and Platinum Wedding, longing for the day when they’ll get to walk down the aisle to the strains of Here Comes The Bride.
One of my best friends got married right after we finished college, and now has three children. She was recently mourning that her middle child can’t stand vegetables, and it’s a challenge to get him to eat them. This week we were talking about a study I recently discovered.
The study said that children’s aversion to vegetables is an ancient instinct that kept children from eating poisonous plants in their environment. The study also said that while infants are born with that instinct, as they mature they deepen their relationship with their parents, and come to trust that the greens their parents set in front of them are not poisonous but nutritious, and much more preferable than the bland carbohydrates they’re used to eating.
This week the country is celebrating Valentine’s Day, and it reminds me of all my friends who are still single. Out of all of them, I only know a few who actually enjoy being single.
Most of the women I know mourn the loneliness, the lack of physical touch, the empty half of the bed, and the “table for one, please” that come with being single. I know from experience how easy it is to live as a lady in waiting — waiting for a man to come along and rescue you from the boredom and loneliness of life, waiting for a man to validate you as an adult, waiting for a relationship to unlock the door to opportunities like church leadership, full-time ministry, entrepreneurship, foster care, financial stability or international travel.
I know many women whose prayers mainly consist of praying for God to bring them a spouse, and whose waking thoughts often wander into the injustice and unfairness of singleness. They wonder if God really knows how much they long for a husband and a family. They keep telling God that if He’ll only grant them a mate, then they’ll be content and more able to obey.
But the Bible — and most of church history — affirms the benefits of being single. Paul says it’s preferable because you can travel lightly and give yourself more fully to ministry. Valentine’s Day itself was named after a saint who was single, and was martyred for his faith on February 14th, 270 A.D.
Teresa of Avila, Dorothy Day, Mother Teresa, Corrie ten Boom and Amy Carmichael are other examples of what God can do with single women. I’m sure these women had many friends who got married and had children, who had their domestic dreams fulfilled, whose lives seemed “better” than the singles’ lives at the time. But those married contemporaries have faded into anonymity while the women who were “deprived” of marriage actually thrived and made a significant impact in the world — not in spite of their singleness but likely because of it.
To be sure, marriage is a gift that God gives to many people to reflect the reality of Christ’s love for His church. But singleness is a gift, too. Arguably, a greater gift.
When we focus on what we’re missing, when we are more aware of the absence of a man’s presence rather than focusing on the presence of Christ in our lives, when we put our lives on hold and wait for Prince Charming to come along, we miss out on the opportunities God’s giving us.
It’s as if we’re holding onto our familiar, simple, empty-calorie carbs rather than enjoying the bountiful organic salad God’s given us. Why? Because we have yet to trust that He is a loving parent who gives us the most nutritious food available. Because we hold onto our immature, culture-influenced instincts that say that what God has for us is a poisonous weed rather than a healthy meal that will constantly renew our souls.
The bottom line is that God promises perfect provision to those who surrender their lives to His goodness and sovereignty, and we can trust Him. A short walk down the aisle wearing a white dress is nothing compared to a lifetime of walking with Jesus.
*Note: this piece was first published by Sojourners.