If you are reading this blog post and you’re single, here’s the first choice you have to make as you move forward in your life: will you let the absence of a partner drive you to inertia and bitterness, or will you embrace this seeming limitation and let it open up new avenues of creativity and service?
Here’s the deal. Almost every invention we have today exists because someone needed something they couldn’t find. Benjamin Franklin wanted to understand and use electicity, but no one had figured it out yet. The Wright brothers wanted to fly like birds could, but how could a human being aviate like that? The list of people like them is endless — Marie Curie, Thomas Edison, Booker T. Washington, Guttenberg, Eli Whitney………
Instead of giving up because they couldn’t find what they needed, these inventors got to work using the tools they had available to them, and created something new. Hence the phrase, “Necessity is the mother of invention.”
We like the people who didn’t take no for an answer. We like the Thomas Edison’s who tried thousands of times until they finally succeeded in an experiment. We like tales of persistence in spite of failures and obstacles.
When it comes to being single, we like the people who did crazy things with their freedom. We love to tell stories of Corrie ten Boom and Amy Carmichael and Deitrich Boenhoffer — why? Because they could have decided that because they weren’t married, they had to wait until they had a partner before they could move forward. They could’ve gotten discouraged because they didn’t have what everyone else did.
Instead, like the inventors, these single people got to work and created something beautiful. Instead of mourning what was missing, they made magic out of what they had.
The question is — as single people who, like inventors and single saints seem to lack something important — will we let our limitations drive us to inertia and bitterness? Or will we embrace what we have right now, and create a unique and powerful story that’s never been told before?
Let’s say that singleness gives us a need to find a meaningful life outside of the traditional “spouse and kids” we were expecting. If that’s our necessity, what’s our invention?
One of my favorite inspirations from the Bible is Anna, the woman at the temple who got to hold Jesus 8 days after he was born. There are only three verses about her (Luke 2:36-38), but these few words give us an incredible picture of this woman.
She was married for seven years, and then her husband died. When she gets to hold Jesus, she is “very old,” according to the narrative, and has never left the temple, worshiping day and night, fasting and praying.
In that society, widows had limited options because there were no jobs that women could work to support themselves. So they went to live with their children or with male relatives who would take them in.
Reading between the lines, I think that Anna ended up at the temple after her husband died simply because she had nowhere else to go. I think the temple was the only safe shelter she could think of, and so she fled to it, and maybe even slept in the doorway the night of her husband’s funeral.
In the morning, Anna had two options to choose from. She could stay outside the temple as a beggar, asking everyone to donate alms to this poor, optionless widow. Or, she could go inside the temple gates to worship and fast and pray.
The narrative tells us that Anna went in, that she stayed in, that she was a wise prophetess, that she never stopped worshiping.
Anna’s limitations — namely, being a widow in a society that had no place for widows — led her to a unique life of dedication, a life she would not have had if her husband had lived and they’d had kids and their life was the same as every other family in their town.
And when Jesus shows up at the temple, it’s Anna who gets to hold him first. It’s Anna whose life is mentioned in this story, not the other dozens of housewives in the town whose lives went exactly as they’d planned.
I think we have so much to learn from this woman. Because we all want to look back on our lives and have an amazing story to tell about grace. But none of us wants to live that story in the moment. None of us wants to need grace that desperately, to cling to Jesus because there are simply no other options left.
It boils down to this. If you’re single and your life isn’t going as you’d planned, you have a choice to make. You can stay outside the temple of life, refusing to go forward until God changes his mind and gives you a partner. You can become bitter and feel like God and other people owe you for the suffering you’re experiencing.
Or, you can go inside. You can not only accept, but embrace, the fact that you do not share your life with a partner. And you can let that seeming limitation lead you to a unique life of service and dedication and joy.
Years from now, you will look back at this season of your life, and you will either regret the fact that you let your sense of loss paralyze you and make you stagnant and bitter. Or, you can reflect on an amazing story of grace that happened because you chose to embrace the place you were in, and you can marvel at the depth of wisdom and joy you now have because you never stopped worshiping and serving and praying.
Just remember — you know that story you will one day tell about your life?
You’re living a chapter of it right now.
You’re writing a page of the narrative today.
Let’s say singleness is your necessity.
What crazy, creative life will you invent?