The Good Unwanted Gift of Singleness
I wanted an MRS degree. Instead, I got a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science.
I was never the girl who dreamed about getting married. I entered college single, and ready to take on the world. I had Christ, I was getting a good education, and I was content. Desires for a family lived somewhere out in the land of my thirties.
At some point in my college years, childhood friends began getting engaged, married, and then pregnant. Very quickly, “it is not good for man to be alone” started sounding like me, too.
One morning, I scrolled across a post that yet another friend had gotten engaged. She was a good friend, and I was happy for her. I started to cry. I realized, though, that the tears welling up in my eyes were not the joy that I felt for her. They were there because I wished I was posting about my engagement, and not her.
In that moment, I realized that all I wanted was to be married and to start a family. The wife and mom job description was suddenly sounding better than any job my diploma could earn me.
So began my battle with discontentment and loneliness.
The Battle with Loneliness
Quicker than anticipated, I met someone. For a year and a half our friendship grew deeper, and it seemed like we were headed toward a serious relationship. I began to hope in him, believing that he was the realization of my new desires. Then, within a week, we both confessed feelings for one another — and then days later ended our friendship and any possibility of moving forward as a couple.
Cue battle with discontentment and loneliness, round two.
Older women admonished me to take advantage of my time as a single woman. This was not unwelcome advice, albeit confusing advice to process emotionally. As someone who had recently seen few disadvantages in singleness, I was now struggling to see any advantage in remaining single.
The Gift of Singleness Is God
In her book Let Me Be a Woman, Elisabeth Elliot discusses the gift of singleness. She writes,
Having now spent more than forty-one years single, I have learned that it is indeed a gift. Not one I would choose. Not one many women would choose. But we do not choose our gifts, remember? We are given them by a divine Giver who knows the end from the beginning, and wants above all else to give us the gift of Himself.
Elliot’s honest assessment and admonishment on the gift of singleness is a balm to the soul of a woman who also would not wish for nor choose to remain single.
She concludes her thoughts by saying, “it is within the sphere of circumstances He chooses for us — single, married, widowed — that we receive Him. It is there and nowhere else that He makes Himself known to us. It is there we are allowed to serve Him.”
One Single Woman’s Perspective
Elisabeth Elliot and the apostle Paul take a similar approach to the gift of singleness. Paul famously exhorted singles to use their gift of singleness as a platform for service in order “to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:35).
In practice, living single without distractions seemed like a paradox to me. I was distracted by the lie that life’s best may never come. I was distracted by thoughts that my highest happiness could only be gained on the other side of marriage, and that I may never get there. I began to prescribe to the subtle yet hazardous way of thinking that fullness of joy in one’s life can only come by way of a wedding.
Psalm 16:11, however, does not say in marriage there is fullness of joy. The psalmist instead says, “In your presence is fullness of joy. At your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
The Unexpected Shapes of God’s Gifts
This passage and its promise of joy is why Elisabeth Elliot can assure single women that singleness is indeed a gift. Instead of seeing singleness as a glaring reminder that I am lacking something, I see the gift is good because the gift Giver is good. If my being single allows me the gift of Himself, and if in Himself there is fullness of joy, there can be no contesting the gift that singleness is.
Understanding the gift of singleness is understanding the relationship between service and joy. That when a life is devoted to the service of a holy God, there is joy. That when there is joy found in the presence of a holy God, service will overflow. Like a marriage, these truths are two separate experiences that daily come together as one.
When service and joy collide, there is less room in my heart for discontentment or loneliness, because the gaze of my heart is turned outward and upward. When service to Christ and joy in Christ are married in me, I am able to see that every gift he gives is good — even when it does not come in the shape of a diamond ring.