That day, the sting of still-single-at-forty was too fresh. Although I was excited about the Christian writers’ conference I was attending, and I carried around a proposal for my book on prolonged singleness, I could not ignore the disappointment that had dominated my heart since that recent landmark birthday.
When it was my turn to introduce myself to the group, I couldn’t bear to announce the subject of my writing. I felt conspicuous, as if everyone could tell I just turned 40, as if “spinster” splintered my features with its epithet. I told them I wrote nonfiction.
I was listening to the rest of the introductions when a woman sitting behind me talked about her manuscript on grieving singleness over 40. That’s it, I thought. That’s exactly what I feel—grief.
The Death of a Dream
I’ve always loved the song “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” I listened to it as a child, wondering what lemon drops were, believing dreams really do come true. By the time I turned 40, I was no longer sure if dreams came true, even so-called “God-sized dreams.” Marriage had become a God-sized dream, clearly one I could never make happen on my own. As my third decade progressed, it began to feel like the impossible dream. Turning 40 without any prospects seemed to prove that marriage was the dream that came true for everyone else.
As my fortieth year unfolded, so did the depths of disappointment. Other changes were occurring in my life, and I felt lost under a thick cloud. My dream was dying, and the events of that day at the writers’ conference warned me that disappointment had grown larger than hope. I knew I needed to deal with it if I was going to live fully in the joy of the Lord.
Dealing with Disappointment
As I faced my disappointment, I experienced God’s grace and goodness in a significant way. Perhaps the steps I took to work through it will help you as well if you feel a bit stuck in the disappointment of singleness.
1. Acknowledge and grieve the losses of singleness. Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but desire fulfilled is a tree of life” (NAS). I’ve met few Christians who freely acknowledge the pain when the dream of marriage hasn’t come true. The desire for marriage is not merely a selfish dream; it’s part of God’s design for us.
Remember the Old Testament story of Hannah? Her unfulfilled dream was to have a child, and she was deeply disappointed because of it. In addition, she lived with a rival wife—can you imagine?—who seemed to birth babies left and right, publicly rubbing it in her face at the annual feast. So Hannah was resentful and depressed. Every year, she cried at the feast. The Bible describes her emotion as “bitterness of soul” (1 Samuel 1:10).
One year, Hannah took all that disappointment into the temple and poured out her heart to God. She acknowledged the loss of her dream, of motherhood, of social status, of having a family. She held nothing back, weeping, moving her lips and desperately making a vow.
Hannah was never condemned for her emotion. In fact, I think she handled it the right way by taking it to God, because she came away changed, “her face no longer sad” (1 Samuel 1:18). Hannah hadn’t lost her faith; she had a broken heart. Before we can receive the promises and hope that God offers us through our faith, we have to acknowledge and express our disappointment to Him. Although it seems Hannah did this only once, I did it multiple times. Grieving the unfulfilled dream was a long process for me.
2. Let go of the old dream. Part of healthy grieving is letting go. When a loved one dies, we can only face the reality of the person’s absence after we’ve gone through a season of mourning. Letting go of my unfulfilled marriage dream meant facing the reality that my timeline was shot and couldn’t be recovered. I would never be the wife of someone’s “youth,” as Proverbs 5:18 puts it. I would never be a “young mother,” wearing those pre-pregnancy skinny jeans again as I pushed a stroller through the mall. I had to consider that I might never become a mother at all.
For me, letting go of the old dream didn’t mean resigning myself to permanent singleness. Letting go doesn’t mean ignoring or rejecting the desire for marriage. It means acknowledging that the dream won’t happen exactly the way we thought it would. To work at accepting reality, I sometimes intentionally spoke the facts out loud to the Lord.
3. Ask God for a new dream. In other words, surrender your dream of marriage to Him (again, if you’ve done it before). “Please help me, Lord,” I prayed. “I trust You and will follow Your ways, even if things don’t turn out like I always thought they would. My dream for my life obviously hasn’t worked out, so please give me a new one.” As I remained humble with that prayer in my heart, I felt a release in my spirit. The cloud began to lift.
My goal was to live in the present tense, embracing the work God was doing in my life right now. What was His dream and assignment for me in this present season? I recognized that my life was half over, and I didn’t want to waste any time. I wanted to enjoy the fruitful, meaningful life God designed me to live.
The Other Side
When my forty-first birthday rolled around earlier this year, I no longer felt stuck. This time, I wanted to celebrate with a party. In a fresh way, I believed God had good things in store. In fact, His plans have far exceeded my expectations, and I am anything but disappointed.