Summer is officially over in the northern hemisphere, but I’m still sitting at the beach enjoying the sun, trying to avoid becoming a strawberry (freckles combined with sunburn).
I am so grateful for the rest and relaxation—the time to catch up on sleep, laugh with my family and re-read favorite books. But I’ll admit that my neck is a little sore from attitude adjustment whiplash.
Two years ago, I was sitting in a remarkably similar beach chair with the same family around me, and for the life of me, I couldn’t enjoy it. Being single loomed so large in my heart and identity that couldn’t enjoy the sand between my toes, the salty sea foam or the camaraderie of great people.
I was absolutely miserable.
I’m not sure how it’s possible, but even though I was surrounded by beautiful palm trees, sand dollars and tidal pools, I completely swallowed several heart-level lies about my life and my marital state. I firmly believed that if my situation was different, I would feel differently than I did. I would be happy. How could I not be content if I had just exactly what I wanted?
I didn’t want to be on vacation with just my parents and my brother. I wanted to have my imaginary husband and kids there too. Okay, it couldn’t have hurt to have a beach McMansion with Bermuda shutters and a wraparound porch. That would have made me feel even better.
Beyond the circumstantial excuses, I also was scowling because I felt like a child. (I was acting like a baby, but that’s a subject for another article.) I was on vacation with my mom, my dad and my brother. I was still just a big sister, an only daughter, and I was caught up in the fact that I felt like my life still looked the same as it did when I was 13. I had nothing to show for living a few decades and some change. For some reason, finishing college, living overseas for years and holding down a steady job weren’t accomplishments in my mind. My thought process went like this: I don’t have children, and so I am still a child. Because my parents aren’t grandparents, I am still just a teenager to them. My parents never made me feel that way, but I was sullen because basing my self-worth on people—both imaginary people (i.e., a future husband and children) and actual living and breathing human perceptions.
God gave me a chance to have a beautiful vacation, but instead of counting it as His generosity to me, I saw Him as stingy. God was withholding a full life from me because I wasn’t married with children. Instead of enjoying rest, knowing that God’s got a handle on things, I tossed and turned, refusing to relax. I couldn’t unwind because in my mind, I had to keep working and worrying to earn His favor and people’s approval—otherwise, I’d never achieve anything I wanted.
On the outside, not much has changed since then. My life is demographically identical. I’m still not married. I still don’t have children, but I’m sitting here in exactly the same position as two years ago—on vacation with my mom, dad and brother.
I’m not miserable. In fact, I’m happy, enjoying my family, the sunshine and watching people attempt surfing on the East Coast. Something fundamental, unseen, nearly undetectable has changed in my perspective.
I’ve stopped expecting bling on my left hand to make me happy. I still want to get married, but I know that being married won’t necessarily make swimming in the ocean more thrilling. A shiny rock and an “I do” won’t automatically make warm sun on my face more comforting or flying a kite more fun. I’m not saying having a husband wouldn’t be nice, but depending on any one person or institution to make the sun come up in the morning, will ultimately leave you disappointed.
Practicing that level of dependency on anything other than the Word of God is terrible training in life—regardless of whether or not you ever get married.
There are times in our lives where circumstances sour, relationships break, hearts are crushed and as a result, we experience mourning, grieving, deep sadness—even misery. It’s normal to mourn brokenness in our world, in relationship and in our hearts.
I am glad that my heart is not so hard that I can’t admit I’m sad that God hasn’t yet given the gift of marriage to so many who desire it. But godly, healthy sorrow should not be confused with petulance. Singleness wasn’t making me despondent. I was unhappy because I was believing lies about myself, my worth and my God. I was unhappy, in some measure because I wanted to be. I was refusing to go to the spiritual gym and work the truth about circumstances and contentment into my heart.
If Paul can say that he has learned to be content about being beaten, stoned, left for dead and run out of town, surely the Lord can provide a way for our toddler-like hearts to find joy in the life that He has given, regardless of whether or not we marry.
God hasn’t left us to be hopeless about the future or miserable in singleness. He’s invited us to find joy in the little things, to look patiently for His provision and to practice faithfulness here and now.