If you and I would meet over coffee today and we’d introduce ourselves, I wonder how you’d describe yourself and your days. Maybe you’d tell me you were planning a bridal shower last night for your best friend. And tomorrow you plan to babysit your nephews after work. And that you love your job and your nephews and can’t wait for your friend’s wedding.
I’d notice your smile and the way you nod in anticipation. Would you also have the courage to talk about the pang that lies just under your happy activity?
Talking honestly about the ache of singleness might be taboo for you, but I’d like to erase some of that hesitance. Here is where we call it what it is, because honesty is the first step in walking toward freedom and light.
So on the night of that bridal shower, if something stabs you with wishing you could have some of those pretty things and lovely dreams, this is permission to admit the stab. Or your hunger when you hold your nephew to read a story and put him to sleep and you want your own little one to hold.
This is also a call for decisively stepping out of the pool of pain you could drown in. It’s not Operation Bootstrap. It’s the posture of open hands that will save you. Intentionally choosing another way of looking at things will also save you, as well as adopting purpose and joy here and now. These are some of the habits of abundance, which is what God created us for.
I know there are times when aloneness hits you and the idea of joy feels like a joke. I don’t know if anyone really gets used to being alone. But do you want to live without joy? Please don’t write it off as an impossible quality. Even if your dreams aren’t coming true and even if you fight back tears while the sparkly-eyed bride unwraps her gifts.
Looking beyond our bellybutton
Let’s look for some perspective. To do that, we many need to think outside our boxes.
What if you’re single now so that you can love on the troubled little ones at Kids Club? Could it be that your being unattached frees you to be more flexible and available to serve in places that need undivided energy and passion?
Is it possible that this season is giving you tools that will improve the rest of your life—skills like discipline, mindfulness, sensitivity, thankfulness? So where you’re at now does have purpose! While marriage is our design, no time of our life is solely a waiting area. Every stage is preparation and experience for the next step.
Let’s not waste time by pitying ourselves or begrudging others’ gladness. If I marry, I don’t want to look back on these years with regret. I want to have lived to the hilt and colored my days with the materials I had because I’ll know that today was preparation for my “new now.”
Being intentional means that sometimes you have to take yourself by the scruff of the neck and do what you don’t feel like. For example, when you’re going somewhere alone and you feel extra lonely, try singing. Maybe prayer songs? Or “Abide With Me”?
On a night when your best friend is going on a date, you could try to plan something that will keep you focused and involved with at least one other person. Not as an escape, but as a way to be pro-active and forward-thinking and not so near-sighted.
Because—and this is something to face squarely—you’re not a princess. As the Polish say so smoothly: you’re not the bellybutton of the world! Less princess and more servant will make your life richer than you can imagine.
Thanks multiplies joy
Being intentionally thankful for specific things makes your life blossom. One day I was pitying myself about being far away from my friends and my friend Jenny said, “Anita, you HAVE to give thanks NOW for THIS. If you don’t, you’re going to become a bitter, miserable person.” I burst into tears and said I don’t want to be bitter and miserable. So later that day, even though I felt everything was gray and dismal, I heard a CD playing beautiful songs and I made myself thank God that I could hear. I was washing dishes and looked out the window and saw bright blue sky and made myself thank God that I could see.
It was a baby step, but it was in the right direction, and I started thinking about how overwhelmingly rich I am, just by acknowledging two senses.
My friend Sarah says being thankful is life-changing. She was burning out by working full time and going to college and pulling all-nighters for brutal classes. She found a little hide-out in a stairwell at college that became her refuge. Here she could sit on the carpet and cry and list the things she was thankful for, despite her extreme exhaustion. One day as she sat there, she heard another student in the stairwell on his phone, talking for ten minutes, telling his friend that prayer makes a difference and that he should keep praying because God hears. Sarah put that conversation on her list. When you start looking for things to be thankful for, you’ll be surprised at what emerges. Try it!
Self-pity equals wrinkles
Think of the most beautiful lady you know. I’m going to guess that she doesn’t spend much time pitying herself, but that her face is turned toward the light, and that she shines even when she’s honest about hard things.
There’s very little virtue in chirping “I’m alright—everything’s fine—who needs a man anyway?” I’m always on a search for emotional honesty because it’s at that point that truth can start soaking in, change us, and bring us to freedom. It’s ok to tell God that you’re tired of waking up alone and that it stinks to go to weddings alone. God’s big enough to take any rants you have. I hope that you also have a few friends with whom you can be honest. It’s ok to cry. You’re allowed to admit that you grieve a love that has no name or face.
Being honest (Jesus can take it off you!) means being vulnerable but also knowing the truest, most loyal love you will ever know. Please get this: you will not know the comfort and companionship of Jesus if you always insist that you’re ok, don’t need any help, and are never lonely.
While I was writing this article, I was drinking coffee in a darling café in Warsaw. (The café’s name was “Między Słowami” which means “between words.” Yes, it was as idyllic as it sounds. I’m very, very rich!) I looked up suddenly, and across the room, a tall, dark man was watching me. He was so handsome, I stopped breathing for a minute. He was too far away for me to see any emotion in his face, (Intrigue? Interest? Curiosity? Admiration?) but a wave of something washed over me because suddenly I wanted to be noticed, delighted in, seen as beautiful, because no man does that for me. Being honest about the voids I feel is ok, but I couldn’t stay there, and left the café when my coffee was finished.
Admitting and acknowledging loss is healthy, but staying in the place of endlessly verbalizing everything that’s wrong in your life will make you ugly. Guaranteed. You’ve got a choice, no matter where you are, to wither into bitterness, or bloom into joy. Emotional honesty is one step in the journey. Choice is another.
In every season, life is going to be cruel and relentless and you will cry your eyes out over a myriad things, but you can choose joy. Things won’t ever be fair and your friends will have privileges you don’t, but you can choose joy. Could it be possible that you have gifts they’d like to have? There is glory and beauty in the darkness, could we but see! And to see, we have only to look. (Giovanni, 1513)
In every life stage, we will need to choose joy and live with purpose in order to live fully. Technically, it’s the same for everyone: be thankful here and now, and carry the posture of living with open hands to accept whatever is given. Practically, it’s going to look different for different people with different giftings.
For you now, when you read stories to children who aren’t your own, can you try to delight in their shining eyes and pudgy fingers? When the tenth friend loses her heart to a wonderful man and you feel left behind, can you find just two things today to put on your Thanks List? Can you intentionally plan a way to serve someone beside you, choosing to be less princess and more servant even if everything in you screams against it?
Probably the most insidious temptation is to believe the lie that even God has forgotten you, left you behind, and thus you’ll have to cope on your own forever. This lie is absolutely toxic. Please don’t swallow it!
God, in His endless faithfulness, will give you reasons to believe the truth, but you need to keep your eyes open to see it. The changeless truth is that He’s intimately acquainted with everything that makes you ache and smile. He’s never turned His face away from you—not even for a second—and even when you feel like despairing, He’s up to something good. It’s true!
Joy is far more than positive thinking or collecting cute sayings on Pinterest or posing with a Starbucks cup. Joy comes from knowing your designer’s heart and knowing His intentions for you are good, good, good. Always. You can hang your heart on that and you will have joy that bubbles out often, and even if no man notices it, that joy will make you beautiful!
Which is really what you want, isn’t it?
(this was first published in the Jan.-Feb. ’15 issue of Daughters of Promise magazine) daughters-of-promise.org/