Happily Ever Single

th2VVPPJUT“Maybe you’re the girl thinking you’ll end up alone.”  These lyrics from “Someone Worth Dying For” by Mikeschair still make me cringe when I hear the song come on the radio.   While the overall message of the tune ultimately has good intentions, it sadly puts singleness on a short list of worst-case scenarios.

I’ve seen an unhealthy fear of singleness drive many women (and some men) to a desperate pursuit of marriage.   This was especially true when my peers were in their 20’s and 30’s.   When I parted ways with a guy I was dating in college, I remember him gasping, ‘Will I EVER get married?” He was 21, and the next gal he dated said, “I do.”   When I was 39, I received a note from a friend in her early thirties. In it she described her plan to lasso a man. Clearly forgetting my age, she stated emphatically: “I will NOT be 40 and single.” She was not.

I, on the other hand, breezed into my fourth decade decidedly unmarried. Surprisingly, I did not turn into a pumpkin, a reclusive cat-lady, or whatever other fate-worse-than death scenario people believe will happen if you don’t marry by a certain age. Now in my mid-fifties, I can testify that remaining single is nothing to be feared or avoided at all costs. That’s why it concerns me that there is still a subtle, yet prevailing attitude that singleness is an inferior destiny – or worse, abnormal. Continue reading

Unfulfilled Longings

Last night’s flavors linger fondly in my memory . . . a warm, robust soup served around a candle-lit table . . . the laughter shared among five long-time friends . . . the rustle of tissue paper as birthday gifts were unveiled . . . delicate sips of fragrant tea . . . the softness of cozy afghans as we curled up to watch a movie after dinner. These are memories I savor with fondness and thanksgiving.

I could choose to recall the evening differently. Instead of focusing on the positive moments, the night could have quickly become a reminder of what I don’t have. My four friends are all happily married with beautiful children. It was only natural that much of the chatter centered on their families. At times it was hard to join in the conversation. If I hadn’t carefully re-directed my thought patterns, the evening could have easily become fodder for a pity party later.

Like many singles, it’s sometimes a challenge to feel content when most of your peers are married. For a number of years, I thought the solution was to reach a point of maturity where I no longer felt the desire to marry. Perhaps I assumed that if I just tried hard enough, I would receive the magic “gift of singleness” that would take all my longings away. An article in Today’s Christian Woman captures why this is unlikely to happen. The author wrote, “The desire to be married is actually a hundred different longings, from the want of physical and emotional intimacy, to the simple wish to feel a sense of belonging in a room filled with couples.” No wonder it was an exercise in futility to try and suppress my desire for a soulmate.

So how do we live with unfulfilled longings, whether it is the desire to be married, to be a parent, or something else? I am discovering that one of the keys to contentment is to savor what I have, instead of focusing on what is absent. To savor is to “taste with delight.” It implies a sense of lingering and fully relishing the flavor of the moment.  Savoring means noticing little things, like last night, when I smiled at the artistic way my friend folded the napkins.

It also involves savoring the broader strokes God has painted in my life. While he has not opened the door for me to marry, God has given me many other opportunities, like pursuing an education. One of my married friends expressed her feelings of inadequacy because she had never attended college. As she shared, I realized that everyone deals with issues of insecurity and unmet dreams, especially when we compare ourselves to others.

What would happen if we stopped looking longingly at the grass on the other side of the fence and started savoring our own garden? For example, when I reflect on all the things I have in common with my precious wedded friends, the differences in our marital status seem to fade away. When I whisper a prayer of thanksgiving for the things I typically take for granted, I’m less likely to envy. As I step out in faith to share my unique talents and gifts, I discover that I can make a difference, just as I am. When I take time to nurture my relationship with Christ, I find true belonging, security, and a love that never fails.

Savoring doesn’t come naturally in our fast-paced world, but ultimately we have the choice of where we focus our thoughts and heart.   The more time we spend savoring, the more content we are likely to become.   Something surprising might even happen along the way—we may discover that our longings are being fulfilled in unexpected ways.   God’s desire is to give us fullness of joy—not in some distant future when all our “dreams” are met, but as we trust Him today.

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The Quest for Contentment

I surveyed the empty chairs in the meeting room, estimating that a handful of people might show up. After all, the “popular” seminar topics were scheduled in the larger rooms and would draw the majority of conference participants.   Soon I began to see a steady stream of figures coming up the walkway and entering the room. They poured in until it was standing-room only.   I never dreamed that a workshop on contentment would have such broad appeal.

The lesson I learned that day is that the quest for contentment is universal, and for most of us, never-ending. But what is this elusive contentment? Bing Dictionary defines it as “a feeling of calm satisfaction,” and goes on to describe that it is results from “a circumstance, or a feature or characteristic of something that gives rise to satisfaction.” The Merriam Webster Dictionary describes it as “the feeling experienced when one’s wishes are met.”

These definitions may well capture how many of us view contentment. We’ve all had those moments (however brief) when we’ve emitted a peaceful sigh and felt that all was right with the world. It’s a beautiful feeling.   Unfortunately, if we are only contented when circumstances are perfect and all our wishes are met, we will spend the majority of life in a state of dissatisfaction.

Scripture lends a new light on contentment. My favorite passage on the topic is Philippians 4:11-13. The author, Paul, who certainly did not lead an easy life, states boldly, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”

What is this great secret? Paul states “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”   He knew from first-hand experience that trusting Christ was the only way to be content, regardless of circumstances.   Whether chained in a prison cell or in the fellowship of family and friends, Paul knew that Jesus would never leave him.   He trusted God to meet not only his physical needs, but to give him mental, emotional and spiritual strength. Christ faithfully gave him an eternal perspective that enabled him to find peace and purpose in the harshest of times. As a result, he confidently proclaimed, “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:19).”

The Holman Bible Dictionary defines contentment as “An internal satisfaction which does not demand changes in external circumstances.” Now that’s the type of contentment we can all have hope of achieving.