Wednesday, February 10, 2016

A Real Love Story: Single and Sitting Here

This post is a continuation of the #RealLoveStory series. In this series I'm sharing the truth about love, relationships, and marriage around Valentine's Day. Today I'm writing on the topic of singleness.

I think I've come to my blog over a dozen times to write about singleness. Some posts have gotten published while others have been scrapped (mostly because they were too snarky, go figure). I think this is a sensitive topic, one that can bring a lot of pain, and also carry a lot of misunderstanding. I'm coming at it today with the following perspective:

First, I hated singleness. I was always on the lookout for a new relationship, vowed to never turn down a date, and even tried online dating on three separate websites. I always thought I would marry young. As a kid, I told my mom I was going to get married at 18, she told me I could marry at 35.

Second, I married "later" than the majority of my friends. I was one of the last in my friend group--at that point in time--to marry and I married at a later age than many people I knew. (For those who are wondering, I was 27.)

Finally, now that I am married, I think I can bring a unique view to the discussion as one who walked the road and can now look back on it. I haven't forgotten what singleness was like, and I haven't forgotten the feeling of married people talking about singleness. So I'm asking that you give me a chance to present my point of view as shaped by my experiences.

When you look at singleness from a Christian perspective, there are lots of different views and voices adding to the noise. Some people think singleness was the thorn in Paul's flesh, even though he elevated singleness. Then there are those who believe if you have a desire for marriage, you will eventually marry. Still others say that if you are called to singleness, it doesn't mean that the desire to marry ever goes away. Then there are the married people who talk about how great singleness is, that it's a high calling, an opportunity to be a better servant of God. But it's always hard to listen to them because they're married.

Here's what I know about singleness, the place where I've spent the majority of my life up to this point. Singleness is, at any given time, the hardest place in life to be. It can be lonely, scary, and depressing. It can also be liberating, fun, and exciting. It can keep you trapped in fear, or freed to pursue new adventures. Singleness can be whatever you decide to make of it.

I don't want to ever diminish the challenges and pain of singleness, but with this post I hope to encourage you. I'm writing what I would tell myself, if I could send a letter to the past. If I could just impart a little bit of wisdom to the me that a few short years ago was single and sitting there, waiting for something to finally happen.

Don't wish for someone else's story.

There was one girl I knew in college who had seriously the best  relationship story ever. It was perfect, from the handsome guy, to the dates he would take her on, to how he proposed. Perfect. I would constantly catch myself wishing her story could be my story. Wishing, as in praying to God to please, please, please  make something like that happen to me. I wanted her story to become my story.

Looking back on that, I can honestly say I'm so thankful that God said no to my desperate pleas. Because as good as her story was, having my own story is even better. And that's the beauty of how God works; He weaves together so many different stories for each of us, full of their own unique beauty and wonder. While we're walking them, they're often confusing and hard and we can't see an end to the pain. But there are little moments in life where God enables us to see a piece of what He's doing.

I love my story not just because it involves love, romance, and my husband, Nick. It also includes some really bad decisions, pain, heartbreak, and depression. But I can honestly say I wouldn't wish any of that away. It's what makes my life unique. It enables me to connect with people in new and varying ways. It enables me to relate to the struggles of life and offer encouragement. It helps me build up a community, to give of myself, and to hopefully encourage the people I encounter.

You have an amazing story and only you can tell it. Embrace that--flaws, disappointments, triumphs, and all. Don't wish it away, and don't try to change it. Simply seek to live it well and come alongside others who need to hear what you have to say.

Make the most of your time.

Some of my best seasons of personal growth came about because relationships ended. (See this post from five years ago for some of the details.) I was forced to become self-reliant, to adapt to real life and it's challenges. In those seasons, I learned a lot about myself as a person and became more independent. I refocused and reminded myself what I truly wanted out of life and where I wanted to go.

Singleness can be a great season to find out who you are and become who you want to be. It can be a time to take risks, tackle new challenges, and venture out on your own. You have the space and freedom to really do whatever you want to do.

I spent a lot of my singleness focused on the future: seeking new relationships and hoping for marriage. I was always expecting what could be waiting around the corner. The few times when I simply lived my life were truly sweet times. I wish I had focused on that more. I wish I had been a little more invested in knowing myself and my life as it was. At the same time, looking back, I'm thankful for that season of my life.

It's hard to appreciate singleness when we don't want to be there, or when we don't see an end in sight. My advice is, as much as you are able, look for ways to enjoy and make the most of that season, however long it may be. Just like Annie Dillard says, "How we spend our days is of course how we spend our lives." I urge you to spend your days well. If you're not sure where life is going or where you should spend your time, seek God on that. He will direct your path.

Don't rush into marriage.

I feel like I've made this clear, but let me just state it again, I spent all of my singleness longing to be married. From childhood I looked forward to when I would finally get married. I was pretty single-minded in my pursuit of and desire for marriage. So just keep that in mind while you're reading this.

I am a huge supporter of getting married "later" in life. And not by choice, but by circumstance. When you experience something for yourself, you get to learn first-hand the benefits. And because I got married later in my twenties, I could experience and appreciate the benefits of marrying at an "older" age than many of my peers.

The benefits of getting married later, for me, included having time to really get to know myself. That helped me learn what I truly wanted and needed in a spouse. That helped me make better decisions when it came to relationships. It also helped me transition into married life when it came to expectations, hopes, and plans. It also helped me not look to my spouse to fulfill me or complete me, because I had time to learn that I was already complete and fulfilled in Jesus. I also had time to learn practical life skills, like how to pay rent, manage a bank account, care for my car, pay my taxes, and generally be an independent adult, not relying on family for help.

I'm not saying you can't learn or do these things if you marry young. I'm also not  knocking getting married young. But I am saying that if I could go back and do it over, I wouldn't change a thing. My marriage with Nick was, praise God, a seamless transition. I don't think that was completely due to our age at marrying, but that certainly helped. We were more mature, wiser, kinder, and more loving than our 22-year-old selves that had dated back in college. We had an understanding of ourselves and life that enabled us to move into a strong marriage focused on a common goal. (I'm planning to write more on our marriage, so check back for that later!)

Regardless of when you marry, I do want to advise you, don't rush into it. Take the time to discern (with your brain and logic over emotions and feelings) if the person you want to marry is the person you should  marry. If this is what God has for you, that person won't go anywhere. If you need an example, look at Nick and me. It took six years from when we met for us to finally realize that we were supposed to get married. Patience in relationships is never a bad thing and can lead to blessings down the road.

Don't give up hope.

If you are desiring marriage, I want to encourage you to not give up hope. I do believe that God gives us desires for a reason. I don't think it's sinful or wrong to want to be married. Just don't let that desire take the place of God in your life. It can be easy to put our wants on a pedestal and focus on them solely. Don't abandon hope, but don't make it your idol.

There's no quick-fix for singleness or marriage. People like to throw around little sayings like, "When you stop looking, you'll find the person you're meant to be with." Those are a load of garbage, sorry to say. There's no magic formula to ending singleness. In my experience, time was what it took for me to be ready and for marriage to become a part of my life. There were days I feared it wouldn't happen for me, but there was always that spark of hope. Don't stop hoping for the things you desire, you never know the moment they will enter your life.

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