I was turning thirty and weary from years of uncertainty. I had been dating for half of my life and was worn out from the life cycles of my dating relationships, lonely dry seasons, and the nagging question that kept me awake at night, “What if I never get married?”
God calls some people to singleness but it was never clear that I should draw that conclusion from my failed years of dating. Or maybe, I worried, I was just unwilling to accept that call. But I had a desire to get married and have children that I just couldn’t shake even though I felt defeated after years of looking for a husband. It would take a miracle from God (or a desperate compromise on my part) if I ever found someone to marry.
Perhaps it would be easier to take the energy I spent agonizing over the subtleties of courtship and the emotional recovery at the end of relationship and simply put it toward other ends. If only God would give me assurance that I would be content single instead of hoping that one day a relationship would lead to marriage.
I was always hesitant to talk about this inner turmoil with my church community because, honestly, I received mostly unhelpful advice. “Just stop looking and it will happen” followed by, “A husband isn’t just going to drop into your lap. Go find someone!” And almost no one had anything wise to say about singleness as a calling instead of time of waiting. Nearly every conversation was focused on a future outcome of marriage which bred more discontentment in my heart.
Waiting felt more like staring into a terrifying void. I told a friend that I started out expecting to run a 5K only to find out I was on a marathon course. The constant focus on the future was like a spiritual poison. I had to give up on closing the distance between me and the finish line if I ever wanted to be content in the presence of God. This was the meaning in the waiting for me. As Paula Gooder writes in our devotional book for this season, “One of the many reasons we wait in Advent is to hone our skills of being joyfully and fully present now.”
A dear friend of mine who is unable to have children spent a season meditating on Psalm 84:11 – No good thing does [God] withhold from those whose walk is blameless. She could say with deep conviction that she believed that God was good, he loved her, and that he had not withheld any good thing from her. And I began to experience God in the same way—God was good, through and through. He was good even if I never got married or had children. My uncertainty and waiting on a future event was now a new daily experience of God who was ever present and always good to me.
A little later when I did finally meet and begin to date someone who believed I could actually marry and I asked God for wisdom about our relationship. To my surprise, I felt a strong conviction that it was my choice whether I got married. God was good and loving and would meet my needs if I chose to stay single. And he was good and loving and would meet my needs if I chose to get married. His presence had become my source and my hope so I was free from fear and concern about the future.
I did choose to get married and my years of waiting had deepened my trust in Jesus so that I was more rooted in the love of God and focused on life in his kingdom than I ever could have been had I rushed into a relationship to ease my pain when I was younger. Through the practice of being present to God on a daily basis I now experience my marriage as a blessing, and even a means of grace, and not the thing that holds all my hopes. And my children, who both arrived through difficult times of waiting, are an amazing gift but not the center of my whole life.
I once was invited to speak about singleness at a women’s retreat around the time I got engaged. I was too sheepish to mention my romantic relationship but the conference organizer was delighted. I finished my talk and then she was quick to jump in and add “Have hope, ladies! Amy has found someone and is getting married.” I guess it was relevant information but it wasn’t the point. The waiting is about how we are changed in the presence of God and not about the fulfillment of our desires. My hope and joy are not dependent on any future hope—only on God, who is more loving and move generous than I ever knew.