I've had a complicated relationship with singleness for, well, all of my adult life. There is the singleness itself, and all of its complexities and emotions, but bigger than the singleness is a deep sense that life has not gone according to my plan, and I can’t figure out God’s reason for that. While this has played itself out most starkly in my life in the area of singleness, at its core, it’s a tension we all feel—all has not gone as we thought it would in our lives, and we’re not sure why. Sometimes surprises turn out better than we had hoped or dreamed, but often we feel the unplanned nature of our lives most acutely when what we wanted to be good turned out otherwise.
In her new book Party of One: Truth, Longing, and The Subtle Art of Singleness, Joy Beth Smith writes:
It’s hard to live in this tension of desperately wanting something and never knowing when or if it will come. We need to actively cling to promises that are in Scripture: promises that God will never leave us, promises of his control in all things, promises of his goodness, promises that the trials of this world pale in comparison to the glory of what is to come. These are sure things. (page 13)
It’s tempting to think if we work hard and do all the right things we may be able to get ourselves where we want to be, and in certain situations, that may be true. But it’s certainly not always true. Then we have to face down what we really believe about God, and ask ourselves, how do we honor God well wherever we are? How do we honor God in the city we live in, the relationships (romantic or otherwise) we’re a part of, the workplace we go to—even if we didn’t expect or hope to be there?
I’m still figuring out how to do this well in my singleness. Being unmarried and childless at nearly 28 was definitely not what I expected for my life, and yet I find myself here, gainfully employed, a homeowner, deeply grateful for the wonderful family and friends I have, and trying to steward what I have been given for the glory of God—all while trying to remain deeply hopeful that someday (preferably soon) my deep desire for a husband and children will be fulfilled.
But I have to recognize that God’s goodness doesn’t depend on whether or not that happens. As Joy Beth writes:
The success story here isn’t the girl who wants to be married, and suddenly at age forty, as she follows all the advice she’s ever been given, the stars align, she reaches a point of freakish contentment; then God deems it the right time, and suddenly she’s married, rewarded for her years of faithfulness. Success in this world is the woman who lives her whole life longing for marriage, remains single, and dies more convinced than ever that God is good, with “Glory, glory, hallelujah” as the last words on her lips. (page 155)
For me, at this point in life, it’s singleness that makes me question God’s goodness. But it may also be illness, or divorce, or childlessness, or homelessness, or so many other things. We are so quick to say “I’m blessed” when thing are working out the way we want them to, but what we often fail to recognize is that we are no less blessed when things are difficult than when they are easy. God never promised he would give us everything we’ve ever wanted simply because we want it; he’s promised to be with us whether we get those things or not.