Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Loving the Life I Didn't Expect

Is there a better day to write a blog about being single than on Valentine's Day?? I think not.

The truth is that a version of this post (and what could be MANY posts) has been floating around in my mind for a LONG TIME. And I decided that if I don't start actually blogging about all my thoughts, they will escape my head never to return again. So, here we go.

Though the outline of this post started to solidify a few months ago, my trip to Hawaii really helped it all come together - mostly due to a book I read. More on that later.

I am currently dealing with a coin called REALITY. Here are the two sides:

Side A: Ten girls are friends in college. Statistics say that ten years from now at least one of them will not be married (I'm not going to look up these statistics, but any breathing person with a brain knows a version of this statistic is true). Fast forward ten years. I have become the girl in the group that didn't get married.

Side B: God isn't bound by odds. Just because I'm not married yet doesn't mean I will never be. "Statistics" don't matter much to the Creator of the Universe - He kinda does whatever He wants.

But the scale is tipping more toward the side where I won't be married. And even though marriage is what I really, really want......I have to trust - and KNOW - that if I don't get married, that is/was God's best plan for my life.

Huh. Not being married is God's best plan for my life. Weird.

That's the thought that I've been coming to terms with over the last few months. Until recently, I've never even entertained the thought that I wouldn't get married....it was just a matter of when. But now that thought is becoming more real. Up to this point in my life, God's best plan IS that I am NOT married. And I haven't always believed that the life I'm living is His best. I have thought my plan was better. I still think that my plan is better. So, in an effort to trust Him more, I've started to dwell on the truth that God's best plan for my life is that I am not married now......and may never be.

That thought makes me want to PUKE, to be honest. BUT it also forces me to look closely at all the blessings I've experienced BECAUSE of my singleness and the unique ways He has gifted me to serve ONLY in my singleness.

Okay, people. That was only the preface to this post. Things could get wordy here.......

I go back and forth on "accepting" that I may never be married. Some days I feel great about it and think of all the amazing ways I could use my single life to live for God. Other days I just want to lay in bed and dream about how wonderful it would be to be married.

One blessing of my single life is travel. I was gearing up for another fun trip to Hawaii with my sisters and I needed to download a free book to my Kindle. I keep a list of books I want to read, so I started plugging in the titles to see what I could download. Of the 30 titles I entered, only ONE of them was available: Revelations of A Single Woman: Loving the Life I Didn't Expect by Connally Gilliam. SERIOUSLY?!?! I just wanted a good beach-read. I wanted to put my thoughts and convictions about being single on the shelf for a week of VACATION and do whatever I WANTED! But God decided He needed to drive home a few points about singleness to me. So, because I'm cheap and didn't want to waste a free download, I let out a deep sigh and got the book.

It's the only book I read during the entire week of vacation (up until the flight home). I usually fly through eight or nine books, but this one had me reading slowly, thinking, digesting, and re-reading many parts. I was challenged and blessed by it. So many things she wrote resonated with me and put into words what I sometimes have a hard time expressing. In case you are interested, here are some parts that stood out to me:

“For her, however, [my singleness] was a small reminder that, contrary to what she was always tempted to believe, unmet desires are not necessarily divine punishment for a flaw. Sometimes, when we line it all up, life simply is not fair. More important, my friend continued, my unintended singleness made me more approachable, more human. As she experienced it, my disappointment was a chink in the armor of my personality that let more of my heart out and gave others something softer to grab on to.......I still think I could come up with roughly 153 alternative means for accomplishing this same heart-changing end......I knew, and still know, that she was right. My unintended singleness, in addition to giving me some humorous stories that help me entertain or bond with a willing audience, undeniably has changed the contours of my heart. In bringing me into all-too-tender touch with my inner (and outer) dork, for lack of a better term, I’ve grown kinder, and I’m glad for the change........“The question, of course, is how will you suffer? Will you suffer with bitterness or will you suffer prophetically?” O Lord, I don’t like how this sounds. “You see, your generation is experiencing the fallout of a culture profoundly confused about who God is and therefore about what it is to be human and what it is to love. Your relational disappointments and suffering are, sadly, emblematic of the age.”......It is worth considering this question of How then should I live? I’m not talking about asking How then shall I get a man? or How then should I explain my singleness? or even How then should I prepare for life alone? Those questions have some merit, but they are secondary. Rather, I’m talking about asking for your eyes to be opened to see what’s real and then learning how to move forward in reality, even if it’s wading one step at a time through periodic waves of tears.......For today I am called to be single. I cannot say about tomorrow. That is how I want to live: not anxiously asking why but simply looking for what is supposed to be for today........Sometimes I think that one of the primary works God has done in my life is to tenderize and enrich my heart through the “Why aren’t I married?” struggle - the suffering I still hesitate to call by that name for fear of others rolling their eyes. But instead of the disappointment leaving me a cold, bitter, angry wench or a hotly desperate man-eater, it’s wrought a heart more capable of and committed to giving and receiving love. That, in my estimation, is miracle-level material. And though anything might happen tomorrow, that is the work of God I’ve seen today.”

[Side note: I like how she uses the phrase "unintended singleness". I had never heard that before.] I do feel that extended singleness has made me more empathetic to other people's struggles that I might not have understood if I wasn't in the midst of a "struggle" that has eye-rolling potential. Does that make sense? My heart has changed, for the better, because I'm single.

These next thoughts came after a section in the book where she talked about fragmentation: that being single is being free of any formal ties that bind and leaves us with too many options and too many sets of friends that continue to marry or move, leaving us with the need of making, yet again, more friends.....to start the cycle over again. The comparison is that you are trying to quench your relational thirst by drinking out of a thousand Dixie cups when all you want is a deep well. You won't die of dehydration, but you just really want a constant well - someone to live all of life with, not just little sections here and there. She talked a lot about how sometimes your personality can even feel fragmented, and I can relate to that well (which is definitely not unique to single women). Interests in sports, quilting, baking, and half-marathons don't exactly fit together perfectly, but they are all 100% "me". So I find myself bouncing around from friend to friend, interest to interest, Dixie cup to Dixie cup...

[In response to the story of the Prodigal Son]: “It’s the Father. It’s the Father. It’s the Father. As I reflected on that story, I slowly began to realize, It’s the Father, stupid. And then it dawned on me - the Father knows that I’m part urban ministry worker, part debutante, and part granola chick, and that a lot of those parts - plus others - don’t fit together. The Father knows that good friends move away. The Father knows that family-free living can leave one too free an agent. The Father knows that committed communities fracture. The Father knows that the people around me are spinning in their crazy circles too. The Father knows that I’m drinking out of too many Dixie cups. The Father knows. But more than just knowing, he cares. That’s the wild part. He has compassion. He’s the one who runs out with a profoundly welcoming heart. He’s the one who gently reminds me of his presence and generosity. It leaves me speechless. Or wanting to cry. Or maybe to sing.”

I love the phrase "too free an agent". Being single can definitely feel that way, BUT the Father knows! And it's true - it makes me want to cry. Or sing. Or both. When I feel that my friends are moving on to the "next stage" in their lives to something better and leaving me behind....He knows. When I feel that my friends are moving away to live a life of purpose and I'm stuck in what can feel very purpose-less.....He knows. And cares. And pursues. And blesses.

Well, those are plenty of thoughts for one night.

Also, as I was driving today, on Valentine's Day, I was thinking about how God has been kind to remind me of the many people in my life who love me, even if I don't have a "romantic" love. Just in the last few days I've had an acquaintance at church who went out of her way to compliment something she observed from me on Sunday. Another guy at church encouraged me (in a not-weird way) that I am "a catch". Friends who spent the weekend at our house are thinking of someone to set me up with. A friend from my old small group sent me a very encouraging email today with verses she's been praying for me. A friend who moved to another continent still makes me laugh like no one else can and prays for me. I prayed specifically for a single girl who had a career, owned a home, enjoyed sports, and had other interests in common with me to start coming to our church and God answered my prayer. My sisters and my parents are the BEST BEST BEST.......and I could go on and on.

I certainly am blessed in my singleness. This is a life I didn't expect, but I (am learning to) love it.


Laura said...

Good thoughts.

beki said...

thanks for sharing your heart hannah! i love hearing them and digesting them for a while afterward. they are honest and important insights. love you.

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Bex said...

for the love! how did i not know that you were blogging again? this is such a great post. i do want to check out the book. i love you.