I read an article a few months ago by a woman who said the struggle of undesired singleness prepared her for the future struggle she would have with infertility. Sharing her story was a profound encouragement for single and married women to minister to each other by drawing parallels between their experiences. To both hope and struggle together.
Reading her words was a raw and tender moment. I had never heard anyone make that comparison before, even though I wondered why people seemed to always tell couples desiring children it’s okay to grieve and keep holding onto hope, but then point out to singles that they may never get married – as if squelching the unmet longing is the only way they can serve God and be obedient in singleness. Singles are usually told to love their single life while they have it, like they’re supposed to attach themselves to it out of some kind of fear of missing out. No one ever said it’s okay to feel that unmet longing, much less acknowledge the struggle of being held in this tension between what we hope for and what actually may or may not happen.
A few too many, “You don’t need to worry about marriage because it may never happen,” taught me not to talk about those unmet longings. I decided it must be foolish to hope for something that might not ever be and I didn’t want to blindly walk into inevitable disappointment. But the last several years have shifted my perspective. I’ve been learning what it looks like to hold in my hands hope, reality, and assurance of the eternal future.
Hope for future marriage, reality of present singleness, and assurance that neither will be part of my eternal future.
It’s this last promise that enables me to be comfortable with the other two.
God longs to give us good gifts. Even though I don’t always understand, He also promises that all things work together for our ultimate good. That is the gift. Singleness is working together for our ultimate good. Hope for future marriage is working together for our ultimate good. Living in the middle of the unknown is working together for our ultimate good. Constantly reconciling the surrender of those dreams is working together for our ultimate good. Holding onto hope is working together for our ultimate good.
And hope will not put us to shame.
That’s because our ultimate hope is in Christ. If this hope is primary, it opens the door for secondary hope to exist, because we know that whether it becomes reality or stays unfulfilled, it does not have the power to bring us disgrace. Even if we experience disappointment on this earth because secondary hope only ever remains unrealized, we know we will not be disappointed in the end. Whatever happens, we still receive His best.
Christ gives us the freedom to continue desiring good things, and God-honoring marriage is certainly on that list. This hope – even this unmet longing – is all part of His plan to work in us and prepare us for what’s next; the immediate and eternal future.
I’m not going to tell you to go after contentment in singleness as you wade through another awkward and lonely Valentine’s Day this year, because there is no such thing.
I don’t want to be the voice that tells you to prepare for unfulfilled hope out of fear of disappointment, and I don’t want to make you think a deep and relentless desire for a good thing prevents you from serving the Lord and living the life He has called you to today. It doesn’t. This place between hoping and receiving is where He has you today and it is a safe place to acknowledge and wrestle with it. All of this is working together for good.
But I also know I can’t be the voice that tells you it’ll happen someday, just wait, because I don’t have that authority and the Bible clearly shows us there’s no guarantee. So there has to be another option.
Singleness won’t make you content. Marriage won’t make you content. Paul said Christ’s strength working in him is what enabled him to be content in any situation – with unmet longing or the fulfillment of it. That’s what we always seem to miss. When Christ is at the center and we allow Him to be the source of our strength, the weight of the unknown becomes a lot lighter. We can be enabled to pursue and live out marriage or singleness when Christ is our anchor keeping us grounded in what is true.
From this place, we’re also equipped to keep hope in the right perspective. We can hope for it while also keeping our eyes on its temporary status. Unfulfilled longings won’t be met with the accomplishment of that thing. We’ll just move on to the next unfulfilled longing, however good it may be. That’s why I won’t pursue being content in singleness. It doesn’t work. Christ’s strength and His grace is the only way to live and embrace the life you hoped wouldn’t still be reality by now. The only true and lasting fulfillment of longing will be realized when He returns.
If we really believe this is true, we should be comfortable allowing the hope for something more or different to sit in the room as we continue still to seek what He wants for us today. It’s beside us, but it doesn’t control us. It’s held, but held in context of the reality that longing is both a part of this world in some form and promised to end. It whispers our precious desires, but also our precious hope that even this season is working together for our ultimate good.
So when the weight of singleness and the unknown of how long the season will last is overwhelming – pursue the contentment found in Christ’s strength.
When you think you cannot last another day if something doesn’t change – pursue the contentment found in Christ’s strength.
When well-meaning married voices tell you to stop waiting and the fear starts to creep in – pursue the contentment found in Christ’s strength.
When disappointment steals your joy and you begin to wonder if it could ever happen – pursue the contentment found in Christ’s strength.
When shame threatens to invade as you continue to desire the fulfillment of these unmet longings – pursue the contentment found in Christ’s strength.
Then keep hoping.