Thoughts from the Ship of Singleness

Jul 22, 2009 |Rachel Starr Thomson

I must admit that my ship of singleness feels a little less even-keel than it used to.

I've experienced trickles of matrimony before, as the odd friend or relative got engaged and duly tied the knot, but this year is a deluge. In the course of three months, I'm attending the weddings of three friends and two cousins, celebrating the engagements of two others, singing in one wedding and standing up in another.

Meanwhile, I am 26 and as thoroughly single as I've ever been.

Before I attended that first wedding back in May, I was as thoroughly happy being single as I've ever been, but now I must admit that my ship of singleness feels a little less even-keel than it used to. I am not strictly envious, nor strictly lonely, but I am definitely wistful. Also wry (a Jane Austen-like sense of humor is a marvelous advantage during wedding season). And doing a lot of thinking.

My own position is odder than most, I think, because not only am I a single young woman whose friends are all getting married (not really an uncommon position to be in), I'm a single young woman who's never been entirely convinced that God was calling her to get married. Ever.

The "gift of singleness" is a big topic, I need to interject, and definitely not the subject of this article; besides, I'm not entirely convinced I have that, either. I am certain only of my uncertainty.

Thus, the position I find myself in is one of watching my friends face into futures that are taking shape, with comforting lines and seemingly predictable challenges, while my own future still looks like an open horizon at sea. Light and darkness in a sky that goes on forever.

Often I feel like a capable captain aboard my little ship, but other times I sit down very small and swallow a lump in my throat as I face out at that big, big world. The waves lapping at my boat are the only sound.

Still, as unsteady as my footing can feel, being out at sea is an adventure with a lot to teach me. So what am I learning out here on my little ship?

God Is Out Here With Me

Most of all I'm learning that God is out here too. Life as a single woman may feel frighteningly untethered, but all this expanse of sky has a lot to teach me about the vastness of God and His infinite wonder, power and love. Singleness can be lonely, yet that loneliness makes a space where God can — and often does — speak.

The flip side of knowing that God is out here with me, willing to reveal Himself and calling me to serve Him, is my responsibility to really seek Him. Paul doesn't tell singles that he would have us free from anxiety about worldly things so we will have more time to focus on ourselves, but so we'll be holy in body and in spirit, serving God with all we've got (1 Cor. 7:32–35). I want to make the most of these sometimes-lonely years — however long they last — to grow more detached from the world and more attached to my God.

Solitude Is Silver; Community Is Gold

One of the things I appreciate most about singleness is the ability to be alone. I so appreciate my various quiet times throughout the day, and it's nice to know that I'm not neglecting anyone when I take them.

True solitude is valuable. Jesus often withdrew from crowds and even from His disciples, seeking time alone with His Father. This ability to withdraw is a special gift to singles, a part of their ability to serve God with "undivided devotion" (1 Cor. 7:35).

At the same time, singleness has taught me a lot about the value of community. As John Donne famously said, "No man is an island." I love weddings even if they do make me wistful, not only because I can watch the beauty of love and commitment in action, but because I love to survey the community of family and friends that gather around the newly wedded couple. What a wealth of history and relationship is there — what years of love, sacrifice, and fellowship are represented!

As a single woman, what stands out to me is that, even if I never experience a community "moment" like a wedding, I'm living in the midst of community now. I have opportunities to be a good friend, to be involved in the lives of family, to pray with and encourage people who are significant to me. I can invest in that wealth of history and relationship, becoming a shaping force in the lives of others even as they shape me.

And I can do it with a deep appreciation of every aspect of community, realizing that marriage doesn't belong up on a pedestal by itself, but is part of a greater picture in which God is at work.

Make Plans, But Hold Them Loosely

My dad recently urged all of his children to sit down and write out their life's "core values," building dreams, goals and plans on top of them. As a result, I have all sorts of hopes written out, with detailed steps for fulfilling them: everything from launching my dance ministry Canada-wide to spending more consistent time outdoors to buying a house in five years.

But being single means I can't hold as tightly to my plans as I'd like. I know perfectly well that at any moment, God could send a wave into the boat and tip all my carefully crafted plans overboard. The horizon is endless; I have no idea what may come over it next. And I'm learning to be glad for that uncertainty.

The Christian life is one of joint purpose and dependence; of taking full responsibility while recognizing ourselves as totally helpless. Being single gives me a conscious chance to practice that paradox: to make plans and hold them loosely, rejoicing in the freedom to make choices and direct my life even as I rejoice in the truth that it's God who directs my paths, God who won't let me get too comfortable in this world, God who has surprises in store.

Family Isn't Just for Married People

Life on my ship of singleness is teaching me much about the worth of marriage and family. I'm learning to value them in a detached way that's good for my perspective, in a way that lacks possessiveness. I'm learning to value marriage and family just for what they are. I truly rejoice when my friends marry in the Lord, because I know that family isn't just for married people. As the bedrock of community and the seedbed of the future, family affects us all.

That's why I've taken to praying both for families I know and for family as an abstract. That's why I pray about laws that affect family, why I care about homeschooling even though I don't have children, why I love to worship in a church where I can see generations around me. Marriage is a picture of Christ and the church, and even if I never personally take a role in that picture, I want to value it.

The Horizon Is Forever

When I've finished writing this article, I'll still have three weddings to attend this season, and I expect that God will be quietly at work in my heart.

That doesn't mean I won't feel twinges of discontent. My friends get to build nests while I'm still hoping my little sail will catch the wind and blow me in the right direction. Yet, if I was to get married now, I think I would miss the view I have of the great horizon, of all this endless possibility and promise and mystery.

Or would I? The truth is, predictability is only an illusion, and being married doesn't take away any of the surprises God may have in store.

Ultimately, singleness is teaching me that the horizon is forever. As long as we are finite beings following an infinite God, Spirit-driven sailors floating down paths that only He can see, we will always face a future that is shaped, not like a safe human construct, but like God Himself.

I'll settle down on my little ship tonight, swallow away my human confidence, and glory in all the possible futures that lay before me. One thing I know: Married or single, there's wonder and holiness in all our paths.

Wherever we're going, I'll see you there.

Copyright 2009 Rachel Starr Thomson. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.

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