I'm in my mid-30s, single female, Christian. I've been finding it really hard to attend church lately. Everyone there seems to be part of a couple. I feel humiliated sitting in church alone.
My singleness is so much wrapped up with my relationship with God, because this is something I've been praying to Him about for years, and I am waiting on Him for an answer to my prayer. I try to remind myself regularly that God is wise, good and He loves me. But I struggle so much.
Socially, it's gotten really hard for me to function. I know my identity is not in my relationship status, and I know that I should not be ashamed of being single, but I can't help it because marriage is something I desire deeply. Almost everyone I know around my age is married, and many of them have children. I am concerned because it's driving me to stay at home so that I don't have to be seen in public or meet people and for them to realize that I'm unmarried. I am struggling with being single; feeling very hurt about it, feeling very lonely despite having friends and serving in the church, and I am still hoping and praying for a husband, waiting for God.
If a stranger were to meet me and wonder: Why is she single? I bet she's lonely and wants to be loved, they would be right about me. This makes me very self-conscious and embarrassed. I don't want to be pitied by everyone I meet, but the truth is, I am lonely, frustrated and at a total loss as to what to do next. I cling to God absolutely. I've tried to find my joy in in Him. I read His Word faithfully and pray all the time. I have done everything I can possibly do to find contentment in God and God alone. But the loneliness won't go away. The desire to have a partner won't go away. In fact it gets worse.
I've tried to get my mind off this by living life more fully: pursing a job that I'm interested in, traveling, going for further studies, trying to go out there and make more friends, etc. I know these things won't solve my problems, but they have done little to make life better.
Am I supposed to let go of this desire and accept that it's God's will for me to be single forever? I don't know how I can bear it. I've been praying for God to take me home into His arms if this loneliness will never go away, if it is not in His plan for me to ever marry. I don't know if there is any advice you can give me about this, but I hope that you can. I still desire very much to be in a loving relationship, and I don't know how to live if it doesn't materialize.
I'm glad you wrote, and I'm so sorry for the deep pain and frustration you're feeling in this trial. Though I was single for a shorter season than you've described (I got married a month before I turned 27), I well remember the loneliness and suffering of being unmarried for longer than I ever expected. In addition to wondering if there was something wrong with me, it was very tempting to wonder if God had forgotten about me or if He was ignoring my prayers. It's encouraging to hear that you are part of a church, are praying, and are reading the Bible. Those activities are all essential for growth, and they are God's means of encouraging, maturing and sanctifying believers. Essential, too, is fellowship with other believers. This includes regularly worshiping together in church, hearing God’s Word preached faithfully, and walking in accountability and prayer for one another.
Do you have the sort of friends who rejoice when you rejoice and weep when you weep? They are a lifeline when life is hard. I urge you to talk to your pastor, your parents, your friends. When you feel like life isn’t worth living unless you’re married, ask for help. Seek biblical counseling. Whether single or married, God calls us to live for His glory, and He gives us meaningful work to do. This is a vital season for making disciples, for pouring yourself out for Christ with undivided attention. The devil would love for you to waste this season in sorrow. Christ calls you to cast your cares on Him and rest in Him. Follow His example of receiving the life God gives you, praying for what you desire but also for God’s will and the grace to do it whatever His answer.
The desire for marriage is God-given, and it's part of His good design for mankind. He said, "It's not good for man to be alone. … I will make a helper fit for him." When marriage doesn't happen, it's a reminder that we live in a fallen world where things don't naturally go the way they were intended. In fact the opposite is true: They regularly go quite wrong. It is right to grieve the state of delayed marriage in our day. But the fact that many aren't marrying in a timely manner, and that unmarried Christian men are, to paraphrase John Calvin, denying Christian women godly husbands, is no reason to fret that God has lost control of the situation. He is sovereign over everything that happens on earth and knows every longing and need of His children down to the number of hairs on their heads and the number of days in their lives. As much as you're tempted to doubt His goodness, He has not forsaken you.
What then are you to make of your unanswered prayers? What of all this suffering? The Bible is our source for answers. Yet those answers don't always leap off the page. Often we must persevere in study to find and understand them. For example, I used to dread reading the book of Job and always cringed in my one-year Bible reading plan when I finished the last chapter of Esther. I knew what was coming next. I worried superstitiously that by reading Job, I'd be inviting hardships and suffering into my life. As God would have it, a few years ago I started a new Bible reading plan that puts Job in a much shorter rotation. I no longer make a once-a-year visit to this book, cringing, but using this plan, I read it through every 62 days. That's five times through Job every year.
At first I was skeptical. But the more I read Job, the more I came to marvel at God's sovereign control over everything that happens. And the more I meditate on His sovereignty, the less I fear the circumstances of my life. I'm also less certain about presuming to know what God's up to or what He will do in the future. There's no lack of mystery in the Bible and certainly not in the book of Job. But one thing's certain: God is in control. His ways are inscrutable. That means they're impossible to understand or interpret. Certainly that was true for Job. Yet by the end of the book, after God speaks to him directly, Job is more in awe of God's holiness, more certain of God's goodness, more contrite for his own unworthiness, and more eager to worship the One and Only God.
Flowing out of the grief he suffered when his dad died suddenly, Shane Barnard wrote the song, "Though You Slay Me." In this moving video of "A Song for the Suffering," John Piper urges believers to see that "every millisecond of your misery in the path of obedience is producing a peculiar glory you will get because of that." The song is lifted from the life Job lived, in faithful obedience, under the heavy hand of God. "Therefore, do not lose heart," Piper says. "But take these truths, and day by day focus on them. Preach them to yourself every morning. Get alone with God and preach His Word into your mind until your heart sings with confidence that you are new and cared for."
This is a bitter-sweet message for a bitter-sweet world. There is suffering all around you. But given Adam's fall, that's all there should be. That there is also joy is pure grace. Knowing Christ is infinitely worthy of your joy. An eternity with God is reason to celebrate. But it will take the soothing work of the Holy Spirit to soften your heart to these truths. Keep praying. Keep reading the Bible. Keep willing yourself, in the power of the Holy Spirit and in faithfulness to the risen Christ, to believe the glorious truths written there.
When you are afraid, say with David,
"When I am afraid, I put my trust in you" (Psalm 56:3).
When you are lonely, say with Hagar,
"...'You are a God of seeing,' for she said, 'Truly here I have seen him who looks after me'" (Genesis 16:13).
When you are despairing, say with Paul,
"So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal" (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
When you are doubting, say with Jesus,
"...'My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will'" (Matthew 26:39).
When you think you don't have the strength to go on, meditate on Romans 8:11,
"If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you."
Borrowing from John Piper's "How Should Singleness Be Different for Christians?" I would encourage you to ask God: "For this chapter in my life, while I am single, what is it about my singleness that could make me especially fruitful for Christ?" The timing may not be what you hoped for. The road may not grow less painful. But you are not alone. Don't stop hoping for marriage, but also don't put your hope in marriage. God is jealous for our affection, and He wants us to want Him more than anything. The glory to come will make all this suffering pale in comparison.
I pray the Lord of glory will magnify himself in you.
Copyright 2015 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.