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Contentment in Singleness—Is It a Feeling?

I can’t be the only one who’s wished for a switch to turn off my emotions. I’ve complained to my friends that I just want to stop feeling things, and they pat me on the back and tell me that if I did, I wouldn’t be the artistic, compassionate person I am… blah, blah, blah.

Don’t get me wrong, I love them for saying that. But it is hard to accept emotions are a good thing when you’re feeling like Eeyore with his tail missing on a rainy day.

In fact, emotions aren’t just simply a part of my brain. Research shows that “our feelings and thoughts can help make us sick (or well) in a variety of ways that are definitely not ‘all in our head.’” Our emotions share biochemical links with our nervous, endocrine, immune, and digestive systems. So there’s a reason we feel like crap when we’re sad. Cool. What does this mean? That I should always “think happy thoughts”? Attempting to amputate my emotions is akin to cutting out my soul. They are as much a part of me as my arm, eyes or heart.

As a single person, I’ve been caught up in a vicious cycle of negative feelings associated with singleness. It starts with loneliness. Then there’s guilt for feeling lonely, because I have many things to be thankful for and I should be able to focus on those. Then there’s shame for not being a “good enough” Christian and struggling with these unhappy emotions in the first place (isn’t there supposed to be some “aura of contentment” that people keep insisting singles are supposed to achieve before they get married?). Then loneliness circles back around again because I have nobody to share my struggles with on an intimate level.

For some reason, this idea that “as soon as you stop looking, as soon as you feel happy where you are—that’s when you’ll find the person who’s right for you” has been ingrained in my generation’s church culture. I think this is a damaging idea to spread, because lots of people who haven’t had their lives together, who aren’t completely content, have found spouses. Complete satisfaction in life is not a requirement for married people, so it shouldn’t be a requirement for singles either.

Attempts at suppressing my emotions made my brain and body feel worse—kind of like I got trampled by one of Tolkien’s Oliphants after experiencing a River Tam-esque brain probing, but without the cool mind-reading powers afterwards. Science can explain why feelings are connected to our bodies (it has to do with peptide receptors), but the point is that letting myself feel emotions is a crucial step to catharsis.

In other words, feeling sad and lonely is okay. (Gasp! I said it.)

Trying to control how I feel just doesn’t work. Trust me, I’ve tried. Giving myself permission to feel emotions, on the other hand, has helped me to work through them, and my body can tell when I’ve done so.

God does tell us to be content (Matthew 6:25-26), and singleness isn’t exempt from that. But he doesn’t tell us we have to be happy all the time. Sadness is okay. Even Jesus wept. My sadness from loneliness is not disobedience. It’s vulnerability. It’s honesty. It’s intimacy with my God when He shares in that experience with me.

Do not ever think that God is disappointed in you because of emotions you can’t control. Repeat that to yourself. Several times.

The thing is, this “contentment” that everyone seems to be talking about… it’s not actually an emotion. Contentment doesn’t eliminate your desires. In order to be content, I don’t have to either a) be married, or b) zap my desire for marriage into oblivion. Christ wasn’t free from desires and he certainly wasn’t free of emotions. He even asked God if there were any other way to circumvent His anticipated suffering and cried out to Him, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” as the suffering happened (Matthew 27:46). Those are not the cries of a happy person.

But Jesus still chose to go to the cross, and therein lies the definition of contentment. It is a choice. It is a decision to be content with what God has given me, and to trust His purpose for my life.

I can’t change my desire for marriage, but I can still be thankful for other things and continue to live my life for a God who loves me—and perhaps those choices are much more indicative of contentment than any emotional longings.