What I’m about to say probably won’t shock you: Life doesn’t turn out the way we plan, hope or dream. Yes, sometimes things fall into place like syrup on a pancake, but then all that messy stickiness drips over the sides. And you realize you’re out of butter.
Of course, life is not a pancake. It’s more like spending your years cresting the peaks only to go racing back to earth with all the speed and terror of a rollercoaster. Only not as fun.
This is especially true when it comes to being a single woman. One minute you’re elated and free; the next, you’re eating soup-for-one and wondering if you should adopt another cat. Many of us just made it through another holiday season without someone to love or a date to kiss in the new year. And our deepest fear — of living unwanted and unloved — shivers down into our bones.
Many years ago I was a resident of Colorado Springs, Colorado, one of my favorite cities. I loved my job, my friends and my church, and I felt happy and hopeful. Best of all, the man I was interested in was funny and cute and touched my arm — a lot. We were definitely going somewhere, and I couldn’t wait to get there. This was my moment when people would look at me and say, “Now that girl knows how to enjoy being single.”
Three months later I’d been laid off from my dream job and discovered the man I liked was as into me as my cat is into exercising. All the dreams I’d had for my future vanished into the Colorado mountains as I floundered, uncertain what I should do next. Dreams don’t come true. You have no purpose. No one will ever love you. I listened to Sarah McLachlan songs and Natalie Grant’s “Held” on a loop while crying into my Baskin-Robbins chocolate mousse royale.
The heart of the matter
There’s always been a stigma with being a single woman. If we admit we want to be married, we’re often seen as desperate and told to focus on God, be in His will and trust the right guy will come along when we’re finally ready to be in a relationship. But shouldn’t everyone focus on God and be in His will, married or single? And since when is marriage the reward for getting your act together?
No, what we’re really dealing with here isn’t desperation or a lack of faith but fear — fear that no one will ever love us. Fear of always being alone. Fear that this aching hole will never be filled. And, if you’re like me, a deep, heartbreaking fear that God doesn’t care.
Of course, we’re not supposed to feel this way. We’re supposed to “be content” and know God loves us and thinks we’re beautiful. We’re supposed to remember He’s our husband while forgetting we’re lonely or scared, wishing we had someone around who was strong enough to tighten the seat on our bike so it doesn’t keep falling down when we ride it.
So we hide our longings and heartache, certain that admitting any of it will lead at least one person to accuse us of the sin of discontentment.
When fear is in charge
When we allow fear to control us, when we stop trusting God, we start reacting in unhealthy, maybe even sinful, ways, such as:
- Blaming other women — it’s her fault. Falling into the comparison trap seems to come easily for women. We look at girls who get what — and who — we want and let the jealousy fester. “It’s not fair” is a terrible trap that’s hard to get out of.
- Blaming the men — it’s his fault. Oh, how easy it is to blame men. They’re not assertive. They won’t make a move. They’re too pushy. Too passive. Too boring or too weird or too quiet or too loud. They have too many tattoos or not enough hair. And if the right one would man up, I wouldn’t be single any longer.
- Settling for anything because it’s better than nothing. How I want to shake every woman who dates someone she shouldn’t because her fear of being unwanted or unloved has shattered her self-confidence. And yet I’ve been tempted to do the same thing myself. What if this is it? What if no one else ever asks me out again? Everyone says it’s better to be single than in a bad marriage, and I believe them … until the loneliness gets overwhelming and I wonder if I should call the last guy I dated and find a way to make it work.
- Putting up walls — you can’t hurt me because I won’t let you close enough. This might be the one I struggle with the most. Years ago I went to a singles dance where I knew only a few people. To offer support, my married sister went with me. At one point, a man I had met a few times since moving to the area asked me to dance. Later, my sister told me I actually stepped back and crossed my arms. I accepted the offer, but my body language wasn’t exactly inviting. How many men have I pushed away because out of fear I throw up a wall of ice?
- This instead of that. For many of us, we try to avoid our fears by filling our lives with stuff: career, clothes, possessions, even ministry … anything that gives us validation in lieu of getting it from men.
How to deal
To “help” us deal, people say things like: “God loves you. Isn’t that enough?”
They don’t realize how tired we are of hearing that. Not because it isn’t true. We all know it’s true. The problem is not that we don’t believe it, but that we can’t feel it.
God’s love isn’t going to wrap us in strong arms and whisper, “Everything will be OK.” He won’t help with bills or home maintenance. He won’t sit across the table from us as we eat pasta and talk about our day. That’s not the relationship He has with us. If that were our relationship, He would have looked at Adam and thought, All he needs is me. Instead, He watched Adam and decided, That guy needs a girl. And He gave him a wife. Just like that.
When God looks at us, He doesn’t respond with a spouse. Sometimes it feels like He’s not responding at all. So we have to figure out how our singleness relates to God’s love. In my book “Spinstered: Surviving Singleness After 40” I described it like this:
“His love for me is not proved or disproved by my relationship status. For much of my life I thought the fact I didn’t have a husband meant God didn’t love me as much as He did other women. Married women, to be specific. I not only felt abandoned and unwanted by men but also abandoned and unwanted by God.”
Why is it that how I feel seems so disconnected from what I know? You wouldn’t think the distance between my head and my heart would be so vast. So I decided to see what the Bible said about the head ruling the heart rather than vice versa. But I didn’t find what I was looking for. Instead, I found Colossians 3:15: “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.”
And in John 14 Jesus offers peace to our troubled hearts, telling us again not to be afraid. Then there’s Philippians 4:7, which promises “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
God doesn’t say, “Get your act together.” He doesn’t berate us for having troubled hearts. He says, “Lean on me. I am your peace.”
My favorite verse, 1 Timothy 2:7, states, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”
Fear can control us, lead us to make bad decisions and cause us to hurt others. Fear is chaotic and messy and does not come from God. It’s the opposite of God, the opposite of peace.
It comes down to what we believe about God despite how we feel. It’s standing in His strength and His peace — not our own — and reminding ourselves daily, if necessary, that our single status is an earthly condition. Yes, God can change our status anytime He wants to but here’s the point: being single doesn’t ultimately define us, for good or for bad. Being wanted and loved by a man doesn’t define us either, nor does it establish our worth or ability to be loved. God already determined that. And who He says we are is far more significant than any value a human being could place on us.
Focus on what you know. Break free of the chaos, and let peace overrule your fears.
Copyright 2019 Sharyn Kopf. All rights reserved.