Singleness, Suffering and Christian Hope

Single young adult woman looking into desert sunset
If you know my wife casually or see her picture, it’s hard to think of her as ever “suffering with singleness.” She’s beautiful and also approachable — though not a networker, she has 1,566 Facebook friends and counting. Yet Lisa, a woman with abundant social capital, struggled greatly with singleness.

Lisa had been a faithful Christian since her mid-teens, served as a missionary for six years during her twenties and reluctantly entered her thirties. Naturally, she started to hate weddings. And why wouldn’t she? It was one thing when her wild, younger sister beat her to the altar, but it was a different kind of pain when Lisa was still single and attending other people’s weddings a decade later.

As Lisa’s friends got married (and even remarried), Lisa dealt with relationship misfires. Once she was in a relationship with a promising new guy. Of course, several months into the relationship, they broke up shortly after he told her, “You’re perfect for me, but you don’t really challenge me intellectually.” (Believe it or not, he’s still single.)

I’ll Be Home for Christmas — Every Last One

Even Christmas served up indignities. Lisa spent eight consecutive holidays with her parents as their only remaining “single adult child.” Christmas cards arrived in bulk from former sorority sisters, Facebook friends and girls she babysat when they were five. Married. Married. Married.

Two adult sisters? Married with multiple children. Two serious exes? Both married their next girlfriend. One particularly hard night around Christmas of 2007, Lisa returned to her empty house and wept uncontrollably as she pounded her fists into the bed and yelled at God in anger.

Like Lisa, I returned to my parents’ home for Christmas of 2007, pondering a relationship that had ended only weeks before. I was sad, because it was the first relationship in years that had real promise.

I spent my teens and early twenties thinking that God would reward me for being a good Christian boy by giving me the wife of my dreams. When He didn’t, I spent a decade dating casually and with little regard for God’s way. Now I was 36 years old and still spending Christmas with my parents.

I had been drawing closer to God in the previous 18 months, but I was convinced that any serious Christian woman would be turned off by my relationship history and my lost spiritual decade. I told my friend Rohini I doubted any woman would ever love me enough to marry me.

Thank You, Jesus

In January of 2008, I received an email from a dating website. Enticed by the free two-week membership, I posted a profile.

Several days later, I received a call at work from Rohini, who told me she wanted to set me up with an eligible bachelorette named Lisa, whom she had met on Capitol Hill. She excitedly suggested I come to an event where we could meet.

Later that same day, I received an email in my inbox that ended with this line: “My name is Lisa, and I work for the Senate Chaplain.” Having no idea that Rohini was already trying to set us up, Lisa — the Lisa — had also joined and emailed me. Lisa and I met for a date afterwards, and eight months later, we were married on October 4, 2008.

As I stood up to say a few words about Lisa at our wedding reception, there was a palpable sense of joy in the room that went beyond ordinary wedding happiness. Everyone who knows Lisa felt a deep sense of relief, because they knew they were witnessing The End — the end of every romantic near-miss, the end of her constant feeling of aimlessness, the end of every tear-stained journal page. Those crushing Christmases, those bittersweet weddings, those invitations that never came … gone, all gone. But not forgotten.

One Night in a Bad Hotel

Although our suffering (related to singleness, at least) officially ended that night, every minute of heartache now served to make our present joy greater and fuller than if we had never suffered. Our suffering wasn’t merely being erased or compensated for. Instead, God was somehow using our suffering to enlarge and perfect our joy.

To us, that moment was a picture of our ultimate Christian hope: Ours is the only faith that would dare use a barbaric device like the cross as a symbol of triumph. God is not only with us in our suffering, as He proved at the cross, but He will transform our suffering, as He proved at the resurrection.

If you are a Christian who is struggling with singleness, I am praying for your suffering to end. I don’t know how and when it will end, but I can absolutely guarantee that God will one day end it with a resurrection. I love the way Teresa of Avila put it: “The first moment in our Savior’s arms will make the most miserable earthly life seem like a single night in a bad hotel.”

As I finished this article at 1:30 in the morning, I looked over at my sleeping wife. I thought about all the nights she went to bed lonely. Tears filled my eyes as I leaned over and kissed Lisa on the cheek and remembered, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 21:4, ESV). Thank God we didn’t meet when we were 21. Thank God He didn’t “spare” us from suffering.

Tim Schultz is a lobbyist in Washington, DC. 

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