It was a wedding. But it wasn’t my wedding.
A year after graduating from college, a young woman whom I’d spent five years pining away for was walking down the aisle … with someone else. As for me, well, I didn’t have any prospects. At all. And my friend’s nuptials served to ram home that unwelcome reality.
Shortly thereafter, I moved to Colorado Springs and began my post-collegiate young adult years in earnest. There would be more heartbreak before my own wedding 10 years later. But by the time I turned 25, I was beginning to make peace with the uncertainty inherent in the single season. Namely, that my control over how long it lasted was limited. Maybe I would meet someone soon, maybe I wouldn’t. Who, besides God, knew?
I grappled with discontentment, to be sure. Somewhere in that stretch of my life, however, a conviction began to take shape in my heart. It went like this: I don’t know if this desire will be granted. But no matter how long I’m single, I want to be able to look back on this season of my life without regret. To do that, I realized I needed to do three things consistently: love God, love people and take good risks.
These things aren’t rocket science, from a Christian perspective. After all, Jesus described the first two as the first and second greatest commandments in Matthew 22:37-39. The tricky bit is in that little adverb: consistently. I needed to spend more of my life growing in my relationship with God and investing in relationships and ministry than I did obsessing about my future or bogging down in crippling self-pity (which, for the record, I’m pretty good at).
So here are a few thoughts about committing to those three things.
Love God. Growing in our relationship is impossible without spending time with Him. And if there’s one thing I had plenty of in my single years, it was time. So I tried to devote a good chunk to God, daily and weekly. I may not have spent time with God every morning, but most days I did, praying, reading Scripture. And Saturday mornings, especially, afforded an opportunity to go for long walks and just talk to God. About my life. Hopes. About my friends and their hopes and struggles. About the ministries I was involved with. My season of singleness gave me time to build a foundation in my relationship with Christ that serves me to this day. Now that I’m in a season with less time available to devote to God, I’m thankful for the time I was able to invest in that critical relationship in my 20s and early 30s.
Love people. The second thing I determined to do was to love and serve others. I was actively involved leading two different singles’ ministries for those 10 years. Lots of times — lots of times — I didn’t feel like preparing lessons, leading small group discussions, planning events. But I never finished serving others and then thought, Well, that was a waste of time. I believe one of the main benefits of service is that it takes our eyes off of ourselves. When I’m busy (in a good way) considering others’ needs and thinking about how my gifts and abilities might help them, I have a lot less time to wallow in my own struggles. (Did I mention that’s something I’m really good at?)
Take good risks. I think living without regret also means taking reasonable risks in a couple of areas. The first is in ministry. You may be blessed with an intuitive sense of what God’s wired you to do in His kingdom. But for most of us, discovering our gifts requires some trial and error. To learn who we are, we need to take a stab at things we’re unfamiliar with. Things that make us a bit uncomfortable. That might mean saying yes to a missions trip. Or a kind of ministry we’ve never done before. Second, singleness offers opportunities to experience life in ways that, while not impossible, are a lot harder once you’re married. When two of my friends got motorcycle licenses, for instance, I was convinced they’d get killed. But they talked me into it — and the 10 years I rode (before selling my bike after my son was born) are among my favorite memories of my young adult years.
Finally, as I guy, I never wanted to be left wondering “What if?” regarding someone I was interested in. So … I asked lots of women out. I got rejected. A lot. But I never had to wonder what might have been if only I had the courage to ask her out. It’s good to be wise and perhaps a bit cautious in romance. But I also think it’s good to take a shot, too. You never know what might happen.
I have no regrets about my single years. I had struggles. I made mistakes. I wasn’t always content. But on balance, by God’s grace, they were years well used.