Singleness, Marriage, and the Burden of Perspective

“Singleness is only a gift to a few people. For most, it is a burden.”

I’ve read those words (or some version of them) a thousand times and they never cease to frustrate me.

It’s not that I don’t believe them. Quite the contrary, actually. I would agree that most people do find singleness to be absolutely burdensome.

Years of research and observation have brought me to the conclusion that the general consensus regarding singleness is that it is only a gift to those who feel called to it. It also appears to be widely speculated that in order to feel said calling, one has to have virtually no sex drive whatsoever, making it easy to embrace a lifetime of solitude. For those rare (nonexistent?) people, singleness is a gift. For everyone else—for those who yearn and pray for marriage, for those who burn with desires that have nowhere to be expressed, for those who feel lonely sleeping by themselves in a bed made for two—singleness is a burden.

Allow me to state the obvious. Of course singleness has its burdens. Of course I could find a dozen things to bemoan about that season of my life. But would I look back at those (27 or 29, depending on whether you count dating or marriage as the cutoff) years and say it was all a burden? Absolutely not.

It’s interesting to me that, while singleness is almost entirely written off as a burden, marriage is portrayed, nearly always, as a gift. And I don’t have to have a conflict free marriage for someone to tell me so. Sure, it’s a blessing when Levi and I are walking in perfect harmony, but if we get a little out of sync and start grating on each other’s nerves? Somehow we’ve been conditioned to believe even that is a gift. Those little rocky patches are just iron sharpening iron. Look at that lucky couple, smoothing each other’s rough edges like sandpaper so they can be more wholesome individuals than they would ever be on their own…

Hard times in singleness though? Those long, dry spells of discontent? Do we argue for their redeeming qualities? Oh no, no, no.

Singleness is a burden. Marriage is a gift.

That is what we believe.

And yet, strangely enough, I can think of a dozen burdensome things about marriage.

Do you know what I didn’t have to do when I was single? I didn’t have to step around piles of laundry on the bedroom floor or walk around the house turning off lights that had been left on long after the sun had risen. I didn’t have to scrub eggs off the stove after they had been splashed there and left to dry. I didn’t have to clean tiny mustache hairs out of the sink mere hours after I had cleaned the bathroom. I didn’t have to think twice before spending money on frivolous things that I wanted for myself. And if I didn’t feel like cooking dinner one night, I could abandon the menu plan and just eat a bowl of cereal without feeling like I was letting someone down.

These are all things in my marriage that can feel tiresome, tedious, and, yes, burdensome, even. But I am expected to accept these tasks as a gift (or at least ignore them so I can appreciate the many other ways in which marriage is a gift).

Why, oh why can we not do the same with singleness? Why is it that singleness is bemoaned for its many hardships instead of its myriad of gifts? Why is singleness considered inherently burdensome with perhaps a handful of perks, while marriage gets to be lauded as a sacred gift that comes with the occasional trial?

Do you know what would wreck my marriage? If I let the above list of tedious, burdensome things become the sum of it. How easily I could let my husband be measured by the loads of laundry he makes, and the coffee stains on the countertops, and those tiny little hairs in my freshly cleaned sink (why does he only ever shave over a freshly cleaned sink?).

Marriage is a gift only when it is a conscious choice not to measure another person by their irritating little idiosyncrasies. Yet here we are, believing in the inherent goodness of marriage while cursing singleness for being so troublesome.

What we believe about singleness shapes that season of our lives, and we are believing some harmful things. Perhaps the worst thing we can tell a person is that something has to be permanent for it to be considered a calling because that makes it really, really hard to embrace the calling to be where your feet are.

“I’m not called to singleness,” we argue, because we want to be married. And surely if we want something this badly, it means that our calling lies within that dream. Then one, five, ten years pass and we are still living outside of that calling. It is no wonder we are discontent. It is no wonder we think of singleness as a burden. We are living with a foot in both worlds and finding ourselves entirely off balance.

There was a time in my life when I really did feel that I was called to singleness (not because I was missing a sex drive, mind you, but because I found that I was otherwise content living a solo life). At twenty-five years old, I put a pen to paper and started mapping out an unshared future. Now here I am, five years later, married.

I don’t think I was wrong about my calling to singleness just because I met my husband eight months later. I was only wrong in that I expected it to be permanent.

It’s really tempting to think of life as having in-between stages. In between childhood and adulthood. In between singleness and marriage. In between marriage and motherhood. In between one big thing and the next.

Those eight months weren’t just some in-between stage; they were my life, and God offered me an invitation to truly live them. He called me, not to some elusive future, but to that moment.

Here’s my hot take on the subject: I think a calling is something that guides you toward the future, but also something you live right now. I’m convinced that if you find yourself living in a place that you didn’t anticipate living in for long, God has something to teach you there. So if you’re still single, whether or not the goal is a future marriage, you should embrace your singleness as if it is a calling. Because today… Today it is.

I consider myself one of those rare people who had “the gift” of singleness. Was I simply more naturally inclined to thrive in solitude or was it my mindset that protected me from discontent? I don’t rightly know, but I imagine it was a little of both. And I do know that my marriage is better served when I think about the gift my husband is rather than the burden his laundry is.

I think your singleness could be better served, too.

Left Behind?

My friend had a baby yesterday, and while I’m excited for her, I’m also kind of wondering when I got old enough to have friends with children.

Weddings used to be simple. At first I attended the weddings of relatives, then I watched some of my friends’ older siblings get married. The fact that they were all much older than me made those weddings seem normal. But when I started watching my friends walk down the aisle, I got a little weirded out. I guess I missed the moment I “grew up” because sometimes it floors me to think that Amber is going to be a mom and Megan’s a wife. What does that make me? Well, right now it makes me the only one of the three cousins my age who isn’t pregnant. I always feel weird when I think of that.

It’s not like all my friends are married. In fact, most of them are still single. Still, somehow I feel a little left behind. And while I’m really not anxious to get married right now, I can’t help but wonder when it’s going to happen and who it’s going to be. Some days I think it would be nice to have a husband and kids, but most days I’m perfectly content with the freedom that comes in being single.

Our problem doesn’t lie in our relationship status; it lies in our perspective. If you’re looking at the situation as if you’re being left behind, then that’s what you’ll be. You might be tempted to give up your other dreams and settle for the next guy who comes along… Or you can focus on the blessings of singleness.

As for me, I’m taking my time, living the journey, and waiting for the day God taps me on the shoulder and points out the man He intended for me to marry. Let all my friends tag “Mrs.” on their names; I kind of like being Miss Rebekah for now.

The Best Year of Your Life

I had an interesting conversation with a coworker the other day. It was one of those conversations that left me thinking, then praying, then writing, and now blogging. He asked me this question: “If you could relive one year of your life – not to change anything, but simply to relive it – what year would it be?” Now, my initial thought was, “What’s the point? I’ve already lived that year once, so why would I want to return to something so familiar? What would be the fun of that?”

What left me pondering this thought long after I had gone home from work was the fact that I didn’t have an answer. Every year of my life has been filled with ups and down, joys and pains. How could I choose one that stood above the rest? The only answer I could offer my coworker was, “Well, I know which year I wouldn’t choose.” But now I’m not so sure. As I laid awake in bed thinking of that year I have long considered to be the worst year of my life, I began to think that maybe it wouldn’t be so terrible to return to it. In fact, if I could go back with renewed vision – if I were able to take with me the perspective I have now – that would probably be the year I would choose.

I learned so much in that year. I learned how to stand in the midst of a storm while the wind and waves pressed against me and the sands shifted beneath my feet. I discovered how to love through the course of that nightmare – unconditionally, that is – because up until that year, no one had presented any conditions that I was required to love around. I learned how to fully trust the God who creates the light at the end of the tunnel, because throughout that year, I knew nothing but darkness. And if I could go back with the perspective I have now, I might be able to see the things that I missed. Perhaps my worst year would become my best year, but I guess we will never know.

The only thing I am left absolutely certain of is this: I don’t want to live my life stuck in the past, savoring the moment. I don’t want to get so caught up in a memory that I miss what is happening here and now. It’s like the old proverb says,

Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery; but today is a gift. That’s why it’s called the present.

So here’s my answer to my coworker’s silly question: This year, 2010, is the year I want to relive. And next year it will be 2011. And the year after that, 2012. My lesson learned (and encouragement to you) is this: Don’t walk around yearning to relive the best year of your life, but strive to make every year a year worth reliving.