One…One Flesh…One Body
Somehow, upon turning thirty-one, I became more interested in blog posts about relationships, health, and inspiring fictional characters. I started thinking more about my retirement plan and drinking Jasmine green tea. I’m still sane, I promise. My proof? I have not stooped to getting into yoga (probably because I’m not flexible—among other reasons). Nor have I taken to drinking copious amounts of pour-over coffee…or any other kind of coffee, for that matter. I save so much money this way—we’ll say nothing of the amount of tea and chocolate I buy instead.
My friends and family might question my sanity, though, if they knew how many relationship articles I read regularly. Some are essays on the needs of introverts or how to maintain healthy work relationships. Others are about the benefits of solitude or how to nurture friendships as our lives shift with work, raising families, etc.
However, the relationship articles I read most often are about healthy dating and marriage practises. While I can sometimes spot things that I know are unhealthy in marriages, I now know the four things that strangle and kill those relationships. I am often reminded to be both kind and honest in my relationships. This usually comes out in other people’s stories about how they learned to get along with in-laws, how to treat someone on a first date, and how they continue to learn to love and forgive.
I have gained insight about dating and marriage from these blogs, as well as from many dear friends. It has been reaffirming to hear why marriage is good from various friends. Amidst all of my learning, growing, and deepened understanding, however, I find that I am content in my singleness.
Ergo, I want to write a bit about being single-hearted. By that I don’t mean hating-singleness-but-pretending-to-like-it. Nor do I mean giving up dating in hopes of having your spouse finally ‘granted’ to you. Nor do I mean resigning yourself to being single if no one has asked you out in a while (or ever).
What I mean by single-hearted or single-at-heart, is that some people thrive in singleness—to the point that they tend to become less themselves when they date.* There are, in fact, sane people who enjoy doing things by themselves or coming home to an ’empty’ house (which I would call a quiet house). Being single-at-heart means—in part—that you feel fulfilled and delighted in your singleness. Being single does not mean being lonely. In fact, people who flourish in their singleness have many deep relationships, investing their heart and soul into others.
Allow me to add a caveat here: I enjoy a good wedding. I’ve been to dozens, and have been in several. I am beyond excited to be in my best friend’s wedding this autumn. I already have my outfit selected and I can’t wait to toast, to dance, and to cry at how glorious it is that God made us male and female, to complement one another and show a multi-façeted picture of Jesus and the Church. But even more than a good wedding, I love a good marriage. I love watching my married friends work through differences, walk through difficulties together, raise their children, love other people well, labour together, laugh together, and host together. It is so good and right to get to share in that as their friend.
Marriage is a wonder-filled union which I take seriously; I enjoy it in all of its depth and beauty from my outside perspective. But, the idea of me being married rather frazzles than dazzles me. My left shoulder tightens at the very thought. Not because marriage is hard—all relationships take work, aren’t always pretty, fall short of our expectations at points, and inflict wounds. I’ve heard these things again and again about marriage as well. I understand that marriage takes effort and sacrifice. But so does being a daughter. And a sister. A close friend. A co-worker…an employee. I set aside time every week to talk with my best friend, my sister, and at least one of my parents. I pray for them, think of them often, and talk about them to anyone who will listen. I seek their wisdom, counsel, and cheer. We cry together. Get angry together—and sometimes we get angry at one another. We share memories, inside jokes, many laughs, and hugs upon hugs.
Being single is a glory that many seem to overlook. I suppose it is lifelong-companion people who don’t comprehend the joy in singleness. A married friend was recently teasing me, saying I was obviously single by choice, chasing men away with a stick (she was being kind in her way). Her lifelong-companion mindset popped up at once in her next comment: “One day you will find the right man whom you won’t want to beat off with a stick.” I just smiled and said my stick was was pretty stout, choosing to laugh and not be disheartened that she had glossed over the truth: I am single by choice. Not because I think I’m something awesome that no one deserves—that would be insane beyond yoga and me drinking pour-over coffee, not to mention arrogant beyond comparison—but because I thrive in being single. I am content in my calling. Yes, I strive with not allowing contentment to become complacency, but every person wrestles with that balance in some area.
Single-at-heart does not mean that I fear or hate the opposite sex. I like men, I like them a lot! I am good friends with several fellows, I have dated some excellent men, and I am often around men of high-caliber at work. I am satisfied to enjoy friendship with these men. Yet, I have discovered something—when I am in a quandary (does he like me? do I like him? what is going on here?) or when I am unsure about whether I should be dating, I become me-focussed a hundred times more than normal. I wear stress like it’s part of my body, and I ask my neighbour to crack my back at least once a week. I become critical and over-assess everything about the person who shows interest in me. I feel stuck and my contentment jumps ship, leaving me at sea without a rudder. I often feel like I’m sans anchor in those seasons—but I am not. I have a soul Anchor who keeps me from drifting away or crashing on the rocks. He is the One I must fix my eyes on, not a man—or any other person.
Singleness is not a magic solution nor the secret to happiness. It is not all smooth sailing and sunny days (thankfully, because I love fog and snow…and being on land). Singleness takes effort. I have to go to work, pay my bills, take care of my car, do the grocery shopping, make my own meals, clean the house, take out the rubbish, arrange my travel plans, scout out hiking ventures, and strategise for my future—all without a spouse. There are days where I want someone to hold my hand and walk with me. I want someone right here to be vulnerable with, to laugh with, to be with. You know, someone I don’t have to call and hope they pick up. Someone who isn’t busy with their own life when I need a companion. But, just like being married does not mean that your spouse fills your every longing or meets your every need, being single does not mean that a person is always—or even mostly—lonely or helpless or unhappy.
In some ways, being single makes me over-confident, perhaps even intimidating. I don’t need a man to grill for me, my dad taught me how. I don’t need a mechanic to change my oil, Dad also taught me that skill. I don’t need a man to take out the trash, my mother raised me to do that for myself. Am I appreciative when a man does grill, work on my car, pick up my rubbish, open a door, or offer to carry a heavy box for me? You bet I am! My mum also taught me to have manners and a grateful heart.
Still, I have to take care of myself, so I do.
But really, I don’t. I think I’m autonomous, but I am not. I have a wonderful dad who gives me car advice and life advice, who shares wisdom from Scripture and wisdom from his life experience. I have a mother who taught me how to cook and read and keep things in order; how to love Scripture and make time to be in the word each day. I have friends who don’t mind telling me more about their insurance options or financial planning or how to get a license plate in this state. I have neighbours who discuss politics with me from a more thoughtful, studied, and insightful perspective than I possess.
My co-workers encourage me and pray for me when I’m having a rough day; and they are friends enough to tease me on the good days. They leave sweet notes, coffee mugs, and chocolate in my mailbox; and they dole out a lot of hugs. My roommate girls are continually having me over for dinner or joining me for tea and walks; they share their fears and joys, their sorrows and struggles; and they let me join them in celebrating new jobs, school acceptances, birthdays, surviving strokes, and all things British. There isn’t enough room here to express my gratitude and love for my sister and best friend, both of whom have walked through many joys and sorrows with me.
Singleness makes me realise more fully that I am part of the body of Christ. I am cared for, accepted, corrected, and encouraged to use my talents and skills for others. When I get snappish with my co-workers, friends, or family, I am often humbled by their response of kindness or gentle rebuke. The humility of their response leads to forgiveness and restored relationships. Being an integral member of the body means being part of something bigger than just myself and my desires. It is working together to bring glory to God.
I am in various types of relationships—like everyone else on the planet—and must learn to communicate with grace and truth, with kindness and firmness, with a willingness to seek a solution or middle ground. I don’t do this perfectly, or even well, at times, but I am learning, again and again. Part of being in the body means being invited, included—it means inviting and including. It means celebrating life stuff—big and small. It means opening your home, your tea cabinet, and your kleenex box to those in need of a cosy Hobbit hole and a listening ear.
Single-heartedness is a calling for fewer people. Not for those who thrive in companionship, who long to be married. I don’t begrudge them their longing, and I often wish I could help them find someone to thrive with (though, I think one must learn to be content with who God made them before they will be content in any kind of relationship). Single-heartedness is for those who take joy in their role as a single person within the body of Christ. It truly is a gift. Those who are single-at-heart do not try to dissuade their friends from getting married, nor do they think their married friends are somehow lesser than themselves (or somehow greater, either). Both singleness and marriage are gifts—very good ones to be used in different ways. Both gifts are for a season (hopefully a lifelong season, for my married friends). However, for single-hearted people, singleness is likely their lifelong calling. For lifelong-companion people, that idea is repugnant, but those who are single-at-heart are delighted by the possibility.
Whether you are single-at-heart, single-for-a-season, or married, your identity lies in being a member of the body, with Jesus as the Head. Your identity is reflected in your relationship status: a bondservant, a child of the King, the friend of Jesus, and the bride of Christ—the Church. And with our every act of love, the Kingdom of God is more fully realised.
*Others, of course, thrive in a coupled state, rather like oxen pulling together—though that imagery might not be romantic. Some folks tend to think there are only two states: married or miserable; the pair of oxen or the lonely mushroom. But that is a false dichotomy, as you will see above.