This guest post by Hannah Rasmussen is a great look at the blessings of singleness from a female perspective, although it's just as relevant to single men, too. Hannah is a reader of the blog who reached out to me to dialogue about some of my work, and I was happy to discover some great posts about singleness on her own blog. I asked her to compile some of her thoughts into a two-part miniseries, and I'm excited to share it here!
Hannah is the author of Good News about Gender: A Bible Study for Young Adults.She grew up as a missionary kid in Tanzania and now lives in Kenya, editing Christian books by African authors and coaching people through the writing process. She blogs at hannahras.wordpress.com
Develop your calling:
Your abilities are good gifts from God
Even as we acknowledge our desires and pursue dating, women often also need encouragement to discover and pursue gifts and callings beyond marriage and motherhood.
Ask a boy what he wants to be when he grows up. How many will say “dad”? Men who want to have kids don’t have to make it their sole ambition and identity. But when I reconnected with a high school friend recently, she said, “We all thought you would go work for NASA, but you just wanted to be an author and get married.” She was congratulating me on accomplishing my dream of publishing a book, but I was surprised I’d placed getting married on the level of career aspirations.
It made me wonder: Did I resist my math teachers’ plans for my life because I preferred humanities or because boys bullied me when I was bumped up a grade in math? Did I struggle to pick a major because I was so well-rounded or because my only models were teachers and missionary moms? When starting my five-year MDiv, did I make contingency plans in case I needed to move and transfer because God had taught me to hold my plans lightly or assuming that I’d give up my direction if I happened to get married, and that it would be worth it?
I esteem the often thankless and sacrificial service of mothers and wives, and don’t want to fall into another cultural myth that self-actualization comes through climbing the career ladder. But making that a woman’s only contribution hurts everyone: the single woman, the childless couple, the unemployed husband, the mom whose kids don’t turn out the way she’d hoped, the divorced person, the empty nester.
We need to cast a bigger vision for seeking first the kingdom of God. From the metaphors Jesus used, we know his vision of the kingdom of God encompassed a diversity of spheres, whether farming, fishing, shepherding, investing, trading, sweeping, bread baking, party planning, or attending a wedding.
Within the church, Paul says we all have different gifts from the Spirit, “according to the grace given to each of us” (Romans 12:6) and “given for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7), that is, to build the church body to maturity (Ephesians 4:11-16). He urges people to exercise their gifts: “If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully” (Romans 12:6-8).
What if the world is missing out on gifts we have to offer? What if our tentative ambitions and ready-to-be-interrupted plans are part of God’s plan for how he wants to use us? Whether it’s manifestations of the Spirit or gifts God has given us from birth, we all have something to contribute. How might God be equipping and calling us to build others up?
You're not needy for needing relationship:
Community is a good gift from God
Being single means we have to reach out to meet our social and relational needs, and sometimes we can feel needy for it. “Miss Independent” who proves she “doesn’t need a man” might sound safe and successful. But sometimes the show of strength covers up a fear of being hurt.
Sometimes we add a spiritual guilt trip. Reflecting on Luke 6:12-19, Henri Nouwen says that solitude can provide an opportunity to listen to God’s voice telling us we’re loved, so that we bring an overflow rather than a clinginess to relationships. For a long time, I thought this meant that I was needy for having needs that were better met by other people than by my “quiet time”.
But as Corey has mentioned previously, God created other humans to fill needs in us. He fashioned us male and female in the image of a relational Trinity. God said about Adam, “It is not good for man to be alone.” So we don’t need to be ashamed to ask God to meet our relational needs. Humans are ways that God’s abstract love becomes tangible to us, like when God answered my lonely teenage prayer for “flesh-and-blood proof that I am loved” with a friendship that has spanned over a decade and five locations.
In 1 Corinthians, Paul drives home the point that we need each other as men and women. “In the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman” (11:11). In other words, even if I don’t “need a man”, I do need men. Our masculinity or femininity is – in some mysterious way I’m hesitant to box up and label, but definitely experience – a beautiful gift. While I’m not incomplete without a spouse, I would be missing so much without men in my family, workplace, and community - and I bring something needed to those spaces as well.
Paul then underscores the necessity of interdependence in Christian community. “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’” (12:21). As the body of Christ, our community reflects love which can otherwise seem abstract to those within and without, being the hands and feet that point them to the source of that love.
Nouwen goes on to clarify that we don’t approach community insisting we have no needs and avoiding the vulnerability required for intimacy. Instead, we ask people to meet our needs while accepting that they will be imperfectly met. We celebrate humans for the love they can give us and forgive them for not being able to love us unconditionally.
I experienced both these aspects of community in my last relationship, on one hand celebrating the love my boyfriend gave me and the support my friends offered me during the breakup, and on the other hand, forgiving when it hurt that people couldn’t love me the way I needed. Ultimately, I had to cling to God as the ultimate source of love with the final truths about my worth. Of course, that involved prayer. But it also involved reaching out to my community and being vulnerable enough to receive their love at my weakest.
God is the source of all love and the only perfect love. Human relationships are but a shadow, failing to fill us. We must trace God’s love back to its source, giving thanks and gaining perspective. But the shadow God’s love casts on the earth still shows us something of what shape that love takes, what it looks like. He created us to experience that love imperfectly through other humans.
You don't have to be perfect to be loved:
Grace is a good gift from God
At a girls’ purity retreat in high school, the leaders asked us, “Do you want to be a china teacup or a Styrofoam cup?” The implication was that protecting your virginity determined your value as a treasure or trash in the eyes of God and man. Then we had a tea party with mugs and notes from our moms.
That weekend we also wrote up a “shopping list” of what we were looking for in a guy. While the goal was to help us not settle for the first person who showed us attention, telling teenage girls to let their imaginations run wild over their dream guy quickly degenerated into lists longer than the ones kids write to Santa Claus.
I remembered my list at a leadership camp in college when the speaker challenged us to examine how our relationships with the opposite gender and with God were interconnected. Although I’d whittled the requirements down over the years, I still used a list mentality to weed out eligible candidates, finding faults with crushes to keep myself from getting emotionally entangled. Then it struck me. I acted like if a guy wasn’t good enough, I didn’t have to love him.
The Holy Spirit whispered: “Do you think that’s how I see you? You’re not good enough, so I don’t have to love you?” I broke down and repented. I ran out to the lakeside, where I danced and twirled around on the rocks singing “Amazing Grace” and “Your grace is enough!”
My grace awakening changed my life. The more I understood God’s grace for myself, the more I extended it to others. For one thing, I became roommates with the best friend I’d previously said was too messy for me to live with – and sometimes my side of the room was messier than hers. In leadership and writing, I pushed myself to share vulnerably, believing God was strongest in my weakness, to the point of writing and public speaking about sexuality (here I am!). I replaced my consumer “shopping list” with clarity on God’s call on my life, which has enabled me to appreciate and affirm men even when we’re not the right fit.
Today if I were to run a retreat for high schoolers, I’d use a different cup metaphor. Instead of ending with a tea party, we’d celebrate communion. We’d talk about how Jesus ate and drank with sinners, even with his enemy the night he would betray him. We’d remember how we’ve all sinned and how costly sin is as we drink the wine. As we break the bread, we’d recall that Christ bore all sin – even sexual sin against one’s own body – on his body for us. I remind them our value lies not in virginity, but in the Virgin’s Son dying for us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). We wear white not because we’re pure, but because we’re washed. We become part of Christ’s body, with relationships and responsibilities as we respond to God’s lavish grace. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9). What better gift?
We don’t deserve or earn any of the good gifts God gives us – whether sex, marriage, talents, or singleness – and yet that’s the whole point of a gift – it’s grace. Isn’t it good to be reminded of our generous God?