I recently attended a retreat focusing on "Journeying With Jesus in Our Singleness." The 14 women in attendance ranged in age from 26 to 73. We represented something of the gamut of the single experience: the not yet married, the divorced, single moms raising kids, single moms whose kids
have left home, and the never married. Some of us were new Christians, others were old-timers in the church. We shared a common struggle: how to deal with the aloneness and resulting pain that come from not having a committed partner with whom to share life.
Some of us had tried to resolve that dilemma by settling for temporary relationships of sexual intimacy, often with less than healthy partners. Some of us had broken through to a deep contentment and settledness with our single status and hadn’t worked real hard to try to change that. Some of us were fully involved in the ups and downs of the dating scene. Others would like to be married but felt stuck about how to make it happen. But all of us could admit to having our tough times with singleness. In a time of directed meditation, we were challenged to open ourselves more fully to the deep, intimate, unfailing love offered to each one of us by Jesus—daring to believe that it’s real and trustworthy and not an unsatisfactory "consolation prize" for those who are unmarried.
I HAVE RESISTED that challenge at many points in my life. In my 20s, when peers in community were meeting and marrying mates, finding a husband was my preferred solution for meeting my needs for acceptance and intimacy. As I got into my 30s and realized marriage was not about to come along and bail me out of the need to figure out what to do with my life, my vocation took on more importance.
I did a stint of voluntary service with my denomination’s relief and service organization. I experienced deep joy in discovering I had gifts to share that were appreciated and affirmed by others. This path of service led me on to seminary, then back to my community. I kept so busy that there was rarely time to feel the void of not having a partner. Occasional pangs of longing and grieving would hit me unexpectedly at times like Mother’s Day or Christmas, or at weddings, as my biological clock ticked on and I had not yet established a family of my own.
In coming back to my community at 33, I tried living alone for the first time in my life. After years of group living situations, the initial adjustment was rough—especially for an extrovert like me! I went through a period of anger at God for not giving me the "normal" family life I had expected and thought I deserved. I came face to face with my worst fear—that of growing old alone, with no family to care for me.
God did not turn a deaf ear to me. Although my single status hasn’t changed over these last 10 years, my inner and outer resources have. As I got more used to being on my own, I discovered I could be content with my own company—not needing to fill each Friday and Saturday night with activity in order to escape the reality of my aloneness.
I learned I could establish a home for myself out of which to share hospitality with others. I developed satisfying "big sister" relationships with children who needed extra nurturing. I was gifted with an ever-growing network of married and single friends, both male and female. And I took more personal retreat time to create space for my life with the Lord. As I experienced greater fullness of life, I began to trust more in God’s power to affirm and sustain me and to fill my needs for love.
Although the single life may be the "less traveled road," I am coming to deeper conviction that I am not required to settle for "second best." Whether we are married or single, we are all called to open ourselves to the scary and seemingly intangible reality of intimacy with God. Singleness may force it on some of us more starkly than we could wish, but it also presents an opportunity to work at it with less distractions.
I am helped in my pursuit of intimacy with God by the witness and support of others who are single and dealing with similar life challenges. If we singles can break through our isolation to discover community with each other, it can be a rich resource, as we 14 women on retreat together experienced. We can share tears and laughter, questions and frustration, worship and celebration, support and friendship as we press on to journey with Jesus in our singleness.
SALLY SCHREINER serves on the pastoral staff of Reba Place Church, a Mennonite and Church of the Brethren congregation in Evanston, Illinois, where she has been a communal member since 1973. She is also vice chair of the Mennonite Board of Missions.