Over the summer, I had a talk with my dear Ohio friend Anna about singleness and how we did not have good examples in our lives growing up and how we did not want the next generation of church girls to experience that because of us. How I love this girl; her heart is so close to God's.
She said, "When I get married, I want everyone to remember that when I was single, I was joyful." Anna was indeed joyful when she was single (she got an amazing MOG boyfriend approximately a week after this), pouring her whole life into her little church; exuberantly fun; hilarious; in every way a blessing to be around.
I'd never in my life met a single woman with that attitude, and how it blessed and inspired me! I only hope now to be an Anna to another single girl.
My second-worst nightmare would be someone fearing singleness because they witnessed me carrying on like a gloomy spinster. My worst nightmare would be if I got married having exclusively acted as such and sent the message to younger women that there is no way to be joyful without a man.
This is not an article about how to be happy in singleness. I don't think that such an article exists, and if it does, I promise you that it would be nothing I can write. Similarly, there is no article or book which tells you how to be happily married 100% of the time. Plenty of people claim it, but they're lying.
Because human happiness is fickle, sisters. It is dependent on circumstances, and no one can control their circumstances. Your circumstance of being without a husband is probably not your #1 pick all the time, but when you get married, there'll be something else you want to change about your circumstances. I'm sure that what I am saying is not new to you, but we all have trouble internalizing this message.
Next time you read your Bible though, go to Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, or Philemon. They were all written by the Apostle Paul from dank, musty, Roman prisons where Paul was actively tortured. The dear apostle spent months and years in rough, stone cells that were bitter cold in winter and swelteringly hot in summer, with no good food or clean water, nothing to do, no one to tend to his wounds, probably surrounded by discouraging rabble who made everything worse with constant fighting, cursing, and complaining. Oh, and he was single if that makes any difference. And yet, in all those epistles, you will find some variation of the phrases--"I rejoice greatly"; "I take great joy" etc.
Notice he didn't say happiness. It would be hard to be happy in those circumstances, but that isn't what joy is. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) but happiness is not.
Christians love to harp about the differences between happiness and joy, and it's fair to say I've contributed just now, but lest you think that I'm advocating a grit-your-teeth and suck it up approach to singleness, look at the definition of joy:
"a feeling of great pleasure and happiness."
So a synonym, then, basically. In practice, it feels the same. Why the distinction? Because joy is not dependent on your circumstances, unlike happiness. Being a joyful single is not the same thing as being a miserable single who pretends to be happy and put on a brave face for the sake of the younger generation. It is possible to take great joy in singleness, just like it's possible to be joyful in any other circumstance. But I really can't emphasize enough that this is not a fake, grin-and-bear-it type of joy--that wouldn't be the real joy. Look back at the definition--a feeling of great pleasure and happiness. That is what I have and what I want you to have as a single. If you have not read yet about how you have a purpose not in spite of, but because of singleness, please read this.
So how is it possible to have joy in singleness, even when everyone else except you (it seems like) is taken? I believe nine factors contributed for me:
1. Have your needs met in Jesus.
My sister, who is younger but far more mature in Christ than me, told me to watch Ben Stuart's sermon What Love Does. Everyone really needs to watch the whole thing for themselves, but the gist of it is that if we are not being filled with love by Jesus, we will take our need for love to human relationships and, besides being needy and annoying, we will actually wreck those relationships (twice as fast if the other person is doing the same.) But if we are filled with the love of Christ, we will have more than enough to share with others and will give instead of take in our relationships. That is the mentality you have to bring to your family, friends, and especially potential dating relationships; and it's the mentality you'll need for your marriage to be a success.
It can be hard to tell if you're not getting your needs met in Jesus, but I have certainly been there (and all too often fail in this area.) If you get excessively disappointed when someone cancels on you, if you feel like you would die if you didn't have certain people in your life, if you feel jealous when they spend time with someone else, or if one person's disapproval can crush you to bits, then you might be bringing your needs to people, and you definitely do not want to do that if you're pursuing joyful singleness. In Proverbs 19:22, we read "What a man desires is unfailing love" but humans are not capable of that kind of love, and it's not fair to apply that kind of pressure to them because that's setting them up for failure. Only God can love you perfectly.
2. Don't be boy crazy.
Look only toward the future, not backward to past guys (your exes) or sideways toward current guys, trying on all of their last names and developing ridiculous and fanciful crushes. (Caveat: if a current guy is already looking at you and you could see it being a good fit, it might be time to pay attention). But in general, liking tons of guys is bad form and your heart should be fixed on and saved for Jesus and secondarily, your future husband. Act how you want him to act--you're probably okay with him noticing girls and going out for coffee with the ones that he thinks might be a good fit for him, but you wouldn't want him to be completely fixated on finding a wife because that would be pathetic and unmanly. Do not be obsessive or desperate; it makes you less attractive.
I was always told growing up that you should go out with every guy at least once. I think that's true, insofar as he has no giant flaws that you already know about even before going on the date, but if he does have any deal-breaker characteristics, just save your time and emotional energy. Since becoming single, I have had the opportunity to get coffee/food with a number of guys, most of whom I already knew it wasn't going to work out with at the time they asked. That was a waste of time and actually made me feel frustrated in my singleness rather than comforted, because I started feeling like there are absolutely no good options, so from now on I'm not doing that anymore, even if it means I don't go out on any dates for a few months or years. There are good options, they just don't like me (KIDDING). I suggest you adopt a similar mentality because if you're trying not to be boy crazy but spending a lot of time with guys you know you can't date, it isn't going to help and will almost definitely hurt.
3. Be Jesus-crazy instead of boy crazy.
I know that effectiveness would be limited were I just to say "Don't be boy crazy" and leave it at that. There are two things we need to acknowledge here: first, while having interest in handsome Christian men is not necessarily wrong (and darn near impossible to avoid) it can very easily cross the line into idolatry if you think about guys or whoever you're currently into more than you pray and praise God. Secondly, when you remove anything from your life, sin or not, you cannot just leave a vacuum or you'll run right back to whatever you kicked out. You have to replace it with something else, which should ideally be the pursuit of Jesus and theological knowledge if your aim is to be truly joyful. The joyful single women all fill their time with work, school, friendships, and the pursuit of Christ. There's no way to be joyful if you spend every waking moment pining for a husband.
4. Next, figure out your purpose.
Who are you really? At the end of your life, what do you want to have accomplished? Take some time in prayer, Scripture, and journaling; and maybe read some books to get an idea. For me, I want to be one of the Sarah Edwards or Susannah Spurgeons or Katharina Zells of the world--immensely productive warrior Christian women whose achievements in knowing God, helping their husbands, raising children, washing the feet of the saints, aiding the poor, and building the church were staggering.
Katharina Zell, the wife to Reformer Matthew Zell, is a particular inspiration as her dream of having children was never realized; and her writing, theological knowledge, and intelligence rightfully give her the title of Reformer. Additionally, she hosted hundreds of persecuted Protestants in her home, visited prisons her whole life, left an impressive body of writing, and poured herself into the Church. She is a reminder that when good desires go unfulfilled, it's only an opportunity to direct that energy elsewhere for the glory of God. The books and biographies of her don't say whether she was "happy" without children, but I'd put money that she was joyful, because her hope was in Christ and her life was brimful with His service. The same way she found joy in childlessness is the same way you and I will find joy in singleness. Find a woman in Scripture or church history who will be your Katharina Zell and help shape your vision through her example.
When I listed my life goals, I was surprised to find that out of 8, 6 had nothing to do with a husband or children (the two were literally just to have them and do those jobs well.) These six give me plenty to work within the two, five, ten or however many years until I get married, which are all comparatively short compared to the 50-60 years I have left Lord willing. If your only two life goals are to get married and have kids, you are definitely not ready for either. You need to get a serious grip on your own identity or you will not make a good wife or mother.
5. Set some goals.
After you know your life purpose and what you want to do with your life, set some SMART goals to get you there. Make a list of goals for the next season of life (college, singleness, something like that) which all feed into your life objectives, and then make a smaller set for the year which feeds into your goals for the season. Then, make a set smaller than that for the fall or winter which feed into your goals for the year. I personally stop at goals for the month that feed into my goals for fall, because monthly goals are generally bite-sized enough that I can do one thing a day or every other day that gets me ultimately closer to accomplishing my life objectives.
It is wise to get into the habit of doing this now, because at no other time in your life are you going to have the freedom to focus on yourself as much as the present. When you get married, there is no "I" anymore--it's we; likewise, when you have children, they will consume every drop of your energy, time, and finances (and you'll love every moment.) Too often, women wish away their season of singleness and then wake up one morning, married, surrounded by needy little humans for the next two decades, with no idea of who they really are. If you're single, there's probably a reason--not that there's something wrong with you or you "aren't ready", but that it is necessary for your sanctification. God is trying to give you a gift here--be wise enough to accept it and take full advantage of it, because marriage and motherhood, unlike singleness, last for a long, long time.
6. Embrace radical sexual purity.
For many people, one of the more difficult parts of being single is being a sexual person who is not (or if you are, definitely stop that) sexually active. This is a good desire and a gift which God gave all of us, including girls, for a reason, and it is only human to struggle in this area. But you cannot feed it whatsoever because if you do, there are two directions it can go and neither are good: it can become a yawning pit of discontentment that keeps you from enjoying your life, or it can become a sin monster that will wreak havoc in your spiritual life and possibly threaten your future marriage. As I said, it's a good desire, but when it becomes a temptation, it needs to be put to sleep until the time comes, and this can be accomplished through starving it.
When I say that you really cannot give it an inch, I hope you listen, because there is no such thing as too much vigilance in this area. You have to know your weaknesses and be on your guard. Don't entertain sinful thoughts for even half a second after you become aware of them--kick them out of your mind. Similarly, if you are tempted to do something wrong, get busy with something else quickly. If another person is tempting you, run away as Joseph did in Genesis 39:12. Doing these things is never fun, but life is hard sometimes; you'll get over it. Entire books on this subject have been written, and if this is an active struggle for you, I highly recommend you read one. I bring this up because a lot of people make sex an idol (no thanks to society) and it kills their joy in singleness because they can't have the one thing they think will make them happy.
Of all things that could kill your joy in singleness, it'd be most sad if it were this. But it doesn't have to. It is possible to essentially forget about sex until the time comes, but you can't do that if you're obsessed with it or actively sinning sexually. The more you do those things, the longer it takes to detox, but it is never impossible. It takes time and persistence to get out of the habit of constantly having it on your mind or sinning regularly, but it can be done. To many people, a lack of sex is the most horrible and unbearable part of singleness, but it doesn't have to be that way. Contrary to popular belief, you CAN live a very full, happy, and good life without sex. You are not a slave to it.
7. Do something.
What is all this I hear about life being miserable when you're alone? No it's not! Save up your money and buy a cheap airline ticket to somewhere. Go to work early and stay late so you get that promotion. Get on YouTube and listen to free lectures on something that interests you. Go to the library and borrow some books. Shut off your Netflix and deactivate your Facebook, and take free anything lessons on YouTube. Copy out a book of the Bible by hand so that you can really soak in the majesty of God's Word. Go explore somewhere new with your friend on your day off. Go on a mission trip. Take voice lessons. I get so sick of girls acting like their lives are on hold until they meet someone. These are the best years of your life, so act like it.
8. Improve your character and personality.
Ask your close friends seriously what your flaws are and then work on those. If you are in Christ, the Holy Spirit will bring your sins to your attention--repent, sin no more, and let Jesus cast your guilt as far as the east is from the west. Find an older lady at church to disciple you so that you can grow to maturity in Christ.
9. Make Jesus your greatest treasure, even in the hard moments.
Allow Him to clean up your gross, sinful tendencies, habits, thoughts, actions, and words. Let Him crowd out fleshly desires. He is good and He loves you so much. He is holding your life gently and orchestrating your circumstances with far more care than you could ever imagine. Your singleness is an act of sovereign grace--sister, trust! He knows it's hard, but if sanctification was easy, it wouldn't achieve its goal of shaping you to be more like Jesus. In your dark moments when you cry in your shower and fill up your wastebasket with Kleenex (I have those moments too), I hope these Spurgeon quotes comfort you as much as me:
"I've learned to kiss the rocks that throw me up against the Rock of Ages." - Charles Spurgeon
"Had any circumstance been better for you than the one you are currently in, divine love would have placed you there." - Charles Spurgeon
"When you are so weak that you cannot do much more than cry, you coin diamonds with both your eyes...The sweetest prayers God ever hears are the groans and sighs of those who have no hope in anything but His love." -Charles Spurgeon