What To Do When You're Single and Wish You Weren't
Being single when you wish you weren’t can be difficult. I was hoping to be in love and married by twenty-two but didn’t find Mr. Right until I was twenty-nine. For some people, this is no problem—the twenties are for career advancement, traveling the world, and school, school, and more school. But for me, it felt like a problem. Or if not a “problem,” a gaping hole in my soul.
There are plenty of opportunities for pain in singleness. Loneliness, disappointment, jealousy. Bitterness, weariness. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick,” Proverbs 13:12 tells us, and most of us—at least at one time or another—hope for companionship, romance, and faithful love. But while we’re waiting, hearts can start to wilt as hope begins to wane.
So what can be done? One option is simply to toughen up. Yet if we’re not careful, we can get a little too cold—our hearts start to harden, if for no other reason than to provide a first line of defense: if my heart isn’t fully alive, it won’t fully feel the pain. But being half alive is not the only option.
In case you’re in an early stage of Christian singleness, or a late one, know that there are plenty of life-giving activities that you can do to stay on the path of growth, vitality, and hope in Christ. Even without that “complementary relationship and comprehensive institution of cooperation given to humanity,” as Pastor Nic Gibson puts it, that is marriage, we can still bear and display God’s image beautifully and joyfully as singles.
Let’s first cover the basics. Here are some Christian activities that can glorify God and awaken our soul in the process.
Be family to other believers.
Singleness provides you with the unique ability to live with other people, at least some of the time. And anyone who has lived with roommates knows that these experiences build character. In living with others, we learn that we can be annoying, and we can practice not being annoyed. If we’re courageous enough, we even learn to deal with conflict instead of burying our emotions and to take hold of graces instead of letting bitterness fester (Hebrews 12:15). What a perfect opportunity to learn how to receive feedback and not retaliate (1 Peter 2:23, Matthew 7:3).
Make it a practice to spend time with your siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, nephews and nieces. Spending time with family members that aren’t the same age or in the same life stage as you reminds us that our life stage is not as big of a deal as we are tempted to think. Pray for and seek out opportunities to love widows and orphans (James 1:27).
Be a neighbor to your neighbors! And even to your enemies.
Don’t think you have any enemies? Ask yourself, and the Holy Spirit, “If I were to have any enemies, who would they be?” There’s a strong chance someone will come to mind. Find a way to love them. Ask yourself “Does someone have something against me?” Do what you can to resolve it. Do you have something against someone else? Don’t leave unforgiveness untouched—reconcile.
Regarding your physical neighbors, find ways to be their friend. Help them out by cooking or shoveling. Talk to them. Carpool.
Put more time and energy into service and leadership.
You likely have more time on your hands than someone with a spouse and kids, so volunteer in the church nursery or coffee ministry. Be the one to initiate. Plan events. Host parties. Show up to what others are trying to do for the kingdom. Find ways to help other people practice their giftings. What do you wish someone else would do for you? Do that for someone else.
If circumstances haven’t allowed you to pursue your own vision or calling, find someone else’s vision that you can get on board with, and serve them in it. You might end up learning how to respect authority, stay humble, and find joy in seeing someone else’s dream come true. Doing something small faithfully can prepare you for more later (Luke 16:10).
Give special attention to bearing God’s image in ways that require more time and focus.
If you haven’t already, be sure to get your habits in order. Practice eating, sleeping, and exercising right. Establish healthy rhythms of work, rest, and play. Build consistency with spiritual disciplines, including attending church, reading the Bible, and praying alone and in groups.
Pursue inner healing. It’s a great idea to start dealing with your issues now, rather than during marriage and parenting, when they’re exacerbated by the pressures that come with these life stages. Get counseling, read books to learn about yourself and others, journal and self-reflect, invite correction from mentors, participate in extended times of prayer and worship, with prayers like, "Father, what do you want to address in me? What do you want to heal in me?” Listen. Write down what comes to mind. Follow up with it.
Pursue a career and get good at it. Put in extra hours. But continue to hold it with open hands. You can have only one master (Luke 16:13).
Consider vocations or opportunities that involve higher levels of risk since you don’t have the same responsibilities as are found in families. Serve in other parts of the world. Practice giving more generously than you’d feel comfortable doing if others were dependent on your income. Practice stepping out in faith and trusting God.
Exercise your freedom with the mind of a steward.
You have a life to invest for God. Family is not the way you are doing it now. Consider God’s character and do whatever your hands find that honors Him.
What do you like to do? What do you enjoy? Do it! What’s one of your favorite Bible verses? Make it a life verse. Remember it often and let it shape your thoughts, words, and actions.
These are some practical things to consider while we are single, and doing them is an opportunity to nobly bear God’s image. If done with love for Jesus and in partnership with the Holy Spirit, we can wish for our mate while also bearing fruit, as many of our desires are fulfilled by Christ. Proverbs 13:12 may warn us about hope deferred, but it goes on to say, “…a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” We can be fully alive. Our hearts can still be tender. We can be awake to God and His kingdom even in the waiting.
I know from experience, though, that this isn’t always done so easily. Especially if waiting is prolonged and involuntary, it takes a toll. Hearts can only seem to take so much honest disappointment before we are tempted to cover it up with sarcasm, gossip, and the like. We might hide loneliness with self-sufficiency, or embarrassment with a mask of lightheartedness. It’s hard to carry unfulfilled desire.
So, if you are carrying some heaviness despite pursuing the basics as best you can, I offer you these suggestions so that you may tend to your heart and continue in hope. I pray that the Holy Spirit will breathe fresh life into you even while you continue reading. Ask Him to highlight one or two points for you, and then try them.
Talk to your soul.
“Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” (Psalm 42:5)
Find a worship song or an album that includes truths you need to hear and sit with it for a long time, through an entire season even, so your soul knows what to sing when your mind and emotions don’t.
Memorize a psalm. Any psalm! Psalms 1, 23, and 16 are great places to start. As you memorize and recite it, prayerfully meditate on the words.
Use Psalms as a guide for lamenting, then write your own. Psalms 13, 25, 31, and 86 are some examples. Write out the expectations you had and have for your life and how you were or are disappointed. Offer it to Jesus as a sacrifice. It is beautiful and precious to Him. Praise Him for what He has done.
Don’t discount your struggle just because someone else’s struggle is worse. Let your emotions wake up again. Cry with the Lord.
Fight against a martyr-complex, bitterness, and self-pity.
When you see the good that is in front of you, call it good, and believe in its goodness. Don’t only sacrifice and suffer. In other words, don’t only continually die to yourself because you think this is the path to godliness. It is, but you must also put on the “new man” and live the new abundant life in Christ (Ephesians 4).
Whatever your lot, don’t just endure it. Accept it, call it good, enjoy it, and pursue coming alive. You can’t make anyone fall in love with you, but you can choose to fall in love with Jesus and with life.
Try a crafted prayer. A crafted prayer is one that you think about, plan, write (using Scripture to help), sit with, edit, and then pray over and over. Prayers that you pray over the course of a month, year, or decade can change you, so consider how you want to be changed and write a prayer to that effect. Or consider the many crafted prayers already written that you can take for your own. For these, you can look to the Psalms, the Book of Common Prayer, and the apostolic prayers of the New Testament.
Remind yourself of the bigger narrative.
Consider eternity often. Read biographies from different time periods and locations around the world. Read books about heaven or the history of the church and moves of the Spirit. Scroll through beautiful pictures of nature instead of Instagram when your mind needs a break. Foster friendships with people who are eternally minded, who shine with the light of the life of Christ.
The desire in your heart for marriage and family is a good one. Don’t let it die. Ask the Lord to help you in your season of waiting, and then ask Him again and again and again. He will see you through. Your heart of love for Jesus, free from offense and bitterness in the midst of disappointment, is a beautiful gift you can give to Him. Hold on to hope. Hold on to Him.
And come alive.
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:6-9)