The necessary seasons of singleness
Heaven, I think, will be like the first day of spring after a lifetime of winter.
And what of getting married, as so many of us dreamers expect we’ll do one day? That, too, will mark the beginning of a new season of life, to be sure. As will engagement, and falling in love, and that glimmer of delight that may arise when we wonder, Could this be the person I’ll spend the rest of my life with? While we mustn’t let our imaginations get so carried away as to prevent us from living in reality, I do find it so necessary to dream. Anyway.
I fear that we often look at single life as awfully wintry, as barren and lonely, dark and cold. We wait for our future spouse like we wait for that first warm day, for crocuses to pop out from the long-hidden earth, for icicles to melt and green to return. Or maybe, we think, that spring day will never come, and we’ll suffer through a lifetime of snow and ice and isolation.
These are fears that can gnaw at the heart, I know. And I tread lightly here, for this is sacred ground. The desire of a young person—of any person—for love, companionship, intimacy, is deep. And it’s an area of great woundedness, a place in us that the Enemy loves to distort, to attack, to use against us. But it’s also worthy of investigating, of shedding light on, of celebrating, even if it comes with the high cost of vulnerability. The risk is worth it to me.
And just to be clear, I’m no expert in this. What I can offer, though, is what I’ve learned from my failures and triumphs throughout my few years of yearning. I don’t intend to point to this season as if it’s a necessary evil, as a time to suffer through in order to arrive at a destination of long-awaited contentedness. Rather, I regard it as a time to use well, to be sharpened, to become who we are, a treasured call from John Paul II.
I’ve been reflecting on seasons a lot lately, so I find the analogy to be very apt. I’ve been immersed in pondering the season of life that I’m in, the season of my spiritual journey as it has transformed from prolonged desolation to surprising joy, and the literal seasons as winter descends in full force. (And maybe, just maybe, Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life was an inspiration as well, even though I was severely disappointed and quit halfway through. I’m not bitter about it. Not at all.) I hope these seasonal reflections on singleness will provide you with some valuable food for thought.
A summer of generosity
Oh, summer. It’s a time of such joy, I find. Despite my days as a student having passed, it still feels saturated with possibility, what with its long days and charming nights. We travel and relax. We’re more readily available. We slow down with the heat, embracing a torpor that’s surely justifiable.
I propose that singleness is a time to be generous, with ourselves and with others. It’s a summery season of late nights, no spouse or children to return home to. It’s a time of adventure, a chance to take that solo trip to Paris or that cross-country road trip with friends. We can live slowly and deliberately, taking our time and setting the pace and soaking in a singular freedom.
In marriage, spouses are called to a great depth of generosity, to each other and to their children. They wake up each morning faced with another opportunity to choose that man, that woman, on the other side of the bed. The one whose virtues and vices they know intimately. The husband who snaps after his stressful day at work, who surprises her with her favorite bouquet. The wife who nags him to pick up his dirty shoes, who spends hours in the kitchen to prepare an exquisite meal. The children who concurrently delight them and drive them to insanity, day in and day out. It’s a depth of generosity I can only imagine.
In singleness, we have the freedom to exercise a great breadth of generosity. We can work hard alongside our coworkers, can build good friendships in our communities, can write letters and make calls and pay visits to friends across the country. We can feed the homeless on a Friday night, drop everything to comfort a suffering neighbor, drive a roommate to the airport at the crack of dawn. We can practice responding with an unquestioning yes to those many invitations to serve.
A fall of transformation
There’s a charm to fall that I’ve always loved. It’s the crisp air, the crunch of leaves underfoot, the earlier darkness that draws me inside. We watch the trees take on their stunning hues, we put on layers before leaving the house. We watch school buses deliver their passengers to newly routine destinations, full of promise or dread or a mix of the two. It’s a time of change.
I propose that singleness is a time to be transformed. Instead of passively standing by as if our life hasn’t truly begun, we can model our lives after the trees. We can dive deeply into self-discovery, sifting through our natural tendencies, fostering our gifts and rooting out our vices. We can ask questions of wise friends, invite our parents to tell stories of our childhood, seek a spiritual director for the battles we face. We can shed bad habits, can let them off the branch and wither as they ought. We can watch people we admire and pick up their behaviors.
Surely, marriage is a time of profound transformation. But what a mistake it would be to think that we cannot begin the process, and even make tremendous strides, before then. I love that singleness offers the possibility to readily change. There’s ample room for an unattached person to try and to fail in the pursuit of virtue, to experiment with hobbies and habits, to dwell in introspection and arrive at long-hidden personal discoveries. And, like those stunning autumnal trees, the deliberate transformation of a virtuous single person produces such arresting beauty.
A winter of longing
I’d venture to say this may be the most familiar analogy, the one that may resonate the most. But I’d like to reevaluate the comparison I initially made. Yes, winter is cold. Yes, the days are short and the nights come early and February drags on. But winter can bring about the most beautiful longing, I find. We gratefully turn in, we cozy up by the fire under a blanket, we seek warmth and safety. And it’s a time of waiting.
I propose that we cultivate and embrace the longing that singleness produces. How could we delight in that first spring day without its preceding months of wintry yearning? And how could we rejoice with an unprecedented joy on the day of our wedding if not for an active wondering and longing and dreaming in our years of singlehood? But here’s the exception I must painfully present: even if we experience a great desire for marriage, even if it’s written by our Maker on our hearts, there is no guarantee that it will come. A wise and holy friend once told me, God does not promise us a vocation; He promises us Himself. I don’t understand it, and I don’t like to say it, but I believe it to be true. But I also urge you to know: this is not a cause for despair.
You have made us for yourself, O Lord, said St. Augustine, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You. There is no perfect rest for our hearts in the Lord until heaven. Earthly marriage is but a shadow of the bliss we are destined for. God, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, wants us to share in His Trinitarian love, a love we cannot imagine. We can catch glimpses of it while we are bound by time and space, but a mystery it will remain until we enter the life to come. It’s easy to say and impossible to grasp. I can’t claim the same experience as a person who’s been single for many years, who longs for marriage and who’s lonely and perplexed, who has long wrestled with this mystery. But I have tasted that loneliness, that doubt of God’s goodness, that exasperation. Is that you? Are you there? If so, you are not alone. I urge you to hold onto your beautiful longing. And to join the psalmist in crying out:
How long, Lord? Will you utterly forget me?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I carry sorrow in my soul,
grief in my heart day after day?
But, please—never, never, lose sight of what comes after:
But I trust in your mercy.
Grant my heart joy in your salvation.
He is merciful, He is. And He’s worthy of trusting. Look forward to the joyous salvation that He has in store.
A spring of delight
Spring! Blessed spring. Warm and sunny days, busting buds and signs of new life and shedding of burdensome layers. Like the freeing laugh after a good cry, the triumph of Easter Sunday after the despair Good Friday. The air is fresh, and the days are longer. There is such hope to be had.
There ought to be great delight in the single life. There is such promise, such possibility, such an expansive horizon. As I’ve said before, I am a strong proponent of dreaming. It’s an art, and it’s good. We dream when the single season will end, either for good or just for a time. We notice that handsome man or lovely woman, we develop crushes, we flirt. There’s a newness, an unknown. Yes, there are stops and starts. Premature ends to promising beginnings. Winds in March and storms in April. But we can choose to let our hearts be hardened, or we can keep them open and soft and ready for love. I once suffered through a heartache after which God brought me to a beautiful conclusion: the more my heart is hurt and healed, the more I’m able to give and receive love. It’s not that I look for heartbreak, of course, but it can be the cause of the most delightful new beginnings. The springtime of singleness is unparalleled—let us seize it while we can.
So, there it is. The organized chaos of my thoughts. They’re developing and evolving, just like the seasons. Just as they ought. And as I begin a new springtime of my own, I look to this season with joyful hope. Whatever the weather in your heart these days, I pray that this has been a gift to you. Know that you are intimately and infinitely loved. And however long your winter, spring will always come.