The sweetness of singlehood
This is the first of four posts in The Singleness Series. Stay tuned for more, every Friday in November!
So there I was, having just settled into my favorite pew at the nearby chapel for a holy hour on a glorious day off.
Oh yeah, I scheduled that series announcement to post on Facebook at noon today, I remembered to myself. The Singleness Series. Shoot. You know, I don’t know if I want to do that after all. Maybe I should wait until February for Valentine’s Day? That’ll give me some time. (Time to decide to scrap it altogether, that is.) Yep, much too vulnerable. Very non-comfort zone. Way too risky. I’ll write some nice little posts about running and work and friendship and Thanksgiving and call it a month. Yes, that’s what I’ll do. After my prayer, I’ll return home and cancel the post, and no one will ever know. Phew. Dodged that bullet.
Well, friends, noon came and went, and here we are. I’m not quite sure how I miscalculated the time so grossly, but then again, I’m no mathematician. Call it divine providence or dumb (bad?) luck—The Singleness Series lives on.
As I’ve said, I've got lots of thoughts about life as a single millennial, a vivid dreamer and detailed planner, an unmarried 26 year-old Catholic woman with more and more fiances and spouses and parents among my peers these days. These thoughts of mine are both hopeful/joyful/grateful AND real/candid/raw. And sharing them scares me. But not enough to back out now. So, here goes nothing.
Let’s start with the joy.
Three months ago, my boss had my coworkers and me create our own life plans. What are the most important areas of my life? he had us ask ourselves. When I die, how do I want people to remember me? And lastly, what are my top three priorities? We took time to think and pray, especially reflecting on the past three months of our lives, and looking ahead with particular desire and hopefulness. And here’s what I came up with:
I want to be fully alive.
I want to make a gift of myself.
I want to become a saint.
In fact, I want all of these things for everyone I know. And you know what’s crazy? I’m single, free as a bird, and all of these things are possible for me in my current state of life. Within reach, even.
But, but—don’t I need to be swept off my feet and say I do and kiss my beloved to be fully alive?
And don’t I need to share a mortgage and a name and a bed and to bear life with faces that resemble mine to make a gift of myself?
And don’t I need an earthly companion on this journey to heaven?
Well, no. And you, you single person out there who may be reading this with anything from dread to joy in your unattached heart, you don’t either. Allow me to explain.
On being fully alive
The glory of God is man fully alive. (St. Irenaeus)
You may have noticed, this is a theme of mine. He came so that we might have life—so that I, Emma, and you, you personally, would have it to the full. And it’s possible now. There’s a marked freedom in the single life to pursue this abundance.
For instance, I like to write (surprise!), so I’ve committed to posting in this blog every week. It’s time-consuming and nerve-wracking and my goodness it brings me life. It’s helped me to hone my gift, to connect or reconnect with people I hadn’t expected, to grow in self-knowledge and self-possession. And I have a radical degree of availability to devote my time to it right now, as a single person.
I also love to run. And I have the freedom to train for a half marathon. To wake up before the sun, to head out alone for an hour and a half on the weekend, to keep my Wednesday evenings free to meet up with my running club. I’ve devoted myself to these months of training, to incremental increases in my mileage, to an ambitious but attainable finishing time. Singleness lends itself so well to such a long-term, consuming pastime.
What are you passionate about? Have you taken the time to pursue those passions, to awaken them? As single people, we have this great gift of flexibility, freedom, and control over our lives now that isn’t the case in marriage. Now, we can make big changes. We can switch jobs, or travel abroad, or invest in a new hobby. We have the freedom to dabble in many interests, and become excellent at a few. There’s room to say yes, to commit. (And that might come in handy one day.)
On making a gift of ourselves
Man cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself. (Pope Paul VI)
Oh, how I love this one. For a while now I’ve been struck by how being single affords me the opportunity to love widely. There’s a great depth of generosity that spouses are called to, what with vowing to love and honor each other all the days of their life, but now, as single people, we have the privileged call to a breadth of generosity.
One thing I’ve discovered recently is that I have a love of hospitality. It brings me great joy to invite people into my home, to carefully prepare a meal, to hang up their coats and offer them a drink and show them to their place at the table. My friends and I can have dinner parties that last well into the night, or well-earned brunches after early morning runs. My roommates and I can invite over old friends and new, siblings and cousins, neighbors and priests, at any time. We can plan a big party for weeks in advance, or open our door to an unexpected guest at the drop of a hat. Singleness allows it.
I’ve found a similar wideness to my life through Blessed Is She, having formed a Philadelphia chapter of a wonderful nationwide network of Catholic women. It’s yielded a 300-person Facebook group, a place for prayer requests and recommendations. It’s produced a lovely small group of women (among many others) that gathers weekly at my home for study and prayer. It’s brought a message from a young woman I’ve never met, wrestling with Church teachings and seeking the truth. This time of singlehood gives me the chance to make many connections, to develop a great variety of friendships virtually and in real life, to give of myself and my time with abandon.
How are you making a gift of yourself? Who in your life can you love and serve and attend to, perhaps in a way that no one else can? As single people, we have a certain vastness of life. Now, we can feed the homeless at a soup kitchen, or give of our time to serve at our parish, or offer to babysit for married friends. There’s ample room to give, widely and freely and fully.
On becoming saints
To be saints is not a privilege for the few, but a vocation for everyone. (Pope Francis)
Marriage is not the goal. A wise priest told me that once, and had me repeat after him. Marriage is not the goal. It felt strange coming out of my mouth, as I thought of my countless daydreams and my list of favorite baby names and the deep yearning of my heart.
But, of course marriage is not the goal—sainthood is. The altar is not our ultimate destination; heaven is. But this desire for marriage is good, good, good. Because—get this—God wants to marry us. He made our very bodies with a distinctly spousal meaning. He made each of us to be an infinite ache, an embodied thirst. He gave us a longing for love, and communion, and intimacy that only He can fill. Only Him! Isn’t that mind-bogglingly marvelous? (Thank you, Theology of the Body Head and Heart Immersion Course.)
The road to sanctity begins now. Singlehood is not a season of biding our time, waiting for our lives to begin. Jesus wants to live His life in us, to make Himself known in and through us, to bring us to life. We need not wait for a spouse to come along to start living in light of eternity. Now is the time.
As single people, we have time to pray. I mean really, deeply pray. We have room to try and fail, to develop good habits and cultivate virtue. We have freedom to grow in intimacy with Jesus, to practice giving ourselves over to Him, what with all our preferences and stubborn wills and grand plans for the future, dreamy husband and cute babies and all.
So how about you? Have you given any thought to this? What does St. [insert your name here] look like? For all of us—single or dating, engaged or married, hopeful or brokenhearted, perfectly content or exasperatingly desperate—sainthood is the goal. Let’s rejoice in that. And let’s start living for heaven now.