Lessons from Longing
A couple years ago, I hurriedly stopped by my neighborhood Starbucks. Visions of being at work on time were slipping away; however, facing the morning without an extra-hot latte was more than I could bear.
Drink in hand, I headed for the door when someone caught my eye. Lounging in a velvet armchair was a slim, chestnut-haired woman in her early thirties. She was clad in typical Colorado-casual: long-sleeve tee, black leggings, sport sandals. A classic band of hammered gold graced her left hand, which held the Denver Post she was reading. The woman's 18-month-old son was asleep in her lap with sunlight streaming through the window, glinting on his blond hair.
For days I pondered my reaction to this scene. Looking at them, I felt a well of emotion rising from my stomach, flooding my chest and throat, until it reached my eyes and became tears. Why?
Someone inside me that morningthe someone screaming to be heardwanted to be that woman. To wake up and put on yoga pants and a T-shirt on a weekday. To be free of the need to work outside the home full-time. To be able to sit in a Starbucks at 8:00 a.m. on a sunny April morning, drink a latte, snuggle my child, and read the paper. I don't know her story, but what I saw was a young wife and mother enjoying the hand life dealt her.
I'm a single woman, and it's true that I'm living a life gifted to me by my Lord. I have a loving extended family, incredible friends, and opportunities for ministry in which I feel God's pleasure. But singleness is hard. Really hard. Most days the kind of companionship I ache for in this world, I don't have. This feeling constantly drives me to seek answers from God, and the answer I consistently receive is: "Keep hoping."
What kind of response is that?
Some questions only have answers in heaven. "Why am I still singlewhen you know I long to love and be loved by a good man? When this is in my very design as a woman?" Questions such as this come anyway. Not knowing the answers invites the practice of faith in one of the most raw areas of my life. Though it's pointless to use our limited understanding to critique God's plans, in my experience, it's helpful to catch glimpses of purpose in my single state. What's God creating in me through this experience?
Each passing year, I worry that my dream of being a wife and mother is slipping a little further from my grasp. At 32, my friends tell me this is silly. They're right, but my fear remains.
Somewhere deep inside, I hope having a husband by my side will enable me to relax a little. I don't want another Savior; I simply want to go home each evening to someone who believes in me and encourages me, because this just might make facing the scary parts of life a little easier. But not having someone there forces me to turn to God instead. He answers by teaching me practical ways to combat my fear, which is really a result of spiritual assault from the Evil One.
In his book Waking the Dead, author John Eldredge describes spiritual battle in terms of "agreements." What agreements do I make with the dark voice that tells me I must not be capable of a deep, committed relationship with a man? That because of this, or because I'm not attractive enough, I'll be alone forever? I've begun to recognize this condemning voice and to refuse acquiescence. Because my singleness forces me to lean only on God for complete assurance, I've learned from him to see the battle more clearly, and he's teaching me how to fight. As a result, like Dorothy's Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz, I've found courage to face an uncertain future without fear.
Psalm 27: 1-2 says, "The Lord is my light and my salvationwhom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my lifeof whom shall I be afraid?" God is and should always be my protector, provider, and Savior whether I have a husband or not.
In being without the earthly companionship I long for, I face a decision. Do I believe, as Eve did when she was tempted in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:2-6), that God is cruelly withholding the very thing for which my heart hungers? Or do I choose to believe what God has told methat he's doing what's best for me even if it hurts and I simply don't understand (Romans 8:28)?
Perhaps faith in the face of difficulty and disappointment pleases God simply because it keeps the ones he loves so close to him. In Mark 9:17-27, a distraught father brings his suffering son to Jesus to be healed. Jesus asks the man if he believes his boy can be healed, and the man replies, in desperation, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!" I love this prayer; it's so wonderfully honest. In our darkest times, when we come to the end of ourselves and have tasted loneliness past what we think we're able to bear, we too can cry out to Jesus for help and hope. In resisting the temptation to doubt his goodness toward us, we're brought closer to him.
I've had nights of such loneliness and disappointment that I've wrestled with God and refused to let go. Although I feel wounded, I know he's with me, because Psalm 34:18 says, "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit." As I cry out for faith, I come to know his broken heart in ways only the brokenhearted can. After all, God knows what it is to long for something you don't have; he's longed for the affection of his loved ones for centuries.
Every once in a while a man comes along who sparks my interest, and vice versa. Then, a funny thing sometimes happens. The more interested I become, the more I become someone else. Someone a little less opinionated, less passionate, more interested in oh, say auto racing.
Recently I began spending time with a man in a singles gathering I attend. He's a terrific guyhe loves the Lord deeply, has a heart for people, and is actively involved in ministry. He also happens to be physically attractive, too. In our group, he's known as the most eligible bachelor around.
When this man began to pursue me, I felt all the old fears kick in. Was I pretty enough? Thin enough? Charming and talkative enough? However, instead of changing who I was to suit his taste, I began to long instead for someone to love me as is. I didn't know if he was that person, but I decided to let time reveal the mystery. And when he broke things off, I wasn't devastated. I simply felt I'd been given an answer. Though disappointed, I was content and able to let go.
God has made me the woman I am; years of being single have allowed me the opportunity to learn who this woman is. Perhaps God allowed this brief relationship to show me the futility of trying to be someone I'm not, as I've done in previous relationships. It was so much easier and less exhausting to just be myself. I realized I'd rather be single than be with someone who wants me to be someone else. What a lifetime of hard work that would be!
God knows better than anyone who I really am. He wants a man to love me for the woman he made me to be. He knows when I give who I really am to the right man, the groundwork is laid for a powerful union. What freedom I'm finding in allowing others to know me for who I am: the Colleen who doesn't resemble Cindy Crawford, doesn't always say the right thing, and is bored by college basketball!
Last year, I relocated from Colorado to North Carolina. It had become apparent God's next step for me was back to the East Coast, closer to my family. I was unemployed for a while and struggled with deep loneliness. There was a small plaque on my dresser with Jeremiah 29:11 on it: "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'" Jeremiah's words are a well-placed reminder from the Lord that whatever my future holds, it's in his hands.
In the meantime, God continues to build my faith, increase my reliance on him, and gently reveal to me who I ama woman with a greater capacity for love and a greater capacity to bring him glory. As I think back to that sunny day at Starbucks, I realize God's gifts of courage, faith, and authenticity come in many forms, but they're all meant to accomplish that same single purposeshaping us into the women he created us to be.
Colleen Alden, a freelance writer, lives in North Carolina.
Copyright © 2005 by the author or Christianity Today/Today's Christian Woman magazine.
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