Q. I was widowed a few years ago and totally devastated by my loss. I am so tired of feeling lost and lonely. Though I have no desire to remarry, I would like at least to have some companionship with the opposite sex. But these thoughts make me feel so guilty and disloyal to my late husband, who is now with the Lord. What should I do?
—Alana Purvis, via e-mail
A. You feel lost and lonely—lonely because you have been severed from a living part of yourself, and lost because you don't know what to do next. You can't visualize how the rest of your life is supposed to go, now that the life you shared with your husband has been taken away. What next?
This is one of the big "Who am I?" meaning-of-life moments that we don't expect to have again after we marry and settle down. Once we've begun a successful relationship, we find it takes on its own existence. When this union is broken the surviving partner reels disoriented, feeling like an amputee.
It's up to the surrounding community to offer the bereaved a role that is useful, honorable, and fulfilling. You're not getting this; in fact, few single people in our culture do, since pairing up is relentlessly presented as the only choice. Singles are continually pushed together and prompted to find a mate, as if anything short of couple-life is deficient.
Christians desperately need to recover a way of seeing the single life as valid on its own terms, and not simply as a holding tank. Though never-marrieds are made to feel like failures, that would hardly be history's judgment of their great example, the apostle Paul. He found his life so fulfilling that he said, "I wish that all were as I myself am" (1 Cor. 7:7).
Paul speaks directly of your situation, too. "A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. If the husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. But in my judgment she is happier if she remains as she is" (1 Cor. 7:39-40).
Remarriage is clearly permissible, yet Paul says that remaining single will make a widow "happier." Your intense loneliness makes this sound impossible, but early Christians were hardly lonely, whatever their marital status. In those close-knit communities, mutual love was vivid evidence of Christ's presence, not just a pleasant, superficial "fellowship." Few, indeed, would have lived solitary lives. Single Christian women (or men) might throw in their lot together and share expenses and housekeeping duties in an environment of mutual prayer, the younger caring for the older as they encountered the challenges of age. This setup eventually became known as a "monastery," but less-formal arrangements could work just as well.