From the kitchen window, I noticed Chuck and Marlene—the neighborhood gardeners—walking their miniature poodle past my house, craning their necks to take in the horrific overgrown jungle that is my yard.
Later in the day I received an email from Marlene with the subject line, “I have a concern...”
Bracing for the worst, I clicked.
Marlene, who is actually very gracious, was simply worried about a possible theft because my crawl-space door—which may or may not store a weed whacker, I honestly don’t know because I’ve never been down there—was ajar.
Thank you, Marlene.
The Same Burdens, Carried Differently
Sadly, I am routinely overwhelmed by the oppressive yard, a leaky freezer, a dysfunctional dishwasher, faulty air-conditioning, and regular Internet malfunctions. And though I’m certainly not willing to admit that I find these challenging because I’m a single woman—when so many more competent women clearly manage them without difficulty—I will note that these nuisances, and more, were magically solved by someone else before I could even notice them . . . when I had a spouse.
Whether single by choice or by circumstance, many single women bear worries—many being more seismic than the weed situation!—that some of our married friends may not. Or rather, we shoulder them differently. Women who are single face a variety of concerns—from weighing big decisions, to end of life care, or, I’m told, the lawn mower “throwing a blade” (whatever that means)—in which we carry the usual burdens and responsibilities differently than married women.
Some women, like 45-year-old Sandy, describe the satisfaction of knowing that they are able to manage all they need to. Sandy reports, “There is a certain strength that comes from shouldering responsibilities on my own, from the fact that I can do all of this. That I’ve learned how to be strong and get what I want and not settle for something less feels good.”
Maybe I’ll feel that empowered once I find someone to manage my lawn. But right now, as a newly single person, financial security is at the top of my list of concerns.
As a married woman who earned about a quarter of our family’s income, I was prone to be a very generous giver. (Note: this is technically not bragging because I was simply . . . clueless.) Now that I’m on the fast track to financial independence, I’ve had to ask, “Whom was I trusting?” Now at the end of each month, as I calculate what I can give, I am keenly aware that God alone has been meeting my needs all along.
Elisabeth Klein, author of Unraveling: Hanging On to Faith Through the End of a Christian Marriage, describes a similar experience of misplaced financial confidence. “I didn’t worry about money, not because of my faith in God, but simply because I had a husband.” She adds, “And though God has provided for my children and me in extraordinary and consistent ways, I am acutely aware every day that I don’t have that cushion; I don’t have a person in my life who is taking care of me.”
Not all women—including some who are married!—have experienced the comfort of that second provider. Barb, 55, has always been single. She explains, “As a single woman I guess I’ve always been conscious of the fact that I am a one-income family. I have no children to help me in the future. I did not come from a family of means so I don’t have a big inheritance. So, I have concerns about assistance as I age and about having enough money to care for myself.”
The experience of women who are single is far from homogenous. Single women without children like Barb, both younger and older, report a particular set of concerns about being cared for later in life. Single women with young children, though, shoulder a host of different concerns: childcare, costs of raising and educating kids, navigating a relationship with their children’s father or bearing the burden of his absence.
Barb remembers, from her own childhood, her father caring for older folks who couldn’t keep up with their homes anymore. Yet she reveals, “I am very uncertain if this kind of spirit will be around for me. But, one thing I do know, God is still the same so I will lean on him to help me figure this out.”
Barb’s memory and wondering point to two of the robust resources available to women who are single: our communities’ care for us and God’s faithfulness to us.
The Sacredness of Community
When I became single I suspected that faithful friends were poised to receive me, but I knew I had to avail myself of the gifts God had provided. Sally became my Tuesday morning walking buddy and listening ear. Nadia was brought on as my advisor on financial affairs. Ellen was the out-of-town friend I texted when I felt emotionally overwhelmed. Andrea was the in-town one. Lynette was good for a ride to the airport. These faithful ones who’ve made God’s presence real to me give me reason to believe that God will continue to provide in the future in the midst of challenges I cannot yet see.
Wanda was 62 when she battled cancer. “When I had breast cancer surgery,” she reports, “for a week I had to have around-the-clock care. This required a morning shift, an afternoon shift, an evening shift, and an overnight shift. Someone had to fix all my meals.”
This is where the body of Christ is called to step in and be the family God provides. Too often, though, when we’re in less desperate circumstances, we may be tempted to protect ourselves by guarding our hearts. Fueled in part by some of the less-than-helpful cultural stereotypes of the single woman—lonely, rejected, “on the hunt” for a man, or the crazy lady with 50 cats—we may try to hide some of our vulnerabilities. But God welcomes us, in safe places, to accept all the parts of ourselves, even the lonely parts.
Sandy confesses, “I used to dread that moment when the plane would taxi to the terminal and shut its engines down because all around me people were whipping out and booting up their cell phones.” She adds, “I would hear snippets of conversations all around me like, ‘I love you, can’t wait to see you.’ And I would think, There isn’t a single person on this earth that cares that my plane just landed.”
Sandy’s experience is one of the reasons I allow my friends to drive me to the airport when driving myself and parking would be equally convenient. And I am pleased to do the same for others. As we open ourselves to the community God provides we have opportunities to do the two things we were made to do: give and receive love.
Our communities also point us to the One whose loving presence does not fail. Melissa Walsh shares, “From time to time, I needed a quick reminder to stay brave and stay close to God.” Indeed, Henri Nouwen names the points at which we are weak, which he calls our “poverty,” as that place where God wants to dwell. He explains, “This means that our blessing is hidden in our poverty. We are so inclined to cover up our poverty and ignore it that we often miss the opportunity to discover God, who dwells in it. Let’s dare to see our poverty as the land where our treasure is hidden.”
In my mind’s eye I see that treasure abiding in an unsightly, weedy, overgrown land where I am yoked to Jesus—the one who shares my burdens.