Single and 40: Dealing with Disappointment

Balancing the feelings of frustration and gratitude

This week on Java with Juli, we talked about being single and sexual. I loved hearing from my friend Lisa Bishop. I hope you'll listen to our conversation! —Juli

I am 43, single, never married, and have no kids. That's me. While those statistics do not define me, sometimes I let them do just that.

Like many girls I dreamed what my life would be like as a wife and mom. Honestly, there was never a time where it even crossed my mind in early adulthood that my life "status" would not include married with kids. There were even times when my belly would be bloated after a big meal and I would stand sideways in the mirror and think, This is what it will look like when I am four months pregnant! Being a wife and mom was something I just naturally assumed would come to fruition.

Let me assure you that this post is not a bitter, depressed, 40something waxing on about being single. (And by the way, if you are bitter and depressed, I feel you; those feelings can be so intense. Know that you are loved and you are not invisible. You matter.) This post is about some realizations I have had over the years about the probability that I may never be married and certainly will not birth my own kids.

My cousin is beautiful, 27 years old, lovely in every way, and recently got married. I was watching a video online of her dancing with her dad at her wedding reception when I was struck with some thoughts. The sweet daddy/daughter dance is always a highlight of emotion at weddings. My cousin and her dad danced to the song, "I Loved Her First." The song is about how a father is the first man to love his daughter, and then comes a beautiful point when he gives her away to the next man to love her, her husband. That must be such a poignant time in a father's life! The emotion and beauty of giving his daughter away is powerful. As I was watching them dance, I was reminded of how being single has felt like more than a "me deep" experience of disappointment. It affects other people as well.

My mom will never get to be mother of the bride. I get choked up every time I think about this. My dad will never experience that moment when he gives his "little girl" away. My parents will never get to experience the joy of holding their grandchild, which I have felt such guilt over. As an only child, I feel a burden that I am my parents’ only "shot" at being in-laws and grandparents.

My mom and dad have never in any way said or done things that would cause me to feel bad; it is just my own thoughts and struggles.

I guess it never hit me that not being married and not having kids would have such a multifaceted emotional impact for me. As I mourn the loss of some childhood dreams, I’m also mourning my inability to fulfill the dreams I think most parents have for their kids: to see them married with kids of their own someday.

Now, I am not asking you to feel sorry for me. I think I speak for many single people when I say, sometimes we just need to be transparent and share some of the disappointment we face at the possibility that marriage may not be in the cards. There may be times where it stings a little more than others. Please, just listen; don’t try to fix it—just listen and pray.

On this journey of singleness, I have trusted God and his plans (most times). I am incredibly grateful for how God has clearly and abundantly worked on my behalf, answered so many prayers, and given me many desires of my heart. There are moments I have felt guilt for the disappointment I sometimes experience. Throughout all of this, though, I have learned it is okay to experience disappointment and gratitude at the same time. My single life has embodied these two opposing emotions at once sometimes, and that’s taught me a lot along the way.

When I feel disappointment, my tendency is to kill the desire that is causing the pain. I think, If I just keep my heart numb enough, I will not be disappointed. This is the lie I tell myself. The truth is, when I kill off those parts of my heart, it is hard for me to feel other things too, like gratitude. So I choose to feel both disappointment and gratitude because God can work in them both. I invite him into every corner of my heart and choose to trust in him, even as my emotions oppose themselves.

So while at times I am tempted to let my earthly relational status define me, God’s truth quickly rushes into my heart and mind. My relationship with Jesus is what defines me, and this is what he says: I am loved, I am cherished, I am chosen . . . most importantly, by him (and so are you).

Lisa Bishop is the Director of Women's Small Groups & Women at Park Community Church, an urban, non-denominational church in Chicago. She is a certified Christian coach, public speaker, and Bible teacher. Lisa is passionate about discipling, equipping, and encouraging women as they pursue Gospel transformation and living in their true identity as a daughter in Christ.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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