It seems society often measures our success or otherwise according to our attributes and abilities, and our employment and relationship status. But, just as not everyone who is married is happy all of the time, nor is everyone who is single unhappy or lonely all of the time. Emma Graetz shares some of her journey, navigating life as a single person – and as a loved child of God.
‘Are you married?’ – This is one of the most common questions I am asked when I meet someone for the first time. As a single person, it is also the question that places me instantly in a social box – it’s the box of pity about my current social status.
Ironically, the most common response to my social status is, ‘Oh – you’re not married. Don’t worry – he’s out there somewhere. Have you tried online dating?’
I do not speak on behalf of all single people. Each one of us has a different story and reason for our singleness. For some, this is a constant daily struggle and for others, there is an acceptance of our circumstance.
For me, I have come to realise that being single doesn’t define who I am. First and foremost, I am a child of God. That is who I am. This is the one thing I have in common with everyone I meet whether they are in a relationship or not. After that, every person has a life story that is unique to them and that needs to be honoured and respected.
My life story started with a plan. My plan was not to stress about being in a relationship and to just enjoy the early years of my working life, living overseas and interstate until I reached my late 20s. At this age, I then planned to meet the man of my dreams, get married and start having a family. In my mind it seemed perfectly planned. Over a decade later, I now realise I actually had a dream, and God had the plan. Working through the heartbreak of a dream not being fulfilled has been a challenge and taken a lot of personal reflection. Initially, I often compared my life to friends who had found a partner – most of them in their early 20s – and were settling down and subsequently having children.
Questions I would ask myself included ‘What is it about me?’; ‘What have I done wrong to prevent me finding someone who will love me?’; ‘Had I made wrong choices that led me to a life of singleness?’; ‘If only I lost more weight, or joined more social groups – would this help me find the man of my dreams?’. Of course, throughout this self-reflection, there were also many tearful prayers to God asking ‘Why me? Why doesn’t anyone love me for who I am?’.
It was strange, though, how God constantly answered my tearful prayers. He didn’t miraculously place someone in my life to start dating. Instead, he showed me a reason why my singleness mattered. He revealed to me that he has a bigger and better plan for my life as a single woman, and that I need to trust him. He has called me into a life of singleness and I need to embrace that as my vocation and be content with this current life situation.
What I have come to discover is that there is a silent life milestone ‘blueprint’ that society promotes – leave school, get a job, get married, buy a house, and have children. Unfortunately, it is this blueprint that many single people are socially measured against. If we haven’t achieved these milestones, then it seems to others that we are missing out.
My life is no less because I don’t have a husband or children. My life is full of blessing and as part of my singleness journey, I need to rejoice in this and become content with what God has provided for me. Philippians 4:11 has been a cornerstone of comfort for me as I have embraced singleness: ‘I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation’.
My secret is to see singleness as my vocation, not my failure. Being content brings you to a place that doesn’t seek what you think you should have, but instead looks at what you do have and sees the blessings. To accept this contentment has been a very freeing experience for me. It has meant I no longer get frustrated with being single. Instead, it has given me the strength to answer questions about whether I have a partner with a true sense of conviction. I’m no longer ashamed about being single. I have even taken the bold steps of being completely comfortable to go by myself to the movies, or go to a café and enjoy brunch and a good book, or even travel overseas.
Quite often I am the target of unsolicited advice. Many people want to reassure me that ‘the right one is out there somewhere – I just need to be patient’! Along with well-meaning comments, I also found that some people want to comfort me with Bible verses, for example, ‘Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart’ (Psalm 37:4). When this passage is presented to me as a single person, it makes it seem that I am lacking faith, because I have not yet received the desires of my heart (for example, a husband, children, and a house).
Ironically for me, this is now one of my most treasured Bible passages. I was at a retreat when this verse was shared with me during a time of struggle with my singleness. The leader who shared it with me pointed out that this is an often-misunderstood verse, because it is not about our earthly desires, but our heavenly desires. This verse actually says that if I delight in all the blessings that God has given me, then my heart’s desire is actually to love, know and serve him, regardless of my situation. This was the best piece of advice I have ever been given as a single person! It brought together all my struggles with being single, and laid them at the foot of the cross, and allowed me to be free to serve in my singleness, and not let that be a burden I carried daily.
Each year, the hardest day for me as a single person is Valentine’s Day. The one day when flowers and chocolates and romantic gestures are sprawled across TV screens and social media. For me, the meaning of this day is ‘Happy Single Awareness Day’. This year, I placed a rant about this day on Facebook, with an unexpected response. One of my friends from church saw my comment, and this prompted a discussion in their home that not everyone is in a relationship, that this day can be really tough for those without a partner, and that everyone deserves to feel loved.
My friend’s five-year-old daughter, Elysia, decided to show me some love by creating a photo frame craft with the words ‘You are loved’. They hand delivered it to my house for me to find when I got home. It was this gesture of love that helped me appreciate that, despite my singleness and my once-a-year rant, I am loved for who I am, regardless of my situation.
As I near the later end of my child-bearing years, there is a real reality that I might not have children of my own. Even though that has been upsetting at times for me, I have come to a real sense of peace on this issue, mainly because I no longer feel like I have missed out on having children.
My family has given me three beautiful nephews I am able to call my own. I have eight wonderful Godchildren, who, together with their siblings, all have a special place in my heart and my life. And even at church and through other friendship groups, I have a number of children who see me as a significant adult in their lives. I don’t need my own biological children to know what it means to have children in my life. God has covered that area of my life in abundance!
My biggest heartache currently stems from the question, ‘How do we as church, embrace people like myself, who are single either by choice or circumstance, and include them in the vibrant life of the church?’.
I’ve fought hard for years to be recognised as someone who has worth and value to contribute to groups like church councils and committees. Previously, because I am both single and a woman, I have been perceived by some people as not having the necessary life experience or wisdom.
My encouragement to churches is to see single people as bringing a different perspective to your mission and ministry activities. An even greater challenge is to think about how to incorporate them into the social community of the church, especially when they might not fit into young adults groups or women’s or men’s fellowships age-wise, and they may not connect with family social groups if they don’t have children. Single people still want to be part of a community that cares and includes them regardless of their relationship status.
Being single might not be my story forever – only God knows that outcome. For now though, I am committed to embracing my singleness as a calling and delighting in seeing where and how God uses me as part of his bigger plan for his kingdom here on earth.
Emma Graetz is Director of VET (Vocational Education and Training) at Australian Lutheran College.
First published in the August 2018 edition of The Lutheran.