A note for our single sisters

DSCF3879This may seem like it is coming from someone who doesn’t understand what it is like to live for years as a single woman.  I married my husband six months before I turned twenty-four, which is still pretty young.  Within the next few years we had a daughter and now, eight years later, our home is bustling and noisy with people. It seems so long since the quiet apartment years, where my decisions to sleep in on Saturday depended entirely on whether or not I was tired. Even though they did not last long, I do remember those years and I remember feeling very insignificant.

When I graduated from college, I wasn’t sure how to live.  If I wasn’t going to get married (and at that point, marriage was the last thing that was happening), then should I pursue more school? a career? should I move away from my home town? keep working the mishmash of jobs I had accumulated in college?  I had some plans, but I questioned all of them.  I had many friends getting married, having children, moving on to a new stage of life and making new friends.  I felt a little bit stuck.  I also felt like it didn’t really matter what I did because I wasn’t doing it for anyone.  If I worked hard and saved money, what was it for?  Travel? by myself?  It sounded fun, but ultimately felt fruitless.  I remember thinking from time to time that I was just waiting for my life to start, and I couldn’t start it without someone to work for and to love me and work with me to create life.  But I wasn’t stuck; I was growing.  And now I know how silly it was to feel that way.  I was growing in ways that I didn’t know then and I was growing in ways I didn’t think I needed to.  I was learning how to serve others in ways that didn’t feel like serving.

Maybe you are feeling stuck, maybe not.  Maybe you are happy to be single and that is why you are, maybe you would really like to get married but the timing hasn’t worked out.  Maybe you are feeling desperate, or maybe incredibly content.  But no matter where you are, I am always immensely encouraged to meet single women in the church.  As a single woman, you are not bearing fruit in the same way that many married women do.  You are not raising children yet or helping a husband, and it can feel like your fruit is not as important.  But that is absolutely not true.  As a single woman, you are bearing fruit in a way that most wives and mothers are not able to.

During this stage of your life you will be able to find quiet, something any mother will tell is almost impossible after a couple of children.  You are able to create your own schedule and into it you can build times to study and pray and read Scripture.  You can go for a walk alone and memorize Psalms.  You can pray, uninterrupted for longer than a few minutes.  The church needs those prayers.  You can read books, the long books, and study them and research and grown in knowledge and understanding.  Paul says that married women are often distracted with thinking about how serve their husbands, but unmarried women can focus on how to serve the Lord without that distraction.  It is true that our situation is different than the Corinthians at that time, but the practical principle still stands.  A woman without children can sit through an entire sermon on Sunday mornings and can grow in understanding the Bible at a rapid pace.

On a similar note, single women are able to serve in the church in a way that many married women can’t.  Single women often have their evenings free unless they are taken up with homework, but even then there are usually Friday nights and Saturdays and Sunday evenings.  There are so many things in the church that need to be done that many church members who are raising families don’t have the time for.  There are events that need to be planned and executed, there is building maintenance, there are mothers with new babies, there are elderly who need groceries and freezer meals.  You can organize Bible studies and prayer groups.  One of the most amazing meals that was delivered to me after a baby was made by a lovely single woman in our church.  She brought dinner and homemade granola bars and others snacks that we could eat through the week.  Another one of my single friends sent me boxes of clothes that she found on sale when my husband and I were going through a tough time financially.  Don’t be tempted to think that these things are not fruitful – anything that you do to build and encourage other saints is fruit that Lord sees and fruit that He will reward.  Just because you don’t have your own husband and children to help and serve doesn’t mean you can’t be a huge blessing to all the families around you.  Whatever God has gifted you with, use it, give it away, bless others with it.

I know that many of you have full time jobs, and many of you are also in school.  I know that many single women do not have extra money.  This can make it feel like you can’t give much.  You are tired on the weekends, just like the rest of us.  You are busy until late at night and you are up early the next morning.  You might not have the time to plan church events or to attend Bible studies.  But there is something else you have to understand.  Your job or school, whatever it is that is keeping you so busy, is a huge blessing to the rest of us.  If you are a chef, think of how many families you have blessed with your food, how many mothers are thankful that they didn’t have to do the dishes for a night.  If you are a nurse, think of how many people you can serve by caring for their physical needs.  I am always thankful to find female medical professionals for my daughters.  If you are a teacher, you should know that there are incredibly thankful moms behind each of those students because teaching is very very hard work  If you work at Target, bless you.  Families needs Target.  If you clean houses or file insurance papers or clean teeth, thank you!  By your work, you are serving all the families in your church and community.  Houses need to be cleaned, insurance papers need to be filed, teeth need maintenance, and where would we be without all of you who have this stage in your life to do those things?  Your work is a service and it is important.

I want you to know how much you are needed, just as you are.  The church needs women that are not married.  We often talk about how important motherhood and marriage is – and those things are very important – but do not think that just because you are unmarried or without children, you are doing anything less important or less fruitful.  We need you just as you are, Christ needs you just as you are, without a husband, without a boyfriend, without children.  If the church is a choir, all of use have a different part to sing, and He needs you to sing your part beautifully.  For most women, being single is just a short stage of their life.  Your time to sing this part probably has a definite end that you do not know yet.  Don’t waste this time and don’t forget to sing.  We really need you and we are really thankful for your beautiful voices.

Defining Contentment

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Jeremiah Burroughs defines contentment as “that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition”

Contentment is one Christian virtue that Americans have an incredibly hard time understanding and applying.  We have such comfortable lives that we often never have to figure out how to be happy when things aren’t going our way.  And when things do go against our will, we are so prone to blame and point fingers and find someone to be responsible for our discomfort.  When tragedy hits we talk to each other about how strong we are and we think if we just put on a cheerful face then we will have things under control.   But this is not contentment.  Being truly at peace about all circumstances doesn’t come from our own strength.  I would offer this other additional definition  – contentment is believing that a good and kind Father is intricately working out the details of our lives, which results in a deep peace and quietness and strength in our souls.

Being content isn’t about being in a good mood, or having a cheerful personality.  There are so many people who appear to be happy, but their hearts are bubbling with worry and anxiety.  Sometimes a sanguine personality is nothing more than a thick cover over a soul that is constantly frustrated with their circumstances.  When someone is really at peace, through and through, their joy will come out genuinely and consistently, not just in outbursts of happiness.

A content person is someone who is happy with their whole story, with every little detail of what God is doing with them and with their life.  But it does not mean that they ignore the pain.  It does not mean that they don’t cry to the Lord like David, it doesn’t mean that they don’t seek answers like Job, it doesn’t mean that they don’t ask the Lord to deliver them every day.  We can beg God constantly for deliverance while still believing that He is love and while still believing that His timing is better than ours.  That is where we can find the joy within the trail.  When we are at the brink of disaster and the only thread we have holding us is our prayers, we will see Christ in a way that we cannot see Him without the trial.  When all our efforts have failed and we are just waiting for the Lord to fix our situation, we will feel the strength of the Spirit in a way that we never could have before.  That sweet fellowship with God is something to be thankful for in and of itself.

When someone is really content, when they have accepted that all the workings of their lives are being orchestrated by a God who knows them and loves them, all of their worry and complaints and fear melt away.  When I believe that the God who created me, who gave me all my talents and skills also gave me all my responsibilities, I can be content to let go of pursuing my talents.  When I believe that God wants me to spend the evening doing dishes, then I can cheerfully and without complaint set aside the reading and writing and drawing that I wanted to accomplish.  He made me and He knows how my time should be spent.  He is not wasting my life.

Contentment has a long view of the story.  It sees the trial as a valley with a light at the end, as just one chapter of the story.  A content person is not defining their story by their struggles, they are defining their story by their deliverances.  A content person isn’t talking about how terrible it was when the Egyptians followed them out of Egypt, they are talking about the chariots that are at the bottom of the sea.  They are not talking about how hungry they were in the wilderness, they are talking about how good the manna tasted and how sweet the quail was after so long without meat.  They know that no matter what horrible trials they will walk through in their stories, the end is always being welcomed to glory, where there are pleasures forevermore.  The content person knows that when at the end of a good story they will see the purpose for all the dark chapters.

Contentment isn’t lost by changing circumstances, it is constant and steady.  In a way, it is self-sufficient, unaffected by surroundings.  It is so easy to think that if we are just strong people we will be able to stand through anything.  That is what our culture tells us. But the truth is the only thing that is never-changing, that is truly self-sufficient is God.  If we are to find this un-changing contentment we have to be completely resting on Him as our rock, because He is the only rock.  The strength of contentment comes in the peace of standing on Christ and believing He loves us.  And when we are strong we can make the most of all our trials, we can learn the lessons we are supposed to be learning, we can help others who are going through the same trials, we can see all the beautiful gifts that God has given even in the darkest places.  But if we are constantly fighting God’s will and constantly distrusting that He loves us, we will constantly be frustrated with whatever is happening in our lives – with our health or our friends or our family or our bank account or our jobs or our possessions or our church or our school or our responsibilities.  Contentment brings the strength not to complain because we are not desperate, we trust that His timing is better than our wants.  That kind of peace brings a strength that can be a light in all sorts of dark places our trials may bring us, that kind of peace can give us the strength to turn our trials into sweet offerings that bring glory to the Lord.