"How are you doing with that, Han!?"
I've been asked this question several times a week by deeply caring friends and family who recognize that this season might be a difficult one for me. And here's what they're referring to: my two younger siblings both just got married within six months of each other. That leaves me, the oldest, as the only single one in our family. My brother just got married to his beautiful, empathetic, animal-loving and sandals-and-socks-wearing fiancee, Jill. And my sister married her creative, community-oriented, death-metal-loving boyfriend, Austin. Both of them are with people who love them well and who bring out the best in them. That leaves me, the oldest, as the only single one in our family. Woof.
My “single status” isn’t for a lack of vulnerability or willingness to go out and meet new people. I’ve had my fair share of awkward dates with the guy who turned out to be gay, the one who asked me to meet him in a car wash for Acai bowls and the one who couldn’t stop talking about how attractive he was (yeah, he compared himself to Jake Gyllenhaal three times). I even promised my best friend that if I wasn’t dating by the time I turned 25, I’d sign up for the Bachelor (broke that promise real fast - but I might reconsider for Peter;). All this for the sake of finding love. But this season has actually been marked by something really different for me: Deep contentment. And I don't throw those words around lightly.
What do I mean by contentment? That I don't wait to live my life, or commit to a home or community until I am married. What if that isn't what God has for me in my life? The last thing I would want is to put my life on hold and wait around to make decisions or really settle into a place as if my life now was a means to that end. My life now is not defined by the could be's of the future. It is defined by the people, the places, and the work God has called me to commit to and be faithful to in this very moment. So I live now. I am a complete person now because of Christ's finished work on the cross and work in me. Being in a relationship or engaged or married doesn't make me more or less complete than I am right now, right here. But it's taken some work to get here.
As I've spent time thinking through my journey to contentment, I've been able to articulate the practices that I believe have led me here. So, because I've been asked about it pretty often, I wanted to share these practices more openly. And my hope is that, if singleness is something you find yourself dissatisfied with, you will
- Know you're not alone, and
- Find some hope and encouragement in these practical ways of moving forward.
I want to be clear: contentment is not the opposite of desire.
In other words, I don't believe we need to suppress desire in order to find contentment (it took a while for me to understand this). My desire for relationship with someone extraordinary has not gone away. I mean, come on! We were created for relationship. That is something to celebrate! It is a God-given desire and it is good. Just not when it consumes us. If we're honest, it doesn't feel good to be consumed by it. Because that only leads to disappointment and dissatisfaction. The truth is that I can live with both contentment and desire as simultaneous realities because I have learned to abide in Christ. And that has, ultimately, changed my whole perspective of how I live my life in the present.
This list isn't the end-all be-all when it comes to living well in singleness. I also don't want to invalidate any feelings here - I've read hundreds of articles, books and blog posts that urge us to remember that singleness is a gift. And reality is that there are days it just doesn't feel that way. Days where it feels like your heart physically aches as that desire goes unfulfilled. Ultimately, I would hope that these practices would lead your heart to deep seated contentment that remains even on the harder days.
Acknowledge the expectations you've had and give yourself space to grieve the death of them. If I'm being honest, as much as I trust God with my life and know I can't see the future or control my circumstances, I also feel the reality that my life has played out very differently than I thought it would. The expectations I lived with, especially in this area, were informed and formed by certain liturgies. These liturgies are rituals or practices that, whether we are aware or not, shape our love and our idea of "the good life." For me those were movies, some of my favorite songs (who doesn't love "I Wanna Dance With Somebody"!?), the relationship culture of the university I went to (marriage machine). Even the age my parents were married shaped what I thought the "right age" should be. So, when I hit that age and wasn't anywhere close - I felt like I was way behind. Like I had lost. I remember two birthdays ago, I was at home in Czech with my family and my best friend, in my favorite city - and I spent most of the day crying. I had just turned the age at which I thought I'd be married. Or at least either have a home I could call my own or be working a job I loved and feeling fulfilled.. And I didn't have any of those things. That felt like a loss and it came out of nowhere. I needed to recognize that my expectations had not come to fruition and give myself permission to grieve the loss of that expected "life".
As a sub point to this one, I believe it is super important to take an inventory of the liturgies we are immersed in. I've had to take an honest look at what rival visions of "the good life" or “flourishing” have captivated my love and desires and what cultural acts of worship are shaping and competing for my heart. What movies and TV shows am I watching and how are those shaping my desires? What words am I soaking in through songs or books that shape my hopes? What places do I hang out in and what people do I spend time with, and how have their philosophies shaped my beliefs? None of of these things are necessarily bad, but they do shape and impact my heart. So, if I can intentionally become aware of these liturgies I am immersed in and how they are shaping my vision of the good life, I can expose the wrong beliefs and start engaging in love-shaping practices that recalibrate my heart to set it back on track for God's vision of the good life. This helps me grieve and move on with greater hope.
Make a list of the gifts you've been given in this season because you are single. And actually practice receiving them - open and enjoy them. Every season comes with gifts that other seasons don't. And I really don't want to waste the gifts of this season wishing I had those of another. For me, one of the greatest gifts is the freedom with which I get to invest in my community. I don't have to say no to time with people because I need to protect time with a significant other. I also get to pick up and go wherever I want, whenever I want. I get to come alongside my siblings and purposefully invest in them and their significant others. I have the time, space and emotional energy to pour into strengthening and deepening those relationships and rejoicing with them in this season of their lives. This doesn't just mean that I can recite the gifts that I "should be thankful for" in this season while I wallow in my dissatisfaction, but that I truly receive them and enjoy them to the fullest.
Live your best life now. Really. Your best life doesn't come when everything you've ever wanted comes true - when you have that perfect body, the apartment of your pinterest dreams, or that blingy ring on your finger. You can live it here and now. And when you really enjoy and live a full life instead of desperately trying to grasp and control your circumstances and turn them in your favor, people are attracted to that. There is a sense of winsome confidence, calm and life-giving joy about a person who loves the life they are living. It's contagious - it inspires and draws people to you because they want what you have. And you know what?! I actually believe that the best path to meeting someone you want to be in a relationship with is on the path of a vibrant life. When we truly live and are doing the things we feel like we were made for, where we give of ourselves freely and lavishly - it is in those places that we can then see who is doing those things alongside us. And who knows what could happen!?
Use this time to learn and practice being in real community - not as a means to marriage, not for the sake of marriage, but for the sake of community. Be committed to the holiness of your friends. Come alongside them and love them when they are unlovable. Practice engaging in hard conversations with grace and with truth. Practice hospitality and open up your life and home to others. These are beautiful things to practice as a believer who is representing Christ and engaging the Church and world. It is also a good time to invest in yourself. You want to be wise with your resources, but proactively leave your comfort zone, take yourself on trips (treat yo' self!), get a gym membership, eat healthy, take a cooking class and start crossing things off your bucket list. Do things that refresh and restore you and that make you feel excited about life. I've filled this season with good books, great coffee (as I try to make my way to every craft coffee shop in Chicago), becoming a "regular" at one of my favorites (S/O to Intelligentsia!), intentionally focusing on being healthy with the food I buy and going to the gym, and spending a lot of intentional time getting to know new people I run into in the places I frequent as I build my community in this new city.
Go on dates. Take courage and ask a girl out. Say yes to the guy you may not have said yes to before. Tell your friends you're open to being set up. Go out and meet new people. Take the pressure off of yourself to find your life partner. Practice dating without evaluating or coming to conclusions about whether or not you could marry this person on the first date. Simply ask yourself: "Based on what I know now, do I want to know more?" View this time as an opportunity to learn about yourself and about others. What are you attracted or not attracted to? What do you have to offer someone in a relationship? How are your communications skills? What patterns do you notice in yourself in the process of dating - are they healthy? Over the past couple of years I have been intentional about getting to know people through casual dates. It has taught me a lot about myself while helping me narrow down the 6-ish core things I am looking for in a man I would choose to spend the rest of my life with. Really, don't take yourself too seriously and go have fun! At the very least you'll get some GREAT (and I mean really great, awkward, funny, and embarrassing) stories or even a new friendship out of it!
And here's the kicker: If you meet someone incredible along the way, step out of your comfort zone and take a risk in moving towards relationship. It's okay to do that. Even if you don't have everything figured out or have your life perfectly in order. Cause, guess what!? No one has their life figured out. No one is perfect. Don't let fear of _______ keep you from moving into another season of growth and learning.
I get to genuinely celebrate the beautiful relationships my siblings are in, stand next to friends as they commit their lives to one another, and buy baby clothes and books for my pregnant friends. I know that their happiness doesn't come at the expense of mine, so I get to give the gift of my celebration and presence even more generously. I give from a place of overflowing because I am enjoying the gifts I have received and embracing my life in the present. I don't have to withhold my genuine joy for others to make myself feel better about someone else being given what I believe I am lacking.
Most importantly, I have found that the key to true contentment is learning to abide in Christ. St. Augustine said so poignantly: "You have made us for Yourself and our heart is restless until it finds rest in You." Our hearts are going to be dissatisfied and restless until we look to the only One who can give us true rest and ask Him to fill us in a way only He can. In order to abide, we need to know the One we are abiding in. So, these past few months, I have been very intentional about spending time getting to know who God is. I practice taking him at his word and resting in that, instead of grasping and controlling. And here’s the thing: I didn’t always have a desire to know Him this deeply. Most days, I just wished He would give me what I wanted. But I wanted to have that desire...so I prayed for it.
And he gave me a deeper desire for Himself.
As I’ve become more familiar with God and His character, I trust him more fully with my life. I trust His timing. I trust in his sovereignty. And I don't feel like I have to try and put myself in situations where I will meet someone, or make myself seen. I don't have to try and manufacture or manipulate my circumstances by hopping on a dating app or constantly trying to "put myself out there" just so I feel like something is happening in that department of my life. Although I do think there is a healthy level of being proactive and making myself available, I want to do that from a posture of openness to how God might be at work in my life versus operating out of a place of discontentment and restlessness. When I trust God with my life and act in obedience to him, I live at the center of His will. And that puts me in the best possible position to meet someone. But more importantly the best possible position to live well, serve well and love well.
As I've practiced all of these things I have found deep contentment. And, YES, there are days that it feels harder to watch everyone around me get engaged and married and start picking out baby clothes and posting all of it on social media. And those are the days that I just need to unplug, be present and enjoy my life for exactly what it is, where it is, and with whom it is. Because that is what is real, and that is the life I’ve been given to make the most of and be faithful with.
Here's to all the single people out there who love their life now and can still belt "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" at a Karaoke bar!
As always, I would LOVE to hear from you. Shoot me an email or leave a comment if you have any thoughts or questions. I am always up for talking about this over the phone or over coffee and would love to come alongside you in your journey. And if there's someone else you know who might be encouraged by these words, please pass it along!