Today’s guest post is from someone who’s living into her singleness. She’s moved to Europe, where she teaches English Literature during the school year, and guides young people through the Alps in the summer. Her contentment and joy, right where she’s at, challenge all of us to drop the “as soon as” language, and begin living today. Kristi Dahlstrom is my oldest daughter. Our love of mountains and words, coffee and wine, conversation and travel, keep the two of us, both left handed, woven closely.)
“And don’t be wishing you were someplace else or with someone else. Where you are right now is God’s place for you. Live and obey and love and believe right there. God, not your marital status, defines your life.” I Corinthians 7:17 (The Message)
I once spent two days alone in a forest. Though I can only vaguely recall reading and writing overlooking a sun-filled valley, nearly a decade later I still hear our instructor’s last words of advice. “You’ll be bored and probably hungry,” he warned, “It will look pretty nice to just curl up and hibernate for two days. But don’t. Don’t sleep your time away. Don’t wish it away. It will be over soon enough; don’t miss it by wishing you were somewhere else.”
I didn’t wish myself out of the forest that weekend, no surprise to those who know me (or this blog’s owner Richard Dahlstrom, for that matter). But I’ve wished away plenty of time since then. Minutes until the bus came on rainy days. Hours until my Sunday night shift ended at Starbucks. Weeks until Christmas, until spring, until summer, until school starting again. Months until adventures big and small, vacations and visits, climbs and camping trips.
Unknown interval until I embark on the enigmatic journey of marriage partnership.
Though single, I know I’m not alone in this. Statistics give a nod to later marrying, churches compare crowds of singles, and my university continues to sport a roughly two to one ratio of women to men. These only corroborate a decade of stories and experiences. Some tell of acute loss and disappointment, others of the slowly unfolding mystery of why intimacy seems to “happen” to some people and not others.
Like many others, especially women, I’ve often been perplexed by well-meaning advice from within the Christian community, where the tacit message is that getting married after twenty-five years is as predictable as puberty, as obtainable as a driver’s license or an MBA. We’re told to write letters to future husbands, like foreign pen pals who never write back. Some counsel us to forget about men entirely (because that’s when the right one comes along), while others advise actively seeking out opportunities to meet them. All in all, the advice amounts to Just wait: your life will be great someday soon.
In some senses, I agree. Waiting is biblical, and can be a time of transformation and trust. But “Wait on the Lord,” the Scripture most often quoted, is a message to all of us, not just the unmarried. We’re all waiting for something; none of us is complete. If we were so darkly inclined, we could define human life by what is missing, by the cracks between who we are and who we desire to be. We all long for reconciliation, for knowledge, for respect or power or healing. We aren’t finished, so we wait on the Lord, our hope and our song, our salvation and our future.
Yet while waiting is humanity’s shared reality, more often than not Scripture tells of people who actively sought to know and serve God, despite their incompleteness. Hebrews parades the faithful before us, praising many who spent their lives waiting with unfulfilled hopes, trusting God for promises they couldn’t see. And yet these heroes of the faith don’t waste away in disappointment. The news that they were waiting at all lingers at the end of Hebrews 11, coming after portraits of faith in action, people who longed first for God and lived with the whole-hearted passion to work for God’s kingdom. That they did not get all that they desired is an afterthought; these were people who lived abundantly in the meantime. So why have we, single Christians, taken up waiting as our whole whispered mantra, our main vocation until “real life” begins?
Stories get stuck in my head like pop songs. Lately it’s jazz pianist Keith Jarrett, who came to Köln, Germany in the 1970s to play a concert. He was already famous enough to sell out an opera house for a show that began late at night, after the opera, and he’d prepared an original piece for the concert. When he arrived, he saw that instead of the concert piano he’d asked for, a shabby rehearsal piano stood on the stage. With no time to change instruments, Jarrett sat down and changed the song, composing a new piece on the spot, one more suited to the instrument. I’m listening to it now, hearing more than aimless improvisation in this layered and complex labyrinth of music. The audience listened, stunned, for almost an hour, while he created something beautiful that he’d never heard, hadn’t prepared or practiced.
It doesn’t matter, now, what Keith Jarrett meant to play. What matters most, what continues to matter to us as we listen to this marvelous music, is what he did with the stage he was given. He could have left the opera house, refused to play. We remember what he played that night because life was unexpected, and he was willing to change his plans.
I’m not living the life I grew up rehearsing for, with doll weddings and playing house. Even if I’d practiced the parts of young wife and mother to perfection, I’ve never found the stage set for me to play them. I can sit down in the wings and sulk, a diva making demands. Or I can step onto strange stages, play new songs. Part of growing up, living the adventure of life with Christ, has been learning to play the instruments I’m given. The instrument of singleness, though it has seldom been my first choice, has allowed me to travel, to serve others and grow in the knowledge of Christ’s love in ways that I couldn’t have otherwise. This has been a new song, equally a gift.
Perhaps this won’t be my stage forever. But if I spend this time wishing myself into a partnership that would end this solitude, I’ll miss something important. Every day, Christ offers the chance to live fully for Him, to know His love in all circumstances. “Wait on the Lord,” He reminds me. “Don’t wish these days away.”