Single? What are you waiting for?

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.”

 

About Richard Dahlstrom

As Pastor of Bethany Community Church in Seattle, Richard teaches with vision of "making the invisible God visible" by calling people to acts of service and blessing. It's working, as a wilderness ministry, homeless shelter, and community meals that serve those living on the margins are all pieces of Bethany's life. "We're being the presence of Christ" he says, "and inviting everyone to join the adventure." Many have, making Bethany one of the fastest growing churches in America in 2009 according to Outreach Magazine.

  • Ben Scholten

    Yay! Singleness is awesome in blessing, and more addicting in adventure every day!

  • Sonya

    I am single again and loving it. Love having a fresh start at discovering me: my capacity to love and be loved, new adventures and journeys… Finding the truth that He knows of me.

    Nothing can put that process on hold. Yes, I am looking for that special someone, but it is because I want to, not need to. Jerry Maguire missed the boat when he “you complete me.” We are completely whole just as we are, whether we’re single, divorced, or widowed.

  • Lauren

    Kristi,
    Thank you so much for writing such a beautiful post today. Will ruminate on this for days, weeks, months to come….
    Thank you.
    Lauren

  • Lynn

    Very mature, and very true. Those who have never been content as a single are probably also going to have the hardest time when married, because there is still a great deal of aloneness even in the best marriages.

  • Jonathan

    It’s rare that a young Christian man or woman doesn’t get caught up in the almost competitive nature of the church dating scene. I was there once – like a nervous 7th grader at a school dance – until I realized that marriage doesn’t solve any sort of problems. Like what Lynn said: “there is still a great deal of loneliness even in the best of marriages.”
    Throwing two inherently flawed individuals together – in the same house, at the same breakfast table, in the same bed – does not make for less problems but new and more complex issues that people sometimes pay thousands of dollars to get help with. Not that marriage is a bad thing – it is God’s design for proliferation of the human race – but it is merely another stage of beautifully flawed human existence, not an answer to any problem.
    For me personally, I have found things as a single man that I might not have found otherwise and discovered Jesus in a way that marriage might not have allowed me.
    Despite what my parents might say, I’m not avoiding marriage. Rather, I’m trying to be what God made me to be today without a thought for tomorrow. Great post.

  • http://www.christytennant.com Christy Tennant

    Kristi, what a refreshing expression of truth. I pray more women will come to this place of freedom. I was 36 when I got married – 3 weeks ago! – and I have spent a lot of time thinking about the 35 years leading up to when I met my husband and began the whirlwind courtship and wedding planning (one year, to the day, from first phonecall to wedding day).

    I was not sitting around waiting to find the One when we met. I was not looking for him, though I had spent some time doing that earlier on. But at some point in my 20′s, I realized that being single gave me a profound freedom to love widely. A single woman need not look far to find people who need to be loved and cared for, and I experienced deep joy pouring out my maternal instincts on “practical orphans” in my inner-city community – children whose parents simply could not parent them, because of their own serious problems, whether drugs, alcohol, or working three jobs to pay the bills.

    Elderly widows and widowers, recent immigrants, an agoraphobic neighbor, and at-risk children in my church’s after-school program all became my family. I cooked for some, had slumber parties for others, accompanied one immigrant with nominal English language skills and his mentally retarded son to social services to help them through the process of applying for services. These were all things that I was free to do, and in serving others, I experienced “life and life to the fullest.”

    I am married now, and I absolutely love it. But one thing has changed, at least for now: my focus has narrowed considerably. My daily agenda now is consumed by my work and my home – making my home a space of joy and sanctuary for my husband and myself, and the new friends we are making in West Seattle.

    I say this simply to affirm you and every other single man and woman who “gets” that singlehood, no matter how long it lasts, never needs to feel like “Plan B” or “the Meantime.” There is such richness and fullness of life to be had that is unique to singlehood, and while I am so grateful for my husband and this new season of life, I am also grateful that I experienced the years of the full devotion to God Paul wrote about in 1 Corinthians 7. When I was single, long walks with God and conversations with God came very naturally. Now, I have to be much more intentional about making time to “be alone with God.”

    Well done!

    • Camille Calilung

      Thank you, Christy! I was so blessed to read what you wrote on your reply. God bless you!

  • http://www.doublevision-jillian.blogspot.com Jillian

    Kristi-
    You are so awesome and so wise. I’m so glad I got to know your sister and your family and you over the past few years. You all have become amazing role models and friends. Your words and experiences are packed with such a love for God and a humility to serve him wherever ze leads. I can’t thank you enough for such a beautiful example. I’m beyond blessed to be an “adopted” part of your family and I’m ecstatic you’re part of the BFA family…and teaching my little brother next year!

  • Adam Finch

    I really enjoyed reading that. Thank you Kristi!

    Adam

  • http://visionsixteen.wordpress.com Ryan

    Thanks, Kristi, for thoughtfully articulating what many of us single twenty-somethings try to put our fingers on. When we think about what will be, could be or ought to be, we miss out on what is; we miss the great “I am” by longing for the great “I will be.”

    With many university students graduating this past month, much of the talk surrounds the future. While that is certainly understandable during a time of major transition, there is a great temptation to miss the gifts in front of us. I briefly wrote about it here: http://visionsixteen.wordpress.com/2011/06/08/back-to-the-present/

    Thank you for the great reminder.

  • Don

    I enjoy reading the thoughts here. I have been single, married, single, and now married. Marriage is the greatest personal growth engine God created–sometimes too great. Single or married, neither is easier. Both are a challenge. Both are wonderful. Either is a gift.

  • Cara

    Kristi, this is such a beautiful piece! I love the illustration of the stage, the instrument, and the song. You are so incredible and I’m blessed to be inspired by you.

  • shayna

    Thanks for the encouragement.
    There is so much beauty and fulfillment in His presence how could i waste so much time in want.
    Your perspective was refreshing and so full of truth!!


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