The summer of 1997, the summer that Princess Di was killed in a car crash, I was nearing 40 years old. The big 4-0, the year of dread, especially if you had never taken that walk down the aisle. I remember the hot stillness of that August day, sitting on my lawn, hidden by boysenberry bushes, pondering the untimely death of the beautiful Diana, and writing in my journal: “I am nearly 40 years old, and nobody loves me.”
Like many little girls, I had dreamed of the white wedding. The beautiful gown. The flowers. The jittery groom waiting at the altar, an uncontrollable smile breaking out on his handsome face. I had had literal dreams of marriage: Dreams in which I was all dressed for the wedding, but missing my shoes. Was that God’s way of telling me I was almost, but not quite ready?
Years before, I had met the man whom I considered the love of my life. A fellow transplanted New Yorker, he was a handsome artist with a studio facing an Adirondack lake. We had met on a blind date; for me it had been love at first sight. We’d had a whirlwind courtship, and then he’d disappeared.
I remember praying ceaselessly that he would return. Once or twice he did, but would inevitably disappear again, with letters laden with apologies. I would sometimes see the beloved himself, walking down Broadway, felt hat sitting jauntily on his black curls, shoulder to shoulder with another woman. Once I saw him enter a store across the street and followed him in, where we briefly greeted each other. But despite my hopes of re-igniting the relationship, nothing came of it.
Until one March day when I arrived home to hear his voice on my answering machine. It was 8 years after our initial date. “I have so much to tell you,” he’d said.
He’d married, separated, and was now struggling to raise a young infant daughter by himself. He needed help. I was 42 years old and I was finally going to be a wife and mother!
Five months later I was single again, due to his verbal abuse. I had found the opportunity to escape after a bad argument, when he stormed out of the house.
I remember standing in the living room, looking up at the ceiling and asking God: “Does this mean I can leave?”
My ex’s gun had been confiscated after a particularly ugly fight with his former wife. That was the day he was to get his gun back. God’s timing was perfect!
The exhilaration didn’t last long. Depression and questions followed. Why God? Why did you allow this to happen? Have I not been faithful? Am I not a good enough Christian? Do you really care about me? Where is my happy ending?
As the years piled up, the pain did diminish some. I realized that God had given me quail, as he had the children of Israel who grew tired of manna and demanded meat. I had prayed, bargained, wheedled until I got what I wanted, and it had turned to ashes in my mouth.
I was now nearing 50 and still alone. I had the occasional crush, but no doors seemed to open in terms of the fulfillment of marriage. I had already grieved the empty arms of not having a child; would I now also be alone for life?
I pondered “these strange ashes,” as Elisabeth Elliot called it; what remains of a dream when the fire and the smoke have cleared.
Yet I have come to believe firmly that, if you are one of the 51 percent of American women over 18 without a spouse (or one of 70 percent of black women) and you sincerely desire a husband and do not feel “called to be single,” then God may yet “give you the desires of your heart.”
But there are lessons to be learned in the waiting.
Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33)
Was I truly seeking God with all my heart, all my soul, all my strength – or was my true goal a man? (Deut. 6:5-9) God asks us to put him above all our hopes, dreams and desires. God knows that only when we make His desires our desires and His will our will, will he be able to give us those godly desires of our hearts – and that includes husbands.
Rejoice with Those Who Rejoice (Romans 12:15)
I attended many bridal showers, weddings and baby showers as a single. Would I be able to rejoice with those who rejoiced? Celebrate their happiness as if it’s my own? Or will I, as one friend did, boycott a friend’s wedding because it was just too painful to attend? Sometimes we need to grit our teeth and do the hard thing; for we do reap what we sow. As we partake in the joy of our friends and relatives, we are sowing the seeds of their rejoicing with us.
And remember, in God’s economy, there is no scarcity. It’s not as if when someone gets something we want, there’s nothing left for us. So sow seeds of support, love and happiness and they’ll surely come back to you.
Don’t let a root of bitterness spring up … (Hebrews 12:15)
“See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” (Hebrews 12:15)
Was I bitter? Did my disappointment, and what I saw as delays – and seeing other people’s blessings get me down? Sure. But by will, I needed to release that bitterness. Bitterness can stop God’s blessings faster than a thunderstorm can ruin a picnic. If I wanted God to fill my cup, I needed make sure I was holding up a clean cup of gratitude and praise, and not one filled with the bitter dregs of anger, envy and discouragement.
Delight Yourself in the Lord (Psalm 37:4)
I needed to fill this season of singleness being busy about God’s business while I waited. God knew I desired motherhood. There were always little ones, especially little girls, who needed “other-mothers.” Although they had moms, I found that little girls desire love outside the family circle, and a Sunday school teacher is often the recipient of that lavish love. Meantime, I was blessed with support from other women, especially in the church. God promises to set the lonely in families. If you are lonely pray that God will set you in a family while you wait.
Psalm 38:9 says, “All my longings lie open before you, O Lord; my sighing is not hidden from you.” God sees, as he told Hagar when she ran away from her mistress and was wandering in the wilderness with her son. He knows your longings; he placed them there. As long as you’re alive, God can change your circumstances in one instant, no matter how long it takes.
How can I be so sure?
On July 26, 2009, I walked into church to see an unexpected crowd of young and middle-aged men. As I took my customary seat, by myself, I flipped over the bulletin to see that we were hosting Teen Challenge, a faith-based drug and alcohol recovery ministry. Downstairs, during fellowship time, Judy, my pastor’s wife, asked Karen, the worship leader, and me to go and make small talk with two young men seated alone on the far end of the room. Before I could make it across the room, a tall, handsome middle-aged man stepped into my path and introduced himself to me. My pastor ended up inviting my friend, Lydia, and me to stay for the luncheon, where I learned that he was on the staff of the ministry. This week, on my 58th birthday, I bought my wedding dress.
Three years before I met him, I had gone to the anniversary celebration of my former pastor’s new church. The minister opened the altar for prayer after the service. As he prayed down the line he had a “word of knowledge” or encouragement for each person. When he came to me, he began to pray exuberantly, but then he paused, and his voice became serious. “You have been waiting for something for a long time, and it seems like God has forgotten you. But God wants you to know He has not forgotten you; he has his hook in somebody, and he’s reeling him in.”
My fiancé accepted the Lord within a year of that prayer. God prepared him, then he reeled him in. Right in my path, by the way.
I have learned that just as singleness is a season, happiness is a season as well. Since God works in and amongst people, sometimes we have to wait, not because of anything we have done or not done, but because God’s love is putting something together that is “greater than we can hope or imagine.”
A version of this story originally appeared in Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics column: http://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2015/october/grief-happiness-and-hope-of-late-in-life-singleness.html