When people think of vocations, they usually think of the priesthood, religious life or marriage. Consecrated lay people may also come to mind. The stumbling block for most people is single life without the vows. While all these others are thought to somehow be forever vocations, single life is seen as temporary. I have been someone who has been happy as a single person most of my life. Yes, marriage has been a viable option. True, the religious life has been considered. Some days, have been lonely, just as with the other vocations. I have had my moments of heartbreak with men but I have moved forward, keeping my eyes on Jesus. I have mostly just lived happily without fixating on my status.
Three times this week, this topic has crossed my path. I have read two articles and had a conversation with a deacon who wanted to understand what my single vocation has meant to me because he thinks that I live it well. Somehow, I think I am being asked to consider how I got to this particular space. Where did it all begin? I grew up in a strict home where dating was not allowed until after high school. I abided by that rule, despite having the odd crush on some of the boys I went to school with or knew from elsewhere. That said, early in life I always had other interests and a deep faith. I fell in love with Jesus when I was five years old when I first heard the Scripture stories read in English in school (I had been going to a French parish). The tales fascinated me and my heart expanded at the thought of a Creator who made all things good, including me. Life takes odd turns and as followers of the blog know, growing into this knowledge that I was created beautiful took some time to bind the wounds that childhood inflicted.
Fast forward to a young bachelorette living on my own, working in a fabulous career, in a relationship which everyone thought was going to end in marriage, and suddenly life took another turn. I was actively growing in my faith and falling more deeply in love with the Trinity. The travel bug bit me with fangs and would not let go. A whole world was out there to explore and in it was the sacred task of witnessing about and serving a mighty God. The first time I went to Africa, I knew I would never be the same. I then quit my job and moved to do a year of inner-city ministry in the USA. My world would take yet another spin into a different direction. Social justice became a strong passion in my life. My heart was breaking open to serve my Beloved in ways I did not think possible–among the least of these. Yes, there were men on my radar at these times and my heart remained open to them but somehow what I was doing with my life as a single person seemed sacred enough to make me content.
My focus was always on the service of Christ and not on the falling in love part. For me, I wanted a partner with whom I could serve God and help create the Kingdom here on earth. That never happened and I was not distracted from the service piece as the relationships grew. The question always became, can he join me on this journey? If the answer was no, I was not interested. I have dated amazing men, both Christian and not. The ones whose hearts also loved God always stood a better chance. I always dreamed of returning to Africa after retirement and settling there. Prior to my illness, my eyes stayed fixed on that goal and desire.
My single vocation might have changed at some point I suppose but I have loved the life I have chosen. Yes, chosen. I have had marriage proposals. I have been in love. If I were not dying I might have been ministering in the continent that stole my heart but that is not going to happen. The utmost question still on my mind these days is how can I serve you still, Beloved? This is what has brought me the most joy in life. I am not desperately seeking a man to care for me in these final days. I know that I am deeply loved. I have worked hard to create a community around me as a single person to deal with the many hurdles I have faced including loneliness, doubt, and sadness. What priest, nun, or married person has not felt these emotions? Few of these other vocations can avoid fleeting moments of discontentment either. The grass sometimes does look greener and more inviting on the other side — from either perspective.
I have had so many amazing opportunities as a single person. I have learned to shrug off the question of how come a beautiful woman like you is not married? I know that they not only mean my physical looks but also the joy that spills over into the world from the love of my vocation. I have been able to lead programs on a volunteer basis, do spiritual direction, minister to offenders, comfort the grieving, and pray with people for healing because I have been single. I have helped build homes in developing countries. During my world travels, I have had holy conversations with all kinds of folks who have made me draw nearer to God by their lives; sometimes it has been reciprocal. Blessing upon blessing has been heaped on me because I have been able to see God in all things and respond where needed. This has been a life so fulfilling that I cannot honestly imagine another one. I have not spent time waiting for my prince to come. I have lived every day the moment that was put in front of me.
I have developed excellent friendships with men who keep me grounded and set the bar high. Desperation has not entered into my decisions about relationships. This is true because I have a life I love outside of a romantic interest. Many men have found this desirable. Some have never figured out how to plug into it. These friendships have been foundational in my relationships. My male friends have shown great respect for who I am and it has freed me to not depend on one man to be a source of affirmation. Sometimes, women can be too needy or unable to relate to men as friends. I have probably suffered from the other end of the continuum – too independent and too many men who I value as friends. Regardless, I have been happy and blessed by the men in my life who are loyal, affirming, and supportive in all kinds of ways. I have not needed to seek out romantic partners to have this in my life. Several of these men since they have heard the news of my illness have told me how much they care for me. This is enough for me on so many levels.
Looking back over my life, I can truly say that I do not regret the choices that I have made. A part of me thinks I would have made a wonderful mother. I have three wonderful goddaughters to celebrate in my life who I know cares for me deeply. I have also had many children on my caseload at work who I was like a mother bear towards, ensuring that they got the best service they could. My friends have happily shared their children and their dogs with me. Again, I feel content with the relationships that I have created. I think being single has allowed me to be a role model for the young people in my life, even if I did not give birth to them myself.
Have I felt as if my life has not borne fruit or made a difference because I never made the decision to get married? No, I do not. My singleness has not always been easy but in general, I would not trade all that I have been able to do for the sake of the Kingdom for a husband. Have I felt less than as a single person? People have tried to make me feel as if I had done something wrong, was too fussy, or did not know what I was really missing. Others have not meant to be hurtful or judgmental with their comments, but the barbs have left some scars. I have come to understand that my life has been a bit of an enigma to some people. Some days, it has been for me, too. I am not sure whether I have explained it well or not, this mysterious vocation of being single. I know Who has always had my heart. My single life has been a treasure from God in the same way as the other vocations have been for others. Our calls are all different. May you be at peace with yours.
What vocation has God called you to?
Have you been joyful in living out this calling?
Beloved, you have had my heart seemingly forever and I am filled with joy to serve you however I can. May my vocation as a single person bring you glory. Amen.
Hi Suzanne – this blog makes me think of the quote “the unexamined life is not worth living” (Socrates). You ponder things deeply – such as, in this blog, your single vocation. I often think of how, whatever we choose, we all give up something else. I think it’s natural for us “ponderers” (not a word says my spellcheck) to wonder about the path not taken. Thanks for another interesting and thought-provoking post. Have a good week!