My Bargain With God
When I realized that my singleness was going to last years longer than I anticipated, I made a bargain with God.
“For as long as I am single, I desire only this: Let my singleness be more productive and glorifying to You than if I were married. Only let me marry when my marriage will serve You better.”
It sounded spiritual, but it was really a cry of desperation. If I can’t be married and fulfill my greatest desire, I want to know that my singleness is worth something. I’m so terrified of wasting my life.
For a time, I felt that the Lord fully honored my request. I became more deeply involved in the crisis pregnancy center where I volunteered, and was able to see His work amongst the women I counseled. I formed deeper relationships with my co-workers at the educational toy store where I worked. I became a more confident and skilled administrative assistant (secretary) as I worked with various boards and individuals in my town’s local government. My greatest dream (beside having a family of my own) came true when I published my first book, Ready For Him Today. Yet, an undercurrent of instability ran deep through my activities. Something was coming, and I knew it, but I refused to acknowledge it. I was afraid.
For years, I had been struggling with mystifying health issues. In June 2013, when I visited my best friend, she noticed the change. “I can tell when you’re feeling bad. You stop responding to your environment. It’s like you clock out.” I was also taking naps as often as possible and forgetting important details at work.
Managing the pain was difficult. Every morning, when I woke up, I felt the consciousness of pain seep back into my body, and I carried it like a weight the rest of the day. It felt so wrong. People in their twenties weren't supposed to have pain like this. Was I just being a wimp?
I could feel myself tearing at the seams. I spent every day with aching pain in my joints and muscles, and I grew increasingly weaker. A few times, my knees collapsed and, after a long day, I sometimes struggled just to walk. I also had mental symptoms: disorientation in familiar places, inability to remember words, very slow mental processing, difficulty keeping my place in a normal conversation, and more. More frightening was the realization that I was increasingly unsafe to drive myself anywhere.
We wondered if I had inherited a genetic condition from Mom, which had put Mom in the hospital the night before my sister’s wedding. Through a miracle, God had allowed her a short window in which she attended the wedding in a wheelchair, though she hardly remembers anything about the wedding, and spent several months afterward in bed. Definitive testing, for both Mom and myself, would take a long time to accomplish.
How I Broke the Bargain
In the meantime, something had to change. At my parents’ urging, I submitted my resignation to the toy store in November 2013. I hated myself for quitting and cried when I hit the “send” button. I loved that job.
January 2014 was probably the hardest month of my life up to that point. First, I was still struggling with the fact that my younger sister was now married (and, by then, pregnant as well). Additionally, my best friend had just gotten engaged. Don't get me wrong: I was very happy for them. But I was sad for me too, because it felt that we no longer shared similar experiences as we once did, and that they had gone to a realm where I could not follow. (Fortunately, I later learned ways to connect across the "marriage divide," and it wasn't so difficult as it had once seemed.)
I was also losing my favorite job, with all the sweet times of fellowship with my Christian co-workers. My health was crumbling, and every day was a struggle. I had hoped that the loss of my job would give me more time to write, but day after day, I found myself in bed, too exhausted, disoriented, and in pain to write. I felt that I had lost my sister, my best friend, my favorite job, my health, and my future writing dreams, all in a few short months.
A little voice nagged me: “Other women are raising families. You just lie in bed. Other women have sweethearts. You are alone. Other women are happy and productive. You’re a miserable failure.” I knew it was a lie, but it didn’t make it easier to bear. I am the sort of person who can always see the light at the end of the tunnel, but during this time, I couldn’t. God seemed unreachable.
My diary entries showed the struggle starkly.
I thought God intended my illness to force me to quit the toy store so I could focus on my neglected gift of writing. But I can’t even write. I spend most afternoons in bed. My energy is so limited. Little stresses seem so insurmountable. The future seems so utterly hopeless… I don’t really want to talk to anyone… What can they tell me? They can’t heal me. They can’t change my reality. Only One Person can do that, and He wants me to walk this through for some reason. I don’t understand, but I’ll do it. Every time I think I can’t take more, He crushes me with something new. He must have some purpose. I have to trust that. I have to trust Him…
The Breaking Point
One night, overwhelmed and struggling to trust God’s direction for my life, I wrote this:
Oh God, I’ve never been so alone in my life. Why is it just pain, pain, pain and more pain? Isolate me by their marriages, isolate me by my illness, isolate me by my own pitiful inability to process this. Why can’t I just accept it and take joy in their joy? Why is it all about me? I thought I had dealt with it all. But it’s like the scab gets picked off before it’s healed and now it’s just chronically inflamed…
As I wrote, something broke inside me, and the pain began to transform.
Lord God, I’m so lost. I’m so tired. I’m surrounded by lies and pain and darkness and isolation. You made me for so much more. You made me for joy and power and glory and eternity. You created a future for me that’s greater than this present time. You are good and merciful and constant. You are not limited by my lack of faith. You are not bound by these lies. You are the overcomer and the purifier and the Joy-bringer and the Peace-maker. You are what I find when I reach the end of myself; You are my end. You are the one who raises me to new life through Your mercy every morning; You are my beginning. You are the light when I see darkness everywhere I turn. You show me the truth every day.
It was at this time that I began to understand. I had made a bargain with God that I would be productive as a single. He had taken away my productivity and made me unfit for all the work I most relied upon to make my life “worth something.” Why?
Because my work did not make my singleness productive.
THe Real Purpose of the Single Woman
People are fond of pointing out the single woman that she has many opportunities to serve the Lord with her situation, opportunities that she would not have were she to marry. This is true, but it also places a burden on the single woman that is not placed on the married woman: the burden that her singleness must be useful. Of course, it should be productive. But at its core, singleness is not about the productivity and usefulness of the single woman. No one tells the married woman, “Well, you are obviously most useful to God as a wife,” or “Be glad you’re not single. You wouldn’t be able to serve God in such-and-such a way if you were.” So why are married women expected to simply take joy in being wives and mothers, but single women must find comfort in their usefulness?
I contend that the single woman’s advantage is NOT in her usefulness. Notice, that the verse most often quoted to prove that singleness is “useful” actually says nothing about her productivity. It only says that she is set apart, and cares about the things of the Lord. It is contrasted with the wife’s goal (to please her husband) and therefore identifies the single woman’s goal as only this: to please the Lord. This is her advantage—a single-minded relationship with the Lord.
There is difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband. (1 Corinthians 7:34)
As I began to realize that my singleness’ worth was not based on what I could do for God, a mental image came to my mind.
He is sitting at a table while I bustle around Him.
“Here, Lord, I made this and that for You. I was able to encourage my client at the pregnancy center this week. I wrote a poem that tells how much I love You. I didn’t let my own struggles with loneliness get in the way of sharing my friend’s joy at her wedding. I reached out to a lonely young woman, and wrote a card to my uncle, and read my Bible faithfully every morning. Oh, and I also…”
His hand reaches out suddenly and catches mine. I stop, afraid. What else does He want? Am I missing something important? Why is He looking at me that way?
He speaks my name and beckons. “Just be with Me.”
He doesn’t want what I do. He wants me. How much time have I spent doing things for Him, when all He really wants is to just spend time with me?
I sit down and He is very close. I lean against Him and close my eyes. The peaceful silence around us flows over my mind like silk. My tension melts. I am glad just to be with Him and to be loved by Him. I don’t have to do anything. I just have to be.
He is enough.
None of my life has gone the way it was "supposed to go," but I don't love my life any less because of the hardships and new directions. I see so much unexpected good in it, and I want others to see the good in theirs.