Singleness: Finding Wholeness in the Midst of Disappointment and Loss

By Stephanie Fast

I grew up as a missionary kid in Pakistan. We had a jungle gym in our backyard and, very often, my sister and I would sit on the swings and play a game in which we would imagine we were grown up and living out the most ideal life we could think of: we were missionaries in the Peruvian jungle, with about 10 kids each. We homeschooled our kids and were, of course, the perfect missionary families.

Far from my ideal life

My dream as a kid didn’t ever really change (other than the number of kids!). I wanted to be a missionary, have a family and homeschool my kids, just as my mom was doing. In my adulthood, I realized life is much more complex than I had expected.

After Bible school, degrees in both nursing and education, and a year working overseas to teach missionary children, I began to realize pursuing my life’s goals was anything but straightforward. I found myself, in my early thirties, purchasing a house and “settling down” in Manitoba, working at a “normal” job, and single. It may sound hard to believe, but this was about as far from my ideal life as I could possibly imagine. It has been and continues to be a challenging road, learning to live life to the full when life has brought many disappointments.

My experience of singleness, loneliness and disappointment is not unique nor is it more significant than another person’s story. I share my story here in the hopes that it will bring encouragement and, perhaps, even a challenge.

Answering awkward questions

One challenging aspect of being single is simply answering people’s questions about it. As a teacher I find that each new batch of students brings new questions or comments about my marital status. It can certainly be a bit humorous at times.

One of my students once said: “Ms. Fast, you should get married!” “Why?” I asked. “Because you might get a baby!” I so appreciated him looking out for my welfare and wanting to ensure that my children grow up with a father, but it wasn’t the time and place to explain that he had things a little backwards! Humorous at times, yes. But, for the most part, answering questions about my marital status is uncomfortable and awkward, and the conversations are not usually easy to navigate.

There are some things about being single that can certainly be seen as positives. One has time and space to do things like travel the world on one’s summer holidays or spend uninterrupted time reading the Bible in the morning. However, this comes with its price as well. As much as I enjoy alone time, spending time alone when it’s your choice is very different from spending time alone when it’s not your choice.

Practical challenges and personal struggles

One significant day-to-day challenge that I have faced is that there isn’t another human on whom it is socially acceptable for me to depend in the same way that spouses depend on one another. I am never sure if it’s okay to ask people to help me with, say, a household project, because others are not going to depend on me for help in the same way; it feels like an unbalanced relationship. Paying a stranger to work in my yard rather than asking a friend for help often means I feel less vulnerable in front of others. This may not always be the best approach, but these are just some of my honest experiences as I’ve tried to figure out what it means to be independent.

So, there are the practical challenges of life as a single person. But, even deeper, are the personal, emotional and spiritual struggles that I have faced. The most significant experiences for me have been dealing with feelings of shame and grief.

Shame is the feeling that there is something wrong with me. I think we have all experienced that feeling in one way, shape or form. Our church culture places a strong emphasis on nuclear family life. This can lead, sometimes, to us thinking that our identity does have something to do with our marital and parental status because parenting and marriage are given such a high value. For me, this has contributed to feelings of shame about who I am as a person within the context of the church.

Welcoming Jesus into pain

The process of learning to live life as a single person has also involved recognizing I need to learn to live with loss. I have realized I need to grieve these losses. The question I have asked myself repeatedly over the past few years has been: how do I live this life that I never wanted to live and do it in a healthy, healed way? I am not sharing about my experiences because I have “gotten over” my losses, or perhaps ever will completely “get over” them. But I have definitely been in a process of learning what it means to live in the middle of it.

One thing that I have come back to again and again is recognizing that, if God intended humans to live as husband and wife and bear children then, perhaps, he is more saddened than I at the losses I am experiencing. Jesus took our pain. Sometimes I fear that we have so emphasized how Jesus took our sin we forget he also bore our pain and suffering. Loneliness is not a new idea for him. Tears were part of his life too.

For some reason, it is in Jesus sharing in our suffering that redemption and wholeness come. Welcoming Jesus into my pain is the only way I can ever experience that wholeness. Praying about this grief is still a learning process for me. Submitting to God in prayer often means that I simply say: “Dear Lord, I know that you understand pain and perhaps there are more tears in your eyes than there are in mine. I can’t stay silent on this. I need to let you in. I can’t do this alone.”

What it means to live in community

Experiencing loneliness and loss within the context of the church has caused me to think a lot about what it means to be the family of God. Although sometimes as a single person I have felt alone in my need for community, I recognize it isn’t just me. God created us not just to live in nuclear family groups or even just in extended biological family groups, but to live in community as sisters and brothers in the church.

Galatians 3:27–29 (NLT) says, “And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you.”

In the Jewish context in which Paul was writing, there was a daily prayer that went something like this: “Thank you, God, that you have not made me a Gentile, a slave or a woman.” Paul was turning this prayer on its head as he urged the Galatian church to walk in their new identity in Christ. He was urging them to walk in new relationships to one another that would render previous social and cultural distinctions irrelevant.

Although our social context is quite different, our culture has also placed greater value on certain ways of being. Being married and having children are aspects of our culture often given that type of value. Might Paul say, if he were speaking to our cultural context: “there is no longer single nor married, parent nor childless…you are one in Christ Jesus”?

Moving away from exclusion

It’s important for us to recognize the gifts God has given us are not just to bless those within our biological family, but to bless the whole community in which we live. God chose the Israelites as his people—not so they would be exclusive and ignore the rest of the world—but so he could draw the Gentiles to himself through them. There is no exclusivity in the family of God, as Paul makes very clear in this passage. Doesn’t God want to work through our nuclear and extended biological families in the very same way?

We tend to be comfortable putting people in categories such as: “men,” “women,” “married,” “single,” “youth,” “seniors,” “family” or “not family.” Connecting with those outside our comfortable boxes is one step on the path toward living as the family of Christ. Yes, it can be uncomfortable to do this, and there can be times of rejection where you reach out and it is not reciprocated—I have experienced that. But I believe when Paul described the family of God as there being no female and male, neither slave nor free, he really meant it.

I have married friends who have welcomed me into their homes, allowing me into their space, blessing me as part of their lives in very genuine and deep ways, where I feel a part of their life and part of their family. In these relationships, I have experienced what it means to live as true brothers and sisters in Christ, where there are no distinctions that push us apart. This is the beginning of living together as an interdependent community, where we recognize that we do, indeed, need each other. Where we share each other’s burdens and walk together in oneness.

Stephanie Fast

Stephanie Fast lives in Steinbach and attends Blumenort Community Church (BCC). She currently teaches Grade 2 in Steinbach. At BCC, she enjoys serving on the global missions committee and co-leading a monthly theological discussion group. She loves to travel and has taught missionary children in Pakistan, Nepal and Bulgaria. She enjoys baking, playing piano and drinking tea with friends.

Leave a Reply