By Junia Plett
Editor’s note: The story that follows is written from Junia (Loewen) Plett’s experiences and thoughts before she married five years ago at age 52.
Life stories can be told in many ways. Come with me for a bit. I’ll take you through the chapters of my life, starting with my childhood.
We could open the pages to my overseas volunteer work, to my process of choosing a career, to my decision to settle down for the first time as an adult at age 45, or to the pages describing my interests. But I would also need to include a chapter on singleness. This chapter cannot stand alone without the context of the whole—and the other segments of my life story can’t be told without the pages on singleness.
Singleness in different cultures
I was asked to share my life story with my colleagues. I would include the following chapters: I was born and raised in Blumenort, grew up as a pastor’s daughter, worked in a Muslim country, became a teacher, have a love for the outdoors and travel, and worked among the Dalits in India. More could be told. I wondered, should I include a section on singleness? Most of the chapters in my life I had planned, but I had not specifically chosen singleness.
The chapter “Singleness” may be read and understood in various ways in different cultures and settings. For two years in my early 20s, I lived in a Muslim culture where marriage is expected and arranged. When I prepared to return to Canada I went to the homes of my friends to say goodbye. On one such visit, my friends pleaded for me to stay. Then I overheard someone in the room say that Junia’s family has asked her to return to get married. The pleading in the room stopped. I had their blessing to go. (I never did tell them that they had come to the wrong conclusion.)
In the West, it is often assumed a single person has been previously married, has had children or has had a partner. Saying no to these assumptions and being met with silence or being told, “Oh, so you are a real single,” puts one into yet another distinct category. In our church culture we seem to understand the uniqueness of the call for celibacy in singleness, yet that can bring uneasiness as well.
Independence and loneliness
This chapter might include the enjoyment of independence, the freedom to pack up one’s bags and change career or location, or the time available to invest in extended family and friends.
It could also include the loneliness of singleness. There may be feelings of rejection from a broken relationship, or being abandoned, betrayed or feeling rejected because one has not had a relationship. It may include practical challenges of doing life alone. It may reveal feeling excluded in other chapters of life: dating, wedding plans, young marrieds, raising a family, kids marrying, empty nesting, becoming grandparents.
A chapter on caring for aging parents is a stage of life singles are often a part of—and possibly go through it alone.
Silence and shame
What if I want to hang onto this chapter in silence? Why is it difficult to talk about singleness? In Honor, Patronage, Kinship and Purity: Unlocking NT Culture, David deSilva describes several kinds of shame. One kind of shame is a “festering negative self-portrait” we feel we need to defend, shame about who we are. We want to hide that part of us, causing silence.
What would happen if I would open this chapter and talk about it freely? Would I get a response, “It’s better to be single and wish you were married than to be married and wish you were single”? For the most part, we can understand and agree with the reasoning behind that statement. However, it can be misunderstood.
A young woman finally shared with a married couple her desire to be married and was given this response. She replied, “Oh, I am so sorry. I will definitely pray for your marriage.” This wasn’t what the couple had meant to portray. Neither was their response the kind of marriage this young woman desired and had finally dared to share.
A focus on using my gifts
How did I even get to this place of singleness in my 40s and early 50s? In Grade 12 we had a one-page English assignment to describe where we would be 10 years after graduation. All I remember about that assignment was that I’d be in Turkey, working with Muslim women. (I still have not made it to Turkey!)
As a young adult my goals of heading overseas and keeping doors open for working cross-culturally were predominant. I made decisions accordingly even though some people challenged me to consider options that could provide opportunities to meet a potential husband.
I had grown up understanding that not everyone gets married. I never felt pressure from my parents to marry. My father encouraged me to use my gifts in ministry for God’s kingdom. While I wished for marriage, I didn’t spend time focusing on it—I had too many other things I wanted to do in life.
Then, in my late 30s and 40s, I found myself needing to face the fact that I desired marriage. I didn’t want to be running after marriage, but neither should I deny my desire. I had to come to terms with the fact that it is all right to desire marriage and the desire did not show weakness. But coming to that point also meant I had to face the reality that I was not married; facing this fact could bring loneliness, pain and deep longing.
Living as a contented single person
In light of all this, what is the overall description of my life? I have been asked, “How do you live a life of contentment as a single person?” by several people, both male and female. To answer this question, I needed to articulate my thoughts on singleness and how to view and walk a road that many have not planned for.
I reflected on my own teaching. What was I teaching my high school students in Winnipeg or my Bible school students in India? Their culture or life experiences do not define them. Jesus has come to redefine life for men and women in a shame-based culture, extending his favour and honour.
Jesus, through the work on the cross, defines who we are. That definition is honour and favour. Herein is my answer. None of the chapters of my life, even the ones I had aspired to, give me my definition to life. Each chapter has shaped my life, yet the storyline is held together by another overall story.
Apostle Paul begins to describe this in Ephesians 1, a prayer celebrating hope and faith in Jesus Christ. He is describing a larger story, but it is every believer’s story—and he gives a bird’s-eye view of the hope and glorious work through our Lord Jesus Christ. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing” (Ephesians 1:3).
“Blessing” means commendation, a eulogy, a benediction. What is the spiritual blessing, the story, the speech, the eulogy he has written for all of us who believe? I have been predestined for adoption, have redemption and forgiveness through his blood, have been lavished upon, and have obtained an inheritance which is guaranteed by the Holy Spirit (vv. 5–14). As I take time to reflect on these words, I can begin to understand God’s work in and through my life.
Redeeming the word “single”
Could it be that I would see God redeeming even the word “single” in my life? The word that one wants to keep hidden, can this be reclaimed or regained? Instead of keeping it silenced, God may desire to bring it to the forefront and use that very word in my life to fulfill his plans. In places where I may feel that singleness is a disadvantage to the situation, I may begin to see meaningful purpose. Opening up these pages allows God’s story to infiltrate this chapter, bringing a clear definition to my life. Singleness, divorce, marriage, widowhood, childlessness, parenthood (the list could go on) are not the defining pages of life. We are defined by God’s words written over us.
This is one story. The body of Christ is characterized by many unique stories which have shaped us but not defined us. Many of us hold onto unspoken stories of various kinds. We as the family of God, the church, have opportunities to bring deep healing.
Let’s take time to see God at work in and through us in our personal stories and those of our brothers and sisters instead of hiding within ourselves. Hiding distances us from God’s heart of love and healing. All of us have blessings of adoption, redemption and inheritance written over us, giving us an honourable and favourable purpose in life.
Junia Plett (nee Loewen) grew up near Steinbach, Man., and has worked in numerous places overseas and in Canada with a variety of ministries. She got married in 2016 and is living with her husband David near Mitchell, Man. They are part of Blumenort Community Church. Junia loves being back in her home area, gardening, hosting, partnering with her husband in his business and investing in the lives of family and friends.