Singleness, Suffering, and Christian Hope
Lisa Wink, a friend from church, was 33-years-old and still wasn’t married in 2007, despite years of waiting for a husband. I probably would have asked her out if I were single, but I was already happily engaged to my 26-year-old fiance.
“Josh, I’m serious. I’m at the end of my rope,” she said, standing outside church after a Christmas service. “It’s getting harder to believe I’ll ever get married.”
I could see the frustration and fear in Lisa’s eyes, and I cautiously told her that I sensed God would soon move on her behalf in this area. He did. By the time my wife and I married three months later, Lisa was seriously involved with a 36-year-old stud named Tim Schultz. Before the year was over, they were happily married.
Now Tim and Lisa actively minister to many of the single people in our church, empathizing with the suffering of singleness, speaking from experience. So I asked Tim to share their story, and I believe it will encourage you, no matter what your marital status.
* Note: Many, many people have told Tim and me that we look alike. As you can see from the photo on the left, they are correct. Even when my wife saw that photo, she did a double take.
* * *
There are much worse forms of suffering than unwanted singleness, but there are few forms of suffering that are addressed more poorly by the church. This is probably because the burden is (1) carried disproportionately by a small portion of the church (single women, age 27-45), and (2) met with insufficient empathy by church leadership (most of whom are married men).*
*True story: I know of a church elder who comforted a 37-year-old single woman by telling her, “I know this must be tough, but think of it this way: it’s nothing like the pain of elderly women who lose their husbands after decades of marriage.” Real smooth, brother.
My wife and I come to this issue as a couple who was married much later than our youthful expectations (not to mention the expectations of our parents). Because the scars from our suffering are so fresh, Lisa and I have a heart for those who struggle with unwanted singleness.
If you know my wife casually or just see her picture, it is hard to think of her as ever “suffering with singleness.” She’s beautiful and also approachable – though not a networker, she has 1,151 Facebook friends and counting. Yet Lisa, a woman with abundant social capital, struggled greatly with singleness, and you can be certain that many others do as well.
Lisa had been a faithful Christian since her mid-teens, served as a missionary for six years during her twenties, and entered her sexual prime at age 33 as a very reluctant virgin. Naturally, she started to hate weddings.
And why wouldn’t she? It was one thing when her wild, younger sister beat her to the altar, but another when Lisa was still single and attending other people’s weddings ten years later.
Then her friend Alicia, a 38-year-old divorcee, converted to Christianity and began meeting some of Lisa’s guy friends. On a group date one night, Alicia came as a late-addition, hitting it off instantly with her date. Lisa’s night ended with her date revealing that he “didn’t have a peace” about her. A week later, Alicia and her new man were already getting serious. Six months later, Alicia was married.
Lisa had managed to pick up the pieces by then and was several months into a relationship with a promising new guy. Of course, they broke up shortly before he could accompany her to Alicia’s wedding and shortly after he told her, “You’re perfect for me, but you don’t really challenge me intellectually.” (Believe it or not, he’s still single.)
Even Christmas served up indignities. She spent eight, consecutive holidays with her parents as their one, remaining “single adult child.” Christmas cards arrived in bulk from former sorority sisters, Facebook friends, and girls she babysat when they were five. Married. Married. Married.
Two adult sisters? Married with multiple children. Two serious exes? Both married their next girlfriend.
The low point came around Christmas of 2007. Even though Lisa felt like a loser, she was conspicuously not invited to a party thrown by women in the church – they didn’t want the competition. Even her female, Christian friends didn’t want her around. Damn it all. Lisa returned to her empty house that night and wept uncontrollably as she pounded her fists into the bed and yelled at God in anger.
Like Lisa, I returned to my parents’ home for Christmas of 2007, pondering a relationship that had ended only weeks before. I was sad, because it was the first relationship in years that had real promise.
I spent my teens and early twenties thinking that God would reward me for being a good Christian boy by giving me the wife of my dreams. When He didn’t, I spent a decade dating casually and with little regard for God’s way. Now I was 36-years-old and still spending Christmas with my parents.
I had been drawing closer to God in the previous 18 months, but I was convinced that any serious Christian woman would be turned off by my relationship history and my lost spiritual decade. I told my friend Rohini that I doubted any woman would ever love me enough to marry me.
In January, I received a spam email from a dating website called Christiancafe.com. Enticed by the free, two-week membership and (as I recall) a bit of mild inebriation, I posted a profile.
Several days later, I received a call at work from Rohini, who told me that she wanted to set me up with an eligible bachelorette named Lisa, whom she had met on Capitol Hill. She excitedly suggested I come to an event where we could meet.
Later that day, I received an email in my Christiancafe.com inbox that ended with this line: “My name is Lisa, and I work for the Senate Chaplain.” Having no idea that Rohini was already trying to set us up, Lisa – the Lisa – had also joined Christiancafe.com and emailed me. Providence was at work.
Lisa and I met for a date after our Rohini/Christiancafe.com set up, and eight months later, we were married on October 4, 2008.*
*By the way, Joshua Rogers was in attendance that night. And while he humbly calls himself a spiritual “klutz,” on the dance floor he is anything but. In the category of “Best White Male Dancers from Mississippi,” informed experts rank it:
1A: Joshua Rogers
1B: (tie) Elvis
As I stood up to say a few words about Lisa at our wedding reception, there was a palpable sense of joy in the room that went beyond ordinary wedding happiness. Everyone who knows Lisa felt a deep sense of relief, because they knew they were witnessing The End – the end of every romantic near-miss, the end of her constant feeling of aimlessness, the end of every tear-stained journal page. Those crushing Christmases, those bittersweet weddings, those invitations that never came . . . Gone. All gone.
Gone, but not forgotten. Although our suffering officially ended that night, every minute of heartache now served to make our present joy greater and fuller than if we had never suffered. Our suffering wasn’t merely being erased or compensated for. Instead, God was somehow using our suffering to enlarge and perfect our joy.
To us, that moment was a picture of our ultimate Christian Hope: ours is the only faith that would dare use a barbaric device like the cross as a symbol of triumph. God is not only with us in our suffering, as He proved at the cross, but He will transform our suffering, as He proved at the resurrection.
Lisa and I have never been happier than we were on our wedding day. But even the very best day of life on earth is only a foretaste – a dim hint – of what it will feel like when we finally meet the Lord.
If you are a Christian who is struggling with singleness, I am praying for your suffering to end. I don’t know how and when it will end, but I can absolutely guarantee that God will one day end it with a resurrection. I love the way Teresa of Avila put it: “The first moment in our Savior’s arms will make the most miserable earthly life seem like a single night in a bad hotel.”
As I finished this article at 1:30 in the morning, I looked over at my sleeping wife. I thought about all the nights she had gone to bed lonely. The scars are still there. But like the scars that remained on Jesus’ resurrection body, their meaning has been converted from shame to glory.
Tears filled my eyes as I leaned over and kissed Lisa on the cheek and remembered, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes . . . ” (Revelation 21:4) Thank God we hadn’t met when we were 21. Thank God He didn’t “spare” us from suffering. My tears of joy were only possible because, in our suffering, we had shed so many tears of sadness.