This is a talk that I will be sharing with a group of female residents at the Sumter County Correctional Intitute in June of this year. I had some fellow attendees ask me to post it here. It is long, the talk is supposed to last from 15 to 20 minutes.
10th Talk – Residents Encounter Christ #14
Good morning, Ladies. I’m going to talk to you this morning about a lifestyle that can be both the most frustrating and the most rewarding that you’ll ever know. My talk is about the single life and I promise that you can be single, but never be alone. Hi. My name is Karen, and I am living that life.
From the time that we are born, little girls are conditioned to long for love. We are told fairy tales with damsels and princesses who wait to be rescued by heroes and handsome princes. We dream of weddings and dresses…of ceremonies and happily ever afters. But the single life of reality doesn’t usually turn out that way, does it?
What all these stories have in common is a desire for relationship. My story—your story…they’re no different. What all of us long for is the intimacy that a relationship provides. There’s another story that we should take into consideration…the story of Christ and HIS bride. This is how the Bible describes it in the book of John, Chapter 15, verses 1 through 4.
1Jesus said to his disciples:
I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2He cuts away every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit. But he trims clean every branch that does produce fruit, so that it will produce even more fruit. 3You are already clean because of what I have said to you.
4Stay joined to me, and I will stay joined to you. Just as a branch cannot produce fruit unless it stays joined to the vine, you cannot produce fruit unless you stay joined to me.
You might say, “Well, what does that have to do with being single?” What it is—is a proposal. We are being asked by the Prince of Peace to be joined to Him. Now that’s a wedding story I can get behind.
I was one of those girls, when I was little. I loved the stories of Prince Charming and Cinderella. I dreamed of being rescued by a handsome prince, and living happily ever after. I remember pretend weddings and prancing around with a make shift veil of a bath towel on my head. How many of you did that, too? I bought into the fairy tale. I pictured the life I would have…how I would meet someone, fall in love and get married in a white dress…I dreamed of “till death do us part.” and honeymoon bliss.
I remember first crushes, first kisses and first heartbreak. As I grew older, I longed for a boyfriend. I ached to be half of a whole. At least, that’s the romanticized view I had of relationships. But I didn’t really have a model of happy marriages or loving couples in my life. The couples I saw were not exactly happy. The marriages I saw were nothing like the blissful, happy, star-crossed-lovers of literature or television. They were angry, hateful, hurtful and resentful. I didn’t see or hear declarations of love and longing. I heard screams, accusations, ugly name calling and physical abuse. Yet, in spite of what my reality told me, my heart longed for the fantasy. “That won’t happen to me!” I vowed. “When I get married, I will be in a loving, supportive, nurturing relationship with a man who adores me.”
Well, that’s just not what happened. As I grew, rather than loving relationships, what I experienced was inappropriate touches…unwanted advances and even…perversion and shame. Instead of nurture and affection, I started to see the whole man/woman thing as something scary…something that I had to protect myself from. And yet, still…I longed for romance.
When I was 12, I accepted Christ and started to have a glimpse of what a relationship with God was, but that just didn’t seem to be enough. I started to pray for my future husband. I gave God my laundry list of requirements and waited. I loved Him, but I still wanted more.
Still single through high school, I wanted a boyfriend. I wanted to be loved. I wanted what I saw other girls having…I wanted to go on dates. I wanted to hold hands. I wanted to steal kisses in the hall. I wanted to be part of a couple. But it just didn’t happen. Those early fears always got the better of me. And that fear always got in the way. I was afraid of being in a relationship, but I was afraid of being alone. I was afraid of intimacy, but I was afraid to be vulnerable enough to experience that intimacy. The only relationship that felt truly safe was my relationship with Christ…but He couldn’t put his arms around me. I didn’t really feel like His bride.
By the time I was in college, I was determined to match up with someone. I still felt incomplete. I wondered what was wrong with me. Why didn’t I have a boyfriend? I spent more hours than I care to admit obsessing over my lack of love. All the while, drawing closer to God but still begging Him for my mate. But my mate never appeared. While other girls left school with an education and an MRS degree…I left with … well … just a degree.
After graduating, I fell in love with a man. I was sure he was “the one.” I started planning and dreaming again…this is actually going to happen! I was over the moon. Until he told me that he was in love with someone else. My world came crashing in around me. By now, I was nearly 30…still single and heart-broken. I grabbed hold of the only loving relationship I had known…my relationship with the Lord. I threw myself into His arms…I talked to Him and cried to Him. And He carried me through that time…but it wasn’t easy. It was hard to be lonely. It was hard to see other people around me coupling up, marrying and having families. It was hard not to be jealous, or even angry. And it was hard to think of ever feeling that kind of pain again. If this was what love was, I didn’t want any part of it.
For the next several years, I shifted my focus. Rather than dwelling on the things I didn’t have…I focused on God. Instead of wishing to be half of something, I found that I was already whole. I learned to embrace my singleness. Instead of thinking of all the things I was missing out on, I suddenly saw that being single wasn’t a punishment at all. I had freedom. Freedom to do what I felt God wanted me to do. When opportunities came up for me to travel abroad to participate in mission trips, I was able to go. Because I wasn’t married, I was able to make my own decisions. Focusing on the negative aspects of not being married was robbing me of the liberty of being single. Don’t get me wrong. I still want to be married. I still want a family. I still have the desires for physical intimacy. And there’s nothing wrong with that. The difference is that now—I enjoy this stage in my life. I love the fact that I can pick up and go whenever and where ever the Lord leads me.
Another thing that came from this new thinking was an even deeper relationship with God. When I was younger and focused on my desires for a mate, I seemed to rely on Christ as a secondary substitute. I prayed, sure. I worshiped, of course. But I didn’t really trust the love that God truly had for me. By turning my eyes off of myself and focusing on my true Bridegroom, I have found a level of intimacy with Him that is truly real and amazing. I know it sounds a little hokey, but He IS the lover of my soul. The relationship that I share with God is the center of who I am…and I cherish the time that I have to focus solely on Him.
I still pray for a mate. I still go to Him with my laundry list…it’s just that the list is a lot shorter, now. It has more to do with who God wants for me than the fantasy man that I was dreaming of as a child. Being loved by God has shown me what true love is. I’ve learned not to settle for imitations. If the God of the universe says that I am beautiful and lovely, then I am! If I am worthy of His love, then I am worthy of love from others. It took me a long time to learn that…I’m still learning.
I don’t know about you, but I struggle with my desires. I still have longings for the physical intimacy that a relationship with God doesn’t provide. Sex is a gift from God. He created it for our enjoyment…but it’s a gift that was made to be enjoyed by a husband and wife. Now here’s the great thing about God. He knows you. He made you. He knows what you want. He knows what you need. And He wants you to have those things. But He wants you, above all, to realize your worth. He wants you to know that you are lovely. He wants you to know that you are precious. He wants you to be treated with the love and honor that you deserve. And that kind of love is found in a committed, loving, respectful relationship…with the man that He has created for you. It’s hard to wait. Trust me, I am 46! I understand all too well how hard it is to wait. But I know my worth. I know that what God has for me will be totally worth the wait. One thing I have learned is that I have to be prepared BEFORE sexual temptation happens. I have already determined what I will do when an opportunity to give in to desire occurs. It’s still difficult, but working through the outcomes in advance helps me to keep my head straight when my heart wants to dive in. You know what I mean?
So, what happens if that Prince Charming doesn’t ever show? If you had asked me that a couple of years ago, I would have been crushed to even consider the possibility. But now I can face the question and say that I will continue to grow deeper in love with Christ. I will continue to enjoy the life that He has given me. I will continue to invest my time and attentions into the friends and family in my life. I will go out. I will be active in my church and community. I will continue to relish the freedom of singleness! I can be happy….by myself.
Thinking back on the marriage of my mom and dad, one thing that their terrible relationship taught me was that I would rather be alone for the rest of my life than to be married to the wrong person. So I continue to live life to the fullest…growing and learning every day. I want to be the best woman that I can be. I have asked God for a lot in a future spouse, and I owe it to that man (whoever he may be) to be the woman that he’s been praying for all these years. Wouldn’t you want that? After all, ladies. You deserve that, too. Let’s face it, the single life isn’t the fairy tale we all heard when we were little girls. But neither is marriage. The reality—is so . much . better!
Now, the twist in all of this is that when I was able to let go of what I thought I wanted and needed…and even demanded from God, I was finally able to be vulnerable again and open to love. Now, at 46, I have started dating and I’m finally ready to risk having my heart broken again. I don’t know if this man is “the one,” but I know that he is the one that God has brought into my life right now. I am learning more about being myself because I’m not filled with expectations of “is he?” or “isn’t he?” All those years alone with the Lord have prepared me to be loved by someone else and to love without reservation in return. Thank you for letting me share a part of my life with you.