In Pope Francis’ address on World Mission Sunday 2020, he wrote, “Let us ask ourselves: are we prepared to welcome the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, to listen to the call to mission… in all the everyday events of life?” Are we prepared to meet the Lord where we are, or do we tell him “not yet; wait until I am married”?
I struggled to write this article. Singlehood, for me, has for so long been defined by common culture as “an absence of” – a lone set of footsteps along the sand; an unanswered call to companionship; the negative space curled around an incomplete half. My image of singlehood is so coloured by pejoratives that I struggled to write in its defence without making reference to the hope of what comes after. What is singlehood, if not a season of waiting?
Beauty in singlehood
Brothers and sisters, the truth is that there is beauty in singlehood. Think of St Mary Magdalene coming to the tomb before dawn in her single-minded pursuit of our Lord. Think of the purity of our Mother’s undivided heart, which did not wait to say “yes” to bear Jesus Christ to an unbelieving world. Think of Jesus Christ Himself and how He lived His life in ministry. Singlehood can be defined, not by what is “not” or what is lacking, but by what “is”: a study of a life dedicated to God, and a reminder of the mission that exists for every human heart, regardless of its marital status.
For at the end of the day, we wait for God and we hope for heaven. Single or married, our reward is in coming a little closer to heaven in this lifetime. Oftentimes, I (and several well-meaning friends around me) fall into the trap of believing that a relationship is the reward for the work I put into bettering myself, and that singlehood reflects lacking on my part. But this sort of thinking turns the means into the end. Marriage is but one of the many (beautiful) instruments to sing God’s love into the rest of the world.
Our song is for life. While it is true that we are all called to sainthood, we do not aim to be better to “deserve” marriage. We aim to be better because we are made for better. The wedding, the consecration, the ordination – these are not arrival points at the end of a long, hard slog. These are but signposts to the ultimate dream destination.
There is another, equally insidious, view of singlehood which attacks from the other side of the spectrum: the belief that we are just fine on our own. In my life, I have built this belief up as a form of self-protection from heartbreak. Who needs marriage, right? This view goes some way in fortifying me against the whispers that I am incomplete until I am one half of a pair, but make no mistake, this view desecrates the beauty of marriage as much as it fails to honour the beauty of singlehood. Both marriage and singlehood are not about becoming “complete” versions of ourselves. Singles, we will never be fine on our own unless we are also alone with God and secure in our sonship with the Father.
God’s song for life
Even when the pain and fear of singlehood tempt us to turn inward and set up camp there, God exhorts us to bear responsibility in love for our brothers and sisters. Yet, do not see His call as work, which leads to disillusion and resentment when we find our hands empty of expectations fulfilled. Yes, God does wish to reward us. But to reap His rewards, we must review the way we see His economy. He does not see us as workers at all, but as heirs who will inherit the land. As workers, labour is obligation, dutifully carried out in exchange for favour or pay. As heirs, labour is an act of co-ownership, borne in love for the kingdom of God.
And even in this labour, God’s love for us is pure grace, an unmerited and unpayable debt. He showed His love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). God does not want us to wait to begin our mission. As St Therese of Lisieux said, “Holiness consists in doing God’s will, and being just what God wants us to be.” Not becoming – being. He knows we are imperfect, and He intends to give us the grace to complete our mission the minute we make up our minds to begin. Learning to love and to be loved is not about perfection but about grace. Yes, being single comes with moments of heart-wrenching loneliness, but dive deep into that and let the ache lead you straight to God.
Let us not wait a single moment longer; in the titular words of Pope Francis’ World Mission Sunday Message, let us answer, “Here I am, Lord, send me!” (Isaiah 6:8).
Grace sings with the Te Deum Laudamus Choir of the Church of St Mary of the Angels. She is also a member of the Franciscan Young Adults Community.