Some years ago I attended a church in country Queensland, and there, right under my nose, was a little (a very little) and bedraggled seven-year-old girl, suffering from Osteogenesis imperfecta (Brittle Bone disease) coming along irregularly without any parents, but with an elderly fellow who had once fostered her mother. When her leg was smashed in a see-saw accident I went in search of her home and found her living in a house that was soon thereafter condemned, so badly was it falling to pieces (and I was a little naïve just fronting up, because there were problems there that went a good way beyond this little girl). That was a time when there was someone very obviously needy in my line of vision that I would have had to close my eyes to ignore. But in my experience, in this “lucky country”, that is not always the case. I now go to church in a reasonably wealthy area of my city, where about 98.5% of the congregation is married, and the needy are just harder to see. I need to open my eyes wider and broaden my scope to find them.
This chapter gave us good reasons for (pages 195 and 204), and examples of ways to go about, reaching out to those who are needy, both within our church and in the community around us. I won’t say much more on this chapter as we end this book, but with “National Singles Awareness Day”—that day when you feel like you have a megaphone in your ear declaring your status—fast approaching, it is a good time to attempt a change our focus and look around us.
Chapter 13 — Laughing at the Time to Come
I loved the final chapter. Sometimes uncertainty about the future can be paralysing (see this poem by Emily Dickinson) and so I do appreciate Jim Elliot’s quote to be all there wherever you find yourself. Now is the only time we ever really have. My friend Tim Adeney, closed his sermon on singleness, which I have previously mentioned, with this:
If we are single, embrace being single. This won’t mean denying any grief and temptation you feel, but rather acknowledging it and working it through. This won’t mean closing off the possibility of marriage, or somehow avoiding opportunity to get married, but not living your life with baited breath waiting to get married, rather making plans for what you will do with your life as a single person. This will mean building a range of long-term quality relationships, which will mean being willing to commit in relationships. This will mean throwing yourself into service of others. Of finding some way you can deploy your freedom for the sake of others.I especially liked the section in this chapter called ‘Going on Alone’. The survey I mentioned in Pt 7 rated Loneliness, or a feeling of being left out and of not being at the top of someone’s list, as the number one frustration for single people. We might feel that while different people share various fragments of our lives, no one shares our whole life. This is where the reassurance of the unfailing love of God, of his care over all the details of our lives and of the significance we have in him is so comforting. Our experience of the family of God may be varied, and people will let us down (even if we marry one of them), because they’re sinners, like us, but God never will.
I have had the thought before that one thing we can do here on earth, which we will have no more opportunity for in heaven, is be faithful to God when times are hard, which is encapsulated in the quote from Randy Alcorn on page 212. And so in the times when singleness is disappointing let’s be refined in the fire, stay our eye on Christ and the Heaven he has prepared for us and finish well, remembering those things that Lisa learned (page 207) on her journey:
And finally, from another older single woman, Margaret Clarkson (who we read back here) who’s walked the road ahead of us (and because some of you may have read with us through Pilgrim's Progress two months ago):
Might we be encouraged by those who have gone before us, and be Hopeful for those coming along behind.
When Christian was crossing the River at the close of Pilgrim’s Progress, his heart failed him for fear. He began to sink in the cold, dark waters. But Hopeful, his companion, helped him to stand, calling out loudly, “Be of good cheer, my brother; I feel the bottom, and it is good.” The Christian recovered his faith, and passed safely through the waters to the Celestial City.
If there are singles who find the waters of singleness dark and deep, who feel, “I sink in deep waters; the billows go over my head; all his waves go over me,” this is my message to you concerning singleness: “Be of good cheer, my brother, my sister; I feel the bottom, and it is good."
Here are Carolyn McCulley's discussion questions for these chapters:
Five Years Later by Carolyn McCulley. You might be interested to read the foreword to the Korean edition of this book.
No More Single Women Books by Carolyn McCulley. This is a letter of feedback that Carolyn received for this book, which is worth reading.
The Path of Loneliness by Elisabeth Elliot and This Momentary Marriage by John Piper are two books I have mentioned several times already that both contain great truths relevant to this chapter.
The survey results quoted are referred to in an article called Christian Singles: Tuning In and Tuning Up, which I found in a random internet search and which was a useful thing to read. The questionnaire results originally come from the Singles Ministry Handbook by Douglas Fagerstrom.
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