Mid-life(ish), unMarried, and Making the Most of it: Lessons I’ve Learned Being Single

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My name is Shelley Jones and I am one of Ebie’s closest friends and am honored to share a piece of my heart on Fearless Co.’s blog today. Since writing my first blog three years ago on being single, I’ve gone deep into the heart of finding wholeness, courage, and healing in the areas of loneliness and the unfulfilled desire for a husband. I’ve shed enough tears to fill all the mason jars on Pinterest. I’ve snotted into my pillow, woken up with blowfish eyes, journaled like a castaway, and gone to the batting cages just to hit something that wouldn’t hit back. But through it all, I’ve experienced breakthrough upon breakthrough from a faithful God (and the unrelenting support from award-winning friends). While our journeys are our own, this blog is my attempt to tell you you’re not alone. If there’s hope and healing for messy old me, there’s hope and healing for you. God WILL redeem every area you give Him access to.

Here are the most valuable lessons I have come to learn having lived single for the good majority of my 34ish years. Through much fire, they have become like priceless gold, and yet I am aware that there is still much more to refine in me. Single or not, male or female, I pray you’re inspired toward wholeness, truth, and trust.

1. Life doesn’t finally begin when I get married.

For years I believed that my life calling, God’s plan for me, would only be launched after I met my husband. I sat by and twiddled my thumbs waiting for the day when I would really and finally be used in full by God for His purposes. That twiddling lasted over a decade, people. Talk about sore thumbs. I was still seeking God, growing, and even serving Him and others. But it was a casual and complacent pursuit. Thank God for ripping me out of that rut and lifting me out from under the stifling and common misconception that, “Once I get married, THEN I will…” Life is here and now, ladies and gentlemen. Your destiny is here and now. Stop idly waiting by, imagining the day when you’ll finally be primed for His purposes.

2. Loneliness, insecurities, and coping mechanisms won’t miraculously disappear once a ring is on my finger.

There’s an age-old, fairy tale idea that continues to deceive us all: meet the man or woman of your dreams and ride off into that orange glow to a place called Happily Ever After. All pain, brokenness, and brittle areas miraculously heal the moment you say, “I do.” That is truly a beautiful picture…painted by a clueless fool with his head in the silvery clouds. Ask any married person if all their problems went away at the altar, or if instead, their broken areas got magnified once they were in an intimate and vulnerable relationship. Ask them if they’ve ever felt lonely even though their spouse lay right next to them. Lace up your boots, single comrades, and treat this time of solitude as an opportunity to let God illuminate and heal your insecurities, pride, fears from hurts, walls from abuse, and your need for those nasty coping mechanisms (e.g., shutting down, depression, anger, sexual sin, on and on). It’s dirty work, like surgery on a battlefield. It’s painful and gut-wrenching to choose to trust Him and walk that road of wholeness, but it will undoubtedly save you a lot of heartache later on. Ditch the baggage now for the sake of yourself and your future spouse and children, but most importantly ditch the baggage simply to deepen that rich intimacy with God.

3. Jealousy, bitterness, and rejection are sure signs that my worth is wrapped up in the wrong things or people.

I could write a novel on this one. I’ll title it FrankenShelley: Nightmare of a Friend. The Goliath in my life boldly walked on scene this past year. At the cue of a best friend’s relationship and engagement, I began to feel things, say things, and think things on par with a schizophrenic lunatic. I was overcome with jealousy. “Why does she get what I’ve waited so long for?” I was bitter, sharp-tongued, and most definitely not the friend I desperately wanted to be. I found it difficult to celebrate her joys. Funny thing, I had come face to face with that exact same giant over a decade ago with another engaged best friend. Talk about a bridesmaid from hell. (I have some hilarious and cringeworthy stories.) Foolishly, I refused to lop its head off then. I simply sang that sinful giant to sleep, and it lay dormant for ten solid years, waking up stronger than ever one year ago. It took me being utterly fed up with how I was acting last year to do something about it. I was determined to not take this warped flaw any further into my future. I would fight it once and for all. Well, that “once and for all” took about 9 months of praying, intensely seeking God, speaking His Word over myself, confronting the lies, asking forgiveness time and time again from a most merciful friend, and fasting like a holy madwoman. And thank you, Jesus, Goliath’s head rolled in January! Through those character-refining months, God clearly revealed that my reactions of jealousy and bitterness were just the fruit of me being rooted in ill-founded worth. My worth was in the idea of being loved by a man. My worth was in the concept of marriage. My worth was in something I didn’t yet have. So without those things in my life, I was, by my own definition, worthless. Perfect transition to number 4…

4. Finding my worth in any man, woman, position, title, status, or thing other than God alone is the most fragile foundation I could ever build upon.

I have lived long enough and face-planted into the mud a handful of times to learn this most valuable life lesson. Nothing–no person or thing–is strong enough to be your source of worth, your foundation upon which you build your life. People and the love they give us should be wonderful reminders OF our value. They shouldn’t BE our value. Seek your identity in the way someone treats you, or the things they say or don’t say about you, or the job/ministry title you have, or the number of followers you have on social media, and you’ll be seeking forever. You will never be fulfilled in worth until you meet Worth Himself and have Him repeatedly speak it over you until you actually believe Him. Worthy is the Lamb. We are worthy by sheer fact and faith that He is and He loves. For more on this topic, read this blog from a few years back.

5. Co-dependent friendships are subtly alluring and a dangerous substitute.

Did I mention I was a pro at face-planting? I’m surprised I don’t have a flat forehead from this lesson learned.

I’m not talking about healthy, balanced friendships here. Those are a gift to us along the journey. But treat any gift with even the slightest obsession, and it quickly turns idolatrous, clingy, and sour. Since going through this murky mess a few years back, I’ve become keenly aware anytime I start being co-dependent or idolatrous toward a friend. And in the same way, I’ve recognized that exact tendency in a number of single people around me, especially women in my opinion. It’s subtle and requires a heart check, ladies. We blanket our girl (and even guy) friendships with God, but often leave Him out of the true center. Out of loneliness, we use our friends to fill that void instead of seeking deep companionship in Jesus. It may look like a Godly, selfless, friendship, but I challenge you to have the Holy Spirit check your heart. How much physical and emotional affection are you giving to and craving from them? Are you using them to soothe the ache? Do you hold them with a tight grip? Do you get jealous over their relationships? Always remember that every friendship and relationship should be humbly held with an open hand, a gift given by God. We were never designed to worship the Creator’s creation.

6. Settling may be a quick “fix” and an easier route, but it is actually a most unfulfilling and broken route.

Waiting is hard. Waiting well is even harder. When we give up hope on a fulfilled dream and settle for making that promise come to pass in our own way, we invite heartbreak through our door and sabotage the timely and purposeful work of God in our lives. We go back to dating people that treat us with little or no respect. We give our bodies over like cheap candy. We say, “Just this once.” We convince ourselves that our sin isn’t wrong. “It’s not that bad. At least I’m not doing this or doing that.” Take heed. The moment you start making excuses for your actions or for people never meant to be in your life is the moment you warmly welcome compromise into your home. And compromise is a sly little devil that coaxes you further and further into darkness without you realizing it. Stand strong, live in the light, know your worth, keep your standards high, respect others as well as yourself, believe in the good promises of a good Father, stay accountable, resist temptation, and stay the course! You will reap a harvest in due season.

7. Beware the lure of idolizing the idea of marriage.

There is a danger in living unsatisfied. Like Eve, we all fall prey to the lie that we are missing out. “If only I were married, then I would be fulfilled.” “If only I had more money, then I would be satisfied.” “If only I could have a baby, then our marriage would be complete.” If it’s not one thing, it’s another. Dissatisfaction is no devil when it leads you to the foot of the cross and forces you to cling to Satisfaction Himself. But intensely focus on that “one thing” that will supposedly “make it all better in life,” and you’ll find that dissatisfaction has quickly shape-shifted into your idol.

8. Learn now the art of swallowing pride, staying teachable, and giving of myself.

Take yourself to the nearest bakery and order a heaping helping of Humble Pie a la mode. Marriage (or any relationship) is not an opportunity to lord over each other. Jesus calls us to unity, to oneness, to service, to love. Do we get it perfect every time? One glance at my life and you’ll get your answer: nah bro. But there are few things more beautiful than a soft and teachable heart, someone eager to change and grow, someone who seeks to put others first, not out of obligation or self-righteousness but simply out of a heart that loves God. We love because He first loved us. Train yourself in the love-driven art of sacrificially giving of your time, your will, your desires, your service, and your finances. Practice eating that pie now. It’ll taste better with each bite. (The other alternative is someone shoving it down your throat later in life. And no one likes whipped cream in their eye.)

9. Practice vulnerable communication and conflict resolution.

I’ve always heard that a lack of communication kills marriages. People don’t know how to talk it out, express themselves, not blame shift, not argue in a fit of rage, not back down from their defenses, not storm out or shut down. They don’t seek resolution or remain vulnerable when it’s painful. I didn’t grow up with a family that had “family meetings.” We didn’t chit-chat about the state of affairs going on in our hearts. I was not well-versed in expressing my feelings. “Cat got your tongue, Shelley?” “Why, yes. Yes it does.” I was awful at opening up. But through time, determination, and being part of a secondary family that is SO keen on communication, I have learned to love and appreciate it. While I may not see eye-to-eye with someone, we resolve it until there is no bitterness remaining, no rock unturned, no hurt or fear or misunderstanding unspoken. Pull those cat paws off your tongue and routinely practice communication and resolution. You’ll find your relationships will be deeper, more personal, richer, and more wholehearted (let alone cat free, thank God).

10. Don’t build a doctrine out of dashed hopes.

It’s okay to feel the ache of a desire unfulfilled but not okay to hunker down and make camp in hopelessness. Hold onto your hope, hang tight to your promise. Cling steadfastly to a Father that loves you relentlessly and unconditionally. Let’s face it, if there is air in your lungs you will be bruised in life, maybe even crushed under the weight of disappointment. You lost someone you love. That father or teacher or friend you trusted mishandled you. You were ridiculed and demeaned, abused and neglected. You waited ages to see a dream come to pass, and it appears to be a rotting seed in the ground, a mockery. Tragedy struck and you’ve never been the same. We shake our fists at God, at our parents, at this world, and vow to never be hurt again. One hope dashed and we give up hope altogether. Do I dare invite you to hope again? With everything in me, YES. Hope takes courage. Hope says, “I refuse to let this world harden me. I choose to be open, loving, trusting, and trustworthy.” She generously reminds you of the goodness of God. Why would we suffocate her when she’s the only one that can usher us back into joy and wholehearted living?

11. Loneliness is a gift.

Any painful or broken area of your life is a gift in disguise, my friends. You have two options. You can react to your loneliness (or any other hurt, for that matter) with depression, anger, settling, coping mechanisms, etc. or you can let the overwhelming weight of it drop you to your knees before Jesus. After years of struggling with crushing loneliness, I finally realized that it can always lead me to my God’s arms. I once turned to other people and things to cope but nothing satisfied. When I started to turn to Jesus in my loneliness, draw into His love, look Him in the eye, and expose my tearful heart, I encountered the most beautiful transformative power. Him alone. And that’s when my perspective shifted drastically. Anything in this world that draws me closer to Him, my first love, is a gift no matter how serrating it may be. He, of all people, knows what the deepest of all pain feels like. He not only sympathizes with me but freely offers Himself as Healer. There is no greater gift than Jesus Himself. Find gratitude in the things that draw you to Him.

12. God is not withholding and playing a cruel joke on me.

This was the lie of all lies that was unearthed in my heart last year. God was cruel and He was withholding from me. I could believe all day that He was good to others, but to me personally, He came up short. I mean, He knew the deepest desire of my heart was to be married, a desire I’ve had for well over a decade now. He knew I would lose my parents and have to grieve that process without a spouse to comfort me. He knew all my friends would get married around me and I’d be left wide-eyed and heartbroken. He knew and yet He withheld. Or so I believed. At the end of 2016, I broke in half like an oil tanker and sunk into a sea of anger and bitterness. I kicked and screamed at God like a selfish child in a feeble attempt to punish Him beyond the most punishable cross. I had believed a lie about God for so long and desperately needed truth. I went on a 21-day fast and pleaded for God to set me free in my thinking, to give me eternal perspective, to open my eyes to His goodness. And He did. He always does. Our God stands outside of time, far beyond its limitations. And we run around in its constraints, tapping our watches, and demanding God fill our need. And when the secondhand laps back around, we stomp our feet and curse Him. Do we not realize He is sovereign? Do we so easily forget that eternity rests in the palm of His hand? Are we so vain to imagine that our ways, our wants, our plans for our own lives even hold a candle to His brilliance? Every good and perfect gift has already been handed to me from the Father in the form of His Son. Can I not trust that He will rightly guide my life according to His plan? Can I not trust that “perfect timing” is Perfection’s specialty? The pressure is off. For the first time in my life I’m untethered, free to fly in the simple trust that He’s got me.

Well folks, my hands are cramping but my heart is full. If you made it this far, you deserve an award. I trust my journey may be of some comfort and strength to others out there. Remember, you’re NOT alone.

Unashamed + Loved,

 

Shelley Jones