It surprised me how much it startled her, the thing I said to her that day at the end of language class. We ended up with five extra minutes after we finished our lesson, so we were eating brownies and looking out of the second-floor window and practicing vocabulary using our view of the street.
Taxis. Shops. Men with ponytails. Well, really just one—but she quickly pointed him out and said she’d found me a husband. I laughed, and that brought out her determined eyes. Thinking I wasn’t excited about her choice, she tried again, picking one from a group of men standing across the street. I shook my head.
She turned to face me, shoulders square, crossed her arms and scolded me in English for emphasis. “Why not? Aren’t you ready to get married?”
Marriage Is Expected
In her culture, everything from the day she was born was aimed at getting her married—her and every other woman in her Middle Eastern country. It was expected. It almost seemed necessary. And in her mind, I was in my mid-thirties and didn’t have a whole bunch of time to waste.
She stared a hole through me, and I smiled. “I know marriage can be great,” I told her. “But God’s got things for me to do that I couldn’t do if I were married. That may change one day. He may want me to do something different, but today, I know he’s got things for me to do.”
God’s got things for me to do that I couldn’t do if I were married.
Not a holding pattern
There aren’t many days that go by that something doesn’t make me think that God uses every single detail to propel his purpose forward. When I lived and traveled in the Middle East, on more than one occasion I thought it couldn’t be an accident that I’m a brunette right now. I think God wanted me to blend in in this moment.
But I had friends in the same area with striking blond hair, and God often used it at just the right time to attract just the right people to them. Nothing is wasted in his story. Different people can have different features and each one be as brilliantly purposeful in the moments he’s planned. Singleness is no different.
I think sometimes when singles consider—or even commit to—heading overseas, even though they know they’re following God, the temptation is to think that doing missions single is like making do until you can find a box of hair dye. I can do this for a while, but one day I’m going to need this to look different, to blend in more.
And like I told my language tutor that day, one day God might decide that some of our stories need a bend in the road—that bringing along a spouse would make his overarching story turn in the direction he has planned. But until then, or even if that spouse never comes, singleness isn’t a holding pattern. It, like every other part of our lives, is a story being told on purpose. And that makes it both vital and amazing.
God Uses Singleness for This
I’ve heard many a mom with small kids say that God used her family to open up doors to share the gospel, that they were playing at the park and she was able to build relationships with other moms, or that one of the kids burst into a song about Jesus on a crowded city bus. Praise God. How incredible he is to use one of the most basic things he created, the family, as a vehicle to share the gospel. How else would his hope infiltrate that park, that elementary school, that perfectly planned moment? He places families where they are on purpose. But he does the exact same thing with singles.
In the same city where those families are playing in parks, there are singles engaging totally different groups of people.
In the same city where those families are playing in parks, there are singles engaging totally different groups of people. Just like there are places where families can go that singles can’t go as easily, the same is true in reverse. I’ve found that to be true over and over again. For a little while before I lived in the Middle East, I lived in England, and while I was there, I had a job. But I had the flexibility of using my non-work time to do anything else. Actually anything.
I could meet up with a friend who was having a hard day on the spur of the moment, even if it was very late at night, and I didn’t have to worry about finding a babysitter. I could walk down the street and sit in a neighbor’s backyard and let her share her struggles without having to worry about dinner getting made or bedtimes or homework. I could agree last-minute to overnight bike trips, dinners, or coffeehouse chats. I had the ability to use a day entirely walking in the Spirit’s guidance without a schedule really of any kind, squeezing the life out of every single minute. That’s not a consolation prize. That’s a major gift.
Missions Efforts are Incomplete Without Single People
The mission field would be incomplete without families, but it would also be incomplete without a force of people who can live their life to the fullest in a completely different way. What would the task look like if there weren’t people who could team up with others and hike for weeks or months into the world’s most remote places? What would it look like without people who could engage professionals in a big city where most people don’t get off work until after kids are already in bed? What would it look like without people who, like Paul said, can live life with undivided loyalties? God’s story was designed for people such as us, for a time such as this.
And that’s why I said what I said to my language tutor that day. Practically speaking, I wouldn’t have had as much time to hang out with her and friends like her if I’d had a different kind of family situation. Spiritually speaking, I wouldn’t have been able to see her mind try to stretch around the fact that my God has a love and a story so big that I’d rather have that, however it may look, than a marriage.
Not a detail gets wasted in the story he’s writing to bring us and others to himself for eternity. It’s all on purpose. And my friend in the Middle East was right. I don’t have a whole bunch of time to waste.
Grace Thornton is the author of the book I Don’t Wait Anymore: Letting Go of Expectations and Grasping God’s Adventure for You. She blogs at gracefortheroad.com.