The second ingredient to being satisfied, fulfilled and content is living a life of service.
I’m writing this section four days before Christmas. Earlier today my husband and I picked up the last few Christmas presents and we feel relieved, done AND happy! We can’t wait to give these presents and see smiles on faces. There is something about giving that brings so much life, so much joy. Oh, it’s tough on the flesh sometimes. It costs money, time, energy to give and we don’t always instantly feel like paying the price, but in the end, we are so much happier than if we withheld the blessing and opted for personal comfort. I’m convinced of it, human beings were created to be givers, and when we don’t, when we succumb to selfishness, we are relieved temporarily, but become miserable long term.
One of the best stories of serving, or course, is found in the book of Ruth. We know the story: she chose to serve God and her mother in law rather than staying in Moab where she was more likely to get re-married. So she chose a life of hard labor and poverty in order to obey the stirrings of her heart. We also know the end of the story: Boaz noticed her labor of love and married her! Almost overnight, she went from being a poor widow to a wealthy land-owner and the great grandmother of King David!
I can relate to that story. After graduating from college, I felt like God wanted me to stay in my college community and serve in my church; this was and is a small, predominantly white area, full of married men and families. Not a great place for a young, hip, African American, single woman! Nevertheless, I obeyed the promptings of my heart, comforting myself that it would probably only be a year and then I could move on to bigger and better things. Well, 17 years later I was still in that community and still single! Every year, I struggled with my decision to stay. Every year I wondered if I had missed the boat and ruined any chance of ever marrying. But every year, I felt the same, annoying conviction that I was to stay put. Well, all of a sudden as I faced my 39th birthday, my future husband came walking through the doors of our church. He knew right away that I was the one and started pursuing me instantly. And guess what he found most attractive? My years of service at the church! He admired me for choosing ministry over a more typical career path and living in such a small community simply because God told me to. That more than anything caused him to sit up and take notice. And he is perfect for me in everyway. Definitely worth the wait!
My heart always resonated with Ruth and now I know why.
Let me say this, it is in the context of serving that you discover your gifts and talents. As you give – even when it hurts – you discover and eliminate possibilities. As you serve, people around you will see hints of the bigger picture and confirm thoughts and desires. If you want to find your life, then lose it; give it away, let it go.
Now, I have seen singles run themselves ragged babysitting 400 kids, teaching in Sunday school every Sunday, cooking for every sick friend and setting up chairs past midnight. This is a quick way to be miserable, simply from exhaustion and fatigue. I think singles should be available, but also prayerful about what God would have them do. People often have an agenda for our lives different from God’s. We need His wisdom, which will be confirmed in our hearts and by close friends, so that we don’t spend precious years doing good things, rather than the best things.
3. Being Connected
God places the solitary in families. Ps. 68:6.
I believe it is crucial for single people to be closely connected to families and other singles. Shortly after I started college, a church family “adopted” me into their family. They had me over for dinners, allowed me to sleep over when I was sick of dorm life and helped me to navigate through classes that challenged my faith. They also demonstrated a healthy family and a strong marriage. And they cured me of a lot of selfishness. Many times I went over to dump out my woes, only to be interrupted 50 times by their 3 year. As my world was coming to an end, their daughter needed to be disciplined, or comforted or instructed and I had to …. Wait! I soon learned that I wasn’t the center of the universe after all, which was a crucial lesson for a young, self-focused college student. Over the years, God added several others to this circle of friends and these families and singles have enriched my life tremendously; I don’t know where I’d be without them. This rich spiritual heritage more than anything else made it possible to stay in such a small community all of these years.
These people have rebuked me, comforted me, spoken the truth in love, prayed for me, fasted for me and believed in me. They’ve confirmed major decisions and provided shoulders of comfort after break-ups and deep disappointments. We’re not made to go through life alone.
I don’t believe in lone-ranger Christians. From the very beginning of time God said, “It is not good for man (or woman) to be alone” (Gen 2:18). I will discuss this further in Part III, but let me just say here, I believe this is referring to God’s plan for marriage. After all, God did not then create a best buddy, Steve, for Adam. He created a woman, a wife, EVE, for Adam! And I believe this is one of the reasons singles can feel free to storm the gates of heaven, beseeching God for a mate. I think He intends most people to be married and if we desire that, we should not grow passive or apathetic but state our case regularly, even as the persistent widow in Luke 18. However, this is not the only relationship we are meant to have. After Eve came on the scene, soon there were children, and then tribes and then communities. As human beings, we have a great capacity for relationships, both with God and with people, and we will ever be incomplete without them.
This is true for men and women. Though it is easier, in general, for women to have transparent friendships, men need them as well. If a man or woman does not have a close (same-sex) friend, a family member they spend Christmas with, a pastor they confide in, or the like, I would not advise dating them.
The man who isolates himself seeks his own desire and rages against wise judgment (Prov 18:1).
Isolated men and women are selfish (except perhaps for some shut-ins who perhaps are victims of isolation), and I would not suggest being the one and only person he/she talks to on a deep level. It takes humility to have friends, and selflessness to keep them – 2 qualities we should desire in ourselves and the one we marry.
People are social, relational creatures. We do better when we’re connected to others.
And iron still sharpens iron.
4. Having emotional and spiritual maturity
The last ingredient for contentment is emotional and spiritual maturity. The ability to communicate with people, deal with conflict, empathize, sympathize, make decisions, give selflessly without praise… All of these and more contribute to emotional and spiritual maturity. This might sound like a contradiction to #3, but the ability to be alone is also key. We should be well connected to others, but can we also handle a Friday night alone or several Friday nights alone? Do we always need distraction, noise, activity, or can we handle solitude? Can we stand being alone with our thoughts, set personal goals and fill the hours of a Saturday afternoon with worth-while activities – alone? Jesus himself spent time with the masses, time with a few and time alone. That’s a good model for us. We need those quiet hours to hear God’s voice, convicting us, instructing us, comforting us and loving us; these words go deep to our core and bring profound change.
Spiritual maturity also means the ability to fight our own battles, wage our own warfare, petition our own judge (Luke 18), travail for our own needs. Yes, we need the humility to seek a friend or a pastor when we’re struggling and ask for prayer, but we also need the ability to stand on our own two feet and help ourselves! Do we know how to speak to our own souls and encourage our own selves in the Lord?
I remember going up for prayer one Sunday after the service. As I stood there waiting for someone to come and lay hands on me and pray a voice said to me, “You should be praying for others by now, rather seeking prayer again and again.” I think that was a small rebuke from the Lord. I had been saved a long time and knew in my head how to pray, how to do warfare, how to intercede… I knew it all, but didn’t do any of it. When I felt discouraged (which was often), I instantly went for help and had inadvertently trained myself to rely on other peoples’ faith rather than my own. That was the last time I went up for prayer for many years. After that, I began to learn to talk to my soul like David, “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance” (Ps 42:5). Even if we have the best spouse and friends in the world, there will be times when no one is around and the Enemy of our soul will close in on us. At that moment, we’ll either shrink back in fear or we’ll stand our ground and win our private war.
I believe every Christian who wants an abundant life has to learn how to get his or her needs met in God. We need people, but we need God more and at the end of the day, He wants us dependent on Him alone.
For some reason, God wanted me to learn these keys to contentment and fulfillment before I got married – and so I didn’t marry until 2 weeks before my 40th birthday. (And, of course, I haven’t learned them all yet – some of these are life-long lessons!) Others get married younger and learn them along the way, in the context of their marriages. They learn as married people that they have purpose beyond being a spouse and parent, they learn how to serve, live in community and to stand on their own two feet. They learn that their husbands or wives can’t be everything to them and that their joy and contentment come from God alone. Some never learn these things and live frustrated, unfulfilled lives – regardless of whether they are single or married!
I don’t know why some people get the “marry young” script and others get the “wait” script – but I do know that God is GOOD; His ways are not our ways, but they are the BEST ways and one day, you will see the wisdom of the script He handed you.
Don’t forget to read the last on this series: Part III of Singlehood: a blessing or a curse?!