This may seem like a rather nerdy thing to mention. On the day Jane and I married, I was 11,750 days old (that’s 32 and a bit years in old money). Today, 18 April, we have been married… yes, you’ve guessed it, 11,750 days.
When we married, not only did we say our vows to each other but we also vowed that we would never forget what it was like to be single.
To never forget what it was like to watch other people become couples. What it was like to see someone else holding hands or kissing in the park. What it was like to be a guest at a wedding. What it was like to be lonely. What it was like not being held. What it was like to think ‘What’s wrong with me?’.
Yes, there are the freedoms of being able do as one wishes. Yes, there are times when one is content to be on one’s own. Yes, being single can be a form of ‘calling’ (indeed, I experienced such on the back of badly broken up relationship… and then, a long distance move to escape the backlash and a few months later, I met Jane…).
All the same, unwanted singleness is not easily soothed.
There is pressure on many who live on their own – not least in the church – where being married or having a partner is often viewed as ‘being successful’. Where being single brings with it the unwanted expectations of others. “We’re all waiting for you two now, you know,” the minister’s wife said to us one Sunday morning before we were even engaged.
While society pays an often-higher level of ‘respect’ to those who have been widowed, even there, for some, there are expectations they should be ‘happier’ once a few months have passed or that they should ‘be over it.’ Those who are alone following separation or divorce can be acutely aware of others judging them as having ‘failed’.
On the Sunday before 14 February this year (note the date), the BBC’s Morning Worship service took the theme of being single. One of the contributors, Mike Simpson, a single man and a single parent said: ‘Churches sometimes focus on the biological family rather than this spiritual fellowship spoken of by Jesus. They advertise themselves as “Family-friendly” and many single people, of all ages, can feel less valued. I have attended some churches on my own and felt ignored.’
In leading that service, Revd Eleanor Jeans reflected on her own singleness: ‘I’m learning that God loves me as I am, as a child of God – that I’m fearfully and wonderfully made as Psalm 139 says. I’m learning that God is with me in all I face.
‘I’m learning to acknowledge that I’m whole and complete as I am – I don’t need a partner to be whole. But I do need others – I need to invest in my friendships. I’m learning to accept that my identity is not wrapped up in my marital status.’
In the Church of England’s regular pattern of daily prayer, throughout the recent period of Lent, Psalm 139:1-18 was read at Night Prayer (or Compline) every night. Every night for the whole of that time. It served as a constant reminder that in times when we might feel we are living in a wilderness, there can also be things that are reassuring.
Each time I read it I was particularly struck by the final two verses of the selected passage, especially one version which puts it as:
How deep are your counsels to me, O God!
How great is the sum of them!
If I count them, they are more in number than the sand,
and at the end, I am still in your presence.’
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