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Why singleness is a gift

02 August 2013

Not being 'in a relationship' enables people to thrive, socialise, and grasp opportunities, argues Carol Backhouse

MY name is Carol. My relationship status? Single, according to Facebook. I've been single for most of my adult life, and that can be hard for people to deal with.

A typical conversation with my Nan would go something along the lines of this:

"Aren't you married yet?"

"No, Nan."


"No, Nan."

"You mean there's no nice young man that you can settle down with?"

"Plenty, Nan, but . . ."


And then there would be a pause.

"You're not one of these lesbians, are you?"

"No, Nan, I'm not. I'm quite happy on my own at the moment."

I would like to set down some thoughts about being able to be the person that God is calling you to be, fully alive, as someone who is not "in a relationship".

Nine years ago, I moved to a city where I knew no one, and started nursing training. It is a job in which you learn far more about people than you ever dreamed possible. I have to have some awkward conversations, and I need to be confident and outgoing in how I relate to people - which is something I am not always good at.

When I was growing up, I would hide behind my friends and family, hoping that they would do the talking and deal with tricky situations for me. Being a single person has allowed me to find my confidence in myself when I am in a public place playing a public role. Being a single person has allowed me to deal with things for myself, because I know that there is no "significant other" to retreat behind when the going gets tough.

My faith has brought me out of that hiding-place. When I read the Gospels, I see Jesus telling people to stop hiding. The lives Jesus touched were of people who had retreated behind labels of leprosy, blindness, poverty, tax-collecting, being mad, or being a woman.

The Gospels say that it does not matter about the label you hide behind. God is interested in you. He wants to see you grow and thrive. So forget the nervousness, because there are many relationships to share.

THERE are times when it is perfectly good and entirely useful to enjoy a single life, despite whatever the Valentine-card card industry, the wedding industry, the baby industry, your church, your family, and others may tell you. Being single might be the status that allows you to live a full life; releases you from a painful relationship; allows you space to find out more about who you are, how you react, and why you feel that way.

It is not a punishment for failing to ask someone out on a date; nor for breaking up with someone when a relationship does not work. Being single is not a sign of failure: you are not a loser, a loner, or inadequate.

Being single is not a permanent thing. God might be asking you to take a week, a month, perhaps a year or two to do something completely different with your life; to try a new hobby, a new job, to do some charity work, to meet new people, or to spend more time with the people whom you know and love already. Being single is a gift, because you have the freedom and independence to go exploring.

From that experience, God shows you something of who he has made you to be, and something of the gifts buried within yourself to take into any future relationship. It can be painful, especially when you face loneliness after the love and security of a relationship. But then a vocation to married life is not pink and fluffy, either.

I BELIEVE that God has given me a very full life as a single person. The relationships I have had as part of the Church, and in my wider life as a nurse, bell-ringer, walker, and stagehand have given me space to grow in confidence to tackle things on my own.

About five years ago, I took the plunge and went along to the Transcendence community, all by myself. This is a sacramental Fresh Expression, a mix of ancient and contemporary worship based in York Minster. And, because I was on my own, it was easy to talk with people, as I was not hiding in a group of friends. I found that I could be myself in that space, and God touched my life in a way that I could never have dreamed.

As I became more involved in the work of Transcendence, I have found gifts in creative liturgy and pastoral support which that community has helped to nurture, and which culminated in a vocation to ordained ministry.

Adam was lonely on his own; so God created Eve to be his companion to share the good times and the bad. You are not single. None of us is. We journey with many different people on many different roads. We all have a network of people with whom we have relationships: our family, our friends, our colleagues, our neighbours, the people we socialise with, Joe Bloggs in the street.

Yes, those relationships are very different from the sexual one that I might enjoy when my handsome knight in shining armour rides to my rescue. However much I feel a twinge of jealousy on seeing my friends or members of my family walking up the aisle to commit something of themselves to their soulmates, God's challenge to me is not to be selfish in being single. I am called to keep on sharing something of myself with others, so as to catch a glimpse of God at work in all the relationships that I have; to offer something supportive and meaningful within all my friendship and fellowship networks.

My Nan's idea of the only way in which you can live a happy and fulfilling life - that you must marry, get a mortgage, and have babies - is only one way of living out God's purpose for each of us. In a Bridget Jones moment, I would argue that Jesus has little to say about marriage and baby-making, and much more to say about walking alongside others and sharing friendship, fellowship, and love.

Whatever relationships I enjoy, I hope that I am now slightly better equipped to share something of myself, something that God has given me. Being single has given me the freedom to become fully alive. As I have learnt to stop hiding, I have become more aware of the work that God is asking me to do, in whatever relationships I have.

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