I remember one particular Christmas gathering where the only single people were my 85-year-old grandmother and me. My sister had been married twice — now happily married to her second husband — and I wasn’t even dating anyone. To be fair, my grandmother had been married to my grandfather for almost 40 years before he passed away, so I’m not sure she would have seen herself as “single.” Either way, I was alone and feeling lonely among a sea of happily married and celebrating family members.
Now to be clear, being alone and feeling lonely are two different things. They don’t always go hand in hand, and I don’t want to suggest that being single always equals being lonely. But at the holidays, sometimes it’s that ache in your heart to share yourself and connect emotionally to a romantic interest that really starts to hurt. Our family of origin is invaluable, but wanting your own mate and your own family is a different type of longing.
If God is calling us into the vocation of marriage, why does He ask some of us to wait so long? I plan to ask Him when I meet Him one day.
If God is calling us into the vocation of marriage, why does He ask some of us to wait so long? I plan to ask Him when I meet Him one day. It may be God is giving us the gift of being single to force (OK, encourage) us to be satisfied with a relationship with Him first. What does that mean? When you are single you have the freedom to choose how to fill up the space in your life — with work, friends, ministry, sports, partying, traveling — whatever you choose. This means we also have the time and freedom to build our spiritual life, one that scripture tells us will satisfy the longings of our heart in a different way.
How do we build a personal relationship with Christ? It’s the same as building any relationship. It can start slowly, or it can be the same rush as falling in love. It consists of spending time together, talking and listening, serving one another, and living your life in fidelity to each other. The same cornerstones of marriage apply to a relationship with the Divine. Think of it as intimacy training, practicing the art of being in a lifelong commitment.
Try starting with spiritual disciplines that you just seem too busy to do. This can mean attending daily Mass, reading Scripture, doing your own Bible study or joining one, going to adoration, participating more fully in the ministries at your church, saying a Rosary — whatever works for you. They are called spiritual disciplines, but they are relationship builders. You are forming, and strengthening, your relationship with the Trinity when you practice connecting to your spiritual life.
And so, out of desperation and really trying everything else, that is what I started doing. I found going to adoration at night was helpful, especially Sunday nights. I started getting involved in more ministries at my parish. I had always enjoyed singing, and as a total amateur they let me join the (all volunteer) church band. I opened my Bible and actually started reading it, along with some companion books to help me understand what I was reading. I went to seminars on the Holy Spirit. I read the writings of John Paul II (or rather books that could explain his writings to me). I looked up some questions I had about the Catholic faith and why we believe certain things.
Did magic dust suddenly appear and Mr. Right materialize? Not exactly. Did God immediately remove that ache of loneliness in my heart? Well, not in time for that Christmas, but yes, over time I found myself more fulfilled and more satisfied with my single life. And more at peace. More connected. And so, in hindsight, I’ve realized that maybe that is why God allowed the ache of loneliness in my heart to stay for so long. He was calling me to Him, and it took me a while to get my focus away from meeting Mr. Right and towards meeting Divine Righteousness.
I think I also learned a lesson in gratitude. If my husband had appeared earlier, I likely would have screwed things up. If finding my husband had been easy, I’m not sure I would appreciate the person and the marriage I have today. You may not be like me; you may be much more mature than I was. But it took me a while to become the person that could not just get married, but could be happily married. That means being patient when I don’t feel like it, being kind when I’m angry, forgiving when I think I’m the one that has been wronged, and all those other aspects of marriage we don’t think about when we are feeling lonely.
And so this is my prayer for you this holiday season: if you are feeling the ache of loneliness, may you find your own path of connection to our Divine Lover. And may the journey of focusing on your relationship with God draw you closer to fulfilling your calling, and prepare you more fully.
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