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Singleness and God’s Deliverance: My personal experience
By Betty Vivian
CHAPTER 1: BACKGROUND
Friends and Weddings
At Home With My Parents
Other aspects of Singleness
Parents and Children
CHAPTER 2: THE TURNING OF THE TIDE
My Altering Views
Looking at Marriages
Looking at Myself
CHAPTER 3: THE CRISIS POINT
Three and a Half Years
Concern for Single Christians
I Owe Everything to Jesus
CHAPTER 1: BACKGROUND
Singleness was a great Goliath that roared at me during the first eleven years of my Christian life. For some people it is not a problem but for a considerable number it is a severe one. Many married couples carry colossal burdens which are frequently obvious. The trials of singleness are often not appreciated or understood as they are so inward. In writing of my spiritual pathway as a single woman, now 66, I realise married people may read this as well as those who are single. If I tread on any toes in the first part of what I say, please bear with me and read to the end. My story has a wonderful conclusion due entirely to Jesus Christ, my Lord and Saviour. I give Him all the glory.
I was brought up in Cornwall, in a non-Christian home, by good parents who went regularly to the local Methodist Chapel. As the middle one of three sisters, I had a very happy childhood. My father was a teacher. He and my mother sacrificed a great deal to educate us and we all became Junior school teachers. My mother’s father became a Christian late in life and prayed specifically for his grandchildren. My parents were very happily married for which I truly thank God. When growing up and as a young woman my one and only ambition in life was to be happily married, with my own home and children. I loved housework, cooking and gardening and had a high ideal for marriage, knowing I would never be content with second best. My heart was not in teaching and I did not really feel cut out for it, but had to earn my living.
I came to Southampton to start my teaching career in September 1956 and was converted that Christmas at the age of 21. A verse through which God powerfully spoke to me was “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added to you.” Matt.6 v 33. Being a keen, zealous Christian, I tried to obey God in every way. From the outset I attended church and the midweek meetings regularly and later on taught in a Sunday School and took a young people’s meeting one evening a week. A happy marriage I regarded as the greatest blessing in life after conversion. I knew that a Christian should only marry another Christian but no Mr Right came along.
Friends and Weddings
About a year after my conversion I started to share lodgings with a Christian girl friend. Soon after this she became engaged and talked incessantly about her wedding. I was her bridesmaid and it took all my spare money that summer to buy my dress, shoes, wedding present and train fare to her home. She sailed off to a rosy future and I returned alone to my lodgings, resolving never to be a bridesmaid again. I continued my young people’s midweek meeting. After a day of teaching and a discouraging session, I often felt desolate and lonely on returning to an empty room. It drove me to read my Bible and pray.
Another Christian then lived with me. She helped me a great deal but it was not the same as having a husband. At the end of two years she moved away to teach elsewhere. This I found very hard and I remember thinking that married couples had their partner for life whereas, with single people, friends may come and go.
Later on my younger sister, who had become a Christian and was engaged,, shared my lodgings. She was very considerate of my feelings but it was hard to watch her making her wedding dress, knowing that shortly my lot was to be on my own once more. However God impressed upon me that if I did not love my sister I did not love Him. It was as simple as that.
Some time after my sister’s wedding another young Christian woman joined me. She soon started courting and never had time to talk. It was always “I must hurry, my fiance is waiting,” and off she would go in the car while I was stuck in marking books. I made up my mind never to live with another young woman again.
During my twenties nearly all my friends and cousins got married. Going to weddings was a great ordeal. I tried to smile and look happy, but inwardly felt sick at heart. It was never my turn. Then came the babies to be smiled at and admired. I longed to have a baby of my own, but could not say so. Giving wedding and baby presents seemed endless.
At Home With My Parents
One Christmas, my older sister spent her honeymoon with my parents. I was home at the time. That was not easy either. My two sisters subsequently each had three children and every school holiday when I went home my mother talked about them continually. I loved my nephews and nieces, but it rubbed in the fact that I had no children of my own. I used to reproach myself for being envious, but the story of Hannah was a great comfort to me. The Bible does not condemn her for being envious, but says she was provoked.
When visiting certain friends of my parents, the comment from the husband would usually be, “Where’s your young man then?” It hurt deeply.
I found it extremely hard to live as an adult, single daughter with my parents. They were kind, welcoming and considerate, but I so longed to have a husband, a companion and soul mate of my own age, and felt frustrated and discontented at being “stuck with mum and dad”, and a number of elderly uncles, aunts and friends.
I have also noted over the years that parents often treat married children with more deference and respect than they do a single son or daughter.
Each holiday I attended a chapel in the village, run by my old schoolmaster. I loved his ministry and the small midweek Prayer and Bible Study meeting. The congregation consisted of 15 to 20 people, some of whom were Christians and some were not. I had no friends as there was no one younger than me or around my age. Some elderly ladies were kind and hospitable.
I was unhappy inwardly and desperately lonely, but clung to the Lord and my Bible. Many Scripture promises were very precious to me, one of them being “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you and you will honour Me”. Psalm 50 v 15. The only relief and pleasure I found was in Christian service; this helped me not to be self-pitying. I was a hard working, active church member and often visited people worse off than myself as this restored my spiritual perspective. Being a Christian I tried to do my job well at school, but did not enjoy it. My longing was for Mr. Right to come along and whisk me off, but he never did. I felt resentful at having to work so hard to earn my living while many Christian wives could stay at home supported by their husbands. I hated always having to make decisions on my own, and to have no one to lean on for comfort, support and companionship. At school I was often a hard, unloving teacher. It is very difficult to give love when one does not receive any or when one’s circumstances are negative.
Other aspects of Singleness
When shopping it was very hard to view couples holding hands and having their arms around each other. It emphasised my loneliness and that I didn’t belong to anyone. No one ever held my hand or hugged or touched me. Hugs from Christians or relatives are not the same as those of a husband.
One year I went to Switzerland on a Christian House Party, at which I hoped earnestly I might meet someone. My younger sister did meet her husband to be but there was no one for me. 80% of the party were single women, 5% were single men, and 15% were married couples. I was deeply disappointed and fed up. I did not enjoy the holiday.
Another problem for single people can be that, as soon as one’s friends start courting, one is immediately dropped like a hot potato.
Of course, it is understandable that couples need time together to prepare for a life-long partnership, but it is very hard to be on the receiving end of being left alone. In recent years I have known of some Christians who, once married, have not given their previous friend – now very lonely – a phone call or an invitation to a cup of coffee. I appreciate that some couples do make an effort to consider single friends and many Christian families are very hospitable and kind to lonely people.
There is a stigma about being “an old maid” or “on the shelf”. I think “spinster” is one of the ugliest words in the English language. It also seems unfair that single women are publicly labelled “Miss” all their lives, while single men are not similarly treated. “Ms” does try to rectify this, but I dislike it and would never use it. Particularly in today’s moral climate, the attitude is, that if you haven’t had sex you’ve “never lived”. To carry all these labels is very humiliating.
Many married people are wonderfully caring of their elderly parents, but I have known in my lifetime a considerable number of cases where the burden of elderly parents has fallen heavily on a single daughter or son.
The media was also very difficult. It only needed one picture to stir up sinful desires. This is now a far greater problem for young people than it used to be. There was a constant emphasis on smart weddings as THE great aim for couples. Often newspapers carried articles about “poor couples who so wanted a baby”. Their longing was understandable, but I used to think how thankful they should be, and how wealthy they were compared with single people. They did have a partner in life and were not continually lonely, lacking in companionship and physically frustrated.
As I have got older I have talked with a number of widows or divorced women. They have said that they did not realise how hard it was for single women until they were alone themselves.
I know a highly intelligent disabled single man in his early forties who says he has found singleness a far greater trial than his disability.
Over the years I read a number of books on Singleness. Instead of helping me they irritated me. They invariably talked about what fulfilling lives single people could lead. Nobody had tried harder than me to be busy and active, but I did not feel fulfilled and was lonely and frustrated. When one is basically unhappy, no hobby is a pleasure, and it is very difficult to relax at home.
In a book about stress on the mission field, it was interesting to read that a large number of single missionaries found that their greatest trial was singleness.
Much of my twenties was spent in a small church which I loved. Spiritually, in general, I was very happy there, and worked enthusiastically. I admired the love, kindness and unselfishness of the minister and his wife and knew that, if I had been happily married, I would never have been as self-sacrificing as they were. The congregation was very well taught and cared for. The married couples were kind and hospitable.
However, church life was hard as a single woman. The minister and elders were happily married men and they and their wives had little understanding of the trials and viewpoint of single people. Consequently they frequently, unwittingly provoked them and then went on to misunderstand and misjudge them. They expected single people to accept their preaching, counsel, decisions, and correction, but were not always prepared to listen likewise to single people. “You’re not married, you don’t understand” tended to be the attitude. Some of the sins which specifically apply to married people were not targeted from the pulpit, because the minister and elders did not see them in themselves. This is also true in other places of worship.
In the majority of churches today, single people are poorly represented among the church leadership, although they frequently make up a considerable proportion of the congregation. It seems to be forgotten that Jesus, Paul, John the Baptist, Jeremiah and Elijah were all single.
The married couples frequently talked about their trials and problems, especially concerning their children. They seemed to think that single people had none. I felt that couples had chosen to be married and have children, whereas very few single people choose to be single. The Bible clearly speaks about “The gift of singleness” I Cor. 7 v 7, but it is often a gift that is not welcomed nor wanted by most young Christians. I note too that very few Christian couples covet “The gift of singleness” for their own children.
There were other single women in the church, and married people seemed to assume I therefore had friends, but they were not my type. For a number of years I had no special friend, and was very lonely. There were a few single men, but they did not interest me, nor did I interest them. It was hard to remain loyal to the church and not succumb to wanderlust.
As a single working woman I had little in common with the married women who were in the majority and mostly talked about their husbands and children. Scarcely any were interested in my trials. I did, however, have more in common with their working husbands, some of whom were teachers like me, but I quickly realised that talking with them could be misconstrued by their wives. This made me feel very isolated. It is, of course, understandable that mothers, shut in with small children, had a totally different set of problems from me.
I often felt I was “used” by the married couples as a convenience in bringing up their children. Single people were very useful in taking children’s or young people’s meetings. The burden on them was not always realised. They worked hard all the week and sometimes did not have support at home.
Some couples were marvellously unselfish in sharing themselves, their relationship and their home with single people, but there were many times when I felt excluded, unwanted and in the way when spouses were around.
On one occasion, I was asked around for the evening by a young married woman. This was a surprise as she had never asked me before. On arriving, the true reason was obvious. Her husband was away for two weeks, and she was lonely. I was never asked again. Clearly it did not occur to her that I was permanently lonely.
Services and meetings were the only chance I had to talk to Christians as, for a number of years, I lived on my own with an unconverted landlady. I used to hang around after the service and talk to anyone available and was often the last to leave. Many people were thoughtful and did stop to talk. Usually we spoke of general matters. The deep inner trials I lived with daily I kept to myself. Most Christians understand that the church doorstep is not a suitable place for confidences. Some couples rarely spoke. I thought it very likely, however, that they would readily chat to their families over Sunday lunch. I went home to an empty room and no more Christian conversation until the next meeting.
For nine years I lived in shabby, old fashioned, cold lodgings, with a bossy, domineering landlady. However I knew it was where God wanted me and also knew I had to learn to be submissive to my landlady and to accept my living conditions. The married couples in the church were very hospitable, which I much appreciated. I was grateful to be invited to meals as it was largely the only contact I had with small children and family life, but it was hard comparing their comfortable, happy homes with my own situation. I believe they thought that by having me to tea they got to know me. They did, but only to a superficial degree. There was no way I was going to speak of my innermost trials to them in front of their children.
Parents and Children
Many of the children of Christian parents were well brought up with love, discipline and much prayer. They were in general a pleasure to teach. However, I always felt very vulnerable. Parents usually believed their children’s version of events not mine. One Christian mother whose children had sorely provoked me for years, was upset when I eventually spoke to her about it. She did not believe me and her husband supported and comforted her. I had no one to support and comfort me, but I knew I had been long-suffering, spoken the truth and judged fairly. She omitted to thank me for giving up my free time to teach her offspring or to say sorry that her children had upset me for years.
School teaching was very hard work and often stressful. I had many battles, struggles and failures in handling children, but was not in immediate contact with parents. In church life the whole area of parents and children was very difficult as we were all in such a close relationship. It was like treading on eggshells. Having taught hundreds of junior age children at school I knew something of what they were like. I could often have given helpful advice but knew I dared not do so. One mother did frequently ask my opinion and was helped by it. Some Christian mothers were extremely naďve and gullible. Their child had only to put on an expression of wide-eyed innocence. “What me mummy?” and the mother was completely taken in.
On one occasion a Christian mother declared emphatically to me, “My son would never tell a lie.” Having never yet met a child who hasn’t, I thought how little this woman knew of her own heart, let alone that of her son.
One mother had an adult son who, I considered, was not a Christian. The mother was fiercely defensive and protective of her children. She was so anxious for them to become Christians, that she jumped at flimsy evidence. When I hinted at my doubts, she looked at me with horror, as if I was the devil himself. I thought she was harming her son and the church.
In general my opinions were written off because, “I did not understand a mother’s love.” That was true, to my sorrow, but I did try to have the love of a spiritual mother and look at things from God’s viewpoint. I discovered both at school and at church how biased and blinkered parents could be.
Celibacy was so difficult that the only way I could cope with it was through prayer and fasting. I learnt that if I thought in psychological terms and said, “poor me, I am repressed and that is bad for me,” the battle was lost. If I called sinful desires “sin” and asked God’s forgiveness and help, the victory was won.
For many single people, sex can become an over-important issue because of the fact that they do have to live a celibate life 365 days a year, year in year out. Where food is concerned people who have regular meals and a full pantry usually do not think excessively about eating. Starving people do. My feeling in the church was that married Christians seemed to think single people had no sexual feelings, whereas celibacy can make them a great problem for many, especially younger people. I would think this matter is much harder for men than for women. I also recognise that it is not a problem for some individuals.
It was very hard to be preached at by a happily married man, “You must be content, you mustn’t grumble,” and “Sex is only for married people.” However I sought to accept the preaching as God’s Word to me and struggled to ignore the circumstances of the messenger.
A faithful minister is required to preach the whole counsel of God whatever his personal situation, whether it is palatable to his listeners or not. Before married people condemn my reaction too swiftly they might stop to consider how they would feel on a human level if a single man were to preach to them some Bible truths they found hard to accept about their marriage relationship and sex lives. The vast majority of single Christians are preached at almost entirely by married men.
Sexual problems within marriage are undoubtedly legion and can affect the best of marriages. Single people have an easy life by comparison with many fraught relationships. However, I am seeking to write from the viewpoint I held as a young Christian.
Another matter I found difficult to accept was that I had to put up with the monthly inconvenience of being a woman for years, all to no avail.
A happily married Christian once said to me, “What you’ve never had you don’t miss.” But that is only partially true. If one has never had a mobile phone, one would not miss it. Insufficient food or water, one would miss. Likewise, the desire for companionship, a physical relationship and for children are, in most people, innate desires and one does miss them if they are withheld.
Facing scripture was another aspect of singleness which was very hard. Gen. 2 v 18 “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” God Himself said that, and yet I was alone year in, year out.
I also read Phil. 4 v 19 “My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus,” but God seemed unconcerned about my needs.
Then there was 1 Cor. 7 v 9 “it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” Whatever my natural feelings were, there was no one for me to marry. I had to accept that God’s Word was infallible, that He was all wise and knew what was best for me. This was desperately hard to do.
The Bible institutes, upholds and protects marriage. When one is happily married it is therefore easy to defend and promote the Bible. It is not so easy to do this when the God of the Bible orders circumstances that are the opposite and a prison in which you would rather not be.
I found it exceedingly hard to come to terms with the fact that so many Christians could do God’s will AND be happily married, with their own home and children. For me it was always either – or.
I did not show my inner feelings and never spoke of them to anyone. The damage some people did by openly complaining and being sour was obvious. Outwardly I appeared a normal, active, keen Christian but had terrible, incessant, inward spiritual battles.
I was desperately lonely and longed for companionship. I was restless, discontented, bitter, resentful, sour, envious and utterly frustrated. I felt plain, unattractive, unloved, unwanted and thought I must be odd or peculiar. I could not come to terms with God’s will for my life. Being a spinster schoolteacher, living in lodgings, was the exact opposite of what I would have chosen. God seemed to be blessing everybody else and never me. It was like banging my head against a brick wall. God’s answer to me was always, “NO”.
I tried to battle against my sinful attitudes, and sought God’s forgiveness. I hated myself for feeling envious of Christians who were so kind to me and who had helped me so much in spiritual and practical ways, but time and time again just when I felt my inner spiritual state was improving, a thoughtless remark from a happily married Christian would knock me flat and stir up discontent and envy. I realised they did not mean to be hurtful. They just had no clue as to how I felt or how I viewed them. I never said anything because I knew that if I did, I would have been labelled a sour, frustrated, old maid, who was jealous of married couples.
Married people might say “What sort of remarks were so upsetting?” Here are a few examples.
1. A very godly married man, who had helped me greatly, spoke to my sister and her husband when I was in the car along with their three small boys. “What a lovely family! When the children are little, there is no time like it. It is heaven on earth!” To say that in front of me, albeit unwittingly, was absolutely cruel. It was just the sort of remark that would stir up envy, discontent, a feeling that God was depriving me of happiness, and it would stick in my mind for years, causing me endless spiritual battles.
2. A well-known preacher “Christian marriage grows more wonderful everyday.” I thought how nice that was for those who were married. My single life was not wonderful, and the older I got the harder it became.
3. A Christian woman, “I like being married.” I certainly did not like being single.
4. A married Christian woman who had just moved to a larger house. “I was so happy in my first house.” I was deeply unhappy in the bedsits and lodgings where I had lived.
6. Before going on holiday to Switzerland. A happily married man, “How nice for you single people to go off on holiday abroad.” I would gladly have exchanged 2 weeks of holiday abroad for 52 weeks of companionship at home year after year.
7. A middle-aged single man started courting a young woman who came to the church. On hearing the news a married Christian woman commented, “Surely not! So and So isn’t interested in getting married!” I had never spoken to this man about the trials of singleness, but had greatly admired his humility, meekness and devotion to the Lord. I was 99% certain he had found singleness a huge trial for far longer than I had. It struck me how little this woman understood the feelings of single people. I was sure she had often hurt him in the past as she had me.
To these remarks and many, many more, I said nothing, and did not show my feelings but they caused me countless inward battles. What added to the conflict was that all the speakers were Christians whom I loved dearly. They had greatly helped me spiritually and been very kind to me.
People may think me negative and over-sensitive but, as a single person. I was in the minority and was swamped with married people in the church, among my relatives and at school. I was constantly bombarded with their talk, attitudes and views. When a sore spot is continually pricked, it is extremely hard not to react and feel critical. Also, what is written is specifically dealing with my battle over singleness. It is not an autobiography, nor is it a general picture of church life. I could write pages in commendation of this particular church.
Book on Singleness: Copyright by Betty Vivian