Single men and women who living out faithful lives in the Church are often met with tension with regards to what it means to be seemingly vocationless or “in limbo”. Fortunately, there are a number of people in the Church (leaders, religious, priests, and single lay Catholics themselves) who are working tirelessly to address the needs of the often underserved population. As I myself have been living as a single lay Catholic woman for the past three years since I converted, I have become familiar with a few recurring opinions that I would like to address in this article.
A brief disclaimer: I am not a theologian, catechist, or apologist. I share these thoughts and observations from my own prayerful discernment and seeking God’s voice on matters that I myself have encountered in hopes that they will lead others to further engage in dialogue with God on how they may resolve these issues in their own lives. I do not advocate for any position or action as a definitive one and encourage anyone reading to bring anything that comes up through your reading of this article with a trusted spiritual director or priest.
MYTH #1: Remaining single after several prudent attempts towards a vocation (e.g- chaste dating, ‘Come and See’ weekends) is, in and of itself, a sign that you are not called to that vocation.
Sometimes when singles talk about their long-term discernment of a vocation and the lack of success that they have encountered, others (often comfortably married folks or religious or even committed singles) will, in an attempt at charity, express the notion that maybe the single person is not called to marriage or religious life after all. While this kind of remark is meant to console, it often has the opposite effect on the soul of the person, which longs so deeply to live out a vocation for God. I am coming forward to remind singles that a “not now” does not necessarily mean “never”. I repeat: “wait and see” is not the same as “you’re just not cut out for this and never will be”.
If your call is placed “on hold”, so to speak, trust in His timing. If the obstacles do, in fact, suggest that you are not called to a certain path, trust that God will reveal a new direction in your life when and how He wills it. Either way, do not let anyone try to deter you from discerning your vocation simply because your experience isn’t as linear as others. There is no final word in “nothing’s happening”—there may be in hindsight, but not at this very moment. Many of you may have experienced the gentle prompting of God’s voice in other areas of your life and witnessed the quiet manner in which He leads you down a path that may have seemed impossible or undesirable at first.
If you trust in His will for the greatest good in your life, He will provide. I would even take it as far as to suggest that you trust in His will for the delay. For instance, instead of imaging that everything would be perfect “if only” you were married right now, consider that it’s equally possible that you would be in much worse situation than you can even imagine. While these are not thoughts to dwell on, they can remind you that there are greater forces at work here and there really is no way that you can know that one time table is better than another.
Interestingly enough, I have found that reading about the lives of the saints—or even hearing about the vocation journey stories of priests and religious– reveals the persistence of God in drawing out His plan in human lives in the face of heavy obstacles. Some of the greatest saints in heaven faced hardcore “no’s”, slammed doors, “not yet’s” and other setbacks. When it comes to married life, I find that I generally tend to hear two types of vocation stories from married folks: 1) We were best friends from the womb/met when we were X (usually no older than fifteen)/instantly knew we were meant to be, our courtship was perfect and 58 years, nine children, and seventeen grandchildren later, life is a bed of roses or 2) I was single and unsuccessful for a long time when I woke up one morning, prayed “Your will, not mine” and approximately three quarters of a second later I got a message on Facebook from a friend of a friend of a friend who is an amazing, faithful Catholic guy/gal and my soul mate and the rest is history.
Now, I mean absolutely no discredit to these types of stories—I believe God is good and does sometimes work such miracles but…my fellow long-term singles out there—you hear me, no? I’ve ended up knocking myself on the head with my CCC because I’ve been to the social gatherings, prayed the novenas, read all the thriving single Christian woman books, sat in Adoration, gone on retreat, keep growing in faith, am always seeking to deepen my understanding of what the sacrament of marriage truly means in the Church, been through the whole “Your will, not mine” moment of truth, and still, nada. Perhaps with married life being a worldly calling, we tend to focus less on the spiritual battles and setbacks that can occur on our journeys.
That being said, there are a few Christian and Catholic authors out there who are more nuanced in describing their journeys towards marriage and I highly recommend prayerfully seeking them out to anyone who is currently discerning the vocation. Also, to those of you out there who are married and reading this (thank you for caring about the souls of the single people in your life and in the Church enough to do so, by the way), if you still have access to your own premarital discernment journey and you are comfortable sharing it, I humbly encourage you to do so in the medium of your choice (e.g.- writing, poetry, song, dance, etc.).
MYTH #2: The single life is inherently selfish, because opportunities are not readily available for “dying to self” and serving others.
This one’s a biggie. There’s nothing worse than being a single man or woman who would happily give up and commit in a world that is full of folks who assume that we’re all living some kind of fast-and-loose bachelor/bachelorette lifestyle. While it is true that singles are less disposed to the will of others than priests, religious, or married folks, this does not mean that we are a bunch of self-indulgent, overgrown adolescents. Many of us who are single and Catholic make self-sacrificial choices every day. For instance, it’s Saturday night. You have a choice. You could go out to some bar, meet a guy or girl, and engage in the “hook up” culture. Go ahead. No one is stopping you.
Or, if you have a friend—a professed atheist, but otherwise, you get on like clockwork– that you really like and he or she really likes you…so why not date him or her? Everyone says you’re “so perfect for each other”, right? You’ve got the whole “opposites attract” thing going on. Or, maybe it’s those temptations that creep up every so often…you know which ones I’m referring to. It’s only natural, so why not indulge? Or you’re out shopping with your best friend and she tells you that mini dress with the low neckline was made for you. It is super cute—so why not get it and wear it to that party?
The point of the section above is to draw attention to the many ways that we, as faithful Catholics, practice charity in our lives every single day. Each and every one of these examples is a decision that we make for the care of the souls of others. Yes, it is our behaviors and actions that we alter, but always with the intention of dying to our own will for the sake of another. For instance, by not engaging in the hook-up culture, we are acknowledging the damaging effects that such behavior has on the soul of the person who we might become involved with in this manner. You may care very deeply for your atheist friend, but you know that only God can work on his or her heart, when and how He wills it, so you put your desire for a relationship with him or her aside and place your trust in His plan.
Purity and modesty are other virtues that we pray for the grace to obtain for the protection of the souls of others—every time that you decide against looking “in that way” or showing off an “asset” you are practicing charity and caring for the souls of every person you encounter, whether they know it or not. Do not let anyone try to tell you that you are selfish because you do not have to wake up fifteen times every night to feed a newborn or spend countless hours fulfilling the needs of a parish community. While they are, indeed, sanctifying calls to service, remember that they are only so because God has called those particular people to sanctification in those particular ways.
If you are single right now, then He is not calling you to sanctification in the same way at this time. That does not mean that you are not being called in other ways or that the ways that you are being called are any less sanctifying than the more overt and persistent ones that come with living out a religious vocation or marriage.
I would like to take a moment to especially reach out to my brothers and sisters who find themselves more isolated and alone than they would like to be in their lives. For many reasons (going away for school, shifting career paths and unstable job markets, living abroad, the superficiality of many interactions over social media sites), loneliness is a pressing issue for those living the single life today. For those of us who find ourselves with few personal relationships and marginalized in parish life (which often focuses heavily on families with children), it can be especially painful to hear the frequent recommendation that we “reach out” to others around us, as there may actually not be anyone around for us to minister to.
I want you to know that you are no less of a Christian because you are struggling with loneliness. There are ministries that you can take up even in the depths of loneliness, such as praying for particular causes or needs, delving into creative projects that uplift the Faith, and providing monetary support for Catholic charities. I will not say “join a club”, because I know what it is like to attempt this and run into various challenges, such as low participation numbers, cliques, cancellations, or even simply a lack of available events in your geographical area. What I will say is pray for God’s guidance on where and how He would like you to serve. And continue to pray that God will bring others into your life as He wills it, but know that you are loved and cherished even in the depths of loneliness.
Finally, it is important to note that being disposed to and even frequently engaged in serving others does not automatically mean that one is perpetually “dying to self” in the spiritual sense. One can easily be tempted to sin even (perhaps especially) within the context of a vocation. Living out a vocation does not mean that all actions within that vocation are automatically sanctifying. Pride, lust, envy, greed…they do not go away for those living out a vocation. The flip side of that is just because, as singles, we are not living out a vocation as currently defined by the Church, doesn’t mean that we should think ourselves condemned or less holy. Some of us (I admit to this as well) get caught up in focusing on what we can’t do because we are not married, or what is a sin for us and sanctifying for the married person. I would like to pray that all of my single brothers and sisters will not succumb to the pain of mistaking our state of life as a sign of a lack of holiness or love from God. This is a temptation that I know all too well, but with prayer and persistence, we can overcome it.
MYTH #3: Singles are free to do more, be more, and can be depended upon to extend themselves endlessly in ministry and parish life.
This last one may draw a bit of controversy from readers, but I would like to take the time to share my thoughts on the issue. Many people assume that because a single person is not constantly running children to ballet and football practice or engaging in street ministry every night from dusk til dawn, that he or she is readily available to engage in any and all kinds of ministry in the Church. I would like to ask that we take a closer look at where and how single individuals may be more or less available to pursue ministry depending on various circumstances that they face in their lives.
It is true that some single men and women have particularly strong financial situations due to a stable career in a high-paying field and the lack of family expenses. These men and women may be able to provide solid financial contributions to Church ministries and parish communities. Other singles may be gifted with abilities that make them stand out in applicant pools and have the time and flexibility to pursue ministry at home or abroad by successfully obtaining support through a competitive program that engages in such ministry. As many of you are well aware, however, these situations are more difficult to come by in our day and age.
Many young single men and women are struggling to make ends meet as they work low-paying jobs or balance several jobs with unpaid internships that provide the experience that they need to advance in their careers. Many careers require years of low-paid “dues” and creative planning when it comes to gaining valuable experience, which less frequently involves the support of a particular company in areas such as health insurance and annual salaries. The competitiveness of programs that support service projects means that many who are genuinely prepared to engage in ministry with all of their hearts will be turned away. To those men and women who are facing these realities, as someone who has been there, I would like to say, take heart, and keep praying that God will guide your path. I have experienced some frightening situations when it came to meeting material needs and God has never failed to provide in surprising ways (often better than anything that I could have hoped for). He loves you and He sees your desire to contribute and He is guiding you through the muck. Hold fast to Him and keep on keeping on.
One issue that I hope can be discussed more is the question of ministry for single women. While I believe that we, as single women, can be called to as many forms of ministry as God sees fit, I do wonder about those that involve situations where we may be excessively vulnerable, such as street or prison ministry. These types of ministry may, in fact, be more accessible for a habit-wearing religious or a married woman to pursue alongside her husband or even just knowing that there is a superior or a husband to look out for her should she encounter a threatening situation. Even addressing the needs of a homeless person that one encounters on the street can invoke some tensions for a single woman walking alone, depending on the time of day, location, etc.
For any other single women out there who are experiencing these tensions, please know that you are not alone. Do not feel that you are any less of a Christian woman because you experience these concerns. I strongly encourage you to bring up your concerns with a spiritual director or trusted priest, and to prayerfully work towards drawing the line between prudence and self-sacrifice in your own circumstances. I have done this in my own life and it has assisted me in dispelling some of the myths around what it means to be a Christian in my particular situation.
Some closing thoughts:
I’ve written this article to share some of my thoughts about how single life is perceived in the Church. It is my hope that this will promote dialogue on some of the obstacles faced particularly by young single men and women who are prudently living out their Catholic faith and are genuine in their discernment. Please feel free to comment on any of the topics that I have mentioned here and to add your own concerns and experiences. May God Bless you all and continue to lead you down the path where you will best glorify Him in this life!
This article was originally published on Ignitum.com and is used with permission.