I lost both of my parents within 7 months of each other. Dad died first, in December 2012, followed by Mom who went to be with the Lord July 2013. What surely would have been a heartbreaking time for any daughter was even more so for me because both my parents lived with me in their final years; I interacted with them daily. As of this writing, it's been almost two years since my mother passed away and at times I feel an intense loneliness, as if I am disconnected from everyone and everything in the world. (My apologies for the dour opening of this post, but I do have a point.)
Thanks be to God, I am not completely bereft of connection. He has graciously provided me with brothers and sisters in Christ who are more precious than gold to me. I don't know what I would do without them. They carried me through 2013, arguably the hardest year of my life thus far. But, as many a single woman who has lost parents or who lives far from relatives can attest, it's tough living life without physical, tangible, day-to-day family. People who are there for you because they're stuck with you. They can't get away from you. You fill an integral role in their lives. Since my parents' deaths I have experienced a level of loneliness previously unknown to me, even as I have been surrounded by caring friends, kind co-workers, and loving siblings in Christ. No one is as invested in your life as the family you live with, and, even if some friends might want to be, such closeness from friends can often feel intrusive - it's hard to explain why. Maybe it's because only certain people have the "right" to know some things about you. To know your ups and downs, your best and worst traits, your greatest fears, your dreams and aspirations, your most painful failures....
I was certain God would soon fill that loneliness with a long-awaited spouse. "This would be the perfect time to get married", I remember thinking. "Maybe God has been waiting until now, after I have cared for my aging parents and have laid them to rest, to provide a spouse who will comfort me the way Rebekah comforted Isaac" (Genesis 24:67). I have since searched for any door or pathway leading to marriage but God has not provided one. In these past two lonely years, I seem as far from marriage as ever. Certainly I don't know what the future yet holds, but it's obvious God is in no hurry to marry me off.
To the Christian, nothing, including painful solitude, is a random or a wasted experience, however. Romans 8:28 tells us, "for those who love God all things work together for good". The loneliness has been a teacher to me. As I sorted through my parents' belongings, deciding what to keep, what to donate, and what to throw away, it struck me that all these items represented a life on earth that was now over and I saw their lives as an intricate story to which the Lord had written the final chapter. For the first time, I saw them not simply as Mom and Dad, but as image-bearers of God who had many other identities over a lifetime. Both had dreams and aspirations, some of which they accomplished and some that died with them. Though they had been married for many decades, that relationship had ended - it would not be resumed in Heaven (Matthew 22:30). Though God had seen fit to make them my parents on Earth, even that relationship had essentially expired at the grave. When we meet again in eternity, our status will no longer be mother/father/daughter, but glorified son and daughters of the Most High God.
These were truly humbling thoughts. They moved me to consider how I wanted to be remembered when I was nothing more than a few words typed on a death certificate. When I breath my last, and friends and family attend my memorial, will anyone care whether I married? Will they care how many children I had, how much I weighed, what I majored in at college, how much money I made, or what my hobbies were? All these things are important only here on Earth. They have little to no importance on the other side. Consequently, I don't want to be remembered as the woman who complained constantly about being single, who wanted to marry but just never could make it happen. I want to be remembered for the only thing that lasts forever, the only thing that has value both in this life and the life to come: the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Now, I'm not saying I am giving up on marriage and resigning myself to being a Protestant nun. I still hope and pray for marriage. Nearly every woman desires to be married, and I am no exception. It is how God designed us, an undeniable part of our womanly makeup. But is it wise to continually run after marriage, looking for it in every male acquaintance's eyes, when God has not providentially provided a path to it? Marriage, for all it's beauty, fulfillment, and spiritual significance, is not permanent. It will not be carried over into eternity. And that knowledge puts my hope for marriage in its proper place. Ultimately, there is only One Person worth running after continually without apology, and that is Christ Jesus, my Lord.
This was a lesson God knew I would only learn through the agonizing loneliness that has sometimes filled my days since losing my parents. And I thank Him for teaching it to me.