Many people view the single life in one of two ways. Either the single life is a torturous means of existence to be endured as bravely (quickly) as possible, or the single life is the time of your life free-from-all-responsibility and lending itself to promiscuity. Naturally the Catholic Church has some sort of answer for all the questions we face (that’s not to say the answers are clear cut or easy).
The two views mentioned above about the approach to the single life could seem like the “Catholic” approach vs. the “secular” approach. There’s a lot of hype in the Catholic world about the greatness of theology of the body, NFP, and living out the faith in the context of a Catholic family setting. There’s also the call to the priesthood or religious life, a mighty high calling indeed. But what about the single life? Are people called to the single life? How are Catholics to approach the single life without treating it like torture or utter freedom?
The truth is that all people are called to the single life at one point or another. How long each person is called to the single life is another story. If you’re in this gig (the Church) for saint-making (which we’re all called to), then it’s best to figure out how to handle being single (whether or not you want to mingle).
Being Catholic and trying to grow into the saint God wants you to be has a lot to do with our time and place in history. It does us no good to try to behave in the world the way Saint Ignatius did in the 1st century or St. Theresa of Avila did in the 15th century. It’s left to us to be a light to the world and salt to the earth in the 21st century. And frankly, we’ve got our work cut out for us. We have technology to take up, creativity to baptize, and discipline to learn. The work place is in dire need of honest, hard working, and just workers. The family is in dire need of true love and responsible parenthood. The political realm is in dire need of generous and devoted politicians.
Nowadays it’s very easy for us to get caught up in the romanticized version of married love; it’s easy to get caught up in the modern obsessions with sexualized-thinking because everything is sexualized; it’s easy to get caught up in the idea that ‘being married’ will solve all my problems.
The truth is if you’re single, God wants you to be single right now. God is calling you to something right now that you will miss if you are too busy looking ahead to other things. If you’re Catholic and you’re single, and you want to be married, you are being asked to trust that God will fulfill your deepest desires better than you can imagine. If you’re single and living promiscuously, God is ever awaiting for you to turn to Him with your desires for love and fulfillment.
At times I wish I had been married already, or feel like I am just waiting to meet ‘the one’ and then life can start. But this isn’t the right attitude to have as a Catholic who proclaims a God who works all things for good and whose Divine Providence guides all my half-heartedly devoted actions and choices (using even my poor choices and half hearted intentions for my good). The longer I am single, the more I realize what a gift of time this is for me right now. Had I been married at 22 right out of college I wouldn’t have the formative experiences, the learning, or the adventures of the last 3 years of my life. I’d be an entirely different person. As a single person you have a gift from God that you don’t know how long will be yours. You are given the freedom to learn about yourself in a collage of experiences of which the range and diversity depends completely on your willingness and your desires/choices. You are given the time free of direct responsibility of another, with which you can invest in hobbies, personal interests, volunteer opportunities, traveling, etc. You are given time alone with yourself, which is vital and necessary for self-awareness and holiness, for finding out who you are.
The following are three things I would suggest to all those who find themselves single and wanting to live well:
Learn how to pray. Learn how you best communicate with God, your maker and the one who has your plans for happiness. Discipline yourself in your prayer. Set aside a certain amount of time daily and stick to it. Not only will you feel an order to your day, but you’ll also find peace in your choices, joy in your state of life, and the courage to do what God sets before you.
Friendships & Adventures
Get out there and meet people! Do you have something you’ve always wanted to try? Go out and try it and find a friend along the way. Be interested in others who are different from you. And be willing to go on adventures. Travel if you can and how you can. Visit your close friends from college. Make the time to see your family. As a single person, you only have to juggle one schedule, so now’s the time to really juggle! Not only do you make friends and good memories, but you also learn about yourself from going through new experiences and trying new things.
And be willing to take risks. Don’t like the job you’re at now? Don’t settle. Find a new job. Go back to school. Take a risk. The time you have as a single person is, in the basest sense of the word, the time you’re most free to make a job change, to move, or to change your lifestyle. Don’t let yourself settle into a mediocre or complacent way of life. Don’t let the modern work-a-day world rob you of your joy or keep your eyes blind from God’s plan for your life. Your life as a Christian is an adventure but only if you’re willing to let God lead you. Have you always wanted to do a mission trip? Plan for it then. It’s far too easy to get caught up in the practical, financially-guided, modern world when the disinterested, free, and holy adventurous life of following the Son of God is waiting for each of us. Be willing to place your trust in God every day with the small things and when the big decisions in life come along, His peace will guide you in your choices.
God knows how to best fulfill our desires. Time spent as a single person is not meant to be torturous but is meant to be a time of growth and happiness. Learning how to live well and be holy should never be separated from your present state in life and your everyday living.
My hand flops through the air and, with a mind of its own, starts pawing at my nightstand. BEEP, BEEP, BEEP is playing in the background, and I can’t figure out what is going on. Finally, my hand finds my alarm and stops the horrible beeping sound. Groggily I open my eyes; why oh why is my alarm going off this early? The sun peaks through my window trying to remind me that I’m waking up for a reason. Wiping the sleep from my eyes, I remember that I’m supposed to meet a friend for daily mass, which happens to be at 6:30am. Waking up early isn’t the easiest thing and pressing the snooze button can be very tempting, but knowing that my friend will be waiting for me gives me the extra incentive I need to pop out of bed… err roll out of bed.
Getting into the habit of praying on a daily basis can be challenging. Because of this, I like to think of prayer as exercising our spiritual muscles. Similar to going to the gym, the first few training sessions may seem overwhelming and you may need the help of a workout buddy to get through them. This can also be the case in our spiritual lives. The thought of sitting quietly or not knowing what to say may be intimidating. Remember, it’s about building up your spiritual muscles; start small. Having friends and family members that will serve as a source of accountability can be very effective in helping us to live out and strengthen our faith.
You may be wondering why prayer is so important. Well, I’m glad you asked. It’s through prayer that we are given the strength to resist temptation and remain faithful to our baptismal promises (CC2340). In addition to this, when we begin to incorporate prayer into our friendships, we establish deeper bonds of solidarity, the fellowship arising from common interests or responsibilities. In this case, the common interest is growing in our faith. When friends begin to act as witnesses to one another, it fosters the sharing of spiritual goods even more than material ones (CC1948).
As these spiritual goods develop, we are granted grace and are made more aware of God’s presence in ourselves and those around us. When we recognize God in others, we begin to see one another in a new light (man, it just keeps getting better and better!). The human person is no longer the object that society tells us it is. Instead of viewing one another from a utilitarian standpoint, as something to be used rather than valued, God’s grace enables us to recognize the true beauty within one another. And it’s through this grace that the dignity of the human person is restored. Only when the true value of the human person is recognized will we stop looking at one another with eyes of jealousy and lust. In turn we will begin to view those around us as people worthy of respect. When we see one another with this perspective, we are able to form authentic friendships. Authentic friendships recognize the unique gifts each one of us has been blessed with and, in turn, help to build up the kingdom of God here on earth.