Dear Ginger: The fear of being left behind.
As all of many of my close friends from school have been getting into serious relationships and some even getting engaged, I have found myself having a really hard time with the way that my friendships are now changing as a result. I have this constant fear in the back of my head of being left behind. I wanted to ask you if have any advice or encouragement from your season of singleness before getting engaged and then married. Did you have these struggles and if so, how did you handle them?
Thank you so much for sharing your question today. I can totally identify with your struggles. I know well the fears, the hopes, and the frustrations that you’ve expressed. I spent my teen years and most of my 20’s wondering if I was EVER going to have a relationship. Through those decades there were many weddings to attend, friends to cheer on, bridesmaid dresses to buy… and yet, there I was… still minus the “plus one” portion of my invitations.
Most days I was okay filling my time with ministry, friendships, books, and goals. But catch me near a holiday, wedding, or after a chick flick… and you would have found me weeping on my bed at night, terrified that I would be the only one still on my own while all of my friends built new lives. I look back at those younger versions of myself – 15,18, 20, 23, 26, 27 – and see girl who was trying so hard to be Miss Independent and all the while desperately desiring to be claimed as someone’s “dependent.”
So before I go into my thoughts and suggestions let me just say that I know none of this is going to be a perfect answer. I’m praying right now that it won’t feel like a pat response from a married woman. Half of the books on singleness on Christian bookshelves make me want to roll my eyes and pick up Harry Potter as a diversion instead. “Dance like a wildflower princess!” Lovely sentiment, but during my seasons of singleness, I just wanted someone to shoot straight and acknowledge that even though I trust the Lord, that sometimes waiting feels awful and painful. And sometimes it feels okay and not bad at all.
I went through a really warped time in my relationship with the Lord where I truly thought that unless I could be happy being a lonely, that I was being disobedient. But there’s a problem with that line of thinking: Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is just right for him.” (Genesis 2:18, NLT)
I felt like I was being more holy by being completely alone. That’s not good. In fact, GOD says it’s NOT GOOD for us to be alone. Yes, He has given us the gift of marriage, but He has also given us the gift of platonic relationships. Life is going to contain some lonely parts, but I don’t think we should punish ourselves with it. Some seasons will hold more friendships and relationships. Others will require that we depend upon the Lord and remain thankful for a small circle of friends.
I also had a time in my life where I honestly believed that as long as I wanted “a someone” or to be married, that God was going to hold out on me until I learned to be content in the current situation. And while God does sometimes desire to teach us patience, there was another problem with my line of thinking.
And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. “You fathers—if your children ask for a fish, do you give them a snake instead? Or if they ask for an egg, do you give them a scorpion? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.” (Luke 11:9-13, NLT)
I would tell my 20-something year old self that It’s okay to hope for and want marriage. It’s ok to want a relationship. It’s ok to ASK for a relationship. You don’t have to be ashamed of your requests or fearful of His response. Trust His timing and His desire to see you live an exciting and heroic story full of love.
But what do we do when everyone around us seems to be moving into a new season of life? We have to remember that relationships are seasonal. I’m working through that very concept with my counselor each week. I broke down crying out of loneliness and fear that I don’t give my friends enough attention. As we get older the breadth and span of our relationships get wider and wider: high school, college, camp, work, church, neighbors, family… and on and on! I can’t keep all of those balls in the air. As painful as it is, I had to finally realize that friendship works both ways. Some friends I bounce the ball to them and they joyfully send it right back. Others seem to… well, drop the ball. Mourning that change is healthy and necessary. We just have to be careful about hanging our happiness on a friendship or relationship. Of course it’s sad to see any relationship change, but we have to know that some friendships are seasonal. Will you still be able to find joy in the life God has given you even if your friendships change?
I think it’s also okay that you aren’t overwhelmed with joy for your friends right now. I think your heart to love them in spite of that fact shines through in the way you are seeking wisdom and advice during this season. You want to be joyful for your friends, I can hear it in the way you wrote about them. So why not ask? Cry out to God, surrendering your hurt and desires to Him a thousand times a day if you have to. Just remember that through every season, God is with you. He is near and not far off.
As you pray, acknowledge the blessings in your life. Ask God to show you ways you aren’t alone, and give thanks. I hope that you do have friends with whom you can be your real self – even the hurt, disappointed and tear-stained version of yourself. We don’t have to go through the hard seasons alone. Rather than turning inward, let the community around you lift you up during this time. It’s okay to be the one who needs the encouragement!
I tend to find joy when I look outward. I know that my own pain is magnified when I focus all of my attention on me. Continue to serve and love those around you. Let yourself enjoy serving, giving, and receiving love.
Again – my hope and humble prayer is that God will somehow use this rambling post to remind your heart how specifically and tenderly He loves you… in this and every season.
p.s. You might check out an older series that touches on some of these themes: Live a better [love] story.