September 18, 2017 by CCHF
Do you remember sitting in English class during your freshman year and being asked to write an essay about what or where you’d be in 10 years? That was easy. I knew I’d be 1) married with children, 2) a physician, and 3) serving as a full-time missionary overseas. If someone could have looked ahead at my future and told me I’d be 1) single, 2) a nurse (nurse practitioner, specifically), and 3) living and working in a clinic in downtown Nashville, I would have considered my life one of complete failure. Ok – That is a bit of an exaggeration, but it makes for a great introduction for a talk to first-year medical and nursing students or for an article to be read by those who are fearful of failure or who are consumed with success and planning out every detail of their lives. Thankfully, I had learned years before to trust God with my life and to allow Him to shape me into his image and use me however He saw fit. I wanted to make the claim that Paul did in Philippians 4:11 – “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content,” and I can honestly say that those same things I would have once considered a failure are now my greatest joys, the things I have become most content in.
I happen to really love and appreciate the story of my life that God has written over the years. I could go into depth with a number of themes. I’m choosing to write on one that at this point may cause you to stop readin —singleness—but I hope not. There are things I will address that my married friends ought to read as well.
I have 33 years experience of being single. I’ve read the books. I’ve heard the sermons. I use to go to the singles-only workshops at my missions conferences – mostly to learn. After a while, I was sure I had heard or read everything there was out there on singleness, and I needed a break – not because I was lonely or sad or feeling pathetic about myself – mostly because I had reached that point when I figured I could just write the material myself. After all, I truly had an understanding of the blessings and gift of singleness Paul described in I Corinthians 7 - that uncomplicated devotion to God and to service for Him. Aside from full-time work at a busy clinic for the working uninsured, for the past eight years I have been the administrator for Vanderbilt’s Medical Campus Outreach (MCO – a ministry for medical and nursing students where we offer opportunities to teach students how to incorporate their faith in their practices). I have had many opportunities to serve with them in medicine. Most of the students and residents are single. I’ve observed that especially in medicine, many people are putting off marriage until they get through medical, nursing, or dental school. They’re holding off until they secure that stable job in healthcare. Whatever the situation, whether by choice or not, I observed the same things over and over in these settings – very little contentment in singleness. I’ve actually come to pity my friends and acquaintances that pine away for what they think will be the ultimate fulfillment of their lives and yearn for “the desires of their hearts.” So I wanted to address just a few of the temptations we as singles face.
Temptation to Put Life on Hold:
Many single people have that vague sense that their singleness is a temporary phase. It may be. It may not be. (I wonder if my married friends ever consider that their married-ness may also be temporary). Either way, there is a big temptation to just wait for that special someone to come along, wait for a better quality of life that comes with marriage. (If you’re married and still reading this, you’re probably chuckling right now. Let me encourage you to take that knowledge and share with or counsel a single person in your life who may be struggling and have a wrong idea that once he’s married he’ll be more “whole.”) So singles wait.
We’ve all said it in some form or another: “I can’t wait until Friday, when this work-week is over.” Or maybe it was, “I can’t wait until next month when I take the boat out on the lake,” or “I can’t wait until the last patient is done so I can go home to my family for dinner.” You might have had more distant timing: “I can’t wait until I finish my residency training so I can practice out on my own.” When I was in college, one of my mentors cautioned me on making those kinds of statements if for nothing else to just be aware of the opportunities I may miss during those minutes, days, or weeks I was wishing away. If I “can’t wait for Friday” and wish away Thursday, I just might miss that opportunity God has to bring an amazing patient encounter my way that day. In the same way, if my single friends wish and hope for that day down the road, there are so many potential missed opportunities to serve God and to serve others in the here and now. I’m so thankful that I can look back at the last twelve years of my life and know that I did not waste them pining for something that God did not have for me at that time. I’ve been blessed to serve both at a faith-based clinic in downtown Nashville and also to serve overseas on many medical mission trips.
I’m sure we can all relate in some way or another to the idea of sitting in a waiting room – waiting for our name to be called, waiting for a loved one to return from surgery, waiting for the results of the scan. That’s not where most of us wish to be. Nobody really wants to be sitting in the waiting room. We don’t want to “wait” for that next phase in our lives – we want it now. I think that often comes from an incorrect assumption of what waiting may look like in the life of a believer. There’s a difference between just “waiting” and “waiting on God.” I remember reading a quote from a book long ago that said something about waiting just involving passively waiting and wondering, hoping for something good to happen, while “waiting on God” is an active process – waiting with faith and trust in God and His plans, confident of purpose in the process. I could go on and on with this one. It’s the story of my life, but I’ll move on.
Temptation to Confuse “Aloneness” for “Loneliness”
“Aloneness” (the state of being alone) refers to physical separation from others—isolation. “Loneliness,” however, involves that emotional state of being disconnected from others. As a single person, I rarely suffer from loneliness, even when I’m physically alone. Might I also say that many of my married friends struggle regularly with “loneliness”? Many singles confuse the two and try to remedy the situation by filling up their calendars and over-committing to events and engagements in an attempt to avoid loneliness. The problem of loneliness is not solved by immersing ourselves in activities. Neither is it solved by marriage. Loneliness can be conquered through a healthy understanding of our identity in Christ, and knowing that He said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”1 Times of “aloneness” are wonderful opportunities to cultivate that relationship we have with our King.
Married friends, take note: your single friends don’t all have that fear of being the third wheel. Invite them to the party. Go on a threeperson date or a five-person date with another couple. Let them know that you accept them and their state for who God created them to be. Single friends – sometimes you just need to be the initiator. The marrieds need a little help here, and it may be up to you to plan the dinner or join the Sunday School class of mostly married couples (I did!).
Temptation to Over-commit:
Another potential complication with filling up our schedules is the tendency to over-commit. Sometimes we do that to ourselves. Other times, we feel pressure from friends, family, or coworkers. How many singles have heard, “Ask her, she doesn’t have to go home and cook for a family,” or, “can you just see the last two patients; my wife is waiting for me?” “You don’t have a spouse and children, so you must have time to run the diabetes education program, right?” I think a lot of us in medicine are overachievers. We’re people pleasers. We don’t want to have to say “no” because that might infer that we can’t handle something, so we say yes… to everything. It’s a myth to assume that singles have all this free time. It’s a lie that even we singles believe. Married couples have an automatic default. They have “valid” reasons for not committing to something – they have to spend time with their family. Might I point out that as a single person, not only do I have all those things in life that contribute to busyness, but I have to do all the tasks by myself. I don’t have someone else to do my laundry or to cook for me. And those relationships I commit to – it probably takes more time to develop those since I have limited time to spend in another’s company. My “family” doesn’t necessarily live under the same roof as me.
Ok – I’m not trying to swing the pendulum the other way – I’m merely pointing out that both married people and single people have varied challenges that contribute to the temptation to over-commit. If we’re in medicine, we’re already in a profession of caring. We’re already drained by our work and interactions with needy people. The Fruits of the Spirit of our lives can easily start to rot, and instead of offering our patients or our friends ripe, sweet fruits – like peace, patience, gentleness, and self-control, we instead offer impatience and coarseness.
I’ve not mastered these temptations myself and there are many more. Again, I cannot help but notice how many of my friends in medicine are single and struggling, and I just wanted to take the opportunity to encourage them and to let them know that I am praying for them. Don’t wait passively for temporal fulfillment. Wait on God and learn what He desires to teach you as you serve His people.
1 Hebrews 13:5
Posted first on January 1, 2010.
At the moment she wrote this article, Traci Warner was a nurse practitioner at Faith Family Medical Clinic. She had been appointed as a medical missionary to the people of Nicaragua and was raising support to transition to that full-time. Traci has now been living in Nicaragua for the past 5 years, serving as a medical missionary with ABWE (Association of Baptists for World Evangelism). While still waiting on the Nicaraguan government to approve a medical license, she's continued limited medical care there and hosts medical teams during their short term mission trips. Traci has developed a passion for teaching and training and does a lot of that with pastors' wives and other church leaders and leads Bible studies as well . “ I’m now 40 and still very content in my singleness and in the ministries God has called me to”. Traci Warner, August 29, 2017.