Unchosen Singleness: Suffering and Redemption
Being single (and not by choice) can be challenging for a traditional Catholic. However, through the redemption found in the teachings of the Catholic Church, you can find peace, even during a time of unplanned singleness.
If there is one thing that defies “reckoning”, it is un-chosen singleness.
I can’t recount the number of times that someone expressed surprise that I did not choose to be single. Surely, someone as charming and beautiful and intelligent and humble as I could have anyone she wants, right?
No, I did not choose this. Singleness is my present “state in life”, but I did not choose it and I don’t think it’s my vocation.
Not just “no”, but “Hell, no!” It is a cross I did not choose. This is something that is “happening” to me. And if you are hanging out on this site, it’s probably happening to you too.
The Church, thank God, seems to recognize that sometimes singleness seems to happen almost by accident. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1658) offers this little gem of insight:
…single persons who, because of the particular circumstances in which they have to live—often not of their choosing—are especially close to Jesus’ heart…
There must be a million ways of not choosing to be single and ending up that way anyway. It can happen for reasons as broad as the divorce culture that has left so many of us freaked out, and reasons as personal as debilitating mental illness, homosexual inclinations, or the need to take care of our aging parents.
It could be that your ideal “Mr. Right” married someone else or became a priest. Or maybe your ideal “Ms. Right” joined the convent, or just wasn’t interested, and you’ve not been able to move on. There are a million personal circumstances.
But don’t miss that Holy Spirit-inspired little jewel that hides in these circumstances we did not chose. We who did not choose to be single are “especially close to Jesus’ heart.”
“Stop kissing me. I mean it.”
This may not, at the moment seem very helpful. Even Mother Teresa was known, from time to time, to say something not very helpful. I love the story of her words to a cancer stricken woman. “You know, this terrible pain is only the kiss of Jesus — a sign that you have come so close to Jesus on the cross that he can kiss you.” And the woman replied, “Mother Teresa, please tell Jesus to stop kissing me.”
Ever wish that Jesus would stop kissing you? If you are swimming in pain on the cross of unchosen singleness, try to bear with me. We who are in a state of un-chosen singleness are especially dear to the heart of Jesus. His heart can be a place of refuge for us when we are frustrated.
In our loneliness, we are not actually alone. And if we can learn to practice his presence, the desert of loneliness can be transformed into a grace-filled garden of solitude.
Six Ways to Transform the Cross
How do we grow in this grace-filled solitude? As someone who is reasonably well practiced in the endurance of this unchosen cross, I’m going to suggest six ways.
Lean into it—and then forgive yourself
Once—just once, before you distract yourself on Netflix or waste three hours on Facebook, before you hurt yourself in the gym or drink a whole bottle of wine by yourself—get in the car and go for a long drive.
Cry out to God in the car, where no one can hear you. Point to the place, physically, where loneliness is gnawing away at you (for me, right behind the sternum) and say, “Right here, Jesus.” Over and over until you feel like he gets it. And while you are at it…
Call on the name of Jesus through traditional Catholic prayers
Here again, the Catechism 2666 has a little gem that is worth practicing:
“To pray ‘Jesus’ is to invoke him and to call him within us. His name is the only one that contains the presence it signifies.”
Just by calling on his name, Jesus can get into that place that literally no one else—and I mean no one, not even the perfect spouse about whom you fantasize—can reach. Let him into the pain of this.
Attend and assist at daily Mass
Once again, physical contact with Jesus in the Eucharist is a great gift to singles. Let him rest in that place where the loneliness is starting to get on your nerves.
And while you are there, take note of the other people who are there alone. You never know when Jesus might decide to introduce you to one of his other friends at daily Mass.
Compose a letter to Jesus
Tell him all about your loneliness. Then let him tell you about his loneliness. “The Son of man has no place to lay his head.” What would your reply be? Mine was, “You can share my pillow, Lord.”
It may sound strange, but I started placing a crucifix on my pillow. I was amazed by the power that seemed to emanate from the cross when I was suffering.
Make a Holy Hour of Eucharistic adoration
Surely the loneliest nights Jesus ever had was in the Garden of Gethsemane. He complained to his clueless friends: “Could you not stay awake even one hour with me?” That is the cry of loneliness!
Jesus poses a similar challenge to his friends from the tabernacle of most Catholic Churches: “I’m on my own in here. Come, hang out with me for a while.”
Here’s a prayer you can say:
“O DIVINE JESUS! Lonely tonight in so many Tabernacles, without visitor or worshipper, I offer You my poor heart. May its every beat be an act of Love for You!
“You are always watching beneath the Sacramental Veil. In Your Love You never sleep and You are never weary of your vigil for sinners. O lonely Jesus! May the flame of my heart burn and beam always in company with You.
“O Sacrament most Holy! O Sacrament Divine! All praise and all thanksgiving be every moment Thine!”
For the sake of the Joy…Embrace the Cross.
Remember that scene in The Passion of the Christ, where Jesus comes through the city gate and took hold of his cross? He seems to kiss that cross, to welcome it, to be almost relieved to embrace it. I don’t really quite get that, but I find it moving—and a useful lesson.
“For the sake of the JOY that lay before him,” St. Paul tells us, “he endured the cross.” Just for today, choose what you would not have chosen. Just for today, let God reveal his will for you in the circumstances of today. Trust that he’s not just being tightfisted. It may just be his will not to entrust you to a bozo—surely you could agree with him about that!
Thank him for the fact that there are some crosses you do not have to endure. It also may be that he has a Boaz (or a Ruth) in mind for you…and he is waiting on timing. Surely, you could also agree with him on that, and thank him for whatever he is working out.
As we learn to practice his presence wherever we are, loneliness starts to turn into a treasured opportunity to open our heart to him about everything. That’s how the healing intimacy of knowing and being known, of understanding, and realizing that you are deeply understood—develops.
From the perspective of intimacy with Jesus, everything—including our singular situation—starts to look different. You’ll even find it’s also an excellent preparation for marriage.
Through the peace and redemption offered by traditional Catholic teachings, you can overcome the frustration that comes with being unwillingly single. You’ll find it easier to open up and use new ways to find someone special, such as online dating sites designed to let you meet others who share the same beliefs and values.