I know as you click on this title, you’re already wondering if this is another person who’s going to reassure you that singleness is a gift. And while I do sometimes think my singleness is a gift, I’m not going to sugarcoat how difficult it can feel when your life seems to be falling behind everyone else. So, I get it.
But friend, can I remind you of something? Singleness and shame don’t go together. Yes. I know it’s easier said than believed. In fact, here’s my story of how I learned this.
I was having dinner the other night with a friend, celebrating the many exciting milestones she’d reached in the past year—finishing her master’s degree, passing her certification exams, landing a great local job, and to top it all off, getting engaged to her boyfriend.
Excitement filled her face as she said happily, “23 really has been my best year yet!” She paused, then innocently asked, “How old are you, again?”
The feeling that immediately washed over me was unmistakable, and it hit me like a punch to the gut. Shame.
“… 23,” I mumbled in response, embarrassed at the tears suddenly stinging my eyes and the obvious awkwardness my friend now felt as she stumbled through well-meaning phrases like “your time will come” and “everyone’s timeline looks different.”
She was right, of course. Yet as her words sank in, my mind began to race. We were the same age yet at totally different stages of life.
Was I somehow behind? Had I done something wrong? I don’t even have a boyfriend, let alone a fiancé … Should I be updating my resume, applying for jobs, or I don’t know, buying a house?!
What had begun as a celebratory dinner ended in a spiral of shame-filled thoughts.
Logically, I know that I am no more defined by singleness than married people are defined by being married. And yet I suddenly felt immensely behind on this unspoken “timeline of life” that it seems everyone expects you to follow.
You know the one. Finish college, land a great job, get engaged in your early 20s, married by 25, start a family by 27 (because, you know, you only have so many years to do that, and you certainly don’t want to be the old parent) … the list goes on and on.
Maybe for you, it’s the promotion you thought you’d receive at work by now, or the house you thought you’d be ready to buy. I think if we’re honest, a lot of us feel the shame of falling behind.
So regardless of our relationship status, how do we move past shame, and into the freedom God designed us to walk in?
First, I think we have to talk about it. I know, I know … those of us who hate “talking about our feelings” are groaning, but hear me out.
As shame researcher (yes, that’s a thing) Brené Brown puts it, when we share an experience that brought feelings of shame with a loved one or trusted friend, that shame loses its power. Put another way, shame, like sin, grows best in the dark. Being vulnerable with the people you trust is such a key part of healing.
Though it wasn’t necessarily a fun conversation to have, being vulnerable first with my mom and then later with friends in my LifeGroup allowed me to process my shame-filled thoughts and recognize that those feelings stemmed from a place of inadequacy.
The empathy of trusted friends helped me realize that I was not alone, and vulnerability allowed me to recenter on the truth of God’s Word—to remember that He has proven faithful time and again in this season, and that singleness can be such a gift. It’s okay if some days, singleness doesn’t feel like a gift, and it’s also okay that some days, I love being single.
In the past year, I’ve experienced greater depth in my relationship with God than ever before. I think that’s due largely in part to having time to pursue Him. Time that I probably have more of today as a single person than I will ever have again. Time to learn that I can always choose to look for the good and see how God is working in the middle of my situation, even if the situation isn’t one I’d always choose for myself.
And, time in His Word has taught me that shame is not from God. That means that as a follower of Christ, the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit in me has overcome the power of sin and shame in my life.
When shame tries to keep my focus on the fear of disconnectedness, of inadequacy, of falling behind, I can go to the truth that reminds me God is the only one who can fulfill my desire to be truly seen, known, and loved.
I love the way the psalmist David puts it in Psalm 34:
I prayed to the Lᴏʀᴅ, and he answered me. He freed me from all my fears. Those who look to him for help will be radiant with joy; no shadow of shame will darken their faces. Psalm 34:4-5 NLT
Just as he freed David from every fear, my God frees me from the fear of falling behind on life’s timeline. Like David, I find such joy in spending time with Him—time learning and listening to what He has to show me in this specific season.
So, I won’t wish this season of life away or give in to the fear that breeds shame. Singleness and shame don’t go together for me anymore. And they don’t have to for you, either.