If I were a betting women*, I would guess that one of the most commonly heard phrases by a single person is “When you stop looking, the one will suddenly appear” or some variation of this comment. There was a time when that was a comforting sentiment, but now it just frustrates me. And actually, I’ve come to believe that, while it may come with good intentions, it can be one of the most damaging statements for a single person to hear.
What about the other times I “wasn’t looking”?
This question was the first hint to me that the “stop looking” recommendation had its issues. I didn’t go into college with strong hopes of meeting someone. I wasn’t opposed to it, but my main motivation was to do something meaningful with my life. Even after graduating, I felt fine being single. It really wasn’t till I hit my mid-twenties, that I started to experience sadness over my singleness. Again though, this wasn’t a constant sadness and I enjoyed the freedom I had to move to England for a year. It really wasn’t till my late twenties that my singleness became concerning for me. It was then that I really was faced with my deeper beliefs about myself and God.
I share this, because, for all the times I wasn’t looking, I didn’t meet my future husband. So, does that mean, I really wasn’t looking? Underlying this statement is an assumption that one has been crazily searching for their mate every waking moment of the day. Yet, I cannot think of one single person I have known who has fit this description.
What are you called to in this season of life?
The last few years I have been learning about callings. Sometimes we see callings as being lifelong, when actually they are often seasonal. I am a student for a season, but not for all of my life. The statement of “stop looking” completely ignores the question of what the individual is called to in that moment. It presupposes that every person is to be married. Right now. While many will end up married, there are still those who remain single for life. I know we try to ignore that reality by saying “they wouldn’t have the desire to if they were called to marriage.” Unfortunately, I’ve met more than one person for whom that has not been true. They wanted marriage, but eventually came to the conclusion that God didn’t have that for them and reconciled that with him. No matter how much I want to be married, this does not necessarily mean that this is what God has for me today or even the rest of my life. The deeper question may be, can I trust that the Lord knows what he is doing in this time in my life?
Who is in control?
Yet, the most concerning aspect of the “stop looking” statement is that it seeks to put the ultimate control in our hands. “I determine my future.” “If I do this formula, then I will get these desired results.” We need only read the book of Job to see that this is not the way life works. Job was a godly man. He lived life wisely. Yet, that did not prevent him from experiencing deep loss and devastation. I cannot trick God into bringing along the person I am to marry. Doing the “right thing” will not guarantee that I get my way.
I hate earthquakes. Absolutely. Completely. They terrify me. When I was little I experienced a few larger earthquakes. Somehow, I came to the conclusion that earthquakes only happened when I didn’t think about them. So, for night after night as I was getting ready for bed, I would think about earthquakes. I believed that the thought would keep me safe and Southern California earthquake free. I can look back on that today and laugh. It seems pretty ridiculous to older me. I can’t help but wonder if we take a similar posture when we tell the myth of “stop looking”. It sounds normal enough, but when we step back and look deeper at what this statement implies, it actually is a bit crazy and ridiculous. I am not denying that there are wise ways that we can present ourselves as singles, but it is not these actions that ultimately determine whether or not we get married.
I wish life was that easy – to plug behaviors into the equation, yielding the same desired results each time. The formula can be so alluring (and at times, it can seem as though it works), but it is also devoid of relationship. If I determine my future, then why do I need another person? Why do I need God? If life has taught me anything, it is that I am not ultimately in control. And that is good. And scary. I don’t have a prescribed alternative statement to replace “stop looking.” As I type this I realize there is not one prescribed statement that we should offer to the singles in our lives. Rather, the relational move is to listen and be with singles as they continue on in their journey.
*I am not a betting woman. First, my job prohibits gambling, but even if I could gamble I would not. Gambling makes no sense to me. This is what runs through my head when I think about making a bet: So, I give my money to you and there’s a 99.9% chance I’ll lose it? And that’s fun? I think I’d rather hold onto my cash. Or burn it. Both sound more fun than gambling. No judgment on those who gamble, it just doesn’t make sense to me. I’m not a risk taker. Gambling is tantamount to bungee jumping, which sounds like the worst thing ever. More than you probably wanted or needed to know. Hence the asterisk.