Of all the things I love about Jesus, my favorite is how He redeems things. I never tire of watching Him take situations that appear to be unsalvageable and breathing life into them—tilling up barren soil to produce good fruit, filling broken lives and relationships with purpose. The fact that He gives us beauty when all we can possibly give in exchange is ashes amazes me and captures my heart time and time again.

Sometimes, I find myself dreaming up possible ways that God could redeem situations around me. You know that cooking show where contestants have 15 minutes to make something delicious out of horribly incompatible ingredients like tilapia, strawberries and horseradish? It’s like that. The more difficult the circumstances, the sweeter the success!

And there’s no situation for which I more enjoy imagining redemptive scenarios than my own singleness.

I’m 37, and I’m single, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t mind being 37 and single. I do mind. I mind quite a bit. For what it’s worth, I chose singleness through my 20s, and I made the most of single life. I moved across the country with only my car and a bunch of boxes (twice), worked low-paying but soul-feeding jobs, and dated enough to have some good experiences and some good stories. I do thank God for all of this, but at this point, singleness no longer feels like my choice as much as it just feels like my reality. If we’re being honest, it’s a reality that I grieve, especially around New Year’s.

I used to like New Year’s, back before I was tired of planning and resolving and dreaming solo. Now New Year’s mostly serves as a reminder that another year has come and gone without the one I’d rather be dreaming with than about.

Singleness at New Year’s is exponentially more bearable, though, when I imagine how God might redeem it. Not to brag, but I have come up with so many good ideas over the years. To be clear, most of my ideas have been at least six feet tall and have names written somewhere in an old prayer journal.

Despite my brilliant ideas and my prayers, though, God has not rushed to provide a husband for me, but God’s seeming lack of urgency hasn’t stifled my own efforts. You name it, I’ve tried it: meeting people through friends or at church or online or in passing in random parking lots—all in the hopes of finding one who with whom I could walk and grow and better love Jesus and the world. 

I moved to Kentucky about two years ago, and since I didn’t yet have a social network and wasn’t feeling hopeful about chance parking lot encounters (OMG, the minivans), I decided to try yet another round of online dating. I soon received a message from a cute Christian fella who had definite potential. We exchanged a few fun, flirty emails before he asked for my phone number. I sent it and waited anxiously for his text.

It never came.

Now, obviously, this shouldn’t have been a big deal. Even though this guy was barely a blip on the radar, I was unduly hurt and confused. What had happened? What did I do wrong? Didn’t he see the potential here? What changed his mind?

A little reflection (read: wallowing) produced what seemed like a very reasonable answer: I obviously wasn’t good enough. I hadn’t been good enough for him and I hadn’t been good enough for anyone and  I probably never would be good enough for anyone. EVER.

Ridiculous. I know. Still, the short encounter with this man whose name I can’t even remember had unearthed a very real sense of unworthiness in me. It clearly revealed that I was putting far too much stock in what some random person thought of me. The angst it caused—though brief—was significant, and it drove me to Jesus. I had a hunch He’d know what to do.

And He did. He took my shame, lovingly reminded me that I was worth even His death on the cross, and assured me that I’m not alone. He lifted the weight and replaced it with deep peace.

Sometimes I lament that it feels like singleness is killing me. It can be heavy and painful, and it often leaves me feeling battered and bruised. It’s like one of those crosses that Jesus said we should take up and carry and follow him. Mostly, though, I just wish God would just take it away.

But God doesn’t seem interested in taking it away. Instead, He seems intent on using it to take away those things in me that don’t align with Himself—and my shame is only the start. Singleness is absolutely killing my pride, it’s killing my sense of entitlement, it’s killing my deeply held belief that I know what’s best for me. It’s wreaking havoc of these things in me that are not of God.

And that’s not all. As these things are being put to death, God is faithfully breathing His life in to fill the gaps—life that looks like freedom from my own ideas of who I am, like hope in His great and unending goodness, like trust in His overwhelming love for me.

Giving me beauty for ashes.

And to think, the best redemptive concoction I could ever dream up was a husband.

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