The black shavings of my hair litter the faded parquet floor, a half-circle around my leather swivel chair. The basement air is heavy with greasy Chinese cooking.
Mr. Lee stands back, admiring his work, before unfastening the protective sheet over my clothes.
Then, brushing the extra hair off my shoulders, the question comes. I know it before he says it.
“You have boyfriend?”
For Mr. Lee, it’s just his mode of greeting, his way of saying goodbye. And I get it.
There was an ahyi (auntie) in Shadi Village who loved walking her dogs, as well as bestowing the villagers with homemade treats: glutinous rice dumplings wrapped in pandan leaves, sweet sesame crackers. I didn’t know her name, neither did she know mine, but my love life was her utmost concern.
“Xiao mei (little girl),” she would urge, shoving a piece of sponge cake in my hands, “when are you going to get married?” I would thank her for the treats, and assure her not to worry about me.
Yet, the next time I saw her, she would inevitably ask again. Only if I was lucky was it the alternative: xiao mei, ni chi fan le ma? (have you eaten?)
It all happened quite suddenly. One moment, Dad was telling me I was too young to date. The next moment, I was surrounded by relatives pestering me about getting a boyfriend.
It was as if there was an invisible threshold at which singleness became an unfavourable state of being. I wasn’t ever not single, but somewhere between 20 and 24, singleness, rather abruptly, happened to me.
If we are to enjoy every season of life, what does it mean to ‘enjoy singleness’?
You single people know what I mean. You’re told, and tell yourself all the time, this mantra.
You say it (I’m loving my singleness), desperately wanting it to be true, until you see your friend (who said she couldn’t see herself getting married any time soon) post her engagement photo on Instagram.
And no matter how hard you try, you can’t will yourself into joy –
Unless you know the why.
What is the meaning of this season of life? What are the purposes God has ordained for me that can only be fulfilled in singleness?
Well, let me present to you one I have been mulling over:
Relationships fail because our wells aren’t deep enough. And when two people with dry, cracked wells come together and expect the other to supply them with water, it doesn’t work.
We spend more time looking for another person to fill our well, rather than digging our own. Our wells are shallow.
But, sister, this is the time. Singleness is the time to dig our well deep.
We dig into the depths of who we are to find our own water supply.
I love my singleness because through it, I have discovered who I am when I am alone. I believe that being comfortable with being alone is a sign that we are brave enough to be real with ourselves.
Loneliness and being alone are two separate things, but often we get them mixed up.
Is it true – you can be alone, and not lonely?
Or does the word ‘alone’ trigger fear? A reaching for the TV remote control, the Facebook surfing. Anything that will numb the gnawing fear that we don’t really know ourselves very well, or at least, aren’t comfortable with it.
But could it be that there are depths to our being we can only plumb in the quietness of solitude? That stretches of aloneness are instrumental to our growth? Could it be that God had a purpose in creating Adam first, without Eve, because there were lessons Adam had to learn in simply walking the gardens alone?
In being alone,
We wrestle with our own thoughts, habits, emotions without relying on someone for a crutch. We become strong.
We have the complete freedom to pursue passions, develop interests, move to another part of the world.
We can go to the movies on our own and eat a whole tub of popcorn. I did this when ‘Finding Dory’ came out, and it was one of the most liberating experiences.
We can wear a dress and be beautiful, not because our boyfriends said so, but because that’s how the Lord sees us – whole and altogether lovely.
Of course, don’t get me wrong. I believe God created man and woman to be together. It is not good for man to be alone.
But, I think there is so much focus on the coming together, that we neglect the importance of growing into two whole and healthy beings first. Ones who understand their purpose and calling in Christ. A man and a woman with deep inner wells built on a foundation of identity and intimate communion with Him.
Perhaps the feeling of aloneness is not a state we should run from, but instead an invitation:
Come, beloved, and steal away with me. Come into the mountains and we will run together. Come to the wilderness and I will teach you my love.
For as we enter into that invitation, we start to dig again the ancient wells. We retreat into the wilderness and rediscover who we were created to be – passionate, creative, strong.
Yes, this is the well where we find water to feed our thirsty souls.
2. We dig for others to come and drink from our well
A pastor once said to me that now he looks back on his years of singleness with fondness. He could spend hours, undisturbed, feasting on the Word. But, now, with kids, even an hour of quiet time is hard fought for.
Having a family is awesome, he was quick to remind me, but know that you’ll be drawing on the reserves you had stored up. With a family, the focus is just different. It’s not just about you anymore.
Perhaps the desire to be with someone stems from the assumption that a relationship will satisfy our needs, when in fact, the opposite is true.
Relationships are about serving. Laying your life down.
This kind of servant attitude was what Paul instructed us to imitate, and as we prepare for relationship, the best thing we can do is learn to lay our lives down for another.
Singleness is a time to practice serving. To learn how to engage in the mundane with a willing and joyful heart. To provide water for not just a person, but for the camels as well. It becomes a part of who we are, instead of what we do only when we suddenly find ourselves in a relationship.
Reality Check. If you aren’t consciously serving others now, you most likely won’t be serving your partner in the future.
Who we are is an accumulation of the little, insignificant decisions we make every day.
If Rebekah had not practiced generous giving on a day-to-day basis, would she have still become Isaac’s wife?
I want to be a place of abundant water where others find refuge and restoration. And by giving up the notion that being married means my needs get met, but instead learning to re-orient my world around ‘the other person’, I become like Rebekah.
In my singleness, I learn to serve and lay my life down.
So, let us rejoice in this season, for it is a season of digging deep wells.
Not for wading in the shallows, waiting for something to happen.
We need to take responsibility for this season, and fully commit ourselves to what we are called to right now. I don’t want to look back with regret, and wish I had used my singleness better.
Once it’s gone, it really is gone.
So, let’s relish and appreciate every moment. Every time we are asked if we have a boyfriend yet. Because we aren’t waiting for anything. No, we are committed to digging a well that will not only sustain us, but overflow into every relationship.
Let’s do this together, because I’m here right with you. Let’s learn to be well-diggers.