Although the married life and the family has preoccupied most of my time, nevertheless, through pastoral ministry and friendships I interact with a lot of singles. Curiously, more than any other demographic that I have encountered, it is Christian single who seems to be the most anxious about their vocation. In short, they fear that they will not find that right person. On the other side of the spectrum, it is increasingly the case that non-religious or sub-religious singles deliberately choose not to get married. For them, shacking-up suffices to meet their needs. In fact, Pew Research has found that the number of people getting married since 1960 had dropped by 20 percentage points. More recently, from 2009 to 2010, in just one year, the marriage rate dropped by 5 percent. That's a lot!
But as for Christian singles who want to get married, whose main ambition it is to get married, many of them have, it seems, a very difficult time reconciling their current status with God’s will. Not a few of them lose their peace believing that somewhere along the line they messed up and made the wrong decision; thus, putting themselves outside of Divine Providence. On the flipside, their non-religious counterparts are found to go with the flow, almost with indifference. If they get married, they get married; if not, no big deal! That is their attitude, anyways. To an extent, there are some understandable reasons for this discrepancy between the two demographics of singles.
Christian singles are called by Christ to live chastely. As far as their options are concerned, “shacking-up," or just "sleeping around," just to relieve sexual tension, is off the table. Whereas for non-religious or secular singles, they are more likely to be taken away by these pleasurable diversions. Under these circumstances, to wait for the right person isn't as urgent for them.
Also, Christians, by and large, put a high premium on the institution of marriage; their counterparts, by and large, do not…at least not as much. In short, this accounts for some of the anxiety suffered by Christian singles. They want to get busy, so to speak. They want to get on with their life with a companion. But there is another factor at play which takes us to the very heart of God’s will and His providence: This factor is what may be called the “Sacrament of the Moment.” Let me explain.
Many Christian singles rack themselves with anxiety over the thought they did something to “mess up” God’s plan for their vocation. They maintain that perhaps the right person came along and he or she did not recognize “their time of visitation;” that is, they missed that one and only opportunity to get married. Their anxiety also has them wonder if they broke up with a person "they should have never broken up with." Or it could be that- given their bad luck –they think that they’ll never find that right person at all. In their reasoning, it is as if their belief in random chance- circumstances which lie outside of God’s control –is stronger than their faith in God’s all-powerful wise counsel.
Whatever the crisis, one has to believe in one of two things: 1) Either every single circumstance is within God’s control or 2) it is not. Strangely, many people choose to believe the latter. And in choosing the latter they struggle to reconcile God’s love (or God’s will) not only with missed opportunities but suffering and misfortune as well. So they chalk up bad things to chance; something that is outside of God’s domain. This belief, no doubt, is inspired by noble motives. After all, they do not wish to criticize the Lord when they find themselves in a crisis. In order to spare God of criticism they conclude that suffering and setbacks are not God’s doing.
The downside to this belief system is that if we press its premise to its logical conclusion, it means that adversity is meaningless; that is, the trials that we encounter were never meant to be. Yet, if we see that the circumstances of each day, good or bad, are but the manifestation of God’s plan for us, then we can also understand that what appears to be a senseless drought of romance and marital love is every bit as meaningful as if we were to find ourselves in a happy marriage. No doubt, we may not like it. But because God willed it positively (preferred it) or allowed it (with His passive will), we can rest assured that the situation we find ourselves in is good for us nevertheless!
In fact, it is God’s will that husbands and wives can find fulfillment in the vocation of matrimony to begin with. In other words, if God had not willed it, the married life would not be fulfilling to anyone; even to the Christian single who hungers for a companion to share his life with! Indeed, the same God who created the institution of marriage and made it appealing, is the same God who has strategically called certain Christians to be single, either for the short term or the long term. Or, to put it another way, the same God who created marriage and instilled the human desire for it, is the same God who withholds the calling of marriage for the good of the single person.
And what about those mistakes we fret over? What about the “what if’s?” Now, certainly every sinner is capable of forfeiting plan A for plan B. For instance, a man who commits adultery and then seeks to file a divorce with his present wife is, by no means, carrying God’s plan (A) for him or for the family. But even in this case (where we find immoral decisions having been made in a given situation), God, from all eternity, allowed such a moral evil to take place and in allowing it to happen, He allowed for it to contribute to His overall perfect plan for the family and even for the adulterer. In so doing, plan B- being less ideal than plan A –can be comparably effective to plan A for God's purposes. If Christ can take the sins of humanity and bring out of it many blessings, then surely He can do it for one individual. This applies even more so to mistakes.
And this leads us to the following question: Can God’s will be thwarted by mistakes? The Saints tell us, “no!” Every apparent fluke and all “senseless” suffering is either deliberately willed by God or permitted for some higher good. It is all a part of His intelligent designed. No doubt, the more painful the circumstances, the harder it is to reconcile such circumstances to God’s wise and loving counsel. For this reason, the mystery of the Cross is a stumbling block to many of us; especially when we are blindsided by a crisis.
But here is the real crux: We know that God is everything for us; we lack nothing with Him. If, then, He dwells within our souls and is firmly within our possession, why is it, then, that we suffer so much in the absence of a spouse or a loved one? The answer: It takes a lifetime of faith, hope, love and suffering to have this interior spiritual reality translated into what we can feel, perceive and even act on. It is through the mystery of the Cross (i.e. the trials of life) that hasten this translation. This is how the peace of God is attained. It has a lot to do with what St. Paul wrote to the Philippians:
“Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus…[F]or I have learned, in whatever situation I find myself, to be self-sufficient. I know indeed how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need. I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me.” (Philippians 4:6,7,11-13)
The peace of God results, at least in part, from the knowledge that all things work together for the good. This most especially applies to Christians.
Believe or not, free will is such a small part of the overall picture. What Christians do not think about often enough is all the evil and mishaps the Lord does prevent from happening. Even mathematicians who specialize in probabilities say that it is a wonder that we can get from point A to point B without some accident occurring. In this unstable world of ours, so many things can go wrong. I guess that is why we have guardian angles. And for whatever reason, the man or woman who has just turned 30 or 40 years of age and hence sees the clock ticking away, may be prevented by Divine Providence from marrying the wrong person or marrying too soon or even entering into a marriage when there are so many unresolved problems that the single person needs to work through. Whatever the case may be, being married or single is not the most important thing. What is the most important consideration for any Christian is to embrace God’s will as it is revealed to him in the moment. Yes. We do well when we resign to God’s plan as it unfolds in the sacrament of the moment.
But to be a Saint, conformity to God’s will is not enough. No. We have to will what God will's. And to will what God will’s, even if it means being single for an extended period of time, we have to will being single "in the moment." That’s right. The secret to sanctity and peace of soul is to will what God gives us in the circumstances of each day. This is no small feat. In fact, it can be quite grueling. It can wear us down. But it is the most mysterious and yet most liberating ambition anyone could have!
Think about it: If we thank God for only those things that suit our pleasures- and for that which is agreeable to us -can we not thank Him for all the deprivations and setbacks that run counter to our will as well? And are they not just as good for us in the long run? If we have the faith of a Saint we would answer in the affirmative. At the very least, let us be thankful that the Lord does not give us what we want all the time! After all, how many times have we begged God for things that, in hindsight, proved not to be in our best interest.
Even more so, let us be thankful for the Sacrament of the Moment. After all, this is where the greatest of treasures is to be found: God’s all-wise and loving will.