Anonymous guest post on living in the gap

This post was sent in response to our profiles request, but the writer has asked to remain anonymous. Some great thoughts on how we’re not alone during this time of singleness — and we can (and should) be using it to grow in selflessness. –Mabel

 

But you are not alone in this / and you are not alone in this / as brothers we will stand and we’ll hold your hand / Hold your hand  – “Timshel” by Mumford and Sons

My life as a single person comes with many struggles, but I am not alone. Emmanuel, God with us!

I don’t know if I expected this time of singleness, but I do know that I am grateful for this time. This time of singleness has really allowed me to grow in my relationships with others, and ultimately with God. 

In high school and college, friendships were easier to cultivate. I loved others very similar to myself. It helped that we lived close to each other and communication did not require a lot of thought. During those years, I was single and so were a majority of my friends. I am still close with many of my high school and college friends, but we are removed enough from college that not all of our life experiences are as common. And, that is a good thing. I have needed this time to grow more deeply with those who hold my hand from afar.  

The place I chose to live after college is neither close to home or college, but I have been blessed with new friendships. These friends have been very instrumental in my transition into adulthood. 

Married, single, old, and new friends alike have given me time, faith, beautiful conversation, and forgiveness. All of which have made me keenly aware of the selfishness that I so easily fall victim to living a single life. That selfishness is isolating, but they keep me close in the midst of all of their struggles and mine. These friendships have contributed largely to my fulfillment because they are all gifts from God, and have brought me closer to Him. 

 

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Profile No. 14: Ashton Mallon

Profiles in the Gap
Ashton Mallon
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Ashton Mallon is a campus minister living and working in Northern Virginia. You can read some of her other great writing here.
Did you expect this time of singleness? 
I think I have known in my heart from a young age that the Lord would give me as much time as I needed to prepare me for whatever Vocation He has in store for me. At the same time, I also know that at times I can get impatient with every passing year. I have always understood, in my heart, that I am not perfect yet, so I expected to have years of being single that can prepare me for my vocation and spouse. I grew up not dating often, and only dating intentionally, so it comes naturally in a sense for me to embrace singleness.
If so, is it what you expected it to be? If not, what did you expect, and has the change been exciting or disappointing?
I am very appreciative because very rarely do I get frustrated with being single; it must be some extra grace! Rather, I have always seen it as a time to grow into the person that God desires me to be, the one whom He desires me to be to my future spouse. I honestly am not one to make too many expectations, because the Lord always seems to surprise us in life.
If I were to look back, though, and then look to now, I do think that being single is what I thought it would be. It consists mostly of dating when I feel called to, continuing to discern my vocation, and most importantly staying plugged into prayer and the community, particularly through friendships. This is what I mostly imagined it to be, though to be honest, I wish that I was able to have more time to meet new people. I work in ministry, which I absolutely love, but it does mean odd hours in my schedule and often means that other (most!) things come after my students. In an ideal world, I would appreciate more time to spend meeting other women, dating, and or visiting religious orders to discern better. But, I wouldn’t want it any other way–the Lord is working beautifully!
Do you seek or find fulfillment in your career? If so, can you elaborate? If not, where do you seek / find it? 
I work in college ministry and I absolutely love my career! To be honest, I sometimes forget that it is a “career” because I go to work every day to, what feels like, just hang out with friends. Much of my job is spent personally growing so that I can continue to be an example to my students of what it means to seek after Christ and allow Him to fulfill you…. it’s intimidating! My only goal is to inspire them to desire and pursue Christ, hopefully first by my own example. The conversations I have about their questions inspire my own faith; the Bible studies I have led enrich my own relationship with Christ; the situations I help them work through remind me of what I need to be doing in my own life, how much more I need to depend on Christ, and how much more I have to grow. It’s beautiful!
How does faith play a role in your actions and your outlook on your life as a single young adult? 
Faith plays a monumental role in my actions and outlook! I honestly could not name much else that does. All that I do, all that I think, and all that I am is because of and influenced by my relationship with Christ. When I am struggling with loneliness as a single young adult, I turn to Christ. When I am trying to discern a relationship more seriously, I pray even more. Particularly as a single young adult, I feel that I have even more need to depend on my faith because it is a difficult time of decisions; jobs, housing, relationships, morals–it all has to flow from my prayer life, community, and beliefs.
For me in particularly, working in ministry allows me to see my faith as a crucial aspect to my single life, because I am able to be almost radically available to share my faith with my students, something that I know I will be unable to do when I am in my vocation. Faith motivates my choices, since sometimes there is no one else there to help you (I am not married or part of a community, so it’s often me and God). Faith and my relationship with Christ motivate my discernment of my career, my charity towards and relationships with my housemates, fulfills my loneliness, and strengthens my pursuit for a spouse, amidst so much else.
 
Since you have this time, what are some challenges you give yourself? If you didn’t have to worry about failure, what would you do with this time that you might be putting off out of fear?
Some challenges that I give myself during the time of being single are not allowing myself to get too discouraged. It can sometimes take more prayer than I would like, but when I really think about how much God loves me (as corny as it sounds!) I am reminded that this loneliness is only a reason for me to draw even closer to Him; to perfect myself through His love and grace, and to let HIM lead the way.
Another challenge I give (though I need to be better about following through…) is to make time to hang out with people. It’s difficult, but it’s important. Particularly as a single woman, I think I need to be better about going out and meeting people, cultivating those friendships, and possibly even meeting people of the opposite sex … what a concept!
If I didn’t have to worry about failure, I would also go to more young adult things to meet new friends… I just get so shy! I would also like to speak in public more often. I love speaking about femininity and chastity, two great passions of mine. I come alive when I give talks on retreats, and I feel so encouraged in my own faith journey when I do. I also think that when I share about my prayer, my relationship with Christ, or about things that I have come to believe and love, I just see myself so strengthened in those areas and I love trying to inspire that in others. Ultimately, I would just put myself out there more–ask more people to hang out, etc!

Profile No. 11: Trena Pilegaard

Profiles in the Gap

Trena Pilegaard

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Trena Pilegaard lives and works in the Washington, D.C., area. 

Life is always in some kind of gap: the gaps between yesterday, today, and tomorrow; physical gaps of distance between loved ones; the gap between breakfast and lunch; gaps between work and home, between conception and birth, between birth and death. We are always swooping between different gaps like electric lines between poles while riding in the car. Sometimes the swooping makes you feel nauseous, and other times it is the most exhilarating feeling in the world.

I think that the gaps aren’t holes that need to be filled, just obstacles that take some thinking, prayer, and trust to get over and around. Singleness is a gap for me that I am learning to navigate. This life is becoming comfortable to me and, if it is the life that God has planned for me for the rest of my time on earth, I am happy to live it. If I said an extended life of singleness is my dream, I’d be lying. But this time has been consistent with my dreams so far. I distinctly remember planning my life in my head my senior year in high school and thinking that I couldn’t possibly have the time to be married before the age of thirty, there was so much I had to do first. To that end I purposely told myself I couldn’t date in college, I knew life would have too much for me to do to be married right away.

Even now, with a few struggles of adulthood under my belt, my life has exceeded my wildest dreams in so many areas. If someone told me at sixteen that I would have an opportunity to spend three years in Europe after college, I would have died of joy right there. Likewise, the sheer amount of amazing friends that I have strewn across the world is also something I never could have imagined.  Other times I am simply overwhelmed with the beauty of this life I lead: starlight nights in the Blue Ridge Mountains, fall colors here in DC, a summer spent on Lago di Lugano, standing in St. Peter’s Square, snow-capped Sierras. Sometimes I find myself with tears in my eyes because I cannot believe that I am so blessed to have been chosen to live this beautiful life when so many of my generation did not survive the womb. Sure, there are days when I wonder if I will die alone surrounded by cats (which is terrifying to me because it would mean that so many things have gone horribly wrong – I am allergic to cats and don’t really count them in my list of favorite animals, and, for heaven’s sake, why are they at my deathbed?), but I know in my heart that will never be the case. Even if I remain single to the end, I am confident I will never be alone or unloved.

The biggest lesson I have learned is that when navigating single life it is important to remember that I remain my number one priority. Once I am taken care of, then I can help others. I can hear the gasps of shock now. “Oh, but that is so selfish. You should never put yourself first, always put others first.” But Christ didn’t say to put others first, He said to love your neighbor as yourself. If I don’t love myself, the person I am right now with every aspect of me in consideration (and this includes being single), how can I love others as Christ asks? As a single person my primary responsibility is me.  It is easy to forget this when you become wrapped up in living life, a 9-5 job, and just generally trying keep your head above the water. But, if I don’t check up on my spiritual, physical and emotional needs, then I am failing in my responsibilities to myself and will only hinder my ability to help others.

This means making sure that I am working towards a life that I find fulfilling and satisfying. If I am going to be supporting myself by myself for an indefinite amount of time, then I need to be happy in what I am doing. It’s taken a few years and a lot of tears, but I think I am finally on that path! It also means that I am actively pursuing adventures that I enjoy and things want to learn more about. I love ballet – so I found a ballet studio and started taking classes. I’ve scooped up opportunities to study French, to broaden my mind by extensive reading (name that quote!), travel to give myself perspective, and exposing myself to as much culture and life as possible. I see all these things as important tools in developing and caring for me. I have found that the more I am able to know myself, the more I can offer others around me. I am healthy, so I can physically volunteer to help others. I am intellectually sound, so I can offer good advice or help solve the problems life pitches. I am culturally literate, so I can help introduce others to all the things that help make life beautiful.

Loving the single life is an act of the will. Love is always an act of the will, just sometimes it is easier than others. And this life, with all its freedom and charm, isn’t easy. There are hard decisions to be made, by yourself. There are meals to be eaten, by yourself. There are nights to be spent, by yourself. Loneliness lurks around every corner – if you give in and let yourself be lonely. The trick is not to. I find myself often praying for the courage to continue, and that prayer has always been answered.  Sometimes it comes in the form of a phone call or note from a friend. Or in the realization of how much I have, like the full night of deep sleep that so many mothers crave. Or it’s when a friend says she has tickets to my favorite band, and I am free to drop everything and go. Until God calls me to another way of life, you can be assured that I am going to keep loving this beautiful and blessed life!

 

More than a broken tea pot

“That’s okay, I forgive you.”

I remember marveling at how easy it was to say, and how the feelings followed almost immediately on the words — no more anger, just a lovely, calm benevolence. My six-year-old chest nearly swelled with it.

My little sister didn’t believe me. She blinked, incredulous, and rubbed her teary eyes with the backs of her hands. “But I didn’t mean to,” she whimpered, and hiccuped. 

And I shook my head and said, “No, I mean it. It’s okay.” 

She had taken the tea pot out of my new, big girl porcelain tea set without asking, and had broken it in the bathroom sink when she tried to fill it with water. But when she came to me right away with the broken pieces and said, “I took it without asking and I broke it and I’m so

sorry,” I couldn’t be angry. Even though my heart sank at the thought of losing my brand new tea pot, I realized there was no sense in making a scene over it. After all, what more could she do?

That was my first brush with forgiveness. No strings attached, no hard feelings, just “It’s okay” and the joy of seeing my sister’s face light up with gratitude.

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If only forgiveness could always be that easy. More than twenty years later, I find myself looking back to my six-year-old self and wondering what she understood that I seem in so many ways to have lost. It’s so easy to be angry, even over slights so much smaller than broken tea pots. It’s so easy to stifle and ignore the anger that inevitably arises in relationships, so it festers and becomes a wound that aches. It’s so easy to pretend the wounds are no big deal, and to push people away because that’s easier than scraping out infections and applying the dressings that will let healing set in. 

It hit me a few months ago that I’d been holding on — hard — to many old hurts, from many different places. The catalyst was an out-of-the-blue message I got from a girl I used to be close to. Years ago she was one of my “inner circle” friends, the kind you’ll drop everything for, the kind who knows you in and out and laughs at the same jokes and shares a lot of the same memories. The kind you’ve let down your guard for and come to really love. Then, with no explanation, she seemed to just disappear from my life. We still ran into one another now and then, and she was still her sweet self when we did; she often mentioned in a sort of wistful way that we “ought to get together,” but the relationship ended up dying a slow death of starvation. And her life moved on and she eventually left the area, and I finally shook off the ache of it and determined to move on and forget her. 

Reading her message reopened all the old wounds. Maybe it would have been okay if she had expressed some sort of regret at the way our relationship sputtered to an end. Instead she only wrote, “I’m back in the area,” and “Maybe I’ll run into you sometime.” 

Of course, some of it was my own fault, for not saying anything when the distance became an unavoidable fact. But either way it’s so much harder to forgive someone who has no idea she’s broken your tea pot and doesn’t seem to be the least bit sorry. You don’t get the satisfaction of seeing the other person’s surprised gratitude; you don’t get to experience the lovely glow that sort of settles over the whole relationship because your willingness to let the thing pass has brought you both to a place of peace. Accepting your place in another person’s heart when it’s not the place you wanted is much harder. It requires humility and that real, self-sacrificial love that’s so very hard. It’s a very lonely process, and the end result may not be a relationship at all, but accepting that a relationship has come to an end.

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But I’m coming to realize forgiveness can’t be based on the other person “coming around.” It makes it a lot easier, certainly, but we can’t live our lives angry, just waiting for other people to realize the error of their ways and come crawling back to us for mercy. At a certain point, I have to take responsibility for my own reactions and feelings. I have to dress my own wounds and move on, whether or not the people who caused them ever realize or acknowledge it. 

I will be brutally honest: I’m not capable of that kind of forgiveness yet. But I want to be capable of it, and I hope and pray that wanting can be enough of a first step to get the ball rolling. So much depends on grace. So much depends on realizing that I also have been forgiven much, not just by God but by family members, dear friends, roommates, even acquaintances who have sustained hurts from me, many of which I know nothing about.

More than anything else, though, learning to forgive — to really forgive and let go and move on — requires so much prayer. For now, all I can do is pray, “Lord, give me a heart of mercy, like your heart.” And I just keep hoping the rest will follow, in good time. 

-Mabel

*Broken tea pot image from here

Hungry for Love

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When I was a sophomore in college, I volunteered my time as a Household Coordinator (For those of you who are unfamiliar with traditions at Franciscan University, we had “households” instead of sororities/fraternities; we were faith based, and each household had a different charism and focus). It was a tough job, let me tell you!

Prior to beginning the semester, we had to attend a retreat with all the other coordinators, followed by leading new students in their orientation small groups. It was an incredibly busy week with practically no sleep, but it was an incredibly rewarding time as well.

One of the activities on this retreat was a series of games which we performed as teams. The first time, we were not to speak to one another as we made our way through the activities. Next, we went through the same games again, this time encouraging one another and helping each other through. During our reflection at the end of the day, we all agreed that the games in which we assisted and encouraged one another were both more enjoyable and more successful. Speed games were done faster, follow the leader games were smoother, and puzzles were less frustrating and solved more quickly.

I’m sure you can easily see the point these activities were trying to make: life is not meant to be lived alone. We are social creatures, and going through our days without others to encourage or assist us makes even the simplest task more difficult, more mundane, and less appealing. Simply going through life side-by-side is not enough. We need interaction and support from those around us. This support can be as little as a smile, a kind word, or a hug. But all of these have one thing in common: They all reach down into that place deep within all of us that constantly begs “Am I worth it?” “Does anyone love me?” “Does anyone care?”

Solitude is in itself not a bad thing, and in small doses it’s healthy and necessary for everyone. However, the soul left alone too long often becomes withered and thirsty, yearning for companionship. How many of us can remember, at least once, sitting alone and wishing we had company? The feelings of isolation set in, and begin to fester and grow like an untreated wound. If untreated, the effects can be catastrophic. Eventually those inner questions begin to sound more like statements – “You’re not worth it.” “Nobody loves you.” “Nobody really cares about you.”

Mother Teresa (one of my very favorite women in the whole world) put it beautifully:

“The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty — it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.”

As humans, we are called to love one another, and to be the hands and feet of Christ. What are we doing to fulfill this beautiful mission? What are we doing to encourage holiness and happiness in others? How are we working to lead those around us to Christ? And how are we lifting up and encouraging the hearts and souls of others?

I know for my part I’m not doing nearly enough.

Guess I’d better work on that….

–“Virginia”

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