There, I said it.
Let's get real for a second you guys. I'll go first. I've been single for a year and a half now. Now, I'm not saying that's some world record, I'm just saying it's been a meaningful amount of time for me. I remember the first month, sitting pissed in my counselor's office asking her, "When does it get normal? Damn it, just tell me that at some point, preferably yesterday, this stops hurting and my life feels like whatever normal is supposed to feel like now. That there will be some point where I stop convincing myself this decision I made was a good one, and I actually believe it and my life is evidence of it." Sympathetically, she cut to the chase. She said, "Shannon, it's going to be hard but it's going to be worth it." Well, I hated that. But I hated a lot of things then. Spoiler alert, she was right.
So what's the point of this blog post? Oversharing? Perhaps. But I've recently received questions about my singleness from girls trying to figure it out for themselves, as well as a word from a dear friend challenging me to use my platform to share boldly with other women. So! I can't promise any new or original thoughts here but I can promise you some authenticity and an honest look at this journey I've been on. Here goes nothing. First things first:
Being single doesn't suck.
There, I said it.
Here are the facts, as I see them, about being a single christian woman in her mid-twenties.
Gift of What Exactly? People will tell you all the time that your singleness is a gift and you will want to harm them. But the truth is, it is. But not any more or less than any other gift. Why is it a gift, you ask? Gosh, isn't it obvious. Netflix. Okay, no, I'm just seeing if you're still paying attention. The main reason I think singleness a gift is because it grants you the freedom to do whatever you want and the time to do it whenever you want. This is equal parts glamorous and awful. Nothing reveals the motivations of your heart faster than having been given a long while to do something -anything at all- and then to look back at what you did or didn't do. Woof. God gave me a year and a half of my life (and counting) to just sit and be, and do, and dream, and take action. There have been very few things that limited my options in this season. So the gift of time and freedom evolves into a gift of self analysis and awareness. When there is nothing holding you back, what will you do? Who will you be? What will you build? In this way, singleness has been both daunting and exhilarating. I have wasted so much time. But I have also built so many things, in particular a beautiful ministry, and I have invested in really important ways: with my family and in several deeply profound friendships. These are the things, I have discovered upon reflection, that are paramount to me: The Kingdom Coming on earth in power, being present and authentic with my family, and building up a network of deeply life-giving friendships. The truth is, I would not know for certain my dedication to these areas if not for this time of self awareness.
Self-Love Is Possible. Coming from someone who is still walking out of old self-hatred patterns, there's a chance I'm projecting with this one. But I would venture to guess, for all of you, that singleness almost forces you to love yourselves. Just because, to be honest, you're by yourself a lot. I can't tell you how often I laugh at my own jokes - as in, I actually can't tell you because it's embarrassing. In this season, I've learned that I'm funny, quick-witted, charming when I decide to be, driven, fiercely independent, deeply loyal and highly devoted. After a year of spending time with myself, I've decided I would date me. This seems rather elementary and yet I think it's a really beautiful thing to wrestle with. Would you want to date yourself? With whatever baggage you're carrying around, trust issues, identity issues, purity issues? I'm not shaming anyone for anything - Lord knows, I have a rap sheet. But I am saying, and hear me clearly: work on yourself. If for no other reason, than because you will always have to be with yourself. You're the one person besides God that you can't escape. Singleness, then, is an opportunity to love yourself into a better person (similar to how our love and devotion inspires spouses and family members to grow into their best selves).
Dating Jesus. Guys, when people say they are "single but dating Jesus" - I stop listening. And that's my fault. Even though that sentiment makes me all kinds of crazy, there is truth in it and I will acknowledge it here. There was a long time where I used relationships to avoid intimacy. If you're feeling confused by that last sentence, don't worry, I was too for several years. It's a real head scratcher and yet it sort of makes perfect sense. I spent the first portion of my christian life in two big relationships, one right after the other. (I guess it's an important time to share that I've been a believer for 6 years, for the sake of context) I didn't realize it, but I had subconsciously chosen to date men I could not get close to for a variety of reasons, none of which are truly their fault (hey boys! bless you.) This is a term counselors call Self Sabotaging. So okay, all that potentially unnecessary backstory to tell you this: I was hiding IN relationship from True Relationship. Meaning, vulnerability with Jesus scared the crap out of me. I was running from Him and fast. And when my counselor told me it would take 9+ months to get to normal, I wanted to cry. Because all I wanted was a new relationship so that I didn't have to be vulnerable. I see how it sounds - it sounds backwards. I get that now, but I didn't know it then. I feared being alone because I think deep down I knew it meant I would have to actually confront these heart issues, and I didn't want to do that alone. Yet, in my time alone, I have not been alone. I have been pursued, I have been sought after, I have been cared for, I have been carried, I have been challenged, I have been seen, and I have been known. All by the One whose touch I feared so deeply, and yet it is His touch alone that has truly brought me back to life and stilled my running feet to rest. He is constant and He is easily found, and I would not, could not, have known the depth of this truth if I had not been on my own to wrestle with the Living God.
It's All About Good Love. I am a wedding photographer - hopefully this is not a surprise to you, as you are on my website after all. This is relevant information because I am a single woman who is constantly around people in love. And I love it. I want you to know right now that one of my absolute favorite things to do while being single is to place myself around people in love. There is nothing that makes me more committed to my mantra of Not Settling than witnessing the fruit of not settling. People ask me all the time why I am still single - Hah, first of all, don't ask single people this question - but secondly, it's honestly because I refuse to settle. I gave up a lot of comfort, invested time, and a deep friendship in order to be where I am now, and I promised myself that I did not make that decision in vain. But I digress, the important thing I want to say here is this: In my past relationships I primarily learned what doesn't work, who doesn't fit with me and how not to behave. But by being surrounded by Good Love in the relationships I encounter, I have learned: what does work, good qualities to look for in myself and another, and how to behave. You see? I like to learn from others and skip as many personal mistakes as possible. SO not only am I learning valuable information and making this time super productive and useful to my future, I am being championed on in restored hope and patience that some things truly are worth waiting for (another thing you don't say to single people but we can say to each other).
There is No Pause Button. This is a big deal. Something I had to promise myself about half way through this journey: even though there are probably one thousand things I would rather do with my partner by my side, I will do them now if I have the opportunity. This looks like: traveling, dreaming, learning new skills, buying new furniture, making major life or financial decisions, growing my business, and so on. Nothing, I mean nothing, is on pause here, people. This really sucked for me for a while because I am very relational, and I want nothing more than to have all my next experiences - the meaningful and the mundane - with my person. And if I had it my way, starting yesterday I would be experiencing all his meaningful and mundane. Because that is beautiful. But, I won't pause. I can't do that to myself. On some level, I am in just as much of a relationship with myself as I am with everyone else in my life, and no longer will I put myself in time-out and wait for someone to come "rescue" me from Pause. And girls, it can be painful to dream alone, but that doesn't mean it's not life-giving. So here's the bottom line on this point: do things, make decisions, and be sure to make good ones. What you're doing now will affect your partner in the future, even though you maybe don't know him yet. I would rather look him square in the eye and say, "Here's what I've been doing, the good and the not so good, I have tried my very best to grow and to impact and to dream. Let's pick up from here together," rather than to say, "I haven't been doing anything because I was waiting for you."
Longing. I don't have a catch-phrase title for this point because I don't for a second want it to seem trivial. This can be realest thing some days and it often feels like a punch in the proverbial gut. Longing will come and know this, it will pass, and it will come again. Sorry. To say that being single doesn't involve longing would be a bold face lie and I won't do that to you. Some days there is so much of it in my heart that it's all I can do to lay it back down at His feet. All I can tell you is what I know: I have experienced the loving comfort of the Holy Spirit the most when I seek Him in my weariness and exhaustion of waiting for a partner. I have felt His hands push the hair off my face and give my forehead a kiss as I lay in His arms and tell him quietly, "I quit. I quit. I hate it. I'm tired. I'm lonely. I'm restless." I have known God most dearly in my longing. For that, I cannot thank singleness enough.
The bottom line is this: Every season we are in is both difficult and fulfilling, so long as we are in it with God. My season of singleness has radically uncovered my heart, shaken the dust off forgotten places in my spirit, and brought me into the light and love of Jesus in ways I could not have fathomed before this. In this time I have wrestled and I have rested. Some day, Lord willing, I will have a whole new set of realities to dig through. That's the thing about what's up ahead - every new season is going to carry with it lessons, trials and blessing. Be so careful not to romanticize one season above the other. At the end of every day, whether there is a person added next to me in this photo ^ or not, my life has been given to Jesus. He can do with it what He wills. I have total trust in Him, and I am surrendered to His cause on Earth. If it benefits me and others for me to be single, I receive that. If it benefits me and others for me to partner up, I receive that too. Because He is trustworthy above all else.
This feels like an important time to mention: nothing good in my life was because I planned it. I know some people say that's the case for them, that they planned all the good things and willed them into existence - that's cool I guess (I don't believe you, can you tell?). Listen, if I had it my way, I would right now be married to the wrong guy, working in the wrong career, and living in the wrong state. This is just factual information, I am not dramatizing this at all. I wanted a completely different life than I have today, and yet every thing I love about my life today is something I didn't plan or anticipate or expect. That testimony alone is enough for me to receive this season with open arms. This is God's story, and He has been faithful in writing it so far, and adamant that He Himself get the credit, and I have seen no reason to believe He would stop halfway through.
So while I recognize I'm not offering particularly new thoughts on the topic of singleness, I am offering you my truth and my journey thus far. I hope that it is in any way insightful or encouraging. If you have a specific topic or question that I could speak to in an additional post, just write a comment or an email and ask away! Also, if you're wrestling with a similar season, or maybe something completely different, heck there are no parameters here - but if you want some prayer, leave a comment / send an email and I will commit to lifting you up. I want to be open and available and honest, and I pray God is seen in me through that endeavor.