The Scarcity or Abundance of Singleness

This post continues a series about scarcity and abundance by Abby Wong-Heffter, a member of The Allender Center Teaching Staff. In the first part, Abby reflected on the dis-ease of scarcity that comes from an orphaned heart and the beginning of the path toward the promise of abundance. Read Part One here.

When Paul wrote about creation groaning in Romans 8, I wonder if he was referring to a literal noise. I became familiar with my own deep, guttural groan at the age of 24. I remember precisely where I was standing in my bedroom when this sound parted from my lips. It startled me. At the time I was living with four other women, and somehow my basement dwelling seemed to embody the state I found myself in—detached, entrenched in dimness, breathing stale and dank air. The sound was that of deep longing and incredible frustration—both tied to what at the time I considered the plight of singleness.

I have been a single woman far longer than I had ever anticipated or imagined. Like many raised in a traditional, conservative Christian world, my early expectations were to be wed in the months following college graduation and to be a mother by the time I was 25 years old. Since that first loud and surprising grunt at 24, I have lived another decade and then some. The audible groaning has continued and become more familiar and recognizable as the soundtrack of my waiting and bewildered heart. In my 30s the discomfort was no longer simply the desire for a relationship and marriage, but also a growing reality that with each passing year I was becoming more of a minority and anomaly in my community. A deep panic became a common shadow. While I worked for my face to demonstrate joy and excitement for my dear friends, internally I reeled every time one of them would announce an engagement, pregnancy, or even a promising first date. These proclamations seemed to implicate that not only was I still left longing and in want, but that my tribe—those who related to my experience and stood in solidarity with me—was shrinking, and that these comrades were shifting loyalties.

I long identified singleness as scarcity. It often felt like what I found myself fixated on and finding impossible to attain (relationship and marriage) is what seems to come so easily to others. Worse, I wondered and often felt that this thing I wanted was being withheld. It left me questioning the goodness of God. I read much of Scripture through this lens of want and found myself baffled. “You will see the goodness of God in the land of the living.” “It is not good for man to be alone.” “You will be given the desires of your heart.” “He has come that you might have abundant life.” Cognitively and from so many other life arenas, I experienced God’s extravagant, intimate, and specific love for me. But in regard to the loudest roar of hunger and want, I experienced God as apathetic if not adverse. All the more baffling, I understood this desire to be God-birthed, sanctioned as right and good. This left me bewildered.

If singleness is scarcity, then marriage is abundance. I have wed the two—abundance and relationship. So here is this tricky dilemma: Can we live in abundance and still also know longing and want? Can we bless desire and continue to live with hope while also knowing absence and, as defined in the previous article, dearth and lack?

I wonder what you have woventogether that leaves abundance equated with the fulfillment of a particular hunger. Is it an advancement in career, pregnancy, a certain lifestyle or a defined geographical location? I wonder what in your life exists as a place of scarcity?

In the experience of scarcity, we often exhaust ourselves in the search for formulas, theologies, or solutions that will move us away from the discomfort of longing. We become strategic, sometimes even conniving. We invite our Hagars to lay with our Abrahams. We craft golden calves. We say, “To hell with abundance! To hell with feasting. These scraps will do.” Who are your Hagars and what are your calves? Where have you believed that scarcity is your lot and you are destined to satiate yourself on what you have come to understand as meagerness? Where might there be a compromised imagination? When does longing turn to desperation? When is desire fouled so it no longer hopes for beauty or fulfillment?

I found myself alone in a cafe on my 35th birthday. Thirty-five was what I had deemed my doomsday year, my expiration date, my time to truly fear that being alone would not only be my lifelong reality but that it would somehow swallow me whole. But instead of drowning in disappointment, instead of vigilantly searching the restaurant for signs that others might find me odd or strange for sitting by myself, instead of the ever familiar panic, I found myself content. Here is what I wrote that night:

“Maybe I will encounter radical and luminescent love. Maybe I will be ever nearer to having a family. But, maybe I will sit on bar stools alone and write and feel full and happy. Maybe I can name this land as Your generosity. This is not barrenness. This is not Egypt. This is milk and honey. This is manna in wilderness.”

I found abundance on my 35th birthday, but not in the absence of scarcity.

I am the last to offer platitudes or to suggest ways to find the silver lining. I know the deep heartache of want and scarcity. I know the pain when a well-meaning friend invites you to turn away from desire (my least favorite one being: “Just stop looking. You’ll find him when you are no longer searching”). But at the close of my 34th year and beginning of my 35th, I began to consider that abundant life might look so much different than I had ever dreamed. I began to imagine that my life could be good and full and sweet as a single woman.

Are there places for your understanding of scarcity and abundance to be re-imagined?