When I arrived in Raleigh Sunday night, it was after 20 hours of travel over 4,000 miles, an ocean, and two continents. Those who know me well understand that when I am tired I tend to revert to my toddler self: weepy temper tantrums are not rare when I am fatigued. So I was not surprised when I arrived in baggage claim and was suddenly overwhelmed with the desire to plop down on the floor, throw my backpack, and cry.
What did surprise me, however, was my physical, emotional, and spiritual response to seeing that the baggage claim was full of the wives, children, mothers and fathers of some of my team members. There was an instantaneous feeling like I had literally kicked in the stomach– the physical side effect of loneliness. My first, self-pitying thought was, “Singleness not only kicks you when you’re down, it wears steel-toed boots.” Aloneness is never more glaringly obvious than when you realize that you have no one to go home to.
When I lived in Chattanooga, homecomings from mission trips were a big deal. We would arrive from Honduras to a baggage claim full of friends and family. I’ve now come “home” to Wake Forest from two mission trips, and my immediate response has been the same both times– I’ve experienced the physical emptiness of being kicked by the army boot-wearing enemy, Alone. Being that I tend to be a people person to a fault, this never sits well with me. The last two years I have truly made peace with my singleness; I enjoy being able to serve the Lord however He sees fit to use me. But contentment does not always mean steady, unfailing joy in the situation. Paul may have been content in the Lord while in jail, but I’m certain that he still would have preferred his freedom.
But while I was standing at the baggage carousel waiting for my bags, I couldn’t shake the image of my singleness treading on me in steel-toed boots. I instantly shut down and isolated myself in my thoughts, desperately crying out to the Lord to perform a miracle and ensure that I not cry in front of all of these people. And in that moment of solitude amidst the chaos, the Lord gently expanded my understanding of those work boots I felt were walking all over me.
I thought about Emily, who spent a couple of days in tears because it was the first time she had been away from her son for more than a night. I remembered how much Jason missed his son while we were in Amsterdam. I thought of Rob and Nick and Mitch and Bill and Dr. James, who had all made comments about wanting to get back to their wives and families. And then I thought about how I hadn’t really missed anyone the 15 days we were out of the country. Living in Wake Forest is a discipline in missing my family; I didn’t miss them in Amsterdam any more or less than I would any other day. And then I thought of the words of the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 7 when he addressed singleness and ministry: “But I say to the unmarried and the widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I…. Only, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each, in this manner let him walk….But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; but one who is married is concerned about the things of this world, how he may please his wife, and his interests are divided. The woman who is unmarried, and the virgin, is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but one who is married is concerned about the things of this world, how she may please her husband. This I say not for your own benefit; not to put a restraint upon you, but to promote what is appropriate and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord” (1 Cor. 7: 8,17,32-35).
We are encouraged to serve the Lord in whatever circumstance we are in when He calls us into His service. For me, I was and, at the moment remain, single. That is how I am to serve Him, and when I am focused on Him, His kingdom, His glory, and not myself, I find no greater joy than giving Him my undivided attention. Even in my weary state, I recognized the still small voice of the Holy Spirit convicting me to a closer relationship with Himself, calling me away from me and back to Him and His all-sufficient grace and mercy.
I still think my singleness wears steel-toed boots. But now I think of them as the footwear essential for wearing the full armor of God at this time in my life. And the only time I am going to get kicked by them is when I get in the way of the work the Lord is doing in and through me.