Last week we talked a little bit about marriage, monasticism, and what salvation is actually about. Hopefully, we’ve cleared up the fog a little bit about being single and can all recognize that God is present and calling us in every manner of life. But, if we are to hear and respond to God calling us, we have to recognize the particular struggles and blessings of being single.
Both married people and monastics have a particular calling to reflect the breaking through of the Kingdom of God in this world: the married through their ascetic reunification of male and female in love as a sign of the reunification of all things in Christ and the monastic through their ascetic dedication to purity and the angelic life as a sign of the life in the Kingdom to come. I think single people have a particular calling to reflect the Kingdom through an ascetic commitment to the present moment, reflecting that heaven and earth meet only in the present moment.
Of course, we all are called to love, purity, and meeting God in the now, but I think those who are single have a special opportunity to be an icon of the present to those around them because it is so tempting to sometimes treat being single and on your own like being in the waiting room for life to begin. If we give in to this temptation we can become anxious and worried on the one hand or so carefree on the other that either way, we become spiritually blind to the opportunities to meet God here and now. So here’s a little advice for those of you who are single and striving for holiness, trying to stay grounded and centered in Christ.
Spend More Time in Prayer and Study
An amazing way to take advantage of the present moment as a single person is to dedicate yourself to prayer and study. Set aside time to pray, to read Scripture, to read a spiritual book. Don’t miss Liturgy. Make it to weekday services as often as you can. Whether marriage or monasticism lies ahead for you or not, using your time right now to encounter Jesus will not only prepare you for the future, but more importantly, will make sense of the now and bring peace to your everyday.
Start seeing the control you have over your life as a single person as a blessing and an opportunity to form your life around what really matters. Which leads to my next thought.
Serve Your Church and Your Community
It’s true that college students and new graduates are busy with classes and adjusting to the adult world, but it is also true that you have a lot of control over how you spend your free time. In addition to prayer and study, make an effort to find opportunities to serve the Church and your community. It shouldn’t be that we wait until we are over 40 to make time for service to the Church (this is a weird trend I’ve noticed in a lot of our parishes).
Why not offer to teach Sunday School, coach a basketball team, serve at the local shelter, join your parish’s service organizations, serve on parish council, offer to update the website, run social media for the parish, or one of the other millions of things your parish could probably use? Call your priest and ask. If you’re part of an OCF chapter, these can be something you offer to do together. If you are a new graduate, it can be a great way to get involved now that you don’t have the automatic community of your OCF chapter.
By getting involved not only will you avoid the demonic temptation of single life that says life is all about me, but you will begin to form a habit of centering your life around the life of the Church. Then, no matter what job opportunities or potential relationships come along, you will have the right foundation for your life.
Look for Opportunities to Sacrifice Your Own Comfort
The number one temptation of being single in my opinion is to become overly-set in one’s own ways and to lose sight of the ascetic, self-sacrificing requirements of love. It can be pretty easy as a single person to get used to a way of living that only takes into account your own needs and desires. It’s a little less tempting if you have roommates because at least then you have to work out the dynamics of living with someone else, but even then, it can be a real struggle.
Thanks be to God, it is in struggle that we see who we really are and how God is calling us to grow. So be aware, and ask yourself often, “Am I living life with blinders on? Am I insisting on my own way in all things or avoiding situations in which I might be asked to compromise and sacrifice? Does all of money go towards making my life comfortable and easy?” If you are praying, studying, and putting service to the Church at the center of your life, it will be pretty easy to find opportunities to live sacrificially–God will put those opportunities in your way.
Build Spiritual Relationships
Everybody needs accountability and support in their life. If you want to do well in class, you go to the professor or to a tutor for help and you study with your peers. If you want to do well in a new job, you rely on your boss and your coworkers to help you get acquainted with the culture and expectations of the workplace.
Well, unsurprisingly, the same is true in the spiritual life. You need mentors to guide you and set an example and peers to keep you on track. Being single means these relationships don’t come built into the package like they do in a marriage or in a monastery, so you’ll need to make a concerted effort to find the right people for your life. Obviously, your local OCF chapter and your parish are the places to start. Find a spiritual father and other mentors to whom you can go for advice and guidance. Make friends with people you respect and trust with whom you can be honest about yourself.
Building an Orthodox community as a single person will help you in all other aspects of single life: you can support one another in prayer and study, you can serve the Church together, and you can learn to love one another with self-sacrificial love. Perhaps, then, the most important thing to keep in mind is that being single and Orthodox doesn’t and shouldn’t mean being alone.