A Cup of Singleness Tea

With the year drawing to a close and the Christmas holiday upon us, many begin pulling out traditions, recalling memories, and indulging in nostalgia from the past. Old-fashioned Christmas stories are one of my nostalgic forays, and after reading dozens of them, I’ve mentally had one of my own slowly forming for several years. The plot goes something like this:

Little Alice is a sweet, kind-hearted girl who attends a Christmas party, the highlight of which is a giant tree full of toys waiting to be passed out to the children in attendance. There are balls and cap guns and train sets for the boys, and for the girls, wonderful porcelain dolls, one of which has golden hair and a pink dress.

Alice particularly hopes she gets that special golden-haired gift, and so she sits and patiently waits as Sally gets a doll, and Mary, and Clara . . . and even little Janie, whom everyone knows would have preferred a cap gun and really won’t enjoy the doll.

At long last, Alice’s name is called. She walks to the tree, breath held in anticipation, and holds out her hands. As something soft and warm is placed in them she looks down and sees, to her great dismay, that she has received . . . a scarf and mittens.

A Different but Good Gift

For years I have thought of myself as Alice, only the doll on the tree of my heart’s desire has been marriage and motherhood. I tried to wait patiently as I marched through my twenties, early thirties, and then late thirties, watching as first one friend and then others got married and became mothers—even some who originally preferred remaining single. Yet as the years passed, it seemed the only gift my name was repeatedly called for was the mittens-and-scarf gift of singleness. 

I tried to make the best of things, hoping that one day that longed-for “doll” would still be received, but deep down, it was easy to look at my mittens-and-scarf gift and feel as though I got the raw end of the deal. It felt like God had overlooked me, like I wasn’t good enough, or like I had done something wrong. 

But then one day I started thinking about how God is not the mean father who gives us serpents if we ask for fish, or the mittens-and-scarf gift when we ask for dolls. Scripture treats singleness as a good gift—one entrusted by God into my care. Yes, it’s a different life gift than many of the women around me are given, but different doesn’t mean bad. 

With that thought in mind, I began searching for a different ending to my imaginary Christmas story. What gift could Alice receive that was unique and different from those received by all the other girls, I asked myself, but was still special and that could be used for good and God’s greater glory?

And then it hit me: a tea set!

When I was five or six years old, my family spent the weekend at a resort owned by some friends who had a few little girls around my age. These girls had been gifted real china tea sets by their grandmother, so instead of playing in the woods of Northern Wisconsin that weekend, we stayed inside and had tea parties galore.

Those tea sets were special, a novelty toy I had never experienced. I can’t recall ever having a real china tea set to play with after that weekend, but oh, would I have loved it if I had been the possessor of such a special gift!

What are the benefits, highlights, or uses of a tea set, I asked myself, and how are those same traits exemplified in singleness?

Beauty from Suffering

The first trait of a tea set that comes to mind is its beauty. Often painted with beautiful designs and exhibiting a special delicateness, a tea set is no humdrum collection of dishes!

But such delicate beauty does not come without cost. The most special type of tea sets are made of bone china, a material crafted carefully from clay and passed through the fire four times. In between each of those fires, the creators add special details that make each tea set unique—delicate hand-painted flowers or ornately crafted handles and teapot lids. 

In the same way, our Father, the potter, is carefully forming each of us, his lumps of clay, into something beautiful. But in order to make us into that unique, special tea set fit for His service, He must send us through the fires of suffering again and again.

“Singleness is the acutest form of suffering,” a friend once said to me. She ought to know, for she had been on both sides of the coin: lengthy singleness and then marriage with a whole passel of children. For those of us who have been in the trenches of lengthy singleness, her words certainly ring true, for the repeated fires of rejection and ruined relationships, loneliness, and insensitive comments sometimes seem endless and more than we can bear. “Again, Lord?” we’ve likely cried as we each face a new round of suffering, “I have to endure all this pain again?”

But just like the tea set grows more beautiful with each firing, the fires of life teach us new things and add new details to our lives, causing us to become more Christlike or, to paraphrase 1 Peter 5:10 (KJV), to make us perfect, stablish, strengthen, and settle us. The more perfected we become, the more we are “useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work” (2 Tim. 2:21 ESV).

An Instrument of Grace

When friends gather for a tea party, the very best manners come forth. The hostess becomes the personification of grace and dignity, graciously pouring the tea, overlooking the rattling dishes, the crumbs dropping on the floor, and the droplets of tea spotting her clean tablecloth. 

In the same way, those of us who have received the singleness tea set have a great opportunity for the grace of God to spread in our lives. Why? Because singleness is a humbling thing.

Singleness is humbling because it feels like you’re the last one to be picked for the marriage team. It’s humbling because it feels like people treat you like a child rather than the adult you are. It’s humbling because you don’t fit in and feel sidelined as others your age—and younger—discuss their children and experiences you really can’t relate to. And it’s humbling as potential spouses overlook you or reject you, but then quickly find another to take your place.

We can allow these humbling circumstances to cause us to grow bitter and hardened, or we can use them as opportunities to receive more grace from the hand of God because He “opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6 ESV). The more humbling we receive, the more grace He gives. And the more grace He gives, the more that same grace can flow to others, touching lives and impacting many for Christ’s kingdom.

A Vessel of Hospitality

In my mind, a tea party seems like the epitome of hospitality, with the best dishes on display and the best manners trotted out to serve others. Connecting hospitality with singleness, however, seems like a bit of an oxymoron, for singles often don’t have homes of their own in which to receive guests, and if they do, those homes are often too small or devoid of the bridal-shower-supplied utensils that seem necessary for good hospitality. 

But hospitality isn’t solely dependent on having a home.Webster’s dictionary defines hospitality as “promising or suggesting generous and friendly welcome,” or “offering a pleasant or sustaining environment,” and “readily receptive: open.” 

Those definitions should challenge each of us singles. Do we exude a friendly and welcoming atmosphere that attracts others to our lives and allows them to experience the warmth and acceptance of Christ? 

Simply being someone who is readily receptive to engaging others in conversation—particularly those who don’t have many friends—is one way to put such hospitality into practice. Another way is to be welcoming to little children—keeping little treats for them in your purse or giving them a friendly hug or smile when you see them. Everyone, whether married or single, can do these things, but over the years I have discovered that single women are much more free to practice these forms of hospitality, simply because they don’t have their own children to look after, corral, or make sure their needs are being met. And as is so often the case, such hospitality becomes a two-way street, for in blessing others by being there and greeting them with open arms and a smiling face, the one who gives such hospitality is blessed and loved in return.

Accepting a Cup of Singleness Tea

For most of us, singleness is not the gift we asked for, nor is it the only one we’ll continue to get year after year. But it is a special one of beauty, grace, and hospitality, “a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy” (2 Tim. 2:21), and one that we should never look down upon. 

Single ladies, the table is spread before you, filled with beautiful cups, saucers, and teapots, ready and waiting for you to use in the service of the King. Won’t you sit down and enjoy that cup of singleness tea while it’s still a gift you can continue to call your own?

Interested in more resources on the topic of singleness? The Revive Our Hearts resource library has a whole topic category for contentment in singleness, plus an array of topics for women in every season of life. Visit ReviveOurHearts.com/resource-library/ to learn more. 

About the Author

Annie Holmquist

Annie Holmquist

Annie Holmquist is a writer and editor from Minnesota whose work focuses on faith, family, education, and culture. She enjoys old books, the outdoors, and the preschoolers in her inner city Sunday School class. Her other writings can be found … read more …

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