Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Singleness and Unselfishness

Leslie Basham: Carolyn McCulley says that when men take shaky steps toward leadership, instead of being critical, we as women should be patient.

Carolyn McCulley: There’s a patience that God has extended towards you, and He’s bringing you along in sanctification. So I can extend that same graciousness, too.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Monday, July 9.

The apostle Paul calls singleness a gift. Even when you’ve accepted the gift, there are a lot of practical decisions you need to make when living out your singleness before the Lord. Carolyn McCulley and Nancy Leigh DeMoss are both single, and they know what it’s like to make some of those practical decisions.

Carolyn shares her insight in the book, Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye? You can get a copy at ReviveOurHearts.com for a donation of any amount.

Today, Nancy and Carolyn will take questions from some of our listeners, and let me say, even if you are married, you’ll still get a lot out of this program. Everybody has struggles no matter their season of life, and the perspective you’ll hear from Nancy and Carolyn will be helpful in trusting God with your situation whatever it is.

Nancy asked each woman in the audience: What is one blessing brought about by singleness, and what is one challenge?

Here’s the first answer:

Woman 1: One of the greatest blessings, I think, specifically, has been the opportunity to visit my sister who lives out of state. I think one of the biggest challenges is just the temptation to stay focused on myself and not minister to others like I should.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Carolyn, speak to that for just a sec, if you would—the whole temptation to stay focused on yourself and the issue of selfishness. Can you relate to that being a challenge of singleness?

Carolyn: Yes. I think, because you wake up in the morning, and the first person you see is yourself in the mirror, and that’s where you start your day, thinking, “What’s going to be good for myself, and how do I proceed through it?” Your whole day is built on the priorities of self, and what’s going to be good for me, and what’s in it for me. It’s a huge challenge to train yourself to start to think of the needs and priorities of others around you, but there’s such blessing that comes out of it when you do.

Nancy: Is there any practical way that the Lord has helped you to deal with the issue of selfishness, which I think is such a root issue for all of us? I find, because I live alone, that my world can revolve around myself a little bit more. I decide when I want to eat, what I want to eat, where I want to go, how I want to spend my money. I can make a lot of those decisions without taking other people into consideration.

How do you work against selfishness in your life as a single woman?

Carolyn: Well, personally, I’ve chosen to have a housemate, simply for that purpose. I own my own home, but I could easily—well, not easily—but I could afford to live on my own. But I prefer to have a house mate because it stretches me because I can be kind of like queen bee in my house. I’m the oldest child, so I expect to rule the roost. It’s been good to stretch that way.

So that’s one way. Another way is participating in accountability groups and small groups at my church so that I am in relationship and fellowship with others. Purposing to serve, each month I evaluate what my schedule is going to be like, and I have a list of questions: Where am I serving? Have I offered to babysit for anybody? What am I doing to serve my nieces and nephews? What am I doing to serve my parents? 

So, just looking at the roles that I already have assigned in my life, I might not be anybody’s wife, but there are biblical roles already defined for me. I’m someone’s sister or daughter or aunt, colleague; I’m a church member. So what am I doing to fulfill those roles, instead of just what can I do to entertain myself?

Nancy: Don’t you find that’s a constant thing that you have to be vigilant about is this whole issue of selfishness? I mean, I think it’s like an inexorable pull in our lives towards selfishness. I find it’s something I have to be really intentional about countering, or I tend to drift into selfishness.

Carolyn: I think there are times, too, where the Lord has allowed certain moments of loneliness in my life simply so that I can experience something from the perspective of another person.

Specifically, I can remember a few years ago when I didn’t have any plans for Christmas, and it was working out so that my family couldn’t get together until the afternoon. I have this vision of Christmas morning still from being a little kid—you come bounding down the steps, and there’s piles of presents with your name on them, and you can’t wait to rip through it.

The idea of waking up by myself on Christmas morning with nothing to do until the afternoon was a weird seismic shift. I’d become that aunt who was the afternoon person now, and I thought, “How lonely.”

At first I really sang a little pity party, to be honest. Then I realized, because I’d always had something to do Christmas morning, I’d never thought about all the people who don’t.

So that experience of loneliness, the Lord helped to change my perspective. I thought, “Well, I’m not going to sit around. I’m going to find out who else has also shifted to afternoon status, and we’ll have a brunch.” And it turned out to be one of my favorite Christmas events; we had such a good time.

Nancy: Let’s just stay on loneliness here for a minute because I think it’s something every human being relates to. How have seasons of loneliness impacted your relationship with the Lord?

Carolyn: I once heard a pastor describe loneliness as being a desert period. Sometimes the Lord designs desert periods in your life to draw you away from other distractions so that you can commune with Him. In a sense, He’s inviting you through your loneliness into a deeper fellowship with Him.

The first time I heard that point, I didn’t really appreciate it, to be honest. I didn’t want to go through desert periods. I wanted my demands and my desires to be fulfilled when I wanted them to be fulfilled.

But I have found there is sweetness in those lonely periods at times because it forces you to say, “Why am I so restless? What is going on in my heart? What am I thinking? Where are my expectations?” It forces you to stop and think, and that should direct our focus to the Lord. Sometimes it also directs our focus to other people, like I mentioned with the Christmas idea.

When you experience loneliness, I think it makes you more empathetic to other people. It gives you an opportunity to think, “What is going on in that person’s life, and how can I minister to them?” especially when you think about loneliness as being a surplus of time.

We often feel that way, like, “I have all this excess time, how do I fill it?” I’m by myself a lot, but it can be also a resource where God is pointing out to you that you have this time. He’s got a purpose for it, and you should seek Him as to what He wants you to do with it.

Loneliness can also be just a form of suffering that is real. It’s part of living in a fallen world. Those are times where, I think, if we’re willing to be vulnerable with those that we’re closest to and in our relationships at work and at school and at church and just to ask for time. “Could you come over and spend time with me?”

I think it’s so easy to fall into the pool of self-pity. “Nobody calls me. Nobody emails me. Nobody knows the troubles I’ve seen.” (sounds of laughter) And, in fact, in some ways, all of us are lonely in many relationships.

I was surprised talking to a friend of mine who had married a man who was just considered to be a wonderful catch. Everybody was so happy for her, and she had lived in a household where nearly all the women got engaged and married at the same time. So they all got to do this thing together.

Well, what happened was that, within the first year, most of her friends got pregnant and moved on to mommy status, and she felt very lonely as a new wife. She felt like, “All my prior female relationships have shifted. I can’t expect my husband to fulfill every aspect of my relationships, my relational needs”

She realized that, though she was very happy with her husband, she was so surprised to find out that she was still lonely, that there was an aspect of relationships with other women that she missed. I was surprised to hear that from her because I thought, “Well, you got the thing. You got the ring. You got the man. You got the marriage.”

But there are seasons of loneliness that can come upon us in many different stages, and they can be a surprise. It drew her to the point of saying to the Lord, “What have You designed in this? What can I learn from You? Am I not spending enough time ministering to my husband? Am I too focused on myself?” All sorts of questions.

But I was surprised to hear, there she was, newly married, and seemingly so happy. She was a shiny, happy person from the outside, yet she was lonely, too. It surprised me, and it made me think, “I should be reaching out more to my newly married friends.” It is an adjustment, and as much as they’re happy to be married, there’s a whole switch sometimes.

Nancy: As you think about the future, I know your heart’s desire is that the Lord would bring marriage into your life.

Carolyn: Yes.

Nancy: Do you ever let your mind go, like, long term, to think, “What if He doesn’t? What if in God’s providence this doesn’t happen?” Do you think about the older-age loneliness issues, and do you let yourself go there at all?

Carolyn: I wouldn’t have imagined when I was in my twenties that it would be possible to be single and in your forties and not be completely undone. If you’d asked me in my twenties what my life would be like now, I would be, like, “No! Please, God, anything but that!” I would have had no concept that there is a certain grace that is supplied that really is sufficient.

I would have had no concept in my thirties that I would say to you that my forties have been more fun, that I’ve had more opportunities to serve, that I’ve had more fulfilling friendships and relationships, even a few with guys, and that I’ve experienced something of God’s grace that I didn’t know when I was younger.

So it surprises me to know how fulfilling life is now. I wouldn’t have anticipated it when I was younger. That gives me faith for thinking I should not be too concerned about the future because God’s Word says He’s going to provide, and that the best is yet to come anyway, and it’s not in this life.

So even as we fall apart to some degree as we get older, it really is a benefit because it forces us to think about God and His glory is the only glory that is unalterable. I think that’s a challenge actually of mid-life—realizing you’re not youthful anymore and being, like, “What’s up with these lines? What are these gray hairs? What’s going on?”

There can be a bereavement that comes with that, a temptation in thinking, like, “Oh, the expiration date that’s on my forehead has gone by.” (laughter) I’ve just seen Him be so faithful to so many people that, actually, the longer I live, the more hope I have, actually, which is strange. It’s not necessarily just hope in marriage, but that might be because I’m permanently an optimist in thinking, “One of these days, my walker and I, and my bridesmaids in their wheelchairs, we’ll get down that aisle. We’ll get married!” (laughter) But it’s really more hope in a good God because I’ve seen Him answer so many prayers, not this particular one, but so many of them, and it makes me grateful.

I think also that living a little longer makes me see how much hurt there is in life, how many great needs there are. It makes me more grateful just for what I do have. You realize how much, due to both sin and just living in a fallen world, how much hurt and disappointment exists in every season of life, and how blessed you can be in certain seasons that you wouldn’t have expected.

Woman 2: I’m Michelle, and I’m single. One of the blessings—I have been in ministry since college, and one of the big blessings has been being able to pour my heart and soul into ministry. Maybe in some terms it would be a workaholic, but be able to do something that I’ve believed in, and I knew that it was what God had called me to.

Also it has been a blessing to be able to pour my heart and soul into young girls and mentor girls and have them always at my house. Whereas, if I was married, it probably wouldn’t be that way. Several of my high school girls are, like, “We’re so glad you don’t have a boyfriend! We’re so glad you’re not married!”

A challenge, and this is really a selfish challenge, and that is feeling misunderstood; always fielding questions of, “What’s wrong with you? Why aren’t you married yet?” This is especially true when talking with married friends. If I’m going through something hard, they always have a harder thing to conquer. I’m not able to just pour my heart out. I’ve been struggling with that, to try and be graceful in those answers.

Nancy: Carolyn, I know you’ve talked about some of the insensitive things that people can say at weddings or elsewhere. Can you think of what some of those things are that you’ve heard?

Carolyn: Honestly, I think people will say things because they’re puzzled. As I’m looking at you, you are an attractive woman. I hear your heart for God’s glory, and so I’m sure people stand back and they say, “Why hasn’t God married you off?”

I can understand that since, to some degree, when people are asking questions, it’s because they’re trying to sort through their own understanding, their own doctrine and theology of God. We as human beings have a tendency to fall back to performance-based things. So we look at people, like Job’s friends, that we can understand why God’s doing one thing or not doing another, and we can make pronouncements on it. It’s just our pride at work.

Sometimes people are trying to sort through that, and they can say something that’s kind of insensitive. They’re not trying to be insensitive, but it’s that thinking-out-loud thing that happens at times.

It’s our challenge then to respond graciously to people. It’s a form of sanctification for us as singles to realize that people aren’t purposefully—typically—trying to be hurtful. They can just be unthoughtful at times. And other times, they can be genuinely confused. They really don’t understand why, and that just gives us an opportunity to be able to smile and express trust in God.

I mentioned my friend who recently died of a heart attack, a high school friend. I was at this funeral seeing the same people I had seen five years earlier at my high school reunion, and I’m still not married. I think I had the same conversation with the same guy, “You’re still single?” I said, “Yes, I am.”

And I fumbled my answer because what I said was, much to my chagrin, instead of saying anything about, “Much to God’s glory,” or something along those lines which could have opened the door for a discussion, I just said something stupid. And I have to, therefore, extend the same kind of grace to other people.

I routinely hear from women who come up to me after a speaking engagement or something, and they just grab my hand, and they look me in the eye, and they say, “God’s got somebody really special for you.” And I’m thinking, “This guy’s got to be really, really special to be kept waiting for so long.” (laughter)

At first that would bother me. In my pride, I would think, (heavy sigh) “How do you know that, and why do you keep saying that?” But over the years, I’ve come to realize this is a way that somebody expresses their care and their esteem. I can either be prickly about it, or I can be gracious and realize they just mean the best. They’re not God. They don’t know. They’re hoping. I’m hoping. We’re all hoping together, so let’s just hope for the best, and hope for a really, really special guy. (laughter)

But it’s a form of sanctification to be able to step back and say, “I don’t know.” Sometimes when people ask, “Why aren’t you married?”

“I don’t know, but I’m still hoping and praying.”

And being able to express that with a lightness that doesn’t leave them wandering away, like “Wow! Now I know she’s bitter!”

Nancy: Carolyn, I know you’ve addressed how many women have expectations of men being ready-made, mature, godly men. What has the Lord shown you about that whole expectation?

Carolyn: One of the things that’s a surprise to me is the fact that I have friendships now with men that are really different, really more like being brothers than when I was younger. It’s the age gap. We jokingly call these guys my clients.

They’re a number of years younger than I am, and they just come in to my office or wherever and they just want encouragement in their roles as men. I’m not there to counsel or teach them in that sense. I’m just being a sister and encouraging them when they come up to me and say, “Oh, I don’t know how to do this or how to speak to this girl,” or whatever.

So I get to encourage them in this end—be their cheerleader—and it’s provided some insight into the way that godly men really take very seriously their role to pursue women. I didn’t really know this as I became a Christian at thirty.

So my first couple of years, I didn’t know a lot of single men. How they thought seemed kind of a mystery to me. I was dealing with my own impatience and self-righteousness because I was coming to understand God’s plan for men and women in the Bible. So I thought, “Well, you guys get to pursue. I mean, you get the initiative. Come on, let’s move. Put a move on it. What are you waiting on?”

I had a lot of judgment, I think, at times because I thought it was a lot harder to wait. Now, I’m hearing a lot more from these younger men who are like my brothers and, in some cases, also my sons. I realize that they take this a lot more seriously than I thought.

I sinfully judged some of them in thinking that they took their own sweet time, but I realize that some of them will pray for a long time before they approach a woman, or they’ll look at their own life and say, “I’m not sure I’m ready to lead.” There’s a lot more thoughtfulness in it than I previously perceived.

So as I look at them, I realized, and this is also in combination with a woman who has young sons in their 20s, that there is a learning curve to leadership. As I talked to this mother, she said, “No, we encourage our sons to be clear and to take initiative, but sometimes when they step out and do it, they’ll be discouraged by the other women who think they are not doing it properly.”

As I listened to her, I realized, we are seeing men at a certain stage in their lives. It’s not fair to compare, say, to your senior pastor who is on the platform every week, who’s been married maybe thirty years and has had the benefit of years and years of the helpmate’s influence and counsel in his life, as well as the seasoning of life and time and experience, with somebody who’s twenty-two, twenty-five. He’s still trying to learn.

Or somebody maybe who’s even older chronologically but not older in the Lord, and is an adult convert. So it’s an opportunity for us to be exercising graciousness toward men and encouraging them in the steps that they take and in realizing, as much as there is a learning curve for leadership, there’s also a learning curve for followership, and that one can be just as steep, I think.

There are times when we’ll ask some of the guys to take over an activity or plan, and they plan something that the guys would enjoy, and the girls, not so much. We have an opportunity to be,  “We’re doing what??” Or we can say, “That’s great! You know, that’s not my favorite activity, but I’ll be glad to come out and support you.”  That’s where we can encourage them and we can practice dying to our own preferences, dying to our own selfishness and saying, “Hey, this guy is taking some step toward initiative. And maybe paintball is not my favorite activity, but I’ll go do it,” or whatever.

Actually, I’ve never personally played paintball, it seems like a lot of fun—except for getting bruised. But it’s just that way of looking at somebody and saying, “There’s a patience that God has extended toward you, and He’s bringing you along in sanctification, so I can extend that same graciousness, too, because we’re all but dust.”

Leslie: That’s Carolyn McCulley. She’s been talking with Nancy Leigh DeMoss about some of the practical issues that come along with the gift of singleness.

Today’s program is an example of the mission of Revive Our Hearts. We want to help you take solid biblical principles and get them into your day-to-day decisions.

Not too long ago we heard from one listener who has benefitted from this approach. Nancy’s here with the story.

Nancy: The biblical principles that women hear on Revive Our Hearts have really practical implications. Let me give you an example that we heard from a woman in Spokane who wrote and told us how she had heard the Revive Our Hearts podcast, and the program that day was called, “Guard Your Heart.” She said,

I can’t tell you how timely this message was for me today. After being single for many years, I was recently asked out on a date by a very cute, very sweet, “Christian” man. [Now, she wrote the word Christian in quotes.] When this man showed interest, caution lights were flashing.

She sensed, “This was not the right person for me,” but was really struggling with how to proceed. Then she told us how grateful she was for the counsel that she got in this situation while listening to Revive Our Hearts. She said,

I know I should not compromise and settle for someone who does not display godly character or share the same biblical convictions. I will continue to guard my heart and look to God and His best for my future.

Well, studying God’s Word and submitting our lives to it leads to many practical decisions that will affect our lives for years to come. I’m so grateful that Revive Our Hearts is able to counsel women and show them how God’s Word affects their lives.

When you support Revive Our Hearts financially, you’re helping to make it possible for us to offer that kind of practical biblical teaching. Would you help us continue showing women truths from the Bible that affect every part of their lives?

When you support this ministry with a gift of any size, we want to show our thanks by sending you a copy of Carolyn McCulley’s book, Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye? Ask for a copy of Carolyn’s book when you call to make your donation at 1-800-569-5959, or visit ReviveOurHearts.com.

Leslie: Thanks, Nancy.

Well, you don’t always know what God is doing behind the scenes. Carolyn McCulley encourages single women to remember that. Find out why tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

 

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.