Monday, March 25, 2013

Singleness and Marriage ~ (a post that was too long for a comment)

Anna asked a very good question
in response to my recent blog post.
I was going to respond in a comment but all of
a sudden blogger said my comment was too big
to be published.
Thus this blog post.
Anna asked what about those of us who are single,
do not want to be a monastic
and seem to have no advice on what to do meanwhile
as it seems Orthodoxy is always giving just two options:
marriage or monasticism. 
I have long lived as a single woman who wanted to be married.
For me this was going on 34 years by the time I
met Mr. Husband and married him when I was 35 years of age.
Mr. Husband waited even longer for me.
So I often thought the same question:
what to do with all of us who are in the reality of
being single with NO ONE on the horizon to marry?
Where do we fit? What do we do?
It can be really lonely,
so many in churches are married and involved in their lives
and the singles often feel left out;
I know, I would have singles from my church in Ottawa
over to my house.
Anyway; that is a side-topic, but thought it was worth
mentioning as it seems that singles can be overlooked.
It's hard and I think more can be done.
But back to Anna's question...
Here's my thoughts that I was writing for the comment
and it is written with Anna in mind,
and I know that she knows a lot about me that I have
blogged about, as
we are both long term blog friends and reader of
the other's blog.
Anna, I do hope you don't mind a blog post about this!
First, Anna - your welcome for the FYI on the Lenten reading.
Oh, I know this struggle for sure.  I was 35 by the time I married...
and I had many struggles in terms of job finding
(and job struggles at times when not job finding!)
and all of that, as you know. It was NOT at all easy.
One thing that the letters that Fr. John said
 were for those who had the wish
 to marry that they should not then
look into the monastery for their calling. 
So I would not worry about having to make
this choice to be a monastic when it is not your desire...
in other words I would not let this trouble you;
it seems that one must really desire
 to be a monastic to become one.
I personally had the blessing to do either and I chose marriage.
  I chose marriage as my path about 4 years or so before
 I even knew of the man who I am now married to.
  And when I was in the process of meeting my
Mr. Husband my spiritual father and I
emailed about marriage and what it is.
  And I talked to my trusted married friends;
I had no illusion that it married life would be easy or
that it would solve all my problems and
so advice I welcome and gathered...
Again, back to you question ~
what do to when there is no Mr. Husband on the horizon ~
 a state I was in for 34 of my 36 years. 
And I know others who are in this state more than 34 years...
I do not know if there is a lot of written material on this -
but it is a real reality for MANY. 
There seems to be a dearth of people that one could even marry
that I myself am married I see as a miracle of God.
As you gathered over the years of being blog friends
 you have seen that I go to monasteries when I can ~ some
are blessed to go to them monthly or even more.
I am not able to go as regularly as this,
but do with what I can do.
Monasteries are for Orthodox Christians regardless
 of what path one wants (i.e. marriage or monasticism).
 Because the one in MI is fairly close
to my parent's house,
 I go there when I am home for Christmas.
  This has been a blessing for me for some years now
~ it's a real place of refuge, blessing, rest and
also a place where I can go with my questions
 on how to live life and what I should do in it. 
I know others who are married who would say the same.
about the monastery they go to.
And I am still going to the monastery
for the same reasons as when I was single, really:
 I still need this place of refuge, prayer and guidance;
it's just that now the guidance is for a different reason
(i.e. how do I be a good wife, etc etc). 
But regardless of one's situation,
if you can find a healthy Orthodox monastery
to visit and retreat at, it helps. 
For me, I got a sense of not being as
alone in the world as I would of had otherwise.
To realize that they rise in prayer hours before I do
in my normal life
has slowly,
over the years,
become a comfort to me.
See this beautiful blog post by Fr. Micheal on this.
I was advised, when I was single, to practice hospitality.
 I see that you are doing this.
You seem very involved in your church
and seeking to be engaged with life as you find it. 
Another thing that is good is spiritual reading ~
this is what I was reminded of when I listened
 to the Fr. Thomas Hopko podcast I just blogged about.
A blessing I had in Ottawa also was a really good spiritual father.
If you can find one, rejoice.
If you have not yet, do not despair,
 God puts us in the situations as He sees fit;
this is the instruction I am seeing in my reading
 and that keeps coming to me from various Orthodox sources
 as I try to figure out my life here in NJ.
I can tell you that marriage is wonderful
and I rejoice in it but I can also tell you
 that my friends who told me this are also right:
marriage will be different than you think and it will be
(if a well chosen good marriage)
harder and better than you think. 
Other than this, I am reminded of what my
Ottawa spiritual father told me
when I was trying to stay in Ottawa amidst
very unstable job situations:
try to have a stable routine for prayer
and do what one needs to do in that day. 
This is something I am still trying to build into my life...
You will see Fr. Micheal talking briefly about this
in his comment to the post I just mentioned of his.
An Abbess, by the way, told me to ask St. Nicholas for a husband.
 I really feel that my Mr. Husband
is a gift from St. Nicholas. 
I also prayed to St. Xenia and
Mr. Husband esp. also to St. John of Shanghai and Sans Francisco.
Marriage is beautiful I would say not
because it frees one from suffering
but that one can learn to suffer
with the other and
seek to help the other in to the Kingdom of God.
  I would also say that one's need for the
 sacrament of confession and
of practicing mutual forgiveness is very important!
BUT how to live when one is single
and only wishing for this - oh, it is HARD.
 I know, I remember, life is often so very hard.
I was really blessed by some special friends I had at
my church in Ottawa;
and by doing book club and having meals at my house with them.
This really helped me;
and when I was really struggling with things I not only
blogged about them but I emailed those in my life
who I knew would pray for me.
(There of course is a limit to what one can blog about).
I guess I suffered enough that I learned how to ask for prayer
and help when I needed it.
Practicing thanksgiving and praise of God;
seeking to have a doable rhythm for prayer, blogging,
visiting monasteries when I could,
going to church,
these were all things I did to make it through.
And Cleo my cat did help too.
But it is not easy.
Life is not easy.
The only other thing I would add is if you or another reader who
is still single does find someone
that one thinks is at least date-able,
involve those you trust in your life and
discernment process.
I have seen the pain in one or two of my friends
who for varied reasons have experienced
separation and/or divorce and I cannot,
even though I am still so young in my marriage,
emphasize enough the importance of involving
your community/family/spiritual father/close friends
who really know and care for you.
I remember once years ago
that one of my other long time blog friends,
telling me that marriage does not always equal
not being lonely.
(I don't remember the exact thing she said
but I always remembered her advice/comment).
It is, I gather, one of the hardest loneliness to
be married and lonely.
I am blessed with a good marriage now
but I am also in a new place and while
I am blessed with new friends,
of course I still have times of struggle and loneliness.
This is part of our modern life.
The key for me to remember when this happens is to
FIGHT self-pity at all costs.
Self-pity is very damaging.
One monastic I know who I talked of a few years
back said that before she was a monastic,
she was happy single.
It seems for either path,
one must be ready for it and contentment seems
to be part of it.
That said,
I rankled every time that someone would say to me
when I was still single
by someone that was now married
oh, I had to learn contentment and was not 
even looking by the time I met my spouse.
I always found myself thinking that
if that would be the case,
I would never get married!
Yet, it's important to remember
because anything can be a distraction
from our peace and as hard as it is to say to
anyone, since I know how hard it can be to be single,
even the wish for marriage must not become one's
only or main goal in life ~ Christ alone must be this goal.
Something I am still learning myself.
I know that Anna's question is one that many
women and men who are Orthodox have.
I most sincerely ask others 
for any thoughts on this;
I could only answer from my experience and current
I am sure that others have much to add to it.


Donna Witek said...

Hello Elizabeth and Anna,

This is a great question and Elizabeth your post in response is very good, containing a lot of good helps and advice. As Elizabeth knows, I, too, was single and feeling discouraged at finding a suitable husband until 2 years ago when he came into my life. I wanted to offer just a few ideas about this from my own experience:

--First I just want to say I *agree* wholeheartedly that it is hard when spiritual books seem to be written for every type of person but the type of person you happen to be. Just wanted to sympathize in this.

--For me, I found a kind of peace during my single years in my profession. I blogged about this on my own blog, so rather than rehash it here I will link to the post. In particular the parts where I describe how I originally became a librarian to "bide my time" until my "real calling" of marriage came along, but then as I started working my library work became a calling in its own right which put me at peace about the other...well, here is the link:

Anna, I'd love to be blog friends :) And while I totally recognize that yet more advice from a woman who was single and now is not may not be the perfect answer to your question, I thought I'd share the little bit I gleaned from my own life. I do know how hard it is.

Blessed Lent to both of you.

With Love in XC, Donna

Mary said...

Great post, Elizabeth! It is a topic I relate to as well as you know as I also got married sort of later than most.

You're comment is great, Donna! I feel like I was "biding my time" in the workforce (which was interesting, but not my lifelong goal) until my real calling came along.

TeresaAngelina said...

Wow good questions, Elizabeth. I have found it interesting personally that the Church community generally does not upon entering the marriage life (and children!) remember that there are those outside this life. One would hope that families generally would remember that there are singles in their midst but for the most part (and no doubt there are exceptions) this is not at all remembered. Perhaps the first thing a single might remember is that all are carrying a great weight and no, the world does revolve around you. This is not meant to sound harsh. Singles can mop; don't do that. Not only is despair a passion to avoid, it is such a waste of time. It really does not matter - not a scrap - if you are remembered or not. What does matter is that you are keeping your focus on Jesus. And since this is the life He currently has for you, to rejoice and be thankful. And do something else to keep yourself off yourself...get a hobby. Seriously. Not only again will you do something creative, more importantly, you have a holiday from yourself. It is not always the main thing that you make yourself useful but that you rejoice in the doing and forget about yourself. Anna, I have not read your comment and perhaps I should after gassing on like this, but may I say that you are where you are because God loves you. Be of good cheer. Singleness is not second best, it is the best if that is what God has for you.

matushka constantina said...

This was a very good, helpful and thought-provoking post. Thank you for sharing.

Although it often doesn't feel this way, being married or being single shouldn't be what defines us - our life in Christ should be. Our church community should feel like a family in which all members have an important role regardless of their marital status.