Back in February I wrote openly about the challenges of singleness, and afterwards I received a great deal of feedback. It soon became clear that the post was resonating with many people. The messages I received were extremely heartfelt, and several led to more extended discussions on the subject. While all the feedback was meaningful, there was one note that really stood out. Let me introduce you to Ruth.
Ruth is a woman in her seventies who I know through my parent’s church in Manton, MI. The first time I remember interacting with her was when I was raising support for my Philippines mission trip back in 2006. She supported me financially and was very eager to hear how things went when I returned. Ruth was a bit quirky, but she seemed to care a lot. Though the subsequent years I was rarely at my parent’s church, but when I did come back from school for a visit she would usually walk over and say hi. When I was home during the summer of 2010 Ruth let me borrow her car for three weeks so I could get to my internship. Out of all the people at church she was the most dedicated to maintaining a relationship with me after I moved away. She took a special interest in me, and honestly I don’t really know why. It was almost like she had, without an invitation, adopted me as her grandson. I didn’t really know what to do with her interest in my life, and honestly, without her persistence we wouldn’t have stayed in touch. But my lack of relationship initiative didn’t stop her from caring. During the past couple of years we have stayed in touch primarily through Facebook. Her likes and occasional comments have showed up on my wall with regularity.
After reading my blog post on singleness back in February Ruth called my mom and asked for my address. Soon after, I got a package in the mail containing a typed letter and a booklet entitled: “Singlehood that Honors God”. The letter began:
I follow all you kids (I know you don’t consider yourself a kid) on Facebook. A few weeks ago you mentioned how hard it is to be a single pastor and not have a wife… The next week I was shopping at the Amish store over by McBain and saw this book. I read it and decided to send it to you.”
The booklet looked like it was from the 1950s (although the inside cover said 1992), and I would never have though to turn to the Amish for advice on singleness… But as I read her letter I realized something for the first time: Ruth had been single all her life. Maybe I assumed she was widowed, I’m not sure, but I had never given much thought to her marital state. Suddenly the words she wrote became much more powerful.
“It’s not God’s will that everyone be married. It is sometimes God’s will for a person to remain single. For some of us that is a hard fact to accept but it is still true.”
She wasn’t writing in the abstract. She was writing from her experience. She didn’t have to imagine what it was like to live life as a single Christian adult; she had done so for decades. I have often said that the church desperately needs more examples – more people who model what godly singleness looks like. As I read her letter I realized I had found one. During all those years I had been blessed by a woman living out her calling as a single adult and I didn’t even realize it. I sincerely doubt that Ruth would have had the time to care so much about me if she had a family of her own to focus on. I began to think I should have been more proactive in getting to know her. I thought about soliciting Ruth’s help in writing a future article on the subject, but as the summer got busy, I didn’t take the time to write a follow-up.
A few weeks back I got a text message from my sister letting me know that Ruth had passed away unexpectedly. After returning from a visit with her extended family, Ruth went to the doctor for a checkup because she was feeling poorly. It was cancer. The next day she was gone.
I have no doubt that when she departed from this world she was immediately welcomed into the arms of her eternal bridegroom with the words “well done”. Her life was a rich blessing to many, and she allowed her gift of singleness to be God’s gift to those around her.
I didn’t get the chance to write that follow-up with Ruth, but I did want you to know a piece of her story. It is so encouraging to remember that we aren’t the first to face this single life, and it is even more encouraging to know that others have finished this race faithfully. Perhaps our examples are closer than we think. Ruth concluded her letter to me by saying:
“I wouldn’t wish the single life on you but neither do I want you to miss the blessings God has planned for you as you yield to whatever his will is for your life. I’ll be praying for you.”
I look forward to thanking her in person for those prayers some day. I hope I don’t remain single my entire life, but while I am single I want to deeply understand God’s purpose for this state. Ruth is helping me understand. Maybe her life can help all of us understand.