Choosing Joy

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by Camerin Courtney
October 16, 2002

Recently I've been wrestling with auto-lust. It's wrong, I know, to covet cars that pull up next to me at traffic lights, especially when I have no money for such things and have a feeling that's not where God would have me invest my dough were I to come into some. It's just that for the first time in my life I finally have discovered my dream car: a Cabrio convertible. I think it's a perfect single-girl car-unlike my practical Nissan Sentra with the backseat that I basically use for storage and the decent gas mileage that gets wasted on my daily ten-minute job commute. Every time I pass one of those cute little Cabrios, I think of how cool I would look behind the wheel-especially with the top down on one of these beautiful fall days.

But lately, convicted by my materialistic attitude, I've started doing something else every time I pass a Cabrio: I now pat my dashboard and thank God for my reliable, paid-for vehicle. Sometimes I even remember how excited I was when I made this first-time car purchase seven years ago, and often I remember the dance of joy I did when I mailed off my final car payment.

A funny thing's happened since I started adding these new habits-I no longer feel compelled to search out the Cabrio in the used car lot I pass on the way to church, the one with the "It's You!" message scrawled on the windshield by some all-wise used car salesman. Then I listen to the people in the English as a Second Language class I volunteer with, many of whom don't have a car-owner in their entire household, and watch the news and learn about the plight of people in countries such as Afghanistan, where women can't even ride a bicycle without a male chaperone let alone own a car (cool or not), and my gratitude grows deeper.

I realize I'm learning an elusive feeling in today's consumer, you're-not-complete-until-you've-bought-our-bug spray/shower gel/rice bowl society, one that's especially tricky for us singles to achieve: contentment.

When I suggested in a recent column that we select a day to recognize and celebrate singleness, I received a couple of e-mails from single folks who said they'd feel too embarrassed, awkward, or hypocritical to commemorate such a day. The basic sentiment was, "I don't feel called to lifelong singleness. I hate this stage of life, so don't even think about pulling out the party hats and 'yea for you' banners." While I appreciated this honesty, I also was saddened. And also a bit worried for these and other singles I've heard from over the years sharing similar sentiments.

Sure, most of us singles would like to be happily married someday (okay, yesterday) and secretly pray we don't have the "gift of singleness." But in the meantime, if we can't find something about this current stage of life to enjoy and toast, then I don't really think marriage is going to be the source of inordinate joy we often think it will be.

A recent conversation with two married friends of mine confirmed a sneaking suspicion I've had for some time now: Nearly all married folks, regardless of how healthy their marriage is, get to a point when they seriously question the wisdom of pledging their lifelong love to "this nimrod" their spouse has turned out to be. Many will admit to wishing to be single again, to hating their current life stage-either for a short or longer period of time.

Sitting there listening to these now-happily married people share about the sheer force of will it took to stay married in those tough seasons, it dawned on me that contentment is a skill we need on both sides of the altar. If we can't find the joy in singleness now when this isn't exactly the life stage we would have chosen, what makes us think we'll be able to find joy later in those inevitable tough times of marriage when going solo may look pretty appealing?

I'm not talking about a Pollyanna-ish kind of contentment, where we paste on a fake smile and claim to love the single life and everything about it. I'm suggesting a willingness to see the benefit of having extra time to invest in friendships, ministries, hobbies, advanced degrees, and travel. It's having eyes that can see the fun of having the covers, remote, bathroom, and ice cream all to ourselves. It's the spiritual maturity of recognizing that while this isn't where we want to be, this is where God has us so it must not be all bad. It's an attitude that reflects the Apostle Paul's in Philippians 4:12: "I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want."

Sure, it's difficult to embrace a life stage some of us never thought we'd be part of. But thankfully I've come to see that embracing and finding joy in singleness isn't mutually exclusive to hoping there still may be a marriage partner out there for us. It's a precarious balance to choose contentment now and simultaneously wish for something else. That's where I think we have to rely on the truth of the verse after Paul's contentment message: "I can do all things through him who gives me strength" (Philippians 4:13).

When it comes down to it, that One who gives us strength is the only one who really can give us the deep, unconditional joy we seek. Yes, we were created to love and be loved, and finding a life partner should bring indescribable joy. But it shouldn't be our end-all, beat-all source of joy. As I've heard two married folks say recently, "Marriage is a poor God." In other words, a spouse never will provide what only God is equipped to give us.

So now whenever I see a happy couple, watch a romantic movie, or just wake up to a wonderful fall day that would be so fun to share with a "special someone," I thank God for fun friends to see these movies with and the freedom to take a spontaneous drive to enjoy the fall colors-even in my practical car. Someday God may bless me with a new car or a love of my life, but until then I'm choosing the joy and contentment of today.

Camerin Courtney

2002 Christianity Today. Used by permission.