“They sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.”
— Job 2:13
The trouble for the beleaguered single is that their specter is ephemeral—it lacks substance, lacks shape, and lacks form. It is a shadow; a longing and expectation fueled by desire and sustained by hope. It is as difficult for the single to explain their sorrow as it is for some of our comforters to understand. It is a loss that is not a loss, an ambiguous loss.
I found myself suffering from a heartbreak several years ago while working in ministry. I shared my ministry duties with another leader whose wife had a miscarriage. He took some time off, and I filled in. I was miserable, hurting, wounded and my smile was pained and unconvincing. I was rebuked for my “unwillingness to die to self” and my colleague was comforted in his time of loss.
I took the rebuke and pondered the truthfulness of the charge. I wondered what it is to die to self and what it is to mourn. Are the rules different for those in ministry? Are the rules different for the single Christian? To smile and pretend all was well seemed hypocritical to me. But to wear my heart on my sleeve may be equally inappropriate.
Before someone says, “You cannot compare the death of a child to a heartbreak!” yes I can. They are not the same, not equal, not close in measure, but they can feel the same—like death. What is important is not our idea or categories of tragedy but the reality of suffering. Each person has his or her moment of deep sorrow and each person suffers differently. The same compassion was not extended to me because what I suffered appeared trivial. I am sure I would mourn a miscarriage over a heartbreak but I did not suffer a miscarriage. I suffered a heartbreak and the pain was very real, very deep, and profoundly crippling. It was a loss that was not a loss, an ambiguous loss.
In Ambiguous Loss, Pauline Boss wrote, “… meaningful connections can’t happen if people in the community never validate ambiguous loss as a traumatic loss” (79). That is inescapably true. The single does not want separate, special treatment. They want equal treatment. They want an understanding that while a mother has many problems to deal with, the heart of a single woman also needs care. Yes, many married women muse that single women are “lucky,” but single women crave that burden of children.
What ambiguous loss can do is isolate. It not only isolates singles from singles but singles from married in the church. This is true because we are all so prone to see our problems as great and the pains of others as menial. That’s why it is easy to say, “Snap out of it!” or “You need to die to self.” It all seems so easy from the other side. There is the miscarriage of a child but what about the miscarriage of the hope for children? What about the death of dreams?
It is a kick in the stomach to be treated as though we are children weeping about bruised knees when our hearts are breaking, when our dreams are dying. A kiss will not make all things better but a little sympathy will go a long way. A little empathy could heal.
I often pray to God, “Lord, I know I have no idea what I am asking for, but give me a wife.” I am aware that “those who marry will face many troubles in this life” (1 Corinthians 7:28) but there are joys in marriage as well. It would be one thing if the longing of singleness was pain free, but it is not. The joy of singleness is tinged by the longing just as the wonder of marriage is marred by the sinfulness of its members. None of us is exempt.
What the single asks of their counselors is some sympathy—not answers and not rebuke. Be like Job’s counselors in the first seven days and nights of their visit. It was a remarkable tale of compassion and love, until they opened their mouths.
We are told that when they “heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him.” Please meet by agreement and come sympathize with us. Come comfort us.
“When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was” (Job 2:11-13).
We are all wounded, both married and single alike. We are all in need. But sometimes when a single person stretches out their hand it is rebuffed as though what they ask is too great. It is not. We have a need to mature but there are many immature and foolish husbands and wives. No. What we ask is reasonable. Our wounds are real and our sorrow legitimate. Come and for once say not a word but simply see how great our suffering is.
We know that the single life provides opportunities. We know that we have more time and freedom. We know that God loves us. We know! WE KNOW! Now sit with us. Quietly allow us to mourn. If you are wired in such a way that empathy comes easily, mourn with us, weep with us. Some of my dearest friends have shed tears not for their pain but for mine. In cases of deep empathy, the ambiguity of loss drew us closer.
Ambiguous loss can isolate us and insensitivity on the part of our counselors can drive us even further into our shells. Of course we may occasionally need rebuke. We may OFTEN need rebuke. But let that rebuke come AFTER the seven days sitting with us, quietly showing that you understand how great our suffering. We will do the same for you because we are all suffering in one way or another. We all need good counselors who can sit with us and just be.
If you suffer the discomfort of finding you do not know what to say—say nothing. It’s okay. If you find yourself powerless to change the situation, just be. Inestimable is the power of a sympathetic look, a hug, and silence. Who knows what tomorrow will hold. Who knows but that all the simple answers are true. It is not that we don’t need to hear them it is just that sometimes we need a hug more than an answer, silence more than words.
Oh yes, while we may tire of hearing it, deep down, we need to hear from you that we are valuable and—a “good catch.” Oh, we will fuss. It does get old considering being a “good catch” has not paid off. In some ways it adds to the frustration because it makes the delay all the more inexplicable. But it is like rain on dry ground—it takes time to soak in. Speak life with gentle loving words after silence has softened our soil. And if it appears we have neither heard nor listened—we have, and thank you.
Hudson Russell Davis was born on a small Island in the West Indies called Dominica, and this is only one reason he does not like cold weather and loves guava. He is a graduate of James Madison University with a B.A. in Graphic Design and earned a Masters in Theology from Dallas Theological Seminary. Currently he is a Ph.D. candidate at Saint Louis University studying historical theology. Hudson has worked as a graphic artist and worship leader but expresses himself through poetry, prose, photography, and music. His activities are just about anything outdoors, but tennis is his current passion.
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