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The Subtle Art of Singleness

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Author, Party of One, Nelson 2018

Managing Editor, Christianity Today

Award-winning journalist

Winner, Evangelical Press Association Higher Goals in Christian Journalism Award

Published in NY Times, Washington Post, etc.

BA and MA English Literature, Liberty University

Single

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THE WAITING
Joy Beth was raised by her mom and grew up in the Baptist church.  She participated in the True Love Waits movement where young girls betrothed themselves to Jesus and wore promise rings while saving themselves for their future husbands.  When Joy Beth was in 7th grade, she started writing love letters to this future husband and continued this practice for 10 years.  “I wrote letters all the way through college,” says Joy Beth.  She spent hours recording details of her life but one day at age 22, Joy Beth realized that she couldn’t imagine any man enjoying the experience of reading hundreds of repetitive letters.  So she burned them.  “I took my lavender-scented candle and lit the edge of one envelope on fire,” she says.  “I realized that day how much time I spent pining for more than what I had –for what I liked to think was the inevitable but in reality, is not.”  What she learned over the years is this: marriage and motherhood are not inevitable.  In reality, Joy Beth says God promised her joy, intimacy, comfort, the presence of the Holy Spirit and eternal life.  “As much as I longed for this thing…I am not entitled to it,” she says.  “God never promises me a God-fearing husband.”

She says she believed many misconceptions taught to her in church.  “There are so many lies about singleness that are ingrained in our religious culture,” she says.  “We need to dig deep into Scripture and find the truth, distinguishing what is biblical and what is cultural.”  The first lie is the way we assume marriage is coming for us.  “Marriage is a gift that God has the right to withhold, should He so desire,” says Joy Beth.  “Some women will spend their lives desperately wanting a husband only to never receive one.”   Though she is no longer writing letters to a faceless figment of her imagination, Joy Beth says she often daydreams about a husband.  She reminds us of the verse in 1 Corinthians 7:8-9, To the unmarried and the widows, I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry.  
    
SINGLENESS
Joy Beth, 29, believes that singleness is not a season.  “This stage of your life, even if it lasts for your entire life, is something so much greater than a funnel to marriage.”  She reminds us that singleness is not a season guaranteed to end in this life.  “We can’t spend our days trying to wait it out, constantly looking for what we hope is coming next.” Joy Beth believes leaders in singles ministries don’t always get it either.  “It ends up feeling less like an opportunity for growth and discipleship and more like an elaborate dating game!” she says.  

In late 2015, Joy Beth met a book agent who suggested she write a book and asked what topic she felt she would write about.  “I only had authority on being single,” says Joy Beth.  While her book was in the proposal stage, Joy Beth gathered a group of 10 women in Chicago for a round table discussion on being single.  Over the course of 3 hours, they laughed and cried and talked about the problems and difficulties with being single.  “Though we had just met, that didn’t hinder the conversation in the least; if anything, it was freeing.” Joy Beth decided to go to 3 other cities across the country to obtain the singleness experience from others’ perspectives.  “I wasn’t trying to solve the problems but crack open something that’s not talked about,” she says.  One of the common sentiments about being single across the country:  lots of people hate dating and find the process miserable and hard.  “There are a lot of unmet needs,” says Joy Beth.  “Even the programming in our churches needs to be reconsidered.”  Many of the women she spoke to feel marginalized by the church’s push for marriage.  Despite that, Joy Beth encourages singles to lean into their churches.  “Find community there, even when it requires much of you,” she says.

Fear also plays a role in making singleness difficult.  “Women are fearful they will die alone and because of that fear, people get married – maybe to the wrong people – and they realize they’re not a strong match, but they feel it’s better than being alone,” she says.  Joy Beth finds in her singleness she has more time and resources for relationships around her.  “Singleness isn’t for the outcast, isolated or irredeemable,” says Joy Beth.  “Singleness is a valid path to choose.”

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