I toss my gym bag over my shoulder and head for the exit at the rec center. Normally I tune out sounds from the racquetball court as I pass by it. But this day, the squeaks from shoes on a polished floor and the ricochet of a slammed ball make me stop. My mind suddenly rewinds to memories long forgotten.
On a court like this at a private club, my then-boyfriend, Greg*, taught me to play racquetball. We practiced nearly every Friday night. A decent, polite Christian guy, I recall. I met Greg on a singles camping trip one summer. Once we got home, he wasted no time asking me out and making sure we did fun things together every week.
Though Greg wanted to go out more with me, I wasn’t serious about the relationship. I dated Greg because that’s what people expected of young women: go to school, graduate, date, and get married. I wanted to fit in with my peers. It felt good to leave the office on Friday afternoons and tell co-workers, “I’m going on a date tonight.”
In truth, I had to force myself to be with Greg. Nothing about him attracted me. I couldn’t hurt his feelings, so I never turned down a date. But after four months, I’d had enough and broke off the relationship.
When I told Greg, he fumed. Then he stunned me by saying he had planned to ask me to marry him. My thoughts whirled. Marriage? He must be kidding. We went our separate ways, and I never heard from Greg again. Burned out, I stayed away from the dating scene.
That was more than three decades ago. I’ve logged in a good number of years being my sole support, and I’m happy as ever with my family, career, and ministry involvements. Still, I’m aware of the passing of time, shown in smudges of gray at my temples and creases around my eyes.
A thought surprises me. What if Greg and I had married? I picture us as regulars at the racquetball club, dining out, and traveling to nice places. Greg made good money and often flew down to the Gulf Coast just to swim in the warm waters. Another salary would have made a comfortable lifestyle for us both.
An unfamiliar pang strikes my heart. Had I been mistaken about Greg? In those days, I didn’t think of life later on, the season I’m in now. Choosing singleness meant that I would have no one to grow old with who could help me “in sickness and in health,” until death parted us. Did I make the right decision?
Answers to my questions take deeper introspection than I can give while standing outside a racquetball court. As I consider them for weeks, Psalm 37:4 comes to mind: “Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.” I used to think this verse was a blank check: If you ask God for anything you desire, He’ll give it to you — like a genie in a bottle. A sermon or something I read corrected this impression. The psalmist David is actually saying that God places His desires within you so that your deepest yearnings are His. What He desires becomes your desires.
Psalm 37:4, in part, answers my questions on whether I did the right thing in not marrying. I realize my cooled and conflicted feelings for Greg while we dated signaled that God did not desire this relationship for me. What desires did I have, then? To be with family, to serve God. I desired the “pure milk of the word” (1 Peter 2:2). As I grew in it daily, God made me wise. I no longer wanted to fit in with my friends at work. Nor did I want to pretend I liked a guy I really didn’t like.
My mature self snatches the sense of regret and further ponders married life with Greg. We probably would have been active and financially secure. But would we have been happy? The future I imagine centers on what I remember most about Greg: the things we did together, not on love or companionship. Rather than follow the crowd, my heart was compelled to follow the counsel of God (Proverbs 12:15). I had to face the truth that, though he was nice, Greg was not a man I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. I also sensed the need to tune in to my feelings of dating burnout and not pursue a relationship with another guy.
I also think of how married life would have altered my relationships with family. My nephew Ryan was born around the time I broke up with Greg. I exchanged date nights for playtimes of baseball, Hot Wheels, and Hide and Seek. When my second nephew, James, came along eight years later, I did the same. His lack of a father meant even more time together than I had with Ryan — summers with a ball and glove in an open field and splashing in the swimming pool, snowball fights in the winter. Even today, James wants to spend time with me and talk about his problems.
I had always taken comfort in the Bible’s validation of singles in 1 Corinthians 7. It eased the stigma I felt against being unmarried. But the broader view through Psalm 37:4 gave me freedom to be who God called me to be.
I’m at church and stop to talk to Nadine, a friend I haven’t visited with for a while. “Guess who called me the other day?” she asks.
My heart lurches. I haven’t heard his name at church for a long time. This friend has no idea about my heart’s recent musings. Nadine goes on to tell me things I never knew about my former boyfriend. Before he and I dated, Greg harassed her with phone calls. “After you broke up with him, he drank and got in trouble with the law,” she says.
I can’t hide my shock, and my thoughts once again whirl. Greg? That gentle, quiet man who opened doors for me and told me how nice I looked? I suddenly realize that my lack of desire for Greg had been more than God’s will for me; it had been protection against a man I really didn’t know, but God did (1 Samuel 16:7). I might not have discovered the real Greg until after we married. What heartache did I avoid in not marrying him?
It’s been several years since I talked with Nadine, and I’m celebrating my birthday. Another opportunity to take stock of my life and thank God for His faithfulness. I scroll through Facebook and read the list of good wishes from friends and family. One in particular catches my attention — from Ryan. Now a husband and father with three kids of his own, he hasn’t forgotten our times together. He thanks me for playing baseball with him as a kid, for liking rock music. I smile to myself, give it a “thumbs up,” and breathe a word of thanks to God.
I see James later that day. Also an adult now, he gives me his patented “best aunt in the world” hug. We grab our gloves and a baseball and head outside for a game of catch. On this birthday, I realize the richness of my life as a single, of being an aunt, of following God’s plan for me.
Did I do it right? You bet I did.
* Name has been changed
Sherri Langton is associate editor of the Bible Advocate.