My Baptist pastor Brother Don and I rattled along in his pickup truck, driving down the bumpy country road on the way to church. These were my college days in Kentucky, before I was Catholic. I’d been listening to a lot of Rich Mullins, my favorite Christian musician. His song “Elijah” had one line in particular that always struck me: “It’s OK to be lonely as long as you’re free.”
When I was a single young man in my 20s, I used to think that was the coolest line. Hey, if you’re single, maybe you’re just free. Free to do whatever you want. Free to live life on your own terms. Free to seek God with abandonment. Just me and Jesus.
As we drove along, I recited this line to Brother Don, thinking I’d impress him with my spiritual insight. But Don, happily married for three decades, shot back: “I wouldn’t call that free,” he said. “I’d call it empty.”
Ah, the wisdom of a simple country preacher. He had a perspective that could only come from being in a happy, healthy relationship.
Today, as a man who’s been single, married, divorced, and now single again, I see the wisdom of my old pastor. Being free isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. As a single person, sometimes you just feel, as Brother Don said, empty.
I was married for six years. If I learned anything about myself during that time, it’s that I like having someone to share my life with. A companion. A friend. A lover. I think I’m designed that way. It’s not good for me to be alone.
Maybe I shouldn’t be saying this as a CatholicMatch member, but sometimes I wonder: Do I even want to be married again? Some days I definitely do. Some days I don’t. Some days, I want that companionship. Other days, I don’t want to risk what that companionship entails.
Am I willing to risk having my heart broken again? Going through the whole process of getting to know someone, placing my trust in her, investing in a life together, all with the possibility that it could end in a broken relationship?
It takes a lot of energy. Am I really up for that?
Depends on the day.
Rich Mullins had another verse that I think my old pastor would agree with:
“When you love, you walk on the water
Just don’t stumble on the waves
We all want to go there something awful
But to stand there, it takes some grace”
This is true. We want to find that perfect someone. Or even that imperfect someone. Just someone to share our lives with. We want it “something awful.” But we need grace to stand still. To wait. Whether we’ve been married and had a taste of that matrimonial communion or whether we’ve never been married… we all need grace to stand there, waiting for God’s will to happen.
“It’s OK to be lonely as long as you’re free?”
Rich Mullins was a bright and gifted man. He had a keen spiritual insight and was right about a lot of things. But maybe he was wrong about this. He died in a tragic car accident when he was only 42. He remained single, so he never experienced that married perspective that Brother Don shared with me in his pickup that day on the way to church.
I think my old preacher was right. We don’t have to kid ourselves that loneliness is good just because we’re free.
Sometimes we’re just lonely. Empty. It’s part of our calling as single Christians. But God gives us the grace to “stand there” if we ask for it.