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Single Living

I’ve written many times in the past about the burning question of Is Single Life a Vocation? (Short answer, “no.”) It crops up repeatedly, and to be quite honest I’ve never really understood why some people get so emotional about it.

Until now.

I was talking to a friend, who told me that she recently attended a Catholic conference. And, at that conference, one of the sessions was led by a very young, starry-eyed little engaged couple who spoke about the urgency with which they pursued marriage because they didn’t want to somehow “miss” their vocations and hence “waste their lives.”

Seriously?

Look, I wasn’t there, so everything I’m hearing is second-hand. But if these two people indeed said anything close to what I’m hearing they said, their Catholic Speaker Union Membership Cards should be permanently revoked. And perhaps burned.

Is this why single Catholics get so revved up about the question of whether unconsecrated single life is a vocation? Have others of you been hearing that your vocation-less lives are wasted?

We need to clear this up once and for all.

The Church says that we were created to find fulfillment through giving ourselves in love, to “find ourselves through a sincere gift of ourselves” as Gaudium et Spes so beautifully puts it. And the Church teaches that there are two “vocations,” two ways to give the entirety of our lives. We can either give ourselves to a spouse in marriage, or to God in the religious life. Each of us is “called” to one of these two vocations, these two ways of permanently, irrevocably giving ourselves.

And, in a perfect world, each of us would understand exactly which vocation we have been called to, and would have all of the means at our disposal to respond to that call.

Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect—or even a near-perfect—world. We live in a world hampered by original sin. And hence, entering into those vocations can be easier said than done. Sometimes it’s our own brokenness that gets in the way. (Fear of commitment, sexual problems, circumstantial issues, etc.) Other times it’s the brokenness in others and in the world. (Decline in religious practice, difficulty in meeting others who share faith, spousal abuse or abandonment leading to separation, etc.) Most often it’s probably a little (or a lot) of both.

But here’s the point. (And I’m writing it in all caps because, yes, I’m yelling.) A LIFE LIVED OUTSIDE OF A VOCATION IS NOT A LIFE WASTED. Such a life, of course, can be wasted—as can a life lived within a marriage or the religious life. It’s not whether we’re married or single or religious that determines whether we’re “wasting” our lives. It’s more about how we live in whatever state we find ourselves. Do we love? Do we seek to give ourselves, or merely to pursue our own satisfaction? Do we seek God’s guidance? Do we listen to His voice?

If someone said “I have no interest in getting married because I’m inherently selfish and I’d rather just focus on myself,” I would say that person was on the way to a wasted life. But I’d say that same to the princess who marries the rich guy just for the perks, or the guy who treats his wife as a short order cook or a breeding machine. A selfish life is a wasted life. But, the thing is, the singles I know aren’t single because they’re selfish. The selfish ones exist, I’m sure, but I don’t know them. The singles I know would like to be married, would love to give themselves and their lives to someone who would treasure the gift and reciprocate the love.

But, in this day and age, that can be easier said than done.

As I’ve pointed out before, St. Paul tells us that “ALL things work together for good for those who love Him, who walk according to His ways.” (Rom 8:28) He knew from all eternity what would happen in your life. And He’s here now to meet you in the midst of it, and to make it into something beautiful for Him. All that is necessary for that to happen is for us to pursue what the Church has always said is our primary vocation, the vocation to holiness. We are called to pursue Him, to allow Him to transform us more fully into His image, and to “walk according to His ways.”

If you are doing that, I can absolutely assure you that you are not “wasting your life.”

 

Do you have a question for Mary Beth Bonacci? Send it to askmarybeth@catholicmatch.com.

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28 Comments

  1. Anita-471998 October 15, 2013

    Hey MaryBeth,
    God bless your good heart! I have been wondering for sometime now if this is a wasted life where I am not giving myself to a husband and kids, In fact every free time i get, i almost feel guilty, somewhere a busy life seems more useful, My recent prayers to God are to not let my life and all the gifts he has given me in terms of my caring nature go wasted,
    Thank you so much for these reassuring and comforting post.
    May God bless you,
    Anita

  2. Andrea-368827 October 15, 2013

    Here Wikipedia has it stated well: “The idea of vocation is central to the Christian belief that God has created each person with gifts and talents oriented toward specific purposes and a way of life. In the broadest sense, as stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Love is the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being” (CCC 2392). More specifically, in the Orthodox and Catholic Churches, this idea of vocation is especially associated with a divine call to service to the Church and humanity through particular vocational life commitments such as marriage to a particular person, consecration as a religious, ordination to priestly ministry in the Church and even a holy life as a single person. In the broader sense, Christian vocation includes the use of one’s gifts in their profession, family life, church and civic commitments for the sake of the greater common good.”

    • Bob-59786 October 15, 2013

      We’ve had 103 CM monthly Dinners here since Sep 2005, and most CMers won’t attend, so I find other Singles who value that fellowship.

      There have been times I’ve thought of no longer organizing Dinners, but continue for those who attend regularly. Plus I remember a homily where our Pastor said if we don’t serve others, we might wind-up in Hell … which made me think if no more organizing Dinners … Oh Oh.

  3. Josephina-847186 October 15, 2013

    Wow, I haven’t yet read the article, but the title does not make me want to. The title is one of the worst I’ve ever read.

    • Linda-442926 October 18, 2013

      Josephina,
      You’re definitely falling into the trap of “judging a book by its cover” here. I don’t think we should do that in any circumstance. Appearances can be deceiving and you should give this a chance, like anything else, before making a decision on it.

      It’s not the read I would have expected from the title, but I thought it had some good points.

      God bless.

  4. Zachary-1017519 October 15, 2013

    It’s an easy trap to fall into, IMO. There have been many days where I was pretty sure my life was a waste because, looking around at all my friends, they were married. They were happy. They were having kids. The thinking goes “And what exactly am I doing?” and the answer is usually “Nothing.” I found the points in the article to be pretty spot on.

    I got some good advice from a close friend about that, though. I shouldn’t focus on what I don’t have but rather what I do. I should focus on using what I have and not mulling over what I THINK I should have. I can only control my actions here in the present. This article echoes that advice in a lot of ways.

    Good read. The single life is not a waste. It’s hard, and it certainly seems lonesome, but it’s just a matter of patience, perseverance, and prayer. Keep the faith, folks.

  5. Eil-797284 October 15, 2013

    hi, thank you for that message, I am divorced and do have grown adult children and I believe that if it is in the Lords will, that I remarry some day, he will ensure I get an annulment first. If it is not in his will then praise God and thankyou Lord for all your graces.

  6. Anastasia-205794 October 15, 2013

    Fantastic Mary Beth! Very well put! :)

  7. Andrea-368827 October 15, 2013

    We all have a vocation to love God and love our neighbor.

  8. Kendra-1019235 October 15, 2013

    Thank you Marybeth! The temptation to think that we are wasting time being single can be a huge obstacle to trusting the timing God has in mind for us. Faithfulness is our vocation in every moment.

  9. Michelle-381844 October 15, 2013

    Very good article, Mary Beth! This is a great reminder when the crosses we carry seem to get heavier than usual.

    Another good thought I’d always carried with me after an article I’d read (probably somewhere on CM!) was that LIFE should issue forth from your relationships. As for when children come along, that’s obvious. But, let’s say a couple who can no longer conceive meet and marry, their marriage can produce Life in the sense of service to others. Singles can offer Life in their relationships, too – sharing the Gospel and Christ’s Life, bringing happiness to someone lonely, giving a family a HomeLife by participating in Habitat projects, etc. There are endless ways God can create LIFE through you. Thinking of this always made being single more of an active participation in my mind.

  10. Tracey L. October 15, 2013

    I do not regard my life as wasted. What I would waste is if I was so desperate for love, I gave my dignity away. Or if I entered religious life just because nobody wanted me. Both are bad decisions. The problem I do have is that I feel that I am single because of consequence, I’m not pretty enough for a man to be interested. I would rather my situation to be a choice not a consequence, but he did say that there would be those who would remain so because of consequences, so maybe acceptance is a choice. If Jesus wants me to be His only I will embrace that with all of my being and serve Him and others.

    • Taryn-442922 October 15, 2013

      Thank you Mary Beth for writing your article!
      Tracey L., I agree with what you had written about making a poor decision out of desperation, or I would say, lack of faith. I know the pain it can cause. Serving others is the route to go, no matter what your status/vocation; it is an act of love and kindness and beauty in itself. If only more of the world would recognize this and praise it! More attitudes could then change and people wouldn’t take each other for granted.
      God bless you both!

  11. Michael G. October 15, 2013

    I wonder if that couples response was based on fear, the fear of being alone. As a 50 year old single guy I can understand it. I think we are all conditioned (societal pressure?) to believe the marriage is the ideal for everyone and if you aren’t married then there is something wrong with you. I know, I struggled with this for a long time. I finally came to realize that marriage isn’t for me and that’s ok. It’s not easy at times as my recent trip to Atlantic City would attest to but I realize that I am happier and more satisfied as a person being single.

  12. Richard-15378 October 16, 2013

    It’s odd that I come across this tonite .. Just a few mins ago I wrote to someone on CM that indeed I do feel that my life has been a waste … No family at this stage of my life is not something I ever envisioned .. It is difficult to face the world each day when one feels so isolated … It feels like the whole world has rejected you, that you don’t belong anywhere …

  13. Larrons A. October 16, 2013

    It is said in the scriptures……. everything in our life is per-ordained & predestined, the need of the hour is to understand our role & enact this same in accordance to His will on this planet earth, among the twelve disciples Judas had a roles to play….. Designed for a purposes,… BE GOOD , DO GOOD…..When we pray “Let Your will be done”……why should i worry about my will ?

  14. JasminCatherine-893720 October 16, 2013

    thank you Mary Beth for this article-i found it so nice and with meaning-I have always in mind that being single is God’s plan, I am designed for a purpose and i will accept what is God’s plan me and His will

  15. Maricel-532080 October 16, 2013

    Thank you, Mary Beth for the very good article. Strong words! But sure to help us single Catholics keep our peace of mind and heart whenever we’re faced with temptations and have to deal with negative thoughts.God bless and do continue your good work!

  16. Edward-822102 October 16, 2013

    Thanks for the excellent article, Mary Beth. I was happily married for nearly 35 years, and am single now, not so happily, but still grateful for the gifts God has given me. My own experience is that, whether married or single, the grass often looks greener on the other side. But it really isn’t, at least not completely. Since my wife died nearly six years ago, I’ve been a single father – now of a teenager. It was very difficult to adjust at first, but I know there is purpose in my life and that God has a plan for me – I just haven’t figured it all out yet, but I learn a little more every day. My marital vocation has passed away, but my vocation as a parent continues. Married or single, life is what we make it. God bless.

  17. Victor T. October 16, 2013

    [When I shared this article on my Facebook list, a person came back with the comment pasted below:]

    I respectfully disagree with Ms. Bonacci’s assertion that the single life is not a vocation. If the word vocation means “calling,” then why would we refuse to acknowledge that some people are called to the single celibate life? It should not depend on whether vows are involved; that only means the person is vowed or consecrated, and that is not the same as a calling. And it should not depend on permanence, because vocations can change — witness how many formerly married persons later became priests or religious after being widowed.

    There was a time when Catholics only used the word vocation to describe a religious vocation, but we now freely refer to the vocation of marriage. Why this resistance to consider the single life a vocation? I already know that such a life is not wasted, but to refuse to give it the status of a vocation seems to suggest that on some level it is NOT seen as being a call, or having permanence, or having the same worth as vocations to marriage or religious life.

    For a young person who is waiting to find their marriage partner, it may be fair to say their temporary singlehood is not a vocation. But for an older person who is not married (including those no longer married), and who has no plans to be married, and has directed his or her life to God in a way that only a single person can, why would this not be a vocation?

    We need to recognize that there are, indeed, things only single people can, or should, be doing. Certain work is not appropriate for married people or parents, but is perfect for single adults. Careers that involve a lot of travel far from home, that are especially dangerous, can be a type of missionary work very well suited for single people. Some people, such as those with same-sex attraction, are not suited for marriage and probably not for religious life, either, but they still have much to offer the world and the Church.

    In short, Ms. Bonacci has simply not convinced me why the word vocation must be restricted so as to bar single Catholics. I’m open to being convinced, but this article did not come close to doing it. I think she may have started off on the wrong foot by misunderstanding why the young couple did not want to “miss” their vocation — it was because they believed they had a vocation to marriage with each other and wanted to get started on it sooner rather than later, not necessarily because they believed the single life is a wasted life.

    But at least we agree that a single life need not be a wasted life. The only problem is, if we want to convince young Catholics of this, I think we need to start by assuring them that although the single life can be a discernment period for marriage or religious life, it can also be a discernment period for a permanent single life, and that this can be as beautiful and meaningful a vocation as the others. Why? Because if it is what God has called us to do, it is a vocation, it is what we are meant to do, and it is the way we will best find our authentic selves and God.

    • Beth-72537 October 26, 2013

      I love this response. As someone who’s been single for a while, it’s hard to see my single life as this weird space where I’m waiting for my future husband (as if marriage makes me better than the previous version of myself). All good points to consider.

  18. Carol-483674 October 16, 2013

    Thank you Mary Beth,
    I’ve never been married and have always (and still do) feel like it’s my vocation. At 55, still being single (for many of the reasons you mentioned) I know that God makes me VERY useful in His sight!! It’s not always easy but I don’t believe Our Lord sees my life as wasted. Maybe He’s even a bit more proud of us when we try to live a holy life since we don’t have the comfort or support that many religious or married people have.And having to rely on Him more can NEVER be a bad thing!

  19. Rizavilla-990068 October 17, 2013

    A good article. thanks for posting… I may have wrong decisions in life as single, have regrets with my actions but never think that it is wasted… Lessons learned. Still entrust everything to God..

  20. Kwaku-654846 October 18, 2013

    You couldn’t have said it better!!

  21. Ann-69118 October 18, 2013

    I don’t believe in a single vocaton. I think we are called to many such as motherhood, marriage, service to others, a particular trade or job or maybe a calling just to travel or wonder what is over the next bend. A calling to learn would be another. Why athletes often has a calling to run, swim or egage in their particular sport I think that’s a sort of calling to. To get back to the point though maybe instead of worrying over one calling or aspect of our lives we should be looking for other avenues to extend out energies and abilities. Just my 2 cents.

  22. RC-1020857 October 19, 2013

    Thank you Mary Beth, for writing something so poignant, meaningful, and from my perspective: the spot on truth.

  23. Mildred-901978 October 23, 2013

    Thanks Mary Beth. Yes Single Life is a vocation. It is tough to live a single life just like the other vocations. But with God’s grace one can bravely live it.

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