My talk at the National Catholic Singles Conference went really well. It was well-received, and a lot of fun to give as well. All thanks to the Holy Spirit, of course. And to my 4-year-old niece, who provided the inspiration.
She spent the night at my house a few weeks ago. In the morning she noted that one side of my bed was made, but one side wasn’t. Never one to miss a teachable moment, I told her that it was because I’m not married, so I sleep alone. Which led to the following exchange:
Her: When are you going to get married?
Me: I don’t know, I guess when I find somebody I want to marry. Who do you think I should marry?
Me: Bob? Who’s Bob?
Her: I was just kidding. There is no Bob.
That line struck me as really funny, because I figured it’s probably a question we all ask ourselves: What if there is no Bob? What if that one person – the combination of faith and compatibility that constitutes our own personal “Bob” (or “Bobbi”, if you’re a guy) – doesn’t exist?
Based on the reaction at the conference, I’m thinking I was right: It is a question we all ask ourselves. Guys started going around with “I’m Bob” name tags. People were suggesting “Got Bob?” T-shirts. It served as a great running gag for the weekend.
But it’s a real question. What if there is no Bob? What if you never find that right person? What if you never get married?
To some people, that seems like a fate worse than death. I have to admit that, 10 years or so again, I was one of those people. I just couldn’t imagine it. And yet, whenever the opportunity to marry – or to move toward marriage in a relationship – presented itself, prayerful discernment indicated otherwise.
I am happy to report that, 10 years later, I have found that life without Bob isn’t nearly as dire as I had predicted. It’s actually quite happy. I am still open to the possibility of marriage, but I can see with hindsight (in a way I could never see with foresight) how God has been with me, how He has sustained me in living in this “unnatural” state thus far, and how He has used these single years for His glory.
I can’t see fully how He has used them – there are spiritual realities and spiritual fruits to our sacrifices that we will never see in this life. But one of the greatest fruits has been a clearer realization of who God is and who He is not.
God is not the Guy who fulfills our wish list or gives us everything we want. He’s the Guy who is with us through everything. “Hope” in God doesn’t mean hoping He’ll answer our prayers exactly the way we want Him to. It means we believe that He loves us, that He has a plan for our lives and that He will save us if we persevere in His grace.
So never finding Bob is a fate worse than death only for those who have placed this Bob in the center of their lives. Unfortunately, for those of us who are single, it’s very easy to do that. If we believe marriage is our vocation, and we want to fulfill it, we need Bob. (Or Bobbi, of course.) And so it’s easy to get hyper-focused on our search for that elusive prey.
Step back, relax and take a breath. Vocation is important, of course. But our first vocation isn’t to marriage or religious life. It’s to holiness, simply allowing God to transform us more perfectly into His image and then following His will. We can live and love and grow holy without marriage or religious life. But we can’t do any of that without God at the center of our lives.
And that’s the truth, Bob or no Bob.