A Single Life Lived for Others


In my last post, I wrote about the “fruitfulness” of childless couples—about how God will work through their self-donation to each other to bring his love into the world, and how they need to to focus not just on each other, but on the ways they bring God’s life into the world.

Lovely for married people and all, but what about the rest of us?

I thought about this the other evening as I was watching the movie Ghost Town. It’s the story of a grumpy, self-absorbed bachelor dentist who develops the ability to see dead people. They see that he sees them, and they inundate him with requests for help with their “unfinished business” in this life, so that they can move on to the afterlife. He, of course, has no interest in helping them.

I won’t give away the entire movie, but I will tell you that his life is changed by Albert Einstein’s quote “Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.” Einstein wasn’t Catholic, but his words echo that profound line in the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes: “Man, being the only creature created for his own sake, finds himself only in a sincere gift of himself.”

Notice it doesn’t say “married man” or “people who give themselves to each other in marriage.” It’s addressed to all of us.

It isn’t just the married people whose self-gift can bring God’s life into the world. It’s all of us. Single, married, divorced, widowed—we’re all called to the spiritual “fruitfulness” that brings us out of ourselves and leads us to Einstein’s ”life lived for others.”

In my previous post, I talked about how God works through the sexual union of married couples to bring new life—physical or spiritual or both—into the world.  That’s what human sexual expression is about—it’s about total self-gift leading to life.

So where does that leave us singles? We understand that we’re not supposed to be having sex. So where does our fruitfulness come from?

A wise priest once told me that we singles find our spiritual fruitfulness—or life-giving potential—in giving ourselves to Christ (and it doesn’t have to be in an “I give myself to you forever in formal consecration” kind of way). Whenever we surrender ourselves to God, whenever we say, “I want to set aside my own will in this situation and follow Your will, because I trust You,” we are uniting our lives to His, and He will use that gift to bring His life into the world.

It seems so easy: and sometimes it is, but sometimes it’s not. I first learned about this when I was suffering in the aftermath of a failed adoption. I had prayed, had received what I thought were clear signs that God was calling me to move ahead, and yet the adoption didn’t work out and I was left with a broken heart. I learned that even in the midst of that pain, I could give the entire situation to God, and that He would somehow use it to bring His life into the world, in a way I will probably never understand in this life. It didn’t end the grieving, but it brought me comfort in the midst of it.

I think one of the greatest dangers of single life is the tendency to focus on ourselves. It’s easy to do, but I suspect we have all had those moments where we realize the wisdom of Gaudium et Spes, that we really don’t find ourselves until we give ourselves away. Yet, we don’t always know how to do that. We reach out to people where we have the opportunity, but that doesn’t feel like enough. What is God calling me to? How can I bring God’s life into the world?

Fortunately, we don’t have to figure it all out ourselves. We can just give it God. We can surrender ourselves, or situations and our suffering to Him. We can focus on Him instead of ourselves. We can allow Him to work through our lives.

We can look forward to the next life, when we will finally see all of the spiritual “children” we helped bring into this world.



  1. Reshma-844547 October 18, 2012 Reply

    Great story. thank you for sharing.

  2. Kathleen-5781 October 16, 2012 Reply

    Wonderful Article MaryBeth .. Thank you for sharing this. We are all called to be witnesses of God’s love in the world. I love St. Therese of the Little Flowers saying of “doing small things with great love ” We can still be selfless even when single… we just have more to give to our family and friends who may otherwise be devoted to their spouse… Yes it can be lonely at times but God is there. He knows us better than we know ourselves .

  3. Lydia-889871 October 15, 2012 Reply

    Thank you for bringing up this point, Mary Beth. One of my alma mater’s mottoes was “men and women for others”. This can be done through volunteering or becoming involved in your church as a Eucharistic minister, lector, musician, etc… Doing this for the greater glory of God, and seeing everyone that we are helping as a brother or sister in Christ is a great way to produce spiritual fruit. Not to mention, volunteering is a great way to meet a potential mate!!!

  4. Michael-780154 October 15, 2012 Reply


    Being single again is the hardest thing I have ever faced. The world is made for couples/families, and it seems like “everyone else” has someone else to hold and experience intimacy with (on all levels). Still, while I can understand your pain, I am happy to have found this article and am trying to move forward with my life supporting my parish (its people) through Christ Renews His Parish formation team, That Man Is You attendance, and possibly leading a ministry of my own soon. It is good to give. And, perhaps through giving we will meet the wonderful mates our Lord has chosen for us.

  5. Kellymarie-907953 October 14, 2012 Reply

    I don’t enjoy single living. I’ve lived single for 15 years after my annulment and I feel like enough is enough. I want to share the gifts I have and not be self indulgent. I want someone to hug and be best buddies with. I welcome becoming a couple and I hope it happens real soon with God’s help. Kelly.

    • Thabang-912238 October 24, 2012 Reply

      With the help from GOD you will find someone who will love and cherries you for who yuo are, and it will happen soon.

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