Today’s guest post is submitted by Ally. I hope it brings you healing and hope as we approach Lent. To read more stories about single-heartedness, check out all the posts in our Divine Romance Series. -B
Sickness and Single-Heartedness: My Story
“I never know exactly how (or where) to start when discussing the year I spent being intentionally single-hearted. But to understand where I was coming from, I think it’s necessary for you to know where I’ve been.
When I was 14 years old, I decided (or rather, I was prompted by the Holy Spirit) to go buy a Bible. I remember reading about Jesus by the foot of my bed and thinking, “Now this is a man I could give my whole heart to. My love will be safe with Him.”
A few months later, I got sick. Like, really sick. And I stayed sick for the next four years, dividing my time between sleeping 16 hours a day and lying in the bathtub, which for some reason was the only place I could get relief from the crippling pain and fever that were my constant companions. No doctor could figure out what was wrong with me, and to this day I have no idea how I managed to graduate from high school, because I was almost never able to attend classes.
And then, in the midst of all this, my best friend died.
I was a physical, emotional, and spiritual wreck – I had lost the one person I loved most, and was so ill that I truly couldn’t see any way that I might live until my 20th birthday (let alone past it).
But, happily for me, my story doesn’t end there. I am definite proof that miracles happen.
Just like during my conversion, one day I heard a voice within that caused me to realize what was making me so sick. Soon, doctors were able to confirm that what that voice said was indeed correct, and though it took several years to rebuild my health, I’m now well past my 20th birthday. With all I’ve gone through I feel so much older than my actual age, and yet at the same time I’ve never felt more young at heart.
That’s great for her, you might be thinking, but what does all of this have to do with single-heartedness? Wasn’t that the whole point of this article?
Well, here’s the crux of the matter: Despite having seen the whites of death’s eyes; despite having gone through so much suffering and come out the other side; despite having been completely brought to my knees by life, with only Jesus to cling onto for hope – I still didn’t trust God completely. There were areas of my life that I believed He couldn’t work in – or rather, that I couldn’t let him into, for fear that I wasn’t good enough, or perfect enough, or worthy of such a love. Looking back, it’s completely ridiculous – I mean, God had given me back my life! I should have been leaping and dancing around in the streets like King David! But instead, even though God had done so much, I still wasn’t open to letting him all the way into my life. I kept some parts out of the light of my faith, far from God’s reach. This was especially true in the areas of self-worth and romance, which became the main places that I refused to relinquish to God’s control. Naturally, the fruits of not letting God lead in areas where He should have had free and total reign were not so good. Thank God that He brings even more good out of our hurts than if they had never happened in the first place.
Right around that time, I attended a Eucharistic Adoration event put on by the local campus Catholic organization. There, I finally encountered in a personal way the man I had read about all those years ago. That night flipped my heart inside-out and turned my entire world upside down; essentially, I’ve been Catholic ever since, although it took me a good long while to realize it. From that night on, life started to make sense. I began to attend Mass, and make friends who shared my faith in Christ, something that had been sorely lacking in my life since my initial conversion at 14.
Soon, I felt a “calling” in my heart to undertake a year of deliberate singleness. Of course, I knew intellectually that God is Love, and that my whole worth is caught up in Christ. But I wanted to experience that knowledge more deeply than I ever had before, in an experiential way – through my heart, not my head.
I wanted to finally let God into the “strongholds” of my life, into my self-worth and my notions of love, romance, and relationships.
I wanted to experience radical Love, the type that flows from complete exposure, from total vulnerability, and I wanted to know this Love down to the marrow of my bones.
At that time I wrote in my journal, “I want to know in the deepest part of my being that the hands that made the stars are the ones that hold my heart. I want to know that the stars up there, the ones I love so much, were made by Him for love of me. Lord, I want to know the lines of your face.”
Ultimately, it dawned on me that what that gentle tug in my heart (that “still, small voice” I keep mentioning [see 1 Kings 19:12]) was really saying was this: I was being called to live out my singleness from an angle I had never before considered. My heart needed to be undivided in what it aimed towards. Rather than being focused on so many other, tempting alternatives – my current lack of an earthly romantic relationship, past hurts and situations that hadn’t worked out, future possibilities – I needed to place my gaze on the “single” most important part of my life – my personal relationship with Jesus. For this reason, I guess you could also call my yearlong journey an adventure in not being single, but singular.
I won’t lie to you – at first it was really hard to not only focus solely on Christ, but also to expose my spiritual cuts and bruises to Him. But I slowly began to realize that my journey towards greater self-worth and health in all of my relationships didn’t have to happen in one fell swoop; God would meet me right where I was, in whatever moment I was living out at that time. It was a process, and God was in charge of the unfolding, not me. All I had to do was be willing to be “unfolded”, so to speak. And to remember that while I wanted to paint my life by numbers, get things done quick, cut and dry, God wanted to paint my life like the Sistine Chapel – and that sure wasn’t going to happen in a day. So, I deepened my prayer life, especially through attending Eucharistic Adoration (which I’ve been pretty much addicted to since that initial experience), fellowship, and acts of service. Slowly, deliberately, but also surely, and deeply, God worked in my heart – through times of desolation and consolation, through times when I consciously focused on the fact that I was being single-hearted, and through times when that knowledge wasn’t at the forefront of my mind because I had schoolwork to do, and friends and family to love, comfort, and serve.
Ultimately, what I learned in a vital, urgent way during that year is one of the great paradoxes of the Christian life: that as we give up our life both to and for Christ – modeling our sacrifice after his self-giving sacrifice of Love on the cross – we gain so much more than we ever would if we were to cling tightly to it. A poster that hung in my room while I was sick puts it this way: “We must give up what we are to become what we could be”. To love God, then, leads to a twofold discovery: that of finding your authentic self, and of finding the sure foundation from which authentic love can take root. When your authentic worth is found solely in Christ – when you become willing to let him into the nooks and crannies of your soul, to let him show you how much He truly loves you – the relationships you are then brought to (and love through) are suffused with His love and blessings. In hindsight I can say without a doubt that my year of single-heartedness completely reoriented the way I relate to both God and others, and was the best gift I’ve yet given to Him, to my loved ones, to my future spouse, and to myself.
If you’re reading this and thinking of undertaking a time of single-heartedness, or even just contemplating making a change this Lent, please believe me when I say that you owe it to God, to the people you love – and yes, even to yourself – to take the time necessary to learn how to live from a place of fullness, hope, and love, rather than a place of lack, woundedness, and fear. It won’t always be easy, but it will so, so worth it in the end.
Ally is in the final semester of her undergraduate degree in International Development and Sociology. A Myers-Briggs INFJ (the rarest of all personality types!), she loves the ocean, and is happiest when on, in, or near water. Believing laughter is the best ab workout, she enjoys watching ridiculous films, especially corny action movies starring Steven Seagal. This Easter she is coming into full communion with the Catholic Church.