HIS BANNER OVER ME IS SINGLE
Last month I was supposed to get married.
There was no ring on my finger, no invitations in the mail. But there was a date on a calendar and the seed of a dream that had been planted in my heart many, many months ago. I’d had a plan—we’d had a plan—in a world where I was part of a “we,” in lifetime that doesn’t feel all that long ago. The day came and went and I wondered if it would ever come again. If there would be a day when diamond commercials wouldn’t make my heart sink.
I have been single for all but three years of my life. During those three years I struggled something fierce to figure out what it meant to be me and to be in relationship; to be independent and private, while also being inclusive and self-disclosing; to be strong-willed and passionate, but at the same time open-minded and gentle. I am still learning those things. I have made remarkable progress, but right now there is no relationship in which to test such things and sometimes it feels like wasted effort.
The word banner derives from the French “banniére” and the Latin “bandum,” a cloth out of which a flag is made. The German language developed the word to mean an official edict or proclamation, a rule under which one lives. It is where we get the word “abandon,” which means to change flags, to switch loyalties.
We live under a great many banners in our lives; banners that represent our fidelities and loyalties. There are banners of family, religion, country and corporation. The banner of Apple. The banner of Nike. The banner England. The banner of Christian. There are banners that we stand under by our own choosing, and there are banners that are spread over us, whether we want them or not. We develop certain ideas about people who are associated with particular banners. Sometimes they are true. And sometimes they are not.
I struggle to keep camp under the banner of “single.” It is not a place I really want to be right now, though I don’t really want my single friends to know that. I don’t want them to feel it is a bad place, a lacking place, a grass-is-browner woe-is-me sort of place. But often that is how I feel. I skirt to the outside of the camp. I watch the other members under the banner of single and I see all sorts of responses. I see them weeping and laughing, celebrating and suffering. I see them angry and bitter. I see them resourceful and redemptive. I see them living and loving without reservation. Sometimes I want to be one of them. I want to accept my position and see my singleness as an opportunity rather than a limitation. But most days I want to escape. I sit at the edge of the camp, just so that God knows I am ready to leave at a moment’s notice. But after two years of leaning on that fence, I’m looking for another, better, more trusting position than my post beside the exit.
Part of the reason I’m so reluctant to stay is that I did not choose to be here. I did not leave my last relationship believing that we were poorly matched or destined for destruction. I did not run under the banner of single ready to embrace new freedoms. I did not really realize what was happening when things were falling apart, and by the time it was over, I was left to trudge under the banner of single with heavy feet.
Singleness is not something I feel “called to” or excited about. It is a place I feel I was left when someone ran out from under the banner of relationship with me. When someone who had chosen to love me chose to stop, to leave, to change flags and abandon me, leaving me single.
Sometimes the banners we live under are banners that we do not choose. And sometimes they come with messages that they should not retain. I was told a great many things following my last break up, and even more after the change of heart I had the six months later. Among them, that:
“I deserved someone better”
“I had become a better person”
“God must have something else for me”
“If it were meant to be it would happen”
“He [my last boyfriend] was an idiot, a coward, blind, stubborn, etc.”
And though sometimes these things made me feel better (at least momentarily), mostly they made me confused. They encouraged me to view life under the banner of single as a temporary holding pen. Though many have suggested that God has someone else in mind, no one has ever suggested that God might intend for me to be single. No one has suggested that I am under the banner of single on purpose, which leads me to view it as an undesirable place to be.
Here’s another, perhaps bigger problem. Regardless of what other people believe about singleness, there are a lot of judgments and assumptions that I bring into it myself. There are messages and false truths that I associate with living under the banner of single that give voice to my deepest fears about my own worthiness and belonging. These messages do not come from God or love or goodness or grace, but from all that is the opposite of these things. And some of them have been reinforced in very painful ways.
It is one thing to be single and to feel that you are unseen, unheard, and unnoticed. It is one thing to suppose that the reason you are single is because no one has really experienced all that you have to offer. (I want to pause and recognize that this is a really valid place to feel pain, frustration, and even anger. As creatures that crave in our deepest depths to be truly known, to feel unseen is to feel invisible, inconsequential.) It is quite another thing, however, to believe that you were seen, heard, noticed and appreciated, that someone began to know the deepest depths of you, loved the deepest depths of you, and then chose to stop. Of their own will and volition, another person chose to stop seeing you. Decided they’d seen enough and judged you as no longer worth the effort.
I am not sure how to recover from that. As a consequence, I have begun to believe it must be true. That this must be the reason I am single: because despite all of the things that I have been told by my friends and family, despite all of the reassurance that God has done work in my life—has broken and molded and fashioned me into something tender and compassionate and playful and kind—I see my singleness as evidence that I am too difficult to partner. That I am too quirky or damaged or intense or odd.
Just when I am ready to embrace my giftedness, my worthiness, the hard-won wisdom that has come from full nights of wrestling with God’s goodness, I hear the voice of the last man who loved me as he choses, with great effort, to stop. As he tells me there isn’t enough time. There are no more second chances. I am not as special or worthy or deserving as he thought. This, I have begun to believe, is why I am alone.
And because I have associated these judgments with being single, it has become difficult for me to see singleness as good, to see the gift in my unclaimed time and attention, the privilege of having space to freely explore. I sometimes wonder how it is that others thrive under the banner of single, a banner that still brings me such heartache, reminding me that no matter how much I learn or grow or change, it may not be enough.
But there are other judgments to be made, truer truths to be spoken over and into my life, and they are not made by people (who are prone to err when it comes to such things), but by the being who made me in the first place, who knows my deepest depths better than I know them myself. Who does not choose to quit on me. Does not run out of time or patience. Does not believe that I am not worth the effort. His banner over me is Chosen. His banner over me is Worthy. His banner over me is Redemption. His banner over me is Love (Song of Songs 2:4).
For some the banner of single is a temporary fidelity, but for others it is not. God has not promised me that I will marry. I wish that He had. I wish I knew that in the end there would be a mate with whom I could share all of my everything, a partner with whom I could envision and build and act a life of restorative grace. But for many that is never the case. God has not promised that I will be married, but God has promised that I will never be alone. God has promised that I will never be abandoned. God has promised that I will never be unworthy. And right now those are the promises that must become the banners I claim. And in time they may even make me bold in living under the banner of single, knowing I am foremost under the banner of Love.