Handfuls of Purpose

Handfuls of Purpose

Thriving in Singleness

by Sarah Guthrie | April 16, 2018

...then let her surrender herself, and follow God along whatever path her loving Lord thinks fit to lead her: whether it be to contemplation or action, to usefulness or enjoyment; whether in sorrow or in joy, let her follow on.
– Tauler

It was a summer day in sunny Colorado ... yet my mind was 2,000 miles east of where I stood. My heart was stationed on the shores of Rhode Island, mentally recreating the picturesque beach town I so enjoy, the same stretches of shore where I knew my sister was about to receive some news from her best friend on bended knee. The ring had been purchased, the permission for her hand had been granted, and everyone waited for the day that the news would come — the day of her proposal. 

I wasn’t surprised to receive the “today’s the day” text from my family, but I was taken aback by the question that settled on my mind as I looked across the pond to the Rockies that stood undaunted by this news in the near distance. 

Sarah, is it well with your soul?

My younger sister would joyfully cross the threshold of marriage before me. I thought back to when I had assumed I would be effortlessly married when I was 18. That was ten years ago. And life looked so radically different than I ever thought it would. A good different, but different nonetheless. 

I paused before the Lord right there on the green carpet of lawn that was, at that moment, a sacred place between the Lord and I. And I smiled.

Somewhere in the early phases of my sister’s relationship, the battles for contentment versus contention and self-pity versus selflessness had been fought and won as I held tight to the steadfast grip of the Lover of my soul. He had not disappointed me. Rather He had delighted me to heights and depths I hadn’t yet known — taking me out of my plans and my “best” and leading me into His plan and His best. 

“Yes, Lord.” I silently responded. “Yes, from this moment forward I will deliberately say that it is well with my soul.”

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It was a moment of self-denial that will forever stand out in my mind. But there is such a backstory to that shining moment. I know all too well the thoughts and questions that we, as single women, can begin to entertain when someone “graduates” to a season before we do. I have thought them. I have even asked a few of my own. They don’t even have to center around a future relationship. Fill in your blank: a job promotion, a sphere of ministry you had your heart set on, the glorious calling of motherhood, attaining financial stability. When we brush up against someone who possesses what we don’t, we can all too quickly find ourselves in a swamp full of festering thoughts. 

I’m alone.

I’m forgotten.

I’ve been left behind.

The voice of the flesh will always entice us to sit in a corner of self-pity where we become paralyzed, shortsighted, and unable to agree with the echoes of the Almighty, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways …” (Is. 55:8). 

And yet, just as with any summer field that has been harvested, there lies something precious in its wake — handfuls of purpose left behind for us to glean. In the seeming barrenness of the field, there are precious truths that we couldn’t have seen among the beautiful, warm sheaves of wheat. 

In the Old Testament, it was the foreigner, the needy, and the widow who held rights to scour a freshly-harvested field to fill their storehouses for the season ahead. (See Leviticus 19:9-10.) We see this law on display when a certain Moabitess named Ruth was instructed of her mother-in-law to go and glean in a certain field. Unknowingly, she would find salvation for her household and, furthermore, a glittering lineage that would boast the future Messiah. Who ever would have thought? 

Sometimes God has to cut things down in our lives so that He can be clearly seen. With our best beating in His heart, He sometimes allows others to go before us into fields that seem to have a “no trespassing" sign posted in front of us. And everything we dreamt about what our life would look like — our ideals, aspirations, and even the godly desires that He’s naturally placed within us — must be put in perspective of His Word. 

And miraculously, the fields of our lives that were empty now become promising canvases ready to be filled with the purposes He has for each of us according to His will. While we can try to leverage the harvesting tools on our own, anything done in our own strength won’t unearth the rare and precious truths that lie below the surface. With His thoughts stationed upon our heart, we can grasp the lessons He has left for us as the field settles.

I don’t know what field lies on your horizon, but I am well-acquainted with the truths that have been excavated from the fields of my life. Mine may appear different than yours, yet it’s not necessarily about what God is doing, but about who He is in the midst of what He is doing. Whether you are dreading thoughts of the upcoming wedding season, or if you are strolling through every single day with your eyes fixed on Jesus, I pray that these notes from my own life are a balm as well as a boost to your faith.

When you feel forgotten

O Lord, you have searched me and known me ... You understand my thought afar off ... and are acquainted with all my ways.
Psalm 139:1

Ever had one of those days?  Symptoms can include feeling invisible, like the next season is just out of reach, and everyone else seemingly has a significant other … except for you. And yet, listen to this verse afresh. He searches, knows, understands, comprehends, and is acquainted with YOU. And don’t be fooled by the prim sound of the word “acquainted.” This isn’t a stiff, handshake sort of word. Rather, the word means “to cherish, to be familiar with, to inhabit, to dwell.” Jesus is deeply, thoroughly, relationally acquainted with you! What I love even more is that the only other time this word is mentioned is in Isaiah 53:3 where Christ is prophesied to be “a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” And yet, He wasn’t merely acquainted with His own grief, we discover He feels yours as well when we read the next verse, “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (v.4). 

As others around you venture into different seasons, face the future with the stunning awareness that you enter it with the One who knows you more than any individual on this planet ever could. With His hand at the small of your back, lean into the paths He is guiding you toward, taking comfort that He is acquainted with you. 

When you feel like the grass is greener

The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; You hold my lot.
Psalm 16:5 ESV

Even though the thought of "our lot in life” has adopted a negative interpretation, biblically speaking it was never meant to be equated with the doldrums. Let’s do a little redefining here, okay? A lot is a parcel of land that can be cultivated, a sphere of life to be inhabited, a particular task or calling that is to be carried out. Our lot in life as single women is not to pine away with our noses pressed up against the glass of others’ lives who are joyfully entering into a new season. Comparison tempts us to keep up with the Joneses and notice that the grass in their lot seems radiant with an emerald hue. Did you know that yours can be just as green? Sure, it may not be emerald. It might be more of the jade variety, but it is just as precious.

Our Heavenly Father wisely establishes the boundaries of our lives — enlarging their borders or lovingly limiting them — to include just what He desires for us, in order to bring Him glory. Notice in the verse above that the Lord holds our lot regardless of whether or not we acknowledge it, but we have a choice of what our portion will be, what we will feast upon, or what will fill us. Colossians contains some of my favorite verses which talk about the fullness of God being in Jesus Christ, that He is All and in all, and that we are only complete in Him. (See Colossians 2:9-10; 3:11b.) Singleness is not about finding our other half, but in loving and looking to our Better Whole who fills us all in all. (See Ephesians 1:23.) And just like that, we are complete. 

Elisabeth Elliot once rephrased the words of Psalm 23:1 saying, “The Lord is my Shepherd; He’s all I want.” That truth stung my heart when I first heard it. Could I wholeheartedly agree? I have learned, and the Bible states, that contentment is a choice. Paul said that he learned to be content. (See Philippians 4:11.) And from what I have witnessed, if we are not content we will soon become contentious. This word means “discord or strife that results in a contest or quarrel.” Oh, how deadly and how true! When we are discontent, we succumb to striving with others — comparing our lots in a contest of who has more, looks prettier, gets married the fastest, etc. 

Dear sister, remember who holds your lot and what He went through to give it to you. Do we need any more reason to choose Him to be our portion, our All in all?

When you feel envious

For He satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul with goodness.
Psalm 107:9 

Not long ago a friend asked me an honest question in the months leading up to my sister’s wedding: “How are you doing with all of that?” (“That” meaning preparing to serve as the maid of honor on my sister’s big day.) 

I articulated that there wasn’t a hint of envy. No, there were no poisonous thoughts toward this occasion. What I felt was longing. There is a difference. To long to be equally matched and looking at the love of a sister for her groom-to-be was akin to how I imagine Pride and Prejudice’s Elizabeth Bennet felt when her sister Jane said, “If there were but such another man for you!” 

To desire, anticipate, or prepare for a future marriage is not sin, but what those desires can lead to may land us there unintentionally. It is always important for me to remember that if I present my longing soul to Him, He has promised to fill it with His goodness. Did you hear that? He fills the ache with more of Himself! Don’t despise the longing, don’t shove it away, or ignore it.  When rightly dealt with, it only draws us closer to the Lord. I encourage you to present yourself before God, let your longing be a living sacrifice, and watch as His peace settles upon your heart. 

When you feel there is no purpose

Boaz commanded ... saying, let her glean even among the sheaves ... and let fall also some of the handfuls of purpose for her, and leave them, that she may glean them.
Ruth 2:15-16

Boaz once looked out upon his fields and beheld among the reapers one who was set apart from the rest. It was his Ruth. We have been given a lot, and lots are meant to be tended — planted, watered, fertilized, weeded, and harvested. What you feel is a wasteland empty of purpose is really an opportunity to glean — spiritually and practically. 

Evaluate the different responsibilities your life currently holds. How are you gleaning the fields that the Lord has entrusted to your care? Are you lacking motivation, discipline, or joy? 

God never wastes His saints in a forlorn field, doomed to pluck weeds until Kingdom come. Rather, His tender mercies are revealed in gleaning the lessons that far surpass the receiving of our heart’s desires. Exchange what you don’t have for what He is cultivating in your life. Write it down, thank Him for it, but most of all — do something with it. It can be as simple as sharing that lesson with another or pouring out your worship to Him through song or in service to someone else. The outflows are many, the purpose is full, and so will be your joy! 

I assure you that as we wait on the Lord and keep His way, He will remain true to His Word and exalt us to “inherit the land” of His will and choosing. (See Psalm 37:34.) How wonderful to know that Jesus, our Yoke-Fellow, has promised to shoulder the weights that singleness can try to impose on our shoulders! In the meantime, let us delight in gleaning the handfuls of purpose left in the soil of our souls and fill the pockets of our hearts with love for our King as we continue to plow forward in hope. Though we may sow in tears from time to time, we shall bring in a harvest with great joy!