Sometimes when I’m driving down to Orlando, I get the urge to stop at a rest stop that inspired its own set of modesty rules. (You know you’re an old school intern if you understand what I’m talking about.) It’s not that the drive down is so intolerably long, just that I get bored or have to pee or am just tired of sitting in my car with no human interaction. I’ll notice the signs start to appear when I merge off I-75 onto the Turnpike: “Okahumpka – 8 miles.” I debate in my head whether it’s worth pulling off the road to get out and move around. “Okahumpka – 6 miles.” I note the Starbucks icon on the blue sign and think about how much I love an iced caramel macchiato. It is a very tempting offer, over-priced coffee. One I indulge in more often than I really should.
3 miles. I know I need to make a decision, so I weigh the pros and cons. If I pull into the rest stop, I know I’ve just extended my trip an extra 10 minutes. If I decide to get coffee at the slowest Starbucks in the discovered world, an extra 25. Is it worth delaying my arrival?
Okahumpka – 1 mile. I approach the exit sign on my left and fly past it. I’ve decided that it’s more important to get to my destination than to stop, take a break and enjoy my surroundings.
Only I don’t only do this on car trips. I do this in my daily life, when I’m not even thinking about it. I rush and go a bit over the speed limit only to arrive at my destination early. I look for the shortest line at the supermarket and check my progress against the person in line at register 4. And, most notably, I speed my way through phases of life, assuming that the next one is where I’m supposed to be, where some person with an imaginary chart will greet me and tell me that I’ve arrived and I’m finally the person I was meant to be.
Only I know there is no chart. There is no person waiting to tell me I’ve made it. And more importantly still, there is no level known as “where I’m supposed to be.” There is only where I am.
Right now, I’m in a slightly awkward phase of my life. I am no longer a college student, but not yet a married woman. I’m not even in the “I’m-in-a-serious-dating-relationship-and-we-both-know-it’s-just-a-matter-of-time-before-we-finally-get-married” phase. I’m in the single 20-something category. And for whatever reason, I feel shame about this. I feel shame because I’m not where I think everyone thinks I ought to be. I feel shame because obviously, if one does not get married right out of college, there MUST be a deep underlying issue. I feel shame because I think people see me as less of a human being, someone who is incomplete, searching for her other half in order to become a valid person.
But I am a valid person. There is no man for me to stumble upon who can make my life complete. It’s not that I haven’t yet found him, it’s that he doesn’t exist. Nor should he, as that’s too much pressure for any person to reasonably live up to. To complete another human being? It is simply not a possibility. And if it’s not a possibility for a man to complete me, it must mean that I myself am a valid person in my own right, just because I think and believe and feel that I am.
Why, then, do I see this level of life as a social taboo? I could blame it on our society, and part of my assertion would be valid. There is a notable difference in the way single women of a certain age are treated, “a certain age” being anyone who is over 22 years old. The same doesn’t apply as much for men, though it is not absent in their lives. But like I said, only part of the blame can go on society. The majority lies within the individual.
When I was still in college, I felt like there was a plethora of groups I could be part of at my church. Campus groups seem to love the atmosphere of this church and as a result, many of the members and leaders attend. In the last 3 or 4 years, I’ve seen such a huge growth in both the necessity for small groups that are for college students and the actual groups that form. And it’s wonderful. People who are in like phases of life can meet, minister to each other and continue on in that phase. I’ve also seen the need for married couples’ small groups and the new crops of leaders for that demographic. Both are equally important, and without either group, our church would suffer.
I preface this next paragraph by stating that I know there are some small groups out there for people who are single. I understand this, and I’ve visited a few and even belonged to one or two of them at some point in my adult life. However, it seems there are a disproportionately small amount of groups for people who are single compared to how many non-college, non-married people we have within our church. I can’t help but wonder why that is. It’s not like the leaders of our church woke up one morning and said, “Hmm…I think we should encourage people to not lead small groups unless they fit into these specific categories.” So why don’t we have more people stepping up to be small group leaders who are in this same phase as I am?
I honestly think it is because most of us view this phase as exactly that: a phase. Something we desire to have pass quickly and therefore choose to not invest much of our time in. We feel there is something greater out there for us, specifically marriage and families. Why waste our energy exploring the possibilities of being single and truly living in this area if we plan to not be here long?
But what if we saw this as important because it’s where we are in our journey? What if instead of seeing this as an inconvenience and a time-waster, we saw it for the beautiful gift that it is? We’re accountable not to schools or spouses, but to God and God alone. I have friends who are married who have to clear shopping trips through their husbands to make sure it fits into their budget. They have to check multiple calendars before committing to lunch plans to ensure that they’re not scheduled to go out of town with their husbands or preparing for a huge midterm. I don’t have to do all of that. It’s a much simpler process for me.
When I drive home to my parents’ houses in Orlando, each time I stop at Okahumpka and take my time, stretching my legs and enjoying my surroundings as much as one can at a rest stop, the rest of my trip goes much smoother. I’m not on edge when I finally get home, not so desperate to get out of the car and to be with people. The extra 10 minutes it takes to complete the trip makes such a noticeable difference in my demeanor that in hindsight I wonder why I don’t do it more often. And even though the physical place I’m going doesn’t change, when I take my time and enjoy the journey, the destination is just better.