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Auntie Seraphic & the Concerned Married Sister

Wednesday, May 8, 2013
As far as I can recall, this is the first letter in six years about someone else being Single!

Dear Seraphic:  

I have a good topic for you to cover if you are so inclined.  How does one strike the balance between letting God be in control of one's life, but not being passive?  I ask this specifically in relation to discerning a call to marriage.

The background on this is that I am the oldest of sisters.  I am in my mid-40s now and married, but I married in my late 30s.  My youngest sister is now in her early 40s and not married yet.  She is the source of my concern.  I know it is awful of me to be a meddlesome older sister!  I am  not a  nag, though.  I am quiet in my observations and concerns.  I try to spend as much time with my sister as I can, and to shower her with love and support.  Meanwhile  I do worry a little.  And I know my mom worries a lot.

My sister has never really dated, but she expresses a very strong desire to be married and an equally strong conviction that she will be married one day.  Meanwhile -- good for her -- she is not dying of loneliness.  She has a lot of friends, and is very involved in her church and the community.  She does not always open up to me, but my mother says that a priest told her that she would be married one day and that that is what forms her very strong conviction that God has spoken to her and that she is not to worry about it at all.  I get the sense that this priest's words were a sign to my sister, perhaps even a mystical sign.

I am -- I confess -- skeptical of mystical signs!  On the other hand, I believe that God does wonderful things for his children, and sometimes goes above and beyond in meeting our needs.  Maybe my sister needed that mystical sign, and the good Lord gave it to her.  I am open to that possibility, though not completely convinced.  To me it seems like she used that sign to shut herself off from the normal process of being young and open.  It almost seems like she is scared of dating and of men, that she is very unsure of herself.  But she is very convinced that she is right!  I find myself scratching my head.  I just don't know.  Maybe she is right!

Anyway, I am just curious as to whether you have any thoughts on this.  Whatever you say, it will not change my approach to my sister.  Nor will I present it to her with an I-am-right-you-are-wrong approach.  Since she has never asked for advice, and isn't particularly open to advice either, I have never given it.  I wish she did ask for advice!  I just love her and try to be there for her.  I would love for her to meet a nice man.  It's hard to imagine who that would be.  He would have to be pretty incredible.

Whereas my sister is very passive (I use the word "passive" for lack of a better word, and I know that it expresses my admitted bias), I was very active in my pursuit of marriage.  When I hit 30 I had the realization that marriage was not going to fall into my lap.  I did as much as I could to meet people.  I dated quite a bit.  I made some mistakes along the way.  But I also learned a lot about myself in the process and I grew spiritually.  

When internet dating became available, I used it with great success.  I met a wonderful Catholic man, a good man, and we married and are quite happy,  blessed with children.  I know the internet dating thing is a whole other topic! But it is just funny to me that my sister and I are on opposite ends of the spectrum, or at least that is the way that I see it.  My other sisters were somewhere in the middle.  Marriage did just sort of fall in their laps.

This is a topic that is on my mind.  It is not a personal problem per se, and whatever you say it will not change the way that I approach my sister.  It is just something that I sometimes puzzle over, and am curious your thoughts.  If in the process of a reply you are able to help a young single woman form her thoughts on how to approach men and the possibility or romance, all the better!

Thanks, Seraphic.

With Gratitude,
Concerned Married Sister

Dear Concerned Married Sister,

I am an oldest sister too, so I know about worrying about younger brothers and sisters. I used to worry a lot about my oldest brother, for he seemed genuinely lonely, but then God sent him  a wonderful wife and later two lovely children. 

The rest of the gang is still unmarried, but I don't worry about them. I married late, so they might marry late. And, meanwhile, the girls seem well-contented to me. They generally having busy, productive, forward-looking lives.  I haven't the foggiest clue if my sisters are out there trying to meet men, but I could not care less, for they already have a family: our family.  

Your sister, like me, is in her early 40s, so chances are that it's already game over for her ever giving birth. However, if she does marry, she might marry a widower or annullé with kids, which would be very nice, or she might adopt or foster, if she likes. But that doesn't interest me. What interests me is you.

Why are you so invested in your sister meeting a nice man? She's already happy, and she has an enviable tranquility about the future, possibly because she believes in this priest's prediction. Her passivity, as you call it, will not prevent God's will, but may even be helping bring it about. As you say, marriage just fell into the laps of your other sisters. Maybe God wants her to marry the UPS man who brings her a package when she is 53. Or maybe He wants her to be a model of tranquility for other Single women for decades and then enter joyfully into a mystical marriage with Him. Why do you doubt in His plan for your sister?

Happy married people often have a hard time getting our minds around the idea that Single people--like priests--can be happy just trusting in God. And super-active, go-go-go people can also have a hard time realizing that it is God, not their efforts, who calls the shots. 

When it come to earning money or improving oneself, of course "God helps those who helps themselves"--keeping in mind that God makes the first move: we are not Pelagians. But when it comes to husband-and-children, that's God's territory. There are men and women who spend hundreds or thousands of dollars and years on dating websites without getting married, and then are men and women who barely lift a finger, and there the perfect person for them is. 

My advice is to be grateful for what (and who!) God had given you, to accept that His plans for your sister are obviously quite different from His plans for you, and to be grateful for, and even awed by, your sister's trust in Him.

Grace and peace,

People. There is no excuse for married Catholics tying themselves into knots because other Catholics are living chaste lives of celibacy. From Pentecost until the Reformation, a chaste life of celibacy was considered the superior form of Christian life, and this insight pre-dated men's and women's religious orders.

As much as an individual married person hated the Single Life, this does not mean the Single Life is worthy of such fear and contempt. No word of a lie, many Single people are content to wait or follow St. Paul's advice to remain as they are.  And many priests get annoyed by heartfelt married-people sighs of "Oh, Father, what a shame you can't get married! Do you think this new pope will allow it?" 

Meanwhile, there is no formula for getting married. Yes, a Single woman can enrich her life by figuring out how to win friends and influence people, by becoming the sort of woman that marriage-minded men love to be around, by overcoming any anti-social personality traits, by participating in enjoyable activities with like-minded people, by making lots of new friends. But none of these things will guarantee that she will fall in love with a man who falls in love with her and proposes marriage. There are no guarantees about the life-altering decisions of other people.