It was Christmas Eve, and he sat in the hospital call room listening to other medical residents play a round of trivial pursuit. He was missing out on Christmas with his family, again. His parents, adult siblings, nieces, and nephew sat around reading The Night before Christmas and hanging stockings on the wooden mantel at his parents’ house in Alabama. He could envision it, but could not partake. Instead, he was observing Christmas alone at Tampa General Hospital in Florida, where he served long nights and undesirable hours as a medical resident. Instead of feasting on the finest foods around the dining room table in his childhood home, he consumed a box dinner of stale white bread sandwiches, an apple, and a milk carton. He was on his way toward becoming a head and neck surgeon. He knew it would all be worth it one day, but that did not make nights like these any easier.
“I decided that the next time I was able to go to my parents’ house for the holidays- and when I had my own family one day- that I was really going to enjoy and appreciate it.”
This is the story of my dad. He was single, perhaps longer than he originally planned, because he was investing his time and energy into becoming who God had called him to be, a doctor. Aside from helping people as a physician, he longed to help others by being a generous giver and provider- for his future family and for people in general.
Simply put, medical school and residency are extremely difficult! For example- My dad was awake and on-call every third night during his first two years of residency! He often lived in a resident bunk room at the hospital for several days at a time. However, if there is anything I have come to know and love about my dad, it is his optimism and his ability to enjoy life’s simple pleasures in the midst of chaos. That all started back then, a habit he formed as a single person.
He explains, “I chose to do something enjoyable, even when I was not living in enjoyable times.” He kept a fishing rod in his bunk room at the hospital. Any time he had a spare minute or two between surgeries, he emerged from that stuffy building, reunited with the sunshine and salt water breeze, and fished in the canal just outside his quarters. His family owned a sailboat, and he spent his available weekends and any vacation time sailing around the Bahamas and islands off the coast of Florida with friends and family. Even though his conditions and circumstances were often trying as a single person, he did not waste his spare time feeling sorry for himself.
Toward the second half of residency, he found himself in a relationship. He struggled and deliberated, knowing they were not right for each other. However, he could not break it off. He feared that this relationship was all that was left for him. “Everyone else is married,” he thought. “I waited too late. All the good ones for me are taken.” He finally ended the relationship after coming to this realization- that he would rather be alone than with the wrong person. He realized he would never fully become the man, the physician, and the provider he dreamed of becoming if it all became united and intertwined with an incompatible companion.
Afterward, he did not worry about marrying by a certain time or age, for two reasons. First, he was busy and did not have a lot of availability in his schedule to pencil in: worry about the future. Second, he did not doubt his worthiness. He knew that he could find a wife if that was God’s perfect plan for him, and it had nothing to do with his level of competency or worthiness. If marriage was in God’s game plan for him, then she existed somewhere and would still be available whenever that time came…. Just a few months after breaking off that relationship and making this resolution, he met my mom. And the rest is history. There are several things which others and I can learn from my dad and his time as a single person:
1) The advantages of singleness are not all about you. A major advantage for my dad in his singleness was the time and energy he was able to invest in becoming a suitable caregiver and provider for others. Too often, we woefully measure the “advantages of singleness” as the time, energy, and resources we get to spend on ourselves. We will never be effective in our singleness, and our singleness will never serve a higher purpose, until we realize that the truest advantages of singleness have absolutely nothing to do with us and indulging in our own benefits and everything to do with loving and serving God and others without restraints.
2) Be all present, have fun, and treasure life’s moments… right here and right now. Do not wait to enjoy your life until you finally have the life you want. My dad wanted to be a doctor, a husband, and a father. But in the meantime, he fished, he sailed, he traveled, he spent time with his parents and siblings, and exercised his nurturing spirit with his nieces and nephew. He didn’t wait to live fully until he had the fantasy life he always wanted. Likewise, may we as singles embrace our present seasons, even when they are not living up to our expectations. Your life may seem like a hectic, disheveled, and disappointing mess. But, in your own way, I hope you grab your fishing rod, cast your line, walk by the water, take your rests, and savor the little blessings and gifts in between.
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