“You’re the bravest person I know,” she said, and she patted me on the shoulder.
And before I could disagree, she walked away.
I’m definitely not the bravest person that anyone knows. When I was a kid, I thought dandelions were out to kill me. I still think spiders are.
I think what she meant — and meant with a deep kindness — was that she had watched me move overseas for a few years on my own and walk a road pretty different from one she’d walked. She saw me as blazing a trail out there without a husband to follow and kids in tow, living some sort of independent woman super-life.
But I wasn’t. And the life I was living didn’t make me brave.
I think more than anything it made me hard to understand.
Neither Loss Nor Loophole
I entered my twenties thinking that by the close of that decade, I’d have a husband, a live-in, covenant-bound partner-in-crime and a few kids in tow. I thought that’s just the way it went, the way those God-given and culturally-nurtured desires play out.
But by the time I cut my teeth on my thirties, it was a different world. I learned to shop for my own car, start my own business, kill my own spiders. And the further I walked into adulthood as a single woman living life in a vast community of single women, the more I realized something.
It’s messy out here.
What does biblical womanhood look like in a land where you’re not a wife and mom but also not a young daughter or a widow? What does it look like in an expanse of years where “wives, submit to your husbands as unto the Lord” (Eph. 5:22) never comes into play?
Does it mean you’ve been passed over, that God missed a critical step? Does it mean you found a loophole to go be brave and independent and do your own thing?
It’s like an onion, the layers of emotions and theological questions when you’re a single woman who never expected to be that for the long term. One big step is figuring out who God is and who you are.
Another is figuring out how to live that out.
But what if biblical womanhood as a single is neither loss nor loophole? What if it’s not a crack in Ephesians that you slip through? What if it’s something better altogether?
God Has the Pen
I thought there was going to come a point in my twenties where God asked me to come face to face with Ephesians 5:22 and work out in my life what it meant biblically to submit to a man.
But that’s not what happened.
What happened instead was a moment where God asked me to lay down that expectation, that picture of womanhood in my life, not for independence or emptiness or something unbiblical, but as a sacrifice to a God who had something different in mind. The “as unto the Lord” part was where my submission happened — I had to submit to the greater arc of God’s story and the subplot He was writing in my life.
More than anything, I had to submit my heart and my desires totally to Him, knowing He loved me and had my good in mind.
I laid down what I wanted and handed God the pen to write the story of my life.
And in that place, I came alive.
Because just like the church is its boldest and brightest when fully submitted to Christ, so am I. Even in the Middle East, I was safest in His story. Not safest from a human perspective necessarily, but safest in that nothing — not one thing — could separate me from His love or keep me from the eternal joy He’s preparing for me one day (Romans 8:38–39). What He has is better. It’s worth everything, even the life I thought I wanted.
Brave is a great thing to be, but the fact is — I’m not. I’m just tucked in the hand of the God who’s writing a wild and beautiful story.
And it’s there I’m the woman God meant for me to be, not with resignation, but with joy.
Grace Thornton is author of “I Don’t Wait Anymore: Letting Go of Expectations and Grasping God’s Adventure for You.” She blogs at gracefortheroad.com.