Sarah Anne Hayes

some thoughts on singleness

RelationshipsSarah Anne Hayes2 Comments

I'm not entirely sure how to start this post. Not because I don't have a lot of things to say, but because this is a hard topic for me to talk about and I'm a little afraid. We'll get to it soon enough, so bear with me for a moment or two.

I started this blog in 2008 during my first semester of college and it's gone through a lot of changes since then. I've redesigned it goodness knows how many times, gone through five or six names, and used three hosting platforms. When I started blogging regularly after college, I wrote about a lot of things including, in hindsight, a lot of things I shouldn't have written about. In the name of vulnerability, honesty, and transparency, I had a season of some serious oversharing and there are things I posted online I regret putting out there for public consumption.

That's part of why this blog is hard for me to write. Because, despite the fact that I've matured a vast amount and hopefully gained some wisdom and discernment in the years since that season of oversharing, there's a part of me that's afraid I haven't actually learned the difference between it and healthy vulnerability. 

But this is what I know: writing sets people free. It sets me free because that's how Jesus made me — a woman who processes her life by putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboards, and when I write about the things that cause me fear and shame and push them into the light, they lose their power. It sets other people free when they read my words and that little voice whispers, "See? You're not the only one." And despite lots of conversations with friends, this is a topic that's often made me feel ashamed and alone. So I'm gonna write about it today and in the future and hopefully set myself and some others free, too.

And with that longer-than-necessary preamble, let's get to it: this is a post about singleness. 

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For most of my life, I have been single. 97.18% of it, if you want the hard numbers.

I dated one guy at the tail end of college for about a month. He's the first guy I kissed, but we never made it official. After college, I had one boyfriend and we were together for about 8 1/2 months from first date to break up. So of the 28 years I've spent on this earth, less than one has had me romantically attached to another person.

I'm not going to sugarcoat it: that fact is really hard for me to deal with sometimes.

When I was growing up, I had an unabashed love for princesses — Disney and non-Disney alike. Heck, I still have an unabashed love for them. This, of course, meant I sang "Someday My Prince Will Come" and "Once Upon a Dream" and dressed up for Halloween and danced around my house imagining the day I'd meet my very own Prince Charming.

Though I will argue Disney gave me more unrealistic expectations about hair than it did about men (anyone else still wishing for Aurora's perfect curls?), I'll agree that it probably gave some false notions that all my dreams coming true meant finding Prince Charming. 

My thought process on dreams and expectations of what a future husband and marriage would look like have changed a lot since I was a 6-year-old obsessed with Disney's sanitized depictions of fairy tales. I have a heck of a lot of goals and dreams that have absolutely nothing to do with a future spouse. I know the man I marry will be a fallible human, unlikely to replicate the actions of a man from a fairy tale or chick flick. I know a whole lot of work goes into "happily ever after."

But one thing hasn't changed since my days of dressing up as a princess and dancing around my house — over 20 years later, I still dream of and desire marriage. I still hope and pray for my future husband, for the start of my own "happily ever after," for the children and home and family I hope to be.

I was that girl who fully expected to meet her husband in college and get married within a year of graduation. Clearly that did not happen, and in many respects I'm glad it didn't, but the desire for marriage has in no way lessened in my heart.

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When we talk about singleness within the Church, it's often a weird conversation that leaves singles feeling ashamed, alone, or patronized more than it leaves them feeling loved and encouraged. I think the reason is because we usually talk about singleness in one of two ways.

Either we talk about it as a disease to be cured, a waiting room, a season of preparation before life really begins when you get married, or we talk about it as a blessing, a gift, or a special calling for which you should clearly be immensely grateful all the time. There are good and bad things about both of these conversations, but neither of them is a complete picture.

For anyone who will get married one day, singleness is a season of a preparation for marriage, not because life "really" begins when you get married, but because whatever season you're in now is preparation for the season you'll enter into next. Singleness is also a blessing and a gift because, as Paul says, it allows the individual the opportunity to be undivided in their affection for Christ in a way they cannot when they have a spouse or children. And for some people, like Paul, it is the Lord's calling on their life to remain single.

The problem with both of these conversations is they often fail to address the nuance of singleness in the life of a believer. They ignore the reality of a person who deeply loves and trusts Christ's plan for their life, who knows His timing is perfect, who is content with their current life, but who also deeply desires marriage, who at times grieves its absence, and cries out to the Lord to answer this prayer of their heart.

Maybe I'm alone in this, but I believe it is possible to be content with the life you're living and trusting the Lord's sovereignty and timing while also deeply desiring the Lord would give you something more than you have now. It is a precarious balance to be sure, but it's possible.

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I count myself as one such individual. 

My trust in the Lord has increased exponentially over the last three years, something for which I am exceedingly grateful. This increase in trust means an increased trust in His timing, His plan, His sovereignty, His everything. It means, at the end of the day, I trust and believe He will bring my future husband into my life at the exact right moment, in the perfect way, and nothing will change or thwart that. 

I love a lot of things about the current season of life He's placed me in, and I am doing my best to live in an intentional way that makes the most of this unique time in my life. But my heart aches for what could be, and I often cry out to the Lord asking for more trust and faith in His perfect timing because I want it to be different than it is.

For deeply personal reasons, I know I will get married one day. You can fight me on that if you want, but it's a losing battle. I don't know when or to whom, but I do know it will happen. And though I love the person I am becoming and the ways the Lord is transforming my heart through the wanting and the waiting, I often grieve the moments and years that continue to pass that I don't get to share with my future husband. I know we will have a lifetime to know each other and hear all the stories that made up who we were before we met, but so much of me wishes we could start making those memories together now rather than having to tell each other the stories in hindsight.

The thing is, we don't have a rubric for allowing this kind of grief. In the Church, we sometimes even struggle to let people grieve a "legitimate" loss like the death of a loved one, citing platitudes like "everything happens for a reason" and "God is in control." And yet there is a different kind of grief for an unfulfilled hope or a dream deferred. That is something we never talk about and so many singles sit awash in guilt and shame for grieving in this way because we don't allow space or conversation for its reality. 

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Not every night, but frequently, I pray for my future husband. Both for who he is now, how he's growing, and how the Lord is working in his life while we are both still single, and for the Lord to make haste in joining our lives together. It's something I pray every year — that this would be the year my husband and I become one.

In my bedroom, there is a bookshelf and on it sits a brown leather box. Inside this brown leather box are dozens of letters penned at sporadic moments over the last 13 years. They are letters I have written to my future husband.

I wrote the first letter as a freshman in high school because my small group leader had us all write a letter to our future husband. Probably because I love letters and words and stories, I decided to continue, and though the letters have been anything but consistent in the years since, I continue to write them and plan to give them to my husband on our wedding day.

Most people don't know that because I don't usually talk about it. In the same way having a Pinterest board dedicated to your future wedding is often viewed as desperate, I fear the same will be thought of my box of letters. And yet, I don't view it as desperation. To me, those letters are a picture of years of hope and desire and trust in the Lord's faithfulness. I hope my future husband will read them and see how long I have prayed for him and for our lives together and he will feel so loved in those moments.

I'm sure a lot of my friends do something similar, and even if they don't, I am sure they often pray for their future spouse. But it's something we don't talk about because there's a false belief that fervent prayer for something means discontentment with what you currently have. The two things aren't mutually exclusive, but we treat them as if they are.

A couple of years ago, I heard a sermon on the early chapters of Luke, specifically the story of when Zechariah learned he would finally have a son. When the angel appears to him in the Holy of Holies, he says, "Do not be afraid, Zechariah, your prayer has been heard."

At this point in their lives, Zechariah and Elizabeth were well past the age of bearing children, yet their desire had not gone away and neither had their prayers. Can you imagine the kind of faith that must have taken? To continue praying for decades, for a thing they wanted desperately, and a thing that seemed impossible? Yet they still prayed.

It seems to me that fervent, consistent prayer is an indication of deep and abiding faith and trust in the Lord and His ability to do far more than we could ask or imagine. Yet we often treat it like it's the opposite. As if spending weeks, months, or years on your knees pouring your heart out before the Father is an indication of weakness. In reality, it is, but it's an indication of the best kind of weakness.

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One of my favorite bloggers got married recently, and after she was dating her now husband, she wrote a post about singleness. In it, she wrote all the things she wished she'd written when she was single. Another one of my favorite bloggers, who got married in 2015, wrote a lot about her singleness and I am forever grateful for her words.

We often tell stories only when they've reached their denouement, their lovely conclusion. Stories told from the middle are messy and often provide more questions than answers, but they're equally important as the stories told in hindsight.

Being single at 28 is rough, especially when you thought you'd be married at 22. I have a good life and a good God but good doesn't always mean easy and singleness at this point is not easy.

Being a writer is scary, because it means opening yourself up so others can know they're not alone. So that's what I'm doing here, for as long as I'm in this messy middle place. And if you're here, in the messy middle of singleness, too, I hope you will know that you're not alone.

on turning 28

LifeSarah Anne HayesComment
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Last week, I turned 28.

I am now solidly in my late-20s, which feels a little bizarre. In the grand scheme of things, I know I'm not really that old, but when kids you babysat are going to college and your knee yells at you almost every time you workout, it's hard to not feel your age.

On Friday night, I went out to dinner with a few girlfriends for a low-key celebration. We talked about work and life and marriage, joked about my status as the rebel child of my family amidst discussions of my newly acquired nose-piercing and upcoming visit to the tattoo parlor. We ate steak and melt-in-your mouth rolls and all took turns sharing a flourless chocolate waffle with "happy birthday" gorgeous scripted in melted chocolate on the plate.

One friend, who turns 30 later this year, told me that 28 is the best year of your 20s. The reasoning being you've usually made it through the crazy ups-and-downs and uncertainty that tend to accompany the early 20s, but it's also not 29, so 30 doesn't quite feel like it's looming yet. Others around the table joked about it being the best year of my life so I better enjoy it while I can, while one of my roommates chimed in that she'd also heard that 28 is the best year of this otherwise tumultuous decade. No pressure, right?

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Twenty-seven was an unexpected year. Sometimes it feels like I say that every year, but it was truly full of lots of ups and downs, some I anticipated and others I definitely did not.

I started the year off with quite possibly my busiest season ever. I had multiple emotional breakdowns in my church sanctuary. I stood beside two dear friends as they said "I do" to their forever person, who also happened to be two dear friends. I moved into my eighth home in six years. I said goodbye to my fur baby of nearly 13 years. I celebrated with my sister and brother-in-law as they became parents and welcomed a beautiful baby boy into the world. I made a spontaneous trip to New York City and a planned one in the same month, both filled with friends and adventuring and the most Broadway shows I've seen in one calendar year. I went to Chicago and Charleston to hang out with people I met through the internet and geek out over bookish things. I unexpectedly lost my job and spent 2 1/2 months unemployed. I read 100 books and documented the whole thing on Instagram. I journaled every single day for the second year in a row. I played harp for the first time in over a decade and surprised a whole lot of people in the process. And in the final days, I got my nose pierced just because I thought it would be fun.

Like every year, it was one of growth and change, some welcome and anticipated and some not-so-welcome or anticipated, and in many ways, I'm sure 28 will have much of that same welcome and not-so-welcome growth and change. Because that's how sanctification works, isn't it? Sometimes it feels beautiful and simple, and sometimes it's a hot mess of confusion and emotions.

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It felt a little weird to be celebrating last week, to be thanking the Lord for His goodness and His faithfulness to me over the last year when so many in our country and around the world are likely questioning if He's even there. I have little control over the fact that my birthday falls five days after the presidential inauguration and a part of me felt as if I somehow shouldn't be happy or celebrating another year of life in the midst of all that's happened in the last week.

I haven't said much about all of that online or anywhere, because I'm still a little bit at a loss for what to do or say. I suffer from anxiety and I feel things deeply in my heart. If I spend too much time reading or thinking about the hard things of the world, it hits me so deep that I am no longer effective in fighting against it. So my response to our current political climate has been to do a lot of praying and not spend a lot of time on social media or reading the news while I sort this all out in my own heart.

As weird as it felt to be celebrating during the first week of a controversial presidential term, it also feels weird to think that 28 could be the best year of my 20s when it will undoubtedly be an immensely difficult and painful year for so many others.

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I truly have no idea what things 28 will bring into and take out of my life.

I know I'll be moving. Again. I know I'll get to hang out with my sister and brother-in-law and the world's cutest nephew (but I'm not biased or anything) and do nothing productive for six days. I know I'll celebrate with my baby sister as she finishes college. I know I'll leave the country for the first time in a decade. Those things are all set in stone, while others have questions marks and are tentatively written in pencil in my planner and on my heart.

Like every year, I have some hopes and dreams that I fervently pray will come to fruition before I'm blowing out candles on a cake again. I hope I love what I get paid to do each day. I hope for a bit more stability in my living situation and career than I've had over the last few years. And I do hope that 28 is the year I finally meet my forever someone.

Those three specific hopes have all been present in my life for three years running. And for three years running, those prayers have not been answered with the affirmative "yes" that I so dearly hope for. I'd be lying if I said that wasn't hard, particularly as I watch the very things I pray for my own life answered positively in the lives of people I love. There have been many tears involved in my conversations with Jesus about those three topics over the past three years.

But over the last three years, another prayer has been answered over and over again.

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I've written before about the smallest and biggest prayer of my life, one prayed out of desperation and through tears on January 1, 2014: "Lord, teach me to trust You."

It probably isn't a coincidence that 2014 was also the first year I fervently prayed for a job I loved, stability in my career and living situation, and for my forever person to enter my life. And a mere two days after I turned 25, I received and accepted a job offer that flipped life upside down for a season and planted seeds in my heart that changed my life forever.

Every year since, the Lord has answered those three prayers with "wait," while throwing yet another curve ball accompanied by the whisper, "Trust Me."

Like so many of my peers, a part of me longs for a life that I love doing things I love with people I love. The prayers I've prayed for the last three years I will continue to pray throughout 28. And a part of my heart will grieve the continued delay of those things if they have not come to fruition when I turn 29. But the older I get, the more my heart whispers that prayer over and over again: "Lord, teach me to trust You."

When something unexpected comes my way, when life is loud, when confusion is rampant, when I feel drained and uncertain and terrified in every possible way, that prayer has been my stay: "Lord, teach me to trust You."

I don't know what 28 will bring for my own life, for my country, for the world. If I'm honest, I am a little bit afraid. I am afraid I will feel disappointed when things don't turn out as I hope, in my own life and in the world at large. Every year, there's the tiniest fear that this will be the year that breaks my faith. Every year, there's this little fear that the things I encounter I will never be able to recover from.

But for 28, as I did for 25 and 26 and 27, amidst everything else happening around me, in the world and the country and my head and my heart, I will pray: "Lord, teach me to trust You."

 

decluttering vs. minimalism: what's the difference?

SimplicitySarah Anne HayesComment

Decluttering. Simplifying. Minimalism.

For a movement that's focused on removing excess from our lives, we certainly seem to have a lot of words to describe ourselves, don't we? The thing is though we often use words like "decluttering" and "minimalism" interchangeably, they're not exactly the same thing.

I spent a good chunk of time decluttering my home and my life before I officially called myself a minimalist. I also know a lot of people who have decluttered their homes in recent months — many as a direct result of Marie Kondo — but would not consider themselves a minimalist and have no intention of becoming one.

It seems that one can declutter their home or life without becoming a minimalist, but one can rarely be a minimalist — and certainly not become one — without first going through the process of decluttering. 

So what, exactly, is the difference between decluttering and minimalism?

To be honest, it's pretty simple: decluttering is an action, while minimalism is a lifestyle.

THE ACT OF DECLUTTERING

Let's start with decluttering. After all, that's where most people's minimalism journey begins.

There are a variety of different reasons you might begin to declutter your home. Perhaps it's because of a life change — you're preparing to move to a new city, you're getting married and need to consolidate belongings, or you find yourself no longer needing items you once considered necessary.

Your desire to declutter might also come as a result of a feeling or shift in perspective. Perhaps a parent or relative has recently died and, in the midst of sorting through all of their belongings, you realize that isn't the kind of legacy you want to leave for your own children. Or maybe, like myself, you simply find yourself overwhelmed by the amount of unnecessary stuff in your life and you feel a little bit like you're drowning.

Regardless of the personal tipping point, decluttering is an action you take as a result. You might declutter a certain aspect of your life, like your closet, your home, or your schedule, or you might declutter all of the above.

A lot of people assume that decluttering is a one-time thing — that once you rid your home or your closet or whatever from the unnecessary extras, you'll never have to do the same thing again. And it's true you might never go through a major declutter or purge again, but only if you maintain.

It's in the maintenance that I believe many people transition from simply decluttering to becoming a minimalist.

A LIFESTYLE CHANGE

Like I've mentioned before, I decluttered a lot of areas of my life before I considered myself a true minimalist. And there are even days where I look around my home, still feel a little bit overwhelmed by the excess, and wonder if or when I'll be a "real" minimalist (whatever that means).

I don't know if anyone who begins to remove clutter from their life specifically starts with the goal of becoming a minimalist. It's possible that is the case for some, but I think it's probably rare.

Rather, what happens most often, and what happened for myself is that, as you travel down the path of decluttering and removing excess from your life, a shift in perspective happens.

You begin to see how much calmer your home feels without clutter and mess all over the place. You notice how much easier it is to choose an outfit in the morning and how much more confident you feel when you purge and curate your wardrobe. You see how your heart and soul can breathe a bit easier when you narrow your commitments down to only the essentials. You recognize how much better your body feels and looks when you nourish it with simple, whole things. You find you can hear yourself think again when you choose to consciously consume by unsubscribing, unfriending, and unfollowing.

Sooner or later, these moments of clarity and revelation add up and you begin to see that the old adage "less is more" has some serious weight behind it. You begin to see the possibilities open to you when your life isn't always filled to overflowing. You begin to see just how much you were missing when life was packed full of unnecessary things, commitments, information, and ideas that added no real value to your life.

It's in these moments that I believe minimalists are born. As we remove the excess from our lives — no matter what area — we begin to see that a simpler, slower, quieter life offers far more lasting value than a life that never stops.

No one wants to live a mediocre life. Even if we all aren't destined to change the world on a global scale, I believe, deep down, we all want to know that we didn't waste the time we've spent on this earth. We want to know that we've focused on the things that have lasting value — family, friends, memories — instead of things that will fade away.

Sometimes I still feel a little bit weird when I tell people I'm a minimalist. If they're in my home, they usually raise their eyebrows and not so subtly glance over at my bookshelf, which, admittedly, has a not-so-minimal number of books on it. If we're somewhere else, I can almost see the images of what they think minimalism means floating through their head and all the ways I don't match up to it.

But here's the thing, minimalism isn't prescriptive. There isn't a formula and a right or a wrong way to do it. My minimalism, as a single, 20-something bibliophile, looks different than the minimalism of a married couple without children which looks different than the minimalism of a family with young children.

The important thing isn't how you do it, what you keep, or the number of things you ultimately wind up with. The important thing is allowing that shift in perspective — fighting against the cultural message that the things you own represent your success, that you must be busy in order to be productive, that who you are and what you have will never be enough — and recognizing that the most important things in life were never things.