Tag Archives: Single

Swallowing My Own Medicine

Sage advice for singles who have ever uttered the phrase, “My parish only cares about married couples and families.”
I had to swallow a big dose of my own medicine today, and it didn’t taste very good.  It’s easy to dole out advice to other singles when life is more-or-less put together!  My life has basically been turned upside-down the past 6 months. The result of which has left me searching for a new spiritual home.  Needless to say, it’s been a bit of an adjustment.

Given the demographics of my northside Chicago neighborhood, it would be easy to find a church with a large percentage of single people – even if that meant a little longer commute to Mass on Sunday morning.  It would be even easier for me to continuously “shop around” – hopping from one church to the next, week after week, without ever making a commitment to one particular church community.  Consistency and accountability are important to me, so church-hopping was not an option.  I had a few basic criteria (good preaching, decent music), but more than anything I wanted to find a church community close to home.

So, for the time being, I’ve landed at a large family friendly neighborhood parish.  It’s a short drive (or a long walk) impeded only by multiple one-way streets.  There is a sense of community and diversity that I find incredibly attractive.  The pastor is outgoing and personable; he remembers names and goes out of his way to introduce people to one another.  It’s not perfect (no place is), but it is a place that I find myself drawn to week after week.

Lately, however, I have found myself repeating that often-voiced single person’s complaint:  My parish only cares about married couples and families.  I never imagined that I would use that phrase to describe my feelings about the church!

I have to admit though, there are a LOT of families at my new parish, and they are blessed with a very active religious education program and a large Catholic school.  As I look around the church on Sunday, I know that I am not the only single person.  Yet despite all that is good about this place, I regularly resist the urge to grab a red magic marker and cross off every announcement in the bulletin that is specifically designed for families and circle the one or two options that are available for singles.

It happened again today, and this time I cried.  I noticed an announcement about an upcoming church fundraiser at a local pub (with the pastor and school principal as guest bartenders, no less!).  Finally, a chance to meet people in a fun social setting!  I couldn’t wait to get home and put the date on my calendar.  Once at home, I opened the bulletin again and noticed a detail I hadn’t previously seen.  RSVPs are to be turned in to the school office, and the response form also requested “your child’s homeroom number”.

Immediately, it became clear to me that this was a social event for parents, and my heart sank.

Sure, I could email the contact person and ask if non-parents are welcome.  It would not be difficult for me walk an RSVP form over to the school office, and I could simply mark “N/A” in that spot inquiring about whether or not I have a child in the school.  Perhaps I’m being foolish for overthinking this, and maybe it’s clear to everyone else that this event is open to all parishoners.  But as a new-comer, it’s really not clear WHO is invited.

(And seriously, if it is open to everyone in the parish, then why do you need a homeroom number?!  Retired people don’t have a homeroom number … neither do single people, or young couples with babies, or couples without children, or families who choose to send their kids to public school, or older adults whose children have graduated! Argh!!! Sorry, end of rant.)

PA280024What I’m realizing, for the first time, is that community is not automatic.  Showing up for Mass is not enough.  Meeting people takes a lot of work, and truly getting to know a person takes consistent effort.  Furthermore, the fruits of those labors are not immediate.  I’ve exchanged friendly good-morning greetings with dozens of people over the past 4 months.  But knowing names does not constitute community, and seeing the same person three weeks in a row does not make you friends.

The perfectionist in me, the part of me that hates being a beginner, quickly grows frustrated.  I keep telling myself that those with a vocation to the single life have a unique role to play in the church.  In theory, I believe this.  In reality, I’m struggling to know how to do this.  At one point, I even thought, “someone should really write a book about … oh, yea… this.”

So, it’s time to swallow some of my own medicine on the subject.


Years ago, my wise older sister and her family moved to a new city, and she developed 3 simple criteria in their search for a new parish – prayer, participation, and presence.  I think the same criteria applies to singles looking to find their place in a family-friendly parish.

1. PRAYER: Is this a place where I can pray well and feel connected to God?  Do I experience God’s presence in the physical space, as well as during the liturgical celebration?

I have to remind myself that church is not about what I get out of it – this isn’t a concert! It’s not about “feeling good” when I leave.  The purpose of our communal prayer is to give glory and praise to God!  We praise God by our singing, by our active participation, by our attentive listening, by greeting one another with a sign of hospitality upon entering, by sharing with one another a sign of Christ’s peace, by receiving Christ reverently in the Eucharist.  We praise God in all these ways.

So, as a single person, how do I praise God when I am constantly distracted by the chatter of small children?

Well, I certainly have a much greater appreciation for family dynamics after spending time with my siblings and their kids!  I’ve been the doting aunt standing at the back of church with a two-year-old who cannot sit still.  And it’s given me a tremendous amount of compassion for parents who are raising their children in the church.

Perhaps my greatest gift as a single person is to welcome, acknowledge, and empower the presence of families – especially those for whom Sunday morning can be a struggle.

Last week, I was well aware of the family of four sitting behind me.  Yet, despite their fair share of squirming and parental hushing, these two grade-school aged youngsters belted out every single word of the Lord’s Prayer with tremendous gusto!  (I found it delightfully humorous, because they reminded me so much of my nephews!)  At the sign of peace, one parent politely apologized for their kids’ antics.  I don’t remember my response, but I’m sure it was something like, “You have a beautiful family, and I’m really glad you’re here!”

Finally, I have to admit that I much prefer extended periods of silent prayer – which is not always possible at a busy parish on Sunday morning.  So, I experiment with different mass times.  I take advantage of time spent at home reading the Sunday scriptures.  Being in a large city, I know the secret hiding places where I can find a quiet prayer space during the week.  Sunday morning liturgy isn’t about me (see comments above); it’s about “us” being the body of Christ together.  The more I attend to my need for quiet time and personal prayer, the better I am able to be joyfully present and appreciative of our entire church family on Sunday.

2. PARTICIPATION: Does the church welcome participation in the liturgy, especially from women, children, lay people, families, single people, young adults, new comers, etc.? Are there opportunities for fellowship, catechesis, faith-sharing, social justice programs, etc.?  Is this a place where I could see myself participating in some way? 

I gave a presentation for singles at a parish several years ago.  During the Q&A, a woman raised her hand and insisted “there is nothing here for singles.”  I was grateful that the Director of Faith Formation was in the room.  She quickly pointed out that most events were open to the entire parish and very few things were exclusively for couples.  Sometimes, it is really a matter of perception.

I find that I need to be brutally honest about what I notice.  As I glance through the Sunday bulletin, the options for families are quickly apparent – religious education for children, a monthly family mass, marriage retreats, a spotlight on one of the teachers.  Sometimes my bitterness makes me blind, and I miss what’s right there in front of me – a book club, bible study, women’s group, food pantry volunteers, garden club, music ministry, a pilgrimage, retreat programs, etc..  If you find yourself saying there is “nothing” here for singles, look again.  Or better yet, look for opportunities to create something for singles.

3. PRESENCE: Am I called from here to be the presence of Christ for others? Are there opportunities for outreach to the community, the poor, and the wider church? 

It’s tempting for me to look at my current situation and say, “I’m not getting anything out of this” and go someplace else.  But then, I know I would be missing out on everything this great multi-generational church has to teach me.  And to be honest, they would be missing out on what a generous single woman like me has to give!  Being new, I sometimes have to remind myself of the most basic things:

Show up!  Do something that requires no commitment other than to be present.  Donuts and coffee after mass is a great example.  It doesn’t get any easier than this!  Grab a cup of coffee, say hello to people, and trust that God is at work in bringing you together.  Building community takes time, but you have to take the first step.

Volunteer!  The possibilities are endless: the food pantry, the choir, bible study, visiting the homebound.  Meet people, ask their names, ask if they live in the area, and ask how long they’ve been members here.  In turn, share something about yourself and give people a chance to get to know YOU.

Remember, you belong here!  The body of Christ includes all of us!  That’s true for men, women, children, teens, families, single parents, widows, divorced, vowed religious, gay, straight, people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds, the uber-pious, the biker gang members (yes, there was a tattooed motorcycle gang at church a few weeks ago!), believers, beginners, the hopeful, the doubtful, the lost and the found, all of us!

Each person brings a unique set of gifts, life experiences, ways of prayer … and single people in particular, at whatever age and stage in life, bring a unique vantage point.

I guess the primary reason I’m committed to staying here is because I can answer YES to those three questions.  Yes, I pray well there – it is a beautiful space, where I continue to feel drawn in.  Yes, I participate there – and I’m especially looking forward to the garden club convening again this spring!  Yes, I’m called forth to be Christ’s presence from there.

If you ask me where I experience the presence of Christ most profoundly these days, it’s at the dining room table (an altar of sorts?) of my best friends – where we have shared copious amounts of bread and wine, simple home-cooked meals, endless cups of coffee, and a lot of gelato!  My friends are endlessly exhausted with raising 3 kids under the age of three.  Their constant refrain is, “It really does take a village, and we’re so grateful that you’re part of ours….”

The “church” I experience in their home is messy, imperfect, filled with laughter, and sometimes interrupted by a toddler announcing she needs to use the potty.  My best friend’s willingness to listen, ask tough questions, and her ability to accept me for who I am is unsurpassed!  We don’t expect each other to be perfect, and we manage to bring out the best in each other even on our worst days.

The time I spend with my friends reminds me that the presence of Christ which I experience on Sunday in this beautiful, imperfect, holy place called “church” truly does prepare me for being and experiencing the presence of Christ in the world.


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Attracted to the Single Life

The following essay was published in “Voices of Hope” – a newsletter from the Society of Helpers – as as part of their recent series on vocations.  I am grateful to share it with you here.  


There was a time when my “attraction radar” was on high alert at all times – beginning with Sunday morning mass, to my Monday morning commute on the train, then the Tuesday volleyball league, Wednesday night bible study, Thursday after work happy hour, and Saturday afternoon run along the lake.  I constantly found myself on the lookout for a potential suitor, and if the same handsome man were to appear at two or more of these locations, then it was a sure sign that we were meant to be together!  I took notice of many people along the way, always trying to read the signs of a potential romantic interest.

Years later, as I embarked on the journey that would take me from an aspiring consulting career into a life of ministry, I made a very conscious decision to put dating on hold.  At first this was a very practical decision which I hoped would give me more time to focus on my studies.  In reality, the actual number of dates was few and far between.  What I really needed was permission to give the radar screen a rest!  Unbeknownst to me, that one decision would have significant consequences for my life and my future.

Suddenly free from the pressure I had put on myself become someone’s other half, I began to take notice of the love that already surrounded me.  I rediscovered my own love of prayer, scripture, and spirituality.  As clients and coworkers learned of my decision to pursue a career in the church, they offered stories of their own faith experiences.  (Many of whom I had worked with for years without ever broaching the taboo subject of religion.)  The friendships I made in graduate school quickly moved beyond the superficial facts of life, and we easily exchanged stories of the not-so-straight paths that brought us to divinity school.  As for romantic relationships, my interest quickly waned in favor of more interesting, meaningful, and intimate conversations with friends, classmates, and prayer group.

What I suspected would be a temporary decision, evolved into a more permanent way of being.  I never intended to spend my years as intentionally single, but the call to single life found me ready and waiting with an open heart.  As I allowed myself to dive into this new reality, I discovered a deep fulfillment and joy in this way of life.  I recognized the truth of the gospel where it says, “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you – and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain.” (John 15:16)  I began to see how God delights in me as a single woman, and God continues to bless and fulfill my “yes” in response to that call.

God calls each one of us to a particular vocation.  And that same gospel passage continues, “This I command you: Love one another.” (John 15:17)  God chooses each one of us to fulfill some unmet need for love in the world.  Each vocation brings with it a different expression of love.  The more I embraced singlehood, the more I recognized the many facets of love in my life.  Love is expressed in generous hospitality, through the intimacy of prayer, and in compassion for those who struggle.  I experience love within friendship, among my students, with my family, and for my goddaughter.

Something else changed when I embraced the single life as a vocation and not merely an extended layover on the way to some more exciting destination.  Instead of keeping an eye toward external markers of beauty, I notice people’s hearts.  I pay attention to sadness and joy.  I recognize confusion and grief.  I watch for gratitude and despair.  I’m curious about people’s feelings, and I’m far less concerned about whether or not they are noticing me.

“To be enamored and elated by the beauty of another person is a gift and can make one feel so much more alive and responsive to others and to God.”  (from the Trappist community)

Last semester, at the suggestion of a mutual friend, I invited a handsome young missionary to speak to our students.  At the end of the evening, one of the girls pulled me aside, “Wow! Did you SEE him?!” Her excitement suggested something we both noticed – his deep blue eyes, dark hair, and other attractive physical features.

Sure, I saw all of those things.  (Although, an earlier version of the single me would have spent much more time obsessing over this.)  Instead, I found myself intrigued by his stories of mission, wrapped up in our conversation about ministry, and inspired by the compassion with which he spoke about his work with the poor.  Grateful for our brief encounter, I was free to bid him farewell, certain that God’s grace was at work in our conversation.  What I desired was not a deeper relationship with this one person, but when our time together was complete, I found myself more encouraged in my own relationship with God.

When we live out our true vocation, our capacity for love exponentially increases.  New parents say, “I never realized I could love one little person so much!”  Even in the midst of tragedy, a couple may reflect, “I never imagined I could love my spouse more than on our wedding day, and here we are 10, 15, 20 years later.”  The same is true for those in religious life and the single life.  We discover countless ways to share our hearts with others, and we are stretched into sacrificial service for those we love.

As we seek to discover our true vocation in life or to grow in deeper commitment within our chosen vocation, I invite you to pay attention to your love.  Who are you in love with?  To whom or toward what is your love being directed?  How expansive is your love?  And how expensive is your love?

Love is so much more than warm feelings or heartfelt expressions.  While love may delight in beauty, it does not desire to possess or control it.  True love multiplies itself – the more we give, the more there is.  Love may cost us something, but it leaves us (and those who receive it) free to live more fully as God intends.  Ultimately, a vocation based in authentic unconditional love draws our hearts closer to God, who is the very source of love itself.

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Happily Ever After Begins Now

I get this question a lot, “What if I’m single, but I really feel called to marriage? How can I use the single years to prepare for the vocation of marriage? And can you give me something more substantial than, “be patient, keeping praying, and wait for God’s perfect timing!” (Which, by the way, are all good places to start!)

Jeremiah 29-11Thanks to the Young Adult Community at St. Clement, I had the chance to answer this question in 30 minutes or less as a part of their “A Shot of Theology” speaker series.

There is a lot of advice that I could serve-up in a short amount of time, but for this burst of “highly concentrated Catholic theology” I focused on the Four F’s of Catholic marriage – Free, Faithful, Forever, and Fruitful – from a single person’s point of view.  (There are some variations on the four F’s, but you can look up Question #3 for the official criteria here.)  So, let’s take a brief look at how the church’s teaching on marriage can be beneficial to singles who are hoping to make a lifetime commitment with someone they love.


In the context of Catholic marriage, the question about freedom is whether or not you are free to marry in the Catholic church.  Likewise, in the marriage rite, a couple is asked to freely give their consent.

So, beyond simply being free to marry, how are you doing with freedom?  Freedom is one of the great gifts of being single! I can choose how to spend my time, where to travel, which friends to hang out with, and what time to get up in the morning.  However, true spiritual freedom is more than doing “whatever I want, whenever I like”. 

When we are truly free, we are compelled to act in accordance with our deepest values and inner truth. True freedom allows us to be the person God intends us to be. What does real freedom look like in the single life? How do we know that we are acting in a way that is truly free? 

True freedom means that I strive to let go of outside pressures, and that I set aside my own agenda, in order to respond to God’s call, wherever that may lead.  I met a guy once who raised his hand during a Q&A session, and he prefaced his question by saying, “I’ve always wanted to be a priest, but I can’t.  I’m an only child, both of my parents are deceased, and if I don’t get married soon I’ll never have a family.” 

He was convinced that marriage was his only option!  Perhaps he was truly called to marriage, but I couldn’t help but wonder if he was limiting his options.  (Didn’t I just hear you say that you always wanted to be a priest?) 

There was this sense of obligation that he MUST get married and that having children was the ONLY way he could be fulfilled. I could hear the frustration in his voice, but mostly because HIS plan was not working.  That’s not true spiritual freedom

(And yes … all of us will go through times when we are lonely or angry or disappointed … and it is good to voice those frustrations!  It’s OK to yell at God, talk to your best friend, even cry if you need to.  Trusting our feelings is part of the discernment process.  My point is to not put limits on what God wants for our lives.)

Growing in freedom comes through prayer (talking as well as listening), through honest discernment (is this something that I want, and is it what God wants also?), and maybe taking a risk to try something new (a geographical move, a career change, accepting a first date with someone who may not necessarily be “your type”, trying a new hobby).  It means exploring ALL of my options (even the options I would consider impossible or improbable), and by allowing our hearts to be completely open to follow God’s will.  It means trusting that God has my greatest happiness in mind.


All Christians are called to a life of holiness – whether we are called to marriage, single life, or religious life. Furthermore, our most fundamental call as Christians is for us to LOVE one another. It is a call to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself.  Discerning one’s vocation is really a response to the question: how am I best suited to love people?

As a result of their baptism, all Christians are called to a life of holiness. This divine calling, or vocation, can be lived in marriage, or in the single life, or in the priesthood or consecrated (religious) life. No one vocation is superior to or inferior to another. Each one involves a specific kind of commitment that flows from one’s gifts and is further strengthened by God’s grace. All vocations make a unique contribution to the life and mission of the Church.  (from: For Your Marriage)

One of the biggest mistakes we can make (and unfortunately, this even happens within the church) is that we glamorize marriage. In our American culture, we have certainly over romanticized marriage and placed too much emphasis on the wedding day. For some people, marriage is the ultimate “goal” or indicator of “success” in a relationship. At times, marriage is so exulted that singles feel an undue pressure to find Mr/Mrs Right. Singles wonder if something is wrong with them because they aren’t in a relationship. Some singles even feel excluded from parish life because they don’t have kids in the Catholic school.

For singles who desire to one day be married, it is essential to name and claim marriage for what it is!  Marriage is a vocation. It is a particular call from God in which two people respond in love for one another. Marriage is also a sacrament. It is a visible sign of God’s invisible grace. Healthy and holy marriages are a mirror of God’s love, and ultimately, they show us how great God’s love is for each of us.

Love is not easy, and most married couples will tell you that they aren’t perfect!  Singles need strong role models if we are going to be realistic about the joys and challenges of married life. I wonder if we can find marriage role models who are deeply committed to one another because love hasn’t always come easy.

Do you know any couples who are struggling financially or have been unemployed?  Is there anyone in your faith community who is coping with aging parents or a sick child?  Do you know any couples who had a miscarriage or waited a long time for an adoption?

Can you ask them (in a loving and gentle way), “how’s your marriage?” What does it really mean to love and honor one another in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer, in good times and in bad?  Perhaps our greatest role models are those who constantly strive for holiness despite a far-from-perfect life.


When a couple walks down the aisle together, we know their “I do” remains firm “as long as we both shall live.”

The idea of commitment is frightening for some singles, and a first step toward commitment might involve getting a cat or taking care of house plants!  But seriously … who are the people in your life that you’re really committed to? What does commitment look like for you?

I often think about my married siblings and their kids.  Life is not always convenient for them.  Their weekends revolve around soccer practice, and their days get rearranged when the carpool driver has to cancel.  Not to mention, a trip to the Emergency Room is rarely scheduled in advance!

My single life is easy in comparison!  But if I’m feeling drawn to marriage, then perhaps I should ask myself, “how am I doing with commitment?”

Am I willing to be inconvenienced without complaint to ensure the safety, success, or well-being of another person?  How much of my time, money, and energy am I willing to sacrifice for my family, friends, and faith community?  What happens when I’m asked to take on responsibilities at the last minute, when I’m already financially strapped, or when I’m simply feeling selfish about my time?

Radical commitment can come as a threat to our independent single lives.  Jesus tells us, “no greater love is there than this, but to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  Love is more than warm, fuzzy feelings.  Love is a decision, and often that means making sacrifices for those we love.  Chances are, the places where we are most fully committed, are also the places we are most fully in love.


Finally, for many people, the desire for marriage also means the hope of someday having children. Children are a great gift, but they are certainly not a guarantee.

The heart of our Catholic teaching on sexuality includes two important words: unitive and creative. I know a priest who asks engaged couples, “where is there ‘more’ in your life since the two of you began dating?”  Often they respond by talking about having more patience, greater forgiveness, or perhaps a hobby they have taken up together.

As single people, we can intentionally practice being fruitful. Where is there room for “more” in your life? The single years are a great time for self-discovery and self-improvement. Who am I? What am I passionate about? What are my strengths? My interests?

And where is “new life” being generated?  How am I allowing God to create new life through me?  New life expresses itself by welcoming guests into your home, creating works of art, visiting a sick friend in the hospital, bringing joy to people through the gift of music, or time spent in prayer. We bring forth new life into the world when we mentor new employees, care for the ill or the elderly, teach young children, and provide financial support to worthwhile causes. New life comes through prayer, through volunteer service, and through relationships with the poor. It happens in chapels and soup kitchens and hospital rooms.

Any expression of love that is truly holy and God-given can always be identified by these two qualities.  It unites us together with those we love, and it creates new life for others. 

The USCCB has a great online resource for married couples called For Your Marriage. It also includes articles for those who are single, dating, and engaged.  What a great tool for anyone who is discerning a vocation to marriage!

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Must Read Articles for Catholic Singles

girl-readingIt’s been a busy couple weeks with a string of speaking events in Chicago and Wisconsin, which concluded this past weekend with a talk at the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Parish Leadership Day.

I have grown quite accustomed to talking about the single life with other singles.  Parish Leadership Day gave me a chance to view the single life through the eyes of pastors, parish council leaders, the faith formation committee, and directors of religious education.  We specifically talked about how giving voice to the single life can add value to the vocations of marriage and religious life (more to come on that soon!).

In the meantime, I promised folks that I would share my favorite online articles about the single life, as it is hard to “link” them on a handout.  Here it goes!

  • The Busted Halo article “Celibate at 23” by Jeff Guhin was my first inspiration to start thinking more seriously about what it means to be intentionally single.  I appreciate his realistic look at chastity, his description of healthy intimacy, and his suggestions for entering into authentic relationships with others.  Furthermore, it led me to write my first published piece on the single life, “How I Stopped Dating and Started Living” parts of which are also featured in Party of One.
  • This article from Francine Cardman, “Singleness and Spirituality” turns 30-years-old this year.  But trust me, there is nothing old or outdated about the wisdom it contains.  The statistics may have shifted, but the underlying spiritual questions remain the same.  Cardman addresses the challenges of friendships, work, sexuality, and singles within the church – all of which are as applicable today as they were three decades ago!
  • More recently, Heidi Schlumpf addresses the concerns of single parents in “Stand Alone Mom”.  I’m always clear with audiences that my writing is intended for those who have never-been-married.  This article gives a great summary of how churches are addressing (or in some cases, could do better at addressing) the needs of single parents who are divorced or widowed. 
  • The challenge of living an authentic single life is a question not only faced by Catholics.  In some cases, I find that our Protestant brothers and sisters are better attuned to the needs of singles in their communities.  I was grateful to stumble upon this sermon “Solid_Singles” by Rick McGinniss of North Heartland Community Church in Kansas City.  The sermon itself is dated, but the message is as timely as ever.
  • Likewise, this recent Valentine’s Day blog post “Reclaiming Singleness” by Corey Widmer at East End Fellowship in Richmond, VA has helped me think about how our views of marriage and single life correspond to one another.  He explains how a healthy understanding of marriage contributes to an abundant single life, and how a favorable view of the single life add to the sanctity of marriage.
  • Finally, here are two great articles from Franciscan Media. (Full disclosure, they are the publisher of both of my books, under the label St. Anthony Messenger Press.)  “Single Catholics: Making Them Feel at Home” by Trudelle Thomas is great for anyone in a parish leadership role.  I used a lot of this information for my most recent workshop.  While “Unmarried and Unashamed: Grace and the Single Life” by Christopher Heffron is a must-read for singles of all ages and stages in life.

If there are other articles or blog posts that have inspired your own journey to live a full and abundant single life, feel free to include them in the comments section below.

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It’s Got a Nice Ring to It

I’ve always wanted a ring.  It doesn’t have to be an engagement ring or wedding band, and I certainly don’t imagine a guy getting down on one knee.  I’ve just always wanted a ring.

Last summer, much to my surprise, I found it!  I was browsing along the Rocky Neck Art Colony, not at all in the market for jewelry, when I wandered into Alma’s Arts & Antiques.  I spied this purple cats eye stone, accented on each side with heart drops, and an expandable silver band.  Not only was it well within my price range, it was utterly cheap.

It is not uncommon for people to notice and comment on it, and not because it is an impressive piece of jewelry.  Rather, they comment on it in light of my single status, some more overtly than others!  “Why are you wearing a ring, I thought you were here to talk about the single life?”  (You get the idea!)

When people ask me about the ring, the first thing I do is take it off and let them see it.  I paid less than $10 for it, and I’m pretty sure my uncle Jeff (a jewelry designer) would be ashamed to know that I’m outfitted with such junk.  But in twelve months’ time, I have not dropped it down the bathroom sink nor has it turned my finger green.  So I’m determined to keep wearing it!

I was intentional about buying the ring, and I intentionally wear it on my left hand ring finger – but all for pretty superficial reasons.  First, I think it’s a pretty ring and I like the way it looks on me.  It goes well with my style and complements my other jewelry.  Second, I’m right-handed.  I would much prefer to wear a ring on my left hand, because I don’t like getting it caught on things when I’m writing or washing dishes.  Finally, the ring reminds me of my trip to Gloucester.  I can recount many significant moments there, although none of them are specifically tied to the ring itself.

I wish I had some wonderfully thought out, theologically astute, and spiritually enriching answer to why I wear the ring.  To be perfectly honest, I didn’t have a good answer whatsoever, until I made a spontaneous remark a few weeks ago at Theology on Tap.

Someone asked about the ring again, and I could hear the caution in her voice. “I wanted to ask you about the ring …” she said.  Afraid of what she might say next, I quickly pulled it off my hand.  I told the story of where I bought it, and then I said, “It’s kind of funny actually, because this is not the ring I would have chosen for myself. If I were the one picking out the ring, I would much prefer my birthstone, and I definitely would have selected a solid metal band.”  She complimented me on the ring again, and much to my relief, we went on to talk about something else.

It wasn’t until later that night on the drive home that I reflected on what I said.  “This is not the ring I would have chosen for myself.”

Most people do not intentionally choose the single life.  Given the choice, I think a lot of singles would prefer to be married.  Of course, we all like to think that we would choose the “happily ever after” version and not the gritty reality that includes dishes, diapers, sleep deprivation, financial downturn, cancer diagnosis, etc..  But perhaps even some of the most happily married couples or the most content people in religious life would say something similar.  “I never could have imagined choosing this, but God knew better than me.”

The fact that this is not the ring I would have chosen for myself explains exactly why it is the perfect ring for me.  The single life is probably not the life I would have chosen for myself, but it is where God has called me to be.  As I have allowed myself to embrace the single life with an open heart, I realize how mysteriously perfect God’s design is for me.

There are times when I absolutely rejoice in being single!  Other times I wonder, how did I get here?!  As I reflect on some of the more significant decisions of my life … you know the ones, when two paths diverged in a yellow wood, and I had to make a choice.  There are decisions in my life that I perhaps would not have chosen on my own, but it is so evident that God’s providence has lead me to the place I am today.

If I had a choice, I would have gone to college at Creighton rather than Briar Cliff.  It turned out that Creighton wasn’t a good fit; and Briar Cliff just felt like home.  I followed my heart, and it was one of the best decision I ever made.

I signed up to interview with three different internship supervisors for my M.Div. practicum, but the Sheil Center was not on my original list!  God had something better in mind.  Once I met the director from Sheil, all of the other options fell to the wayside.  Eight years later, the rest is history!

God willing, I will be going on a mission trip to Haiti later this year.  (I’m so excited!!)  But I didn’t choose Haiti; I did not go out seeking a mission to Haiti.

Over the last year, I’ve had a deep sense that God was inviting me into something new.   I’ve allowed my heart to be completely open and free, and as we discerned our next mission trip, all signs pointed to Haiti.  Plans are now falling into place and I can feel my heart drawn more deeply there – not because it is Haiti per se, but because I know God is waiting there for our arrival.

So, why do I wear a ring?  I wear it because it reminds me that this is the life God has chosen for me.  It reminds me of 40 days at Eastern Point Retreat House in Gloucester, Mass. and the powerful transformation that God began there.  It reminds me to live in the present, to spontaneously wander into antique stores, to treasure moments of silence, and to linger a little while longer in chapels, forest preserves, and art galleries. It reminds me to live in trust and go wherever God calls, even if it is not the place I would have chosen for myself.


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Accepting the Single Life is Not Admitting Defeat

I’m excited to be speaking this week for Chicago’s annual Theology-on-Tap summer speaker series.  I love going to new places, meeting young adult Catholics from across the diocese, and hearing people’s single life stories!

For anyone who is thinking about coming to an event – or perhaps second guessing whether this is something for you – I’ve recently learned that there is a growing MYTH and misperception about the book, the speaker, and the single life.

For anyone who has read Party of One, you know it’s all about debunking the myths of the single life!  In the book, I talk about how we can use various tools from our spiritual lives to live full and abundant single lives.  Whether you are content to be single, actively searching, casually dating, or almost engaged – I would really encourage all of you to join us for some great conversation this week.

However, before you go, I want to share with you the most recent MYTH that I’ve been confronted with:  Attending a Talk on the Single Life Means You’ve Been Defeated.

Last fall I was giving a talk in Chicago, and someone I know invited a friend to attend the event.  My friend later emailed me and said, “You might be interested to know why my friend declined the invitation to come along.”  She basically said, “I don’t want to be single forever, so why would I go to a talk that’s trying to convince me to stay single. Furthermore, there is something about buying a book or going to a talk on the single life that feels like I’m admitting defeat.”

Ouch.  I’m not sure how she got this impression.  For the record, I’m not here to convince anyone that you should be single forever!  I speak strongly in favor of an abundant single life, but I’m certainly not anti-marriage.  (I’m quite in favor of marriage, actually!)  I try to make it clear that all options are on the table – dating, marriage, single life, religious life, etc.  I discuss spiritual strategies for dealing with loneliness, address concerns about pressure from family, answer questions about intimacy, and enter into authentic discernment about the future … oh, and what to do about that pesky, ever-ticking biological clock!  Ultimately, for those who are called to marriage, I also hope it sets a strong foundation for healthy and holy relationships in the future.

Most myths are based in fear – unsubstantiated, but very real nonetheless – and I suspect this myth has some fears lurking behind it.  Perhaps it is the fear of never finding a partner or wondering if I have somehow failed at the dating-thing.  Some of us worry about other people’s perceptions of us or a lurking feeling that being single makes us “less than” our married counterparts.  There may be specific fears based on a previous relationship, or perhaps coming to a talk like this opens up some old hurts and resentments.

However, attending a talk or buying a book does NOT mean that you’re defeated!  It does not mean that you are doomed to be single forever!  It means that you’re a consciously aware human being.  If you’re feeling defeated, and wondering if a church basement full of other singles is the place to be this week, ask yourself these questions:

How do I really feel about being single?  Am I excited about my life?  Do I enjoy my social-life, my friendships, and my freedom?  Can I find meaning and purpose for my time as a single person?  Or do I find myself jaded and bitter about my single status?  Am I grieving a recent breakup or envious of a friend who recently got engaged?

If you come to a talk on the Single Life telling yourself “I’m really OK being single” – and deep down you’re really not OK – then you’re likely to walk away feeling defeated.  Consider talking with a close friend about “where you are” with your single status.  Better yet, take this into prayer and honest conversation with God.

In our couple-centric society, people often deem marriage or couple hood as “success” and singleness as “failure”.   I cannot think of anything further from the truth!  Whether you are single for now or suspect that you’ll remain single for a long time, being single can be a fulfilling and fruitful way of life.  No one is giving up on YOU and your potential for a full, meaningful, purpose-filled life – regardless of your relationship status.

Come out and share in some great Theology on Tap food, beverage, and conversation!  I hope to see some of you this week.


Sunday, July 22, 2012 at 7:00 pm:  Theology on Tap                                       Fat Man Pizza Pub – 36309 N. Route 41, Gurnee IL

Hosted by Our Lady of Humility and St. Paul the Apostle.   For information contact Kate Kinser at kkinser@ourladyofhumility.org

Monday, July 23, 2012 at 5:30 pm:  Theology on Tap                                       St. Peter’s in the Loop – 110 W. Madison, Chicago IL

For information contact Fr. Ed Shea at edsheaofm@comcast.net

Tuesday, July 24, 2012 at 7:30 pm:  Theology on Tap                                       St. Matthew – 1001 E. Schaumburg Rd., Schaumburg IL

Theology on Tap takes place in the Hughes Center. For information contact Tammy King at tammy26@wowway.com

Wednesday, July 25, 2012 at 7:30 pm:  Theology on Tap                            Dominican University – 7900 W. Division, River Forest IL

Theology on Tap takes place in Lewis Lounge, located on the first floor of Lewis Hall.  For more information contact Kari Hamende at khamende@dom.edu

Wednesday, August 1, 2012 at 7:00 pm:  Theology on Tap                          Mrs. Murphy’s Irish Bistro – 3905 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago IL

Hosted by St. Andrew & Ravenswood Catholic Young Adults.  For more information contact Vince Lacey at vincentlacey@saintandrewchicago.com



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Reflections on Recording the Audio Book

A mysterious package arrived this week from Franciscan Media (formerly St. Anthony Messenger Press).  I’m always happy to receive a package in the mail, but until I tore it open, I had no idea what might be inside.  Much to my delight, the box contained two complimentary copies of the audiobook of Party of One!  We finished the recording way back in September, and I had completely forgotten that these were on their way.

The first question I often receive about the audio book is, “whose voice is on the recording?”   Well, it is me.  Answering that question again this week brought to mind this unfinished blog entry that’s been sitting on my desktop for nearly six months.

Prior to sitting down in the recording studio, I skimmed through the book – mostly to take note of a typo or two that were missed in the last round of edits.  I did not, however, read through the entire manuscript page-by-page.  Several hours into reading the book aloud, I wish I’d been more prepared!

Upon completion of the manuscript, I felt more confident and comfortable with the single life than I’d ever been before.  Sitting there alone in a soundproof booth, just me and a microphone, with the sound engineers three doors down the hall – I felt a surge of emotions that I had not anticipated.

Don’t get me wrong, I love being single!  Most days I am content and completely happy in my relationships, my work, and my personal life.  This is truly the place where God has called me to be.  And yet, as I’m sure is true with any vocation, there is that occasional nagging “if only” voice.  If only I were in a relationship.  If only I had made different choices along the way. If only things could be different.  Is this really where I’m supposed to be?

Reading the book cover to cover allowed me to reflect on the current state of my single life, and I was surprised at how much I need to hear my own advice.


I was amazed at how often I talk about “living in the moment.”  Staying present in the moment is not always easy.  Invariably, we sometimes give in to worry or comparing ourselves to others or a need for control.  Gratitude is a helpful spiritual tool for staying present to what’s in front of us.

Ultimately, gratitude shows me where love is present in my life: where intimacy resides in my relationships, where laughter overflows in my friendships, and how the generosity of friends and strangers alike provides for what otherwise seems to be missing.


I tell a story in Party of One about a pottery studio in southern Utah that I visited many years ago.  I also spent a significant part of the summer on the East coast on retreat and visiting friends.  All of this reminded me of how much I love to travel, and how desperately this sense of adventure has been missing from my life!

God, who first breathed life into us at the beginning of time, is the ultimate Artist.  It is in God’s very nature to be generative. As children of the Artist, we all have inherent creative instincts. … As single people, it is important that we find an outlet for being generative in order to fulfill that hope and desire that our activities and relationships become life-giving for others.

Creativity and new life come in many different shapes and forms.  I made a New Year’s resolution to take advantage of opportunities to “try something new”.  So far this year I have eaten octopus at a local Korean BBQ, attended a bris at the invitation of a Jewish colleague, and taken my first (and probably last) music lesson on the french horn. (One of my students needed a guinea pig for his music pedagogy class, and I enthusiastically volunteered!)


Finally, I’ve been reconfiguring my work-life balance, and the chapter on hope rang true on many levels.  As I’m now finishing this blog entry at the half-way point of Lent, it also seems fitting to mention that hope is at the heart of the Pascal Mystery.  As we allow pieces of our past to die, we trust that new life is on the horizon.  My Lenten journey has been all about “breaking up” with bad habits and allowing new opportunities to unfold.  That is how transformation happens.

Hope means letting go of the past, holding onto what is good, and re-imagining the future. What remains when all else is stripped away? What in my life, what of my purpose, my identity, my mission, and my values in life still remain?  Maybe there is nothing obvious at first glance. But perhaps there is a tiny seed of hope buried deep in the darkness.

Party of One: Living Single with Faith Purpose and Passion – Available in paperback, Kindle edition, and now in audio format!

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