This last week my nearly 102 year old grandmother passed away. To say that my grandmother had a full and incredible life would be an understatement. She was strong, strong willed, and loving. She loved God and her family. She was a pastors wife, teacher, and mother to four, and she understood ministry – both vocationally and personally.
She loved Jesus and never stopped growing. She always read the bible. Always. She prayed for every person in our family – probably pretty much every day. She was traditional, but yet always tried to learn new stuff – be it from the bible or the ministry that I was doing. I remember being sort of amazed when “The Passion” came out that she wanted to watch it. She was 90. I’ve never known anyone closer to Jesus than my Grandmother.
This was a woman who came into her adulthood in the depression. She was a woman of faith, strength and love. She was the true Matriarch of our family.
Today’s post is going to be a little different and a touch longer than normal. I want to talk about what, looking back, I can learn from my grandmother about singleness. I do this because there is no way to tell my story of singleness without her in it. So let’s start there.
From when I was in my twenties, grandmother always wanted me to find a spouse. I mean it was a constant question. I’m not going to lie. Sometimes it was annoying. I’ve written before about family and singleness and responding to others. But this woman was so determined for me find a spouse that it was tough. I remember thinking, “maybe you should just get me a wife for Christmas” or “if it were that easy I’d have found one by now”. She didn’t really ask why I was single as I approached my thirties. She just told me what to do about it. Haha!
In a letter she wrote to me (remember letters?) she said, “I know you are enjoying your work, and you have a house. Now find a woman to share it with!” As my younger brother was finishing school she said, “Get a degree, get a job, and get a wife.” All of which he did, in succession by the way, long before me.
But here’s what made her more than annoying. She meant it! She wanted it for me even when I didn’t. It wasn’t some sort of “I want some grandkids so get busy” thing. It was never demeaning and she never viewed me as incomplete in any way. She just loved me and wanted me to be happy with someone. And what’s more, and this is important for all you married people talking to single people, SHE BACKED IT UP!
This woman prayed for me constantly to find someone. She didn’t have one or two prayers. She prayed for years – no two decades. Yes she talked to me about it (without using platitudes by the way). But her prayer to talk ratio was probably at least 100:1. Think about that.
I had one other cousin that was unmarried. We were both 40 or older. My mom said, only somewhat jokingly, that she was not going to die until we were married. We both got married last year. Well done Grandmother. Well done.
I hate that my grandmother wasn’t able to be at my wedding. I know she would have loved it. One of the hard things about being unmarried for an extended time is that there are some things that we lose along the way. It’s appropriate to mourn those. I know that my grandmother was thrilled, but it isn’t the same. She would have loved our wedding. Absolutely would have loved it.
For my grandmother getting married wasn’t complicated. She knew every story was different but to her, you meet someone and you get married. Grandmother met my grandfather (a visiting young pastor) at age 22 on November 17, 1934. She writes that they went on their first date the next afternoon. Six weeks later as they drove around her hometown he asked, “Do you think you could marry me” or something to that effect. She said yes and they were married 6 months later. Talk about not playing around.
Now it’s easy to dismiss this as old school etc. But here’s the reality. 1935 was no American utopia. They had it a lot tougher than we’ve ever thought about having it. They had nothing. But they knew what they wanted. As she writes, “we had known each other only six weeks, but we felt we knew what we were doing.” Apparently. They stayed married over 54 years until my grandfather passed away. This leads me to another great point we can take from my grandmother.
My grandmother lived nearly 25 years longer than her husband. So she understood what it meant to live alone. She never slept in their room again for the four years she lived in that same house. But she didn’t sit around and feel sorry for herself. In fact as we shared stories this past weekend, no one could think of one time that my grandmother complained.
She moved twice. She always joined a church and made friends. She encouraged others – be they in her study group, her neighbor, or even her pastor. Being married for 54 years was a gigantic part of her story, but it wasn’t her whole identity. The significance of that can’t be overstated. To completely and selflessly love another person while keeping your identity in Christ. What an example.
She lost her husband of 54 years. She mourned but she didn’t complain. She lost a brother, a daughter, even a grandkid. She lived by herself and the last few years in a nursing home but she didn’t complain – she adapted. She lost her sight and one of her biggest loves – reading. She listened to audio books – including the bible. One of my last conversations with her she said, “I’m in some pain, but hey, I’m 100.” True that.
Yes she had the love of her life. But she also lived without him for longer than most of us will. There is something for us to learn from that. So much that there isn’t space here even if I could explain it.
What it comes down to is the woman was powerful in the Kingdom of God.
So thanks Grandmother for walking me through singleness – for pushing me, challenging me, loving me, praying for me and maybe most of all backing it up with how you lived it out. Unbelievable.