I wake slowly, face-down, stretching my legs, cupping my toes over the end of the bed, feeling my calf muscles pull and retract. My head is lying flat, on 400 thread count white sheets. I am facing left, the breeze from my open window setting across my face, the window’s linen blind pulsing steadily in the same breeze.
I spread my right arm out feeling the empty space in my bed. My heart sinks.
There has never been anyone in this space, but I still feel the void all the same. My bed has never been shared, I have never been cuddled too tightly, or felt the aching space of an evening argument which keeps two hearts and bodies apart. I have never had to fight anyone for the covers and when I am cold, I am cold alone.
I stretch my left arm out, toward the window, rest my hand on the screen. My heart breaks a little more every day. It breaks itself and heals itself, and it does it all under the watchful, loving eye of God, so I am not alone, though I feel alone.
I used to worry I would not be married by 24. Then I worried I would not be married by 29. Now I worry I will never come to terms with always being alone. It is a hard thing to share one’s bed with no one and it is a hard thing to wake every morning feeling more undesirable than the night before.
Friends think they are consoling when they say marriage is hard work (who among us thinks it is not?) or when they complain that she steals all the covers or he snores or she likes to cuddle and he only like sex. They think this is consoling.
But it is not.
Because the night comes slowly, every blessed day, like the poet, Richard Wilbur, said, a punctual rape, same in, same out; but morning comes quickly and I spread my arm across this empty space feeling aloneness more than ever before.
Fabs Harford wrote about Fasting from Intimacy and this resonates in me because there is no monster inside of me more ravenous than the one who craves intimacy. I lean across the table in loud restaurants and ask hard questions. I hug tightly without discretion or discrimination. I touch the hands and shoulders of people I love, and sometimes barely know. I lean in. I do this because I am starving for intimacy and I am unafraid of that monster. I know he can kill me. But I know I will starve without his hunger.
Singleness is a beautiful thing and when I take account of the past decade I see a faithfulness to its beauty in my life in a way that only comes from grace, but I also see a succession of tiny funerals every step of the way. A cemetery full of them. Adventures I have had alone. Mornings I have woken alone. Moments I have reveled in alone. Each one bringing joy in its experience and mourning in its completion.
Life is meant to be shared and marriage is not the only way to share life, I know this, but the mystery of two flesh becoming one is a mingling that cannot be known by me, with my bed all to myself, 400 thread count sheets, open window, and quiet morning. And I mourn this.
Tim Keller preached a sermon called Jesus, Lord of the Wine, and he teaches how Christ is the Lord of the wedding feast, how His first miracle was in a wedding, turning water into wine and how this is a sign to us that He is for our joy. And not just our eventual joy, as the old Calvinists would have us believe, but for our present joy, our joy here on earth, in empty beds, empty hearts, and single flesh.
I meditate on this morning before I break my night’s fast.
The hunger in my belly a reminder that there is a feast before me, whether it is the feast I envision for my life or not, it is a feast that brings joy somehow and in some way. And there are mornings when it will be hard, like this one. There will be nights when my fast from intimacy is painful and I shake my fist at God, or ignore Him altogether.
But He is for my joy and joy is there too, in the song of birds outside my window, the Roman blind shivering in the breeze, and the 400 thread count sheets, covers all to myself. There is joy there—a small, but ebbing joy.