It was several years ago, during a time when I was really struggling with my “singleness.” I was pouring my heart out to my spiritual director about how I hated the prospect of never marrying, how I was sick to death of only finding the “wrong” guys and even sicker to death of showing up at events alone, how every vision I had ever envisioned for my future revolved around children, and how a life without marriage felt to me like a life without love.
He listened sympathetically, and then we began to pray about it. I don’t remember exactly how the praying went. But I do remember that, at the end, we both had a very clear sense that God had spoken. His response was this:
“Simple love is sufficient.”
“Simple love? What the heck is that? I want love love. You know, romance and fireworks and ‘forsaking all others’ and the whole package.”
“Simple love is sufficient.”
So I was left with no choice but to confront the concept of “simple love.” I had spent my entire adult life traveling around the world speaking to audiences about love. I knew what it was. And I knew there were different types of love—agape love, family love, friendship love, romantic love. Of all of them, “romantic” love—the love of a husband and a wife—was certainly the least simple. It involves the blending of two lives and the meshing of two egos. It’s day-in-and-day-out “working it out,” building a life together. It can be incredibly rewarding (or so I’ve heard), but it isn’t simple.
I didn’t have romantic love in my life, but I did—and do—have simple love. I have single and divorced friends who share my dateless Saturday nights and my lonely single moments. I have married friends who include me in their family dinners and their kids’ birthday parties. I have brothers who have my back, and a sister who has made me an extended part of her family. I have nieces and nephews who call me “Bopper” (or “Mom . . . I mean Bop”), who I love like they were my own. And I have a 91 year old dad who still walks over to my house to put my cans away on trash day, and an 82 year old mother who still makes dinner for me when she’s afraid I’m not eating well enough.
My life may be lacking in romantic love, but it is certainly not lacking in love.
It’s not automatic. Like married love, “simple” love needs to be constantly cultivated. I need to love. I can’t take friends or extended family for granted any more than I could take a spouse for granted. First, I need to force myself out the cozy cocoon of my house, to meet people who may later come to join my circle of “simple love.” And once they are there, I need to love them, to think about how I can be God’s love in their lives. I’m not saying I’m great at any of that, but I have realized I need to try.
I know what you’re saying: “But it’s not the same!” Of course it’s not the same. Having a lot of people in your life who care about you isn’t the same as having one person who has given himself to you. Loving somebody else’s kids isn’t the same as loving your own kids. I get that. I feel that. I live that.
But God didn’t tell me it was the same. He didn’t tell me it was ideal. He told me it was sufficient. He told me it was enough—that, if I would stop grasping for the one kind of love I didn’t have and instead look around at all of the love I did have, I would find that there is great joy and happiness to be found in that “simple love.”
Of course I still have difficult moments, and lonely moments, and moments when I see clearly that this arrangement may be sufficient, but it is hardly ideal. But that—the gap between “sufficient” and “ideal”—is something I can offer to Him. It is in those moments, turning to Him in prayer, that I see most clearly that nothing in this life is “ideal,” and that His is the only love that will ever fully satisfy.
I am not closed to the possibility that I may someday marry. Who knows what God has in store? But I do know that He gave me a great gift that day, when He shot down my silly notion that an unmarried life must be a “loveless” life, and opened my eyes to the love already surrounding me. He assured me that, when it comes to love, He will provide me—and you—with our “daily bread.”
And he showed me that, for now, simple love is indeed sufficient.