For the past nine years, my sister and her husband have served as missionaries in Papua New Guinea. They return to the U.S. every two years to raise support for the following two years of ministry. Years ago, we started a tradition of taking family photos at my parents’ house during their summer furloughs. This particular story takes place during their first return to the States seven years ago.
I’ve been the only single person in my family for more than twelve years now, and that reality has weighed on me with various amounts of intensity. On this particular day, my singleness felt like a crushing monster that threatened to destroy my hope, leaving only a sad, lonely, and empty existence.
It was a beautiful Midwestern summer day, but as the photoshoot progressed, I felt increasingly out of place and alone. Every time we moved to a different location and arranged ourselves, I was reminded that I was the only one who didn’t have “their person” who automatically stood beside them. My parents had each other, my brother had his wife, and my sister had her husband.
There were even a few joking comments made about how I was the only one there who didn’t have someone to put his arm around.
Every smile became more and more fake as an invisible hand seemed to squeeze tighter and tighter around my insides. I used every ounce of strength to fight back tears so my family wouldn’t see the pain on my face.
After many hours of picture-taking, the sun began to set on the horizon. Wide open fields surround my parents’ house, and the view can be quite spectacular. We finished the day by taking silhouette pictures with the blazing orange-and-pink sky as our backdrop.
We began with a few group photos, followed by each couple having their turn. My siblings lovingly kissed their spouses and lifted them up in the air as some of the most romantic and precious images I’d ever witnessed.
I stayed to watch for a little while, knowing that no one would ask me if I wanted any pictures by myself. That would have been absurd, right?
It didn’t take long for me to reach the end of what I could handle with my family. So, I ran away.
I don’t even know if anyone noticed my going inside, but I ran into the bathroom and locked the door behind me. Not even bothering to turn on the lights, I leaned against the wall and sank to the floor. Tears poured down my face as I sat hunched over, clutching my chest. Thoughts swirled in my head like daggers waiting to take their turn to strike at my heart.
I’ll never have “my person” to bring into this family.
I’ll never take beautiful sunset pictures with someone I love dearly.
I’ll never kiss my spouse in front of my siblings as smiles form on my parents’ faces.
I’ll always be the odd one out.
I’ll always be the one running away to cry in the bathroom.
I’ll always be alone.
Now, I share this story not as a way to garner pity but rather to testify to the amazingly redemptive work that God has done in my life and heart over the past seven years. At that point in time, my sexuality was not an open topic of conversation, and my thoughts about long-term singleness were still in their infancy.
To run the risk of sounding cliché, my family didn’t know any better, and I can promise that I harbor no anger or bitterness toward them.
Much healing has taken place since that day, and I’m more hopeful about my future as a single person than I have ever been.
In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus responds to Peter’s claim about giving up everything to follow him:
“Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.”
At different times I’ve been tempted to angrily say to Jesus, “In order to follow you, I’ve given up the dream of marriage, sexual intimacy, and the possibility of having a family of my own which in this culture is everything!”
To which he has gently and repeatedly responded, “No, Jacob. The reality of being united with me means that you’ve been made a part of a family that’s more eternal than marriage, more fulfilling than sexual intimacy, and more intimately bonded than blood relations.”
Practically speaking, this also means that my closest brothers and sisters in Christ will fill many of the roles and functions typically found in nuclear families. And that’s one of the most beautiful realities of being a part of the Body of Christ.
Singleness does not mean that I don’t have a family of my own, even though most of these participants will not have the same last name.
Are there still certain dreams that are hard to let go of? Absolutely. But God continues to reveal to me that the path of obedience I’m choosing is not a loveless road of isolation but rather one filled with purpose, intimacy, and connection.
And who knows? Maybe one day I will even have a close enough friend who will be a part of the Baranowski family photos; even so, I thank God that He’s graciously provided me with community, belonging, and relationships that feel like home.
You may currently find yourself in a dark bathroom with tears filling your eyes, but I am here to tell you that in Christ there is hope that you will once again bask in the beauty of his sunsets.
Has singleness ever made you feel like an outsider in your own family? Are you part of a non-traditional family, and if so, what does that look like?