This article was originally published at Grace Filled Mind. It is reprinted below in its original format.
There a lot of incredible and inspiring Christian women out there, y'all, and I am so honored that God put some of them in my life! I had the immense pleasure and opportunity to interview Betsey Sawyer on the topic of living a beautiful, joyful, and purposeful single life. If you need good dating advice, Betsey is your girl. You may have already read her work since she routinely writes for Women of Grace®. You can check out their blog here and their Instagram here.
I've known my dear friend Betsey for a long time. We actually grew up together just two houses down the street from one another in Gulfport, Mississippi. We have spent quite a bit of time cutting up together and she's been there for me through so many seasons of life. Check out these shots from my wedding:
While my journey led me to graduate school in psychology, Betsey went to Ole Miss Law School and practiced law for a few years. She now teaches college courses in Mississippi and works as the Mission Advancement Coordinator of Women of Grace®, an Apostolate that seeks to transform the world one woman at a time by affirming women in their dignity and vocation as daughters of God and in their gift of authentic femininity™ through ongoing spiritual formation.
As a testament to her spiritual gifts, she is a board-certified life coach and deeply committed to serving in her local parish. She is passionate about helping others embrace the life God has intended for them. She's tenacious, witty, and freakin' hilarious. You'll always find her with fabulous hot pink or red lipstick on and about three crucifixes around her neck. She's been my confidant and life coach multiple times over...And true to her adventurous spirit, she's jet setting to Rome to attend the canonization of Blessed Pope Paul VI in October.
Dr. Rose: A "Woman of Faith" is a woman after the heart of God. How do you chase after the Lord and incorporate your faith into your busy days?
Betsey: In Emotional Virtue, Sarah Swafford discusses an experience she had in confession one time while on retreat. During confession, the priest advised her:
“I want you to run, run to Jesus, and I want you to take everything you are feeling, everything you are worried about, your past, your pain, and I want you to lay it all down at His feet. Put everything in a box and drop it off at His feet. You don’t have to carry it anymore. Fall into His arms and let Him love you and forgive you; and when you are strong, and whole, and you have been healing, I want you to run with Him; and when the time is right, glance to the side and see who is running with you.”
That, to me, is the most beautiful testament of chasing after the Lord. To bring Him my joys, sufferings, experiences, mistakes, pain, happiness, and questions day in and day out is the meaning of my existence. Incorporating faith into my life simply means organizing my schedule around my prayer time. And while this isn’t easy (and I don’t do it well), I strive to improve. Offering up my work for others has been a real joy, and intercessory prayer has changed my life.
The greatest gift my job with Women of Grace has given me is the understanding of what true authentic femininity is. I am so fortunate to be surrounded by strong women who embrace their role as daughters of God and who encourage me to be the woman God created me to be. I cannot fathom going back to the days before I really knew what this meant.
Dr. Rose: As a single woman, you DO live out an important vocation and role in the Church body. Share with us your insights (and struggles) about the single life.
Betsey: I think the single life is a beautiful stage that has its fair share of excitement and questions. There is a joy in the freedom to serve regularly, which is specific to the single life. At no other phase in life can you really dispose of yourself so flexibly. But there is also the temptation to live selfishly, to do whatever you want whenever you want! It’s an interesting balance-I have to make sure I take care of myself while scheduling time to serve others. While I cannot pour from an empty cup, I LOVE self-care…so I have to be careful to not indulge myself too much! (Apparently you can spend too much time in a spa!)
As a single woman, I have found that our culture either idolizes marriage or negates its importance. There is often little emphasis placed on the time spent in between- that vulnerable period of time wherein one knows they are ultimately called to marriage yet is currently living in the single phase. It’s a really beautiful time period. I think we often focus too much on where someone should be rather than recognizing that God calls each of us daily regardless of the stage.
This idea that the single life is a time of waiting rather than an actual important phase in life (like any other phase) tells an individual that his or her life only begins or matters once he or she gets married. And that’s just simply not true. If that were the case, our childhood, teenage years, young adulthood, and possibly any time of life after a spouse dies would basically not matter. Marriage is an aid to holiness, just like the religious life. And until we view it for what it is, we are going to continue to idolize it.
In our society, there is a real disconnect. For example, as a thirty-one-year-old single woman (who has never been married nor had children), I am either celebrated for not falling into the “trap” of getting married “too early” (as if I have achieved some level of wisdom for “avoiding” marriage) or I am questioned in regards to my decisions (“Don’t you want children?” “You’re just too picky!” “You don’t have much longer to have a baby!”).
One thing I have realized that has changed my views on how I approach the single life is simply recognizing what marriage in fact is, rather than what we idolize it to be. It isn’t a goal…it isn’t an accomplishment…it isn’t a prize. To label it as such undermines its value. I have a Savior; I don’t need another one. Rather, marriage is a sacrament-a tool for getting to heaven. It’s a continual death of self, wherein one is decreased and He is increased through the self-sacrificial love of the other.
And am I picky? I would hope everyone is. I mean, if God willing, I am bringing life into the world with another person and am spending the potentially next sixty plus years with a man, I hope I am selective in the process. Call me crazy, but that seems like quite a task!
Dating as a Catholic woman in today’s culture has been really challenging. I was sharing recently with a friend that as practicing Catholics, we have two choices: we either trust and surrender to God and His timing, or we take it into our own hands completely. Specifically, if we want to marry another practicing Catholic, we have to wait on God’s plan and trust He will provide (which is the ideal, of course), or we make alternative decisions that ultimately may not be for the best long term. I love the quote, “We have enough crosses to bear; there is no reason to create more for ourselves.”
Before I elaborate, I want to clarify. Half of my family and friends are non-Catholic Christians. I have learned so much from them and grown tremendously in my Faith because of them. But interfaith marriages are not the ideal because of the differences. This is by no means about superiority or inferiority; it’s simply about differences and the likelihood of making those work for decades, especially when children are added to the family structure. Father Mike Schmitz did a great talk on this, and he always explains everything better than I can.
There are so many realities about today’s culture that just didn’t exist to the same degree fifty years ago. The dating culture has changed so much. Even amongst those who identify as practicing Catholics, there has been a shift in what is and what isn’t acceptable. This notion that we focus on our own self at all costs and seek pleasure above anything else has nearly destroyed how we as a society view relationships. Yet, remaining faithful to one’s values and morals within our present-day society is a must, which is no easy feat. And being able to look at my husband one day and know that waiting on him and enduring crosses along the way was the right decision is really important to me.
A good friend of mine who works for FOCUS recently told me that there is a real gift in growing in holiness before marrying another person-being able to desire that holiness individually before entering into matrimony. For that gift, I am truly grateful.
Dr. Rose: Can you share your story of discernment about your vocation?
Betsey: I always assumed I was called to marriage because no one ever talked to me about any other option. It wasn’t until I met a group of religious sisters around my age that I started to think I should discern my vocation. I mean, I wasn’t married yet, so why not? God clearly opened my heart in that time of discerning, and I do firmly believe I am called to marriage. But there is this reality in our pews that if you are Catholic and go to mass regularly and really try to live out the faith that you are called to the religious life. I have been asked several times if I am “going to be nun.” (I always want to sarcastically say, “Nuns live cloistered lives. Could you actually see me living a cloistered life?” But I refrain.) I had this fear at one point (which I think is common) that I was called to the religious life--to be a religious Sister (that fear was silly, because, well have you ever met a Sister?! THE JOY!) To be a bride of Christ would be an honor. But I think that fear and anxiety pointed to something so much more--that reality I was called to be a bride, just not in that supernatural way.
As a single woman who has been dating for over half of her life I have made my fair share of mistakes in dating and would love to spare other young women from doing the same. Check out the upcoming blog post I am writing with Rose on solid and tangible dating advice! Stay tuned :)
Dr. Rose: There's a lot of negativity out there about men among single women. I hear so often that there are "no good guys" in the church. Do you have any hope to share on this topic?
Betsey: I used to think there were no good Catholic men in the world (except for priests)…until I met some. Sometimes, it simply takes branching out and seeing the world. If it weren’t for conferences, groups, or work, I would likely not have met so many awesome Catholic men.
Oftentimes, we simply have to throw our expectations out the window and see how God will surprise us. But I think knowing thyself first is crucial. I also think building friendship is more important than anything else. When a woman and a man come at a relationship in the beginning with the mentality that it has to work out, they force something that simply may not be meant to be. Romance is beautiful, and there is a time and place for it (ummm, guard that heart, y’all!) However, when you see another person as a child of God, as someone to truly get to know without all the added stuff, and allow charity and fidelity to build, you’ll be surprised when you wake up and have fallen in love with the person in front of you without having forced it. What a joy to build from, and it creates something beautiful to truly look forward to together. But you have to embrace the importance of waiting in all its many forms.
Dr. Rose: During this season of life, what are your 'weapons' of faith in staying pure and living a purposeful life of hope and joy?
Betsey: The spiritual battle is a reality. And the closer we get to God, the harder the devil works to pull us away. There are several tools I recommend utilizing:
Get a spiritual director. Mine has been a game changer for my life. It’s amazing to have someone consistently in your life who is able to help you as you discern daily life. I also get to go to confession with him regularly, and it’s been a real blessing. He holds me accountable and reminds me when I need to pursue other directions. I prayed for a spiritual director, and God provided. He always does, y’all.
Pray. Consistency in prayer is so important. My spiritual director and I have implemented a Rule of Life for my prayer that has really helped with stability in my prayer life. One thing I know about myself is that I am not the most consistent individual. As a result, scheduling time to pray is of utmost importance for me. Someone once told me that our lives should revolve around our prayer and not the other way around. I like to keep that in mind.
Consider a dating fast. If you have reached a point where you are stressing about your love life, it’s time to take a break. Meaning, if you are using way too many dating apps, are going on way too many dates per week (or per day...), or are trying to force a relationship, it’s time to take a step back and reevaluate this whole marriage thing and your own personal reliance on God.
Friendship. I cannot stress how important it is to be surrounded by good Christian influences. We all need a support group. Pray for friends and watch God shower them upon you.
Novenas. These nine-day prayers are incredible sacramentals that really center a person in consistent prayer. Pray More Novenas follows the liturgical calendar in regards to feast days and often sends out novenas that lead up to those days. Some of my favorite novenas are: St. Clare, St. Anthony, St. Anne, St. Joseph, and Mary Undoer of Knots.
Therapy. We all have issues…promise. Even the individuals who look like they have it all together have problems. What you do with those issues is key. Get in therapy. Find someone you can trust who can objectively guide you through healing. AND keep reading this blog! Dr. Rose will have LOTS of awesome stuff to help with mental health.
Daily mass and weekly/bi-[monthly] confession are also a go-to for me. Getting to confession really helps me stay focused on examining my conscience and the graces received are immeasurable. I also cannot imagine how I got by without daily mass. Finding the thirty minutes to give back to God during mass is such a gift that I wouldn’t trade.
Some of my favorite books that have been so helpful on this journey are:
Full of Grace: Women and the Abundant Life by Johnnette Benkovic
Men, Women and the Mystery of Love by Dr. Edward Sri
Heaven’s Song by Christopher West
Experience Grace in Abundance by Johnnette Benkovic
Captivating and Wild at Heart by John and Stasi Eldredge
The Thrill of the Chaste by Dawn Eden
The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis
Searching for and Maintaining Peace by Jacques Phillipe
Navigating the Interior Life by Dan Burke
Emotional Virtue by Sarah Swafford
Dr. Rose: Don't you just love Betsey's honesty and the absolute strength of her walk during her time of singleness? I hope you're as inspired as I am. Betsey and I are writing a follow up post about intentional dating, so stay tuned sisters. If you want to reach out to Betsey, check her out on Instagram: @betsey.sawyer and @women.of.grace.
Betsey Sawyer is an attorney and adjunct professor in Mississippi, and works for Women of Grace as the Mission Advancement Coordinator. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. (Photo courtesy of Eliza Kennard Photography)