Embracing Single Life as a Young Catholic

Sitting in the adoration chapel at 3:00 am, I was at a crossroads, asking the Lord whether I should continue my current career path or start a new journey as a FOCUS missionary. The answer suddenly became clear: speaking to my heart the Lord said, “I have been shaping you over the last 5 years to share your talents in discipleship with college students.”

While I felt peace in giving my yes to FOCUS, I knew there was a major hurdle: My yes to FOCUS would take me away from the stability that I deeply prized. Further, I was 28 and single, and I knew becoming a missionary would likely limit my opportunities for dating. I didn’t know it at the time, but through FOCUS God was teaching me how to flourish in my single years.

Fast forward, five years later, I am turning 33 this summer (2023). I am still single, and it is not for lack of trying. I have tried dating within my own network, speed dating, dating apps, and being set up by friends. There has been plenty of loneliness, frustration, and disappointment in the process, but whether God’s plan for me is a future marriage or not, He wants me to flourish in my single years. And through these past 5 years working for FOCUS, He has shown me that the habits of missionary discipleship are the way to flourish in the Catholic single life.

barefoot man praying in Catholic Chapel

FOCUS teaches that missionary disciples have three habits to be effective disciple makers:

  1. Divine Intimacy: cultivating a deep, personal friendship with Jesus Christ through prayer.
  2. Authentic Friendship: genuinely loving the people we are serving, accompanying them and personally investing in their lives.
  3. Vision for the Little Way of Evangelization: Like Jesus, bringing the Gospel to the entire world by investing deeply in a few and training them to share the Gospel with others.

FOCUS constantly reinforces these habits to our missionaries and our students in discipleship. What I discovered over the course of my time with FOCUS is that the key to flourishing as a Catholic single is living the same three habits plus a bonus one. The following are four tips to flourish as a Catholic single:

Divine Intimacy

I have often heard married couples say to single Catholics “Look how much time to pray!” Honestly, this can feel like a consolation prize, especially if we have been striving in the dating game for so long. However, the opportunity here is that we have time to pray about God’s dream for us both now and in the future. By building a daily prayer life, we allow God to speak to our hearts in a certain way, and perhaps He has special lessons to share with us during our time of singlehood. One insight that has come to me over the years is “The habits we build in our single years is how we will live our Vocation.” The more we can cultivate lives of virtue and prayer the greater the foundation we can build for marriage and family life.

Authentic Friendship

In the last decade or so of being single, my friendships have led me to encounter God and His creation in ways that I would not have as a married person. My friends have helped me achieve some of my dreams like attending a Packers game at Lambeau Field to completing a half-ironman triathlon. Of course, friendship goes both ways: over the years I have become a godfather to three boys! In addition, I have financially supported some of my friends trying to adopt, and I realized this is just a simple way I can contribute to marriage and family life at time of singlehood. Perhaps I would not have had these friends or the financial means to support them had I been married.male friends laughing together on a mountain

The Little Way of Evangelization

My singlehood has given me the opportunity to sharing the gospel in several ways over the last decade. During my time with FOCUS, I have led numerous bible studies and discipleship groups including a bible study with a Division-1 football team.  Two of the players made it to the NFL and are faithful witnesses and Catholic leaders for their teammates. Before FOCUS, I served as a Culture Project missionary and spoke to over 18,000 students in 11 states about the messages of sexual integrity and human dignity. It would be extremely unlikely that I would have had the impact of the last decade of mission work had I gotten married in my timeframe.

Intentional Time to Pursue Vocational Discernment

Here is the bonus tip to flourish as a Catholic single. I have observed that some singles seem to be waiting for their permanent Vocation before life can begin. Of course, we have a life to live today. If we want to move towards our Vocation (like marriage or religious life), we should make intentional time to discern and take action. Scheduling time for pursuing Vocation is often more concrete for couples in dating relationships (date nights) and individuals discerning a religious vocation (spiritual direction and visiting religious orders).

However, for singles, the path forward is a lot less clear and often immobilizes us. The truth is that we can take action towards our vocation: one way is through personal formation (books, podcasts, etc.) while another is do things to meet new people (attend young adult events, host gatherings, and join dating apps). As I have progressed through my single years, I have learned one of the universal goals of the Catholic single life is to live your God-inspired calling (vocation) today while preparing for your permanent Vocation in the future.

Both can be done at the same time! If you have found this content helpful, I want to invite you to check out my podcast Catholic, Single, and Flourishing where I discuss this topics like dating, financial planning, living a purposeful single life, and much more. I also wrote a free e-book to help Catholic singles overcome the cycle of pressure and inaction.

The single life certainly has its ups and downs, and I am sure many of us would like to just press a button and have abundant clarity for our Vocation. But what is clear is the path to flourishing in Catholic single life runs through the three habits of the missionary disciple (divine intimacy, authentic friendship, and vision for the little way of evangelization) while also dedicating intentional time to pursue our permanent Vocation. Whether or not God’s plan for you is a future marriage, He wants you to flourish in your single years.

You are also welcome to get a copy of my free e-book to Overcome the Cycle of Pressure and Inaction and check out my coaching offerings.

Chad Etzel
Chad Etzelhttps://8th-day-coaching.simplecast.com
Chad Etzel is a Leadership Coach for FOCUS and host of the Catholic, Single, and Flourishing podcast. He has completed a half-ironman, has walked on hot coals three times, and is part-owner of the Green Bay Packers. Check out his podcast and his coaching offerings.

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