Over the decades, I have attended countless bridal showers, wedding ceremonies, baby showers, and anniversary parties. Again and again, I celebrated my friends’ milestones while waiting for my own happy ending.

Then this year, on my 58th birthday, I bought my wedding dress. Finally, my wait was over.

For a long time, every milestone and every missed opportunity for true love (including a short relationship in my 40s with a verbally abusive man) prompted me to question God: Why did you allow this to happen? Have I not been faithful? Am I not a good enough Christian? Do you really care about me?

Why am I still alone?

I’d always try to encourage myself by saying I only needed to meet one marriageable man or that God could bring “the one” to my doorstep. But as I grew older, my situation began to seem like a walk through an endless desert.

I was not alone. A decade ago marked the first time more than half of American women over age 18 were unmarried. Adults of all races are marrying later, and marriage as an institution is seen as a failing one. The situation is especially dire for black women like me, whom the New York Times describes as victims of the “vanishing black male,” men who are incarcerated or not as educated or financially sound as their black female counterparts.

As I passed 40, then neared 50, my singleness felt like grief. I had to come to terms with the empty arms of not having a child and the possibility of growing old alone. I pondered “these strange ashes,” as Elisabeth Elliot called it; what remains of a dream when the fire and the smoke have cleared.

But God taught me lessons through my waiting. After my long journey of singleness, I have realized that my engagement—the blessing that it is—is not the goal, or “happily ever after.” There’s happiness to be found in any season of life when we are wholeheartedly seeking God’s plan. Despite the depression and hurt I suffered over the years, I know that being happy is not a state God reserves for marriage.

Each friend’s wedding over the years was a chance to remember that (despite the daunting marriage statistics) in God’s economy, there is no scarcity. It’s not as if when someone gets something we want, there’s nothing left for us. We can genuinely “rejoice with those who rejoice” (Rom. 12:15), knowing this truth. And we do reap what we sow. As we partake in the joy of our friends and relatives, we are sowing the seeds of their rejoicing with us.

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There were times I struggled with bitterness when I viewed my own stalled love life against others’ blessings. Hebrews 12:15 tells us, “See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” It is easy to let these bitter feelings fester, and turn into self-pity. But anger, envy, and discouragement keep us from recognizing God’s blessings in our lives. I needed to release that bitterness in exchange for opportunities God had given me to delight in him (Ps. 37) and his will.

Although he doesn’t promise everyone marriage, God does promise to set the lonely in families, and there were always little ones, especially little girls, who needed “other-mothers.” From the little ones who lavished love on me, their Sunday school teacher, to women in the church who offered their friendship and support, I found that I did have community. I decided to fill my season of singleness being busy about God’s business while I waited.

There were times I had to be honest and ask whether I was truly seeking God with all my heart, soul, and strength—or if I was just doing so to find a man. God asks us to put him above our hopes, dreams, and desires. For many of us, only when we make his desires our desires will he grant us the desires of our hearts—and that includes husbands. Psalm 38:9 says, “All my longings lie open before you, O Lord; my sighing is not hidden from you.” He knows our longings; he placed them there. As long as we are alive, God can change our circumstances, no matter how long it takes.

Happily, life and experience have taught me that if you sincerely desire a husband and do not feel “called to be single,” then God may yet “give you the desires of your heart” (Ps. 34:7).

A few years before I met my fiancé, I attended an anniversary celebration for a former pastor. After the service, the altar was opened for prayer. A guest pastor began to pray for me exuberantly, but then he paused to tell me, “You have been waiting for something for a long time, and it seems like God has forgotten you. But God wants you to know he has not forgotten you; he has his hook in somebody, and he’s reeling him in.”

I later learned that my fiancé—a man I’d later meet during after-service fellowship in the basement of my church—accepted the Lord within a year of that prayer.

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He was on staff of a faith-based drug and alcohol recovery ministry in downstate New York, a ministry that my congregation was hosting. At the prompting of my pastor’s wife, I went to introduce myself to a couple of the young men seated alone on the far end of the room. Before I could make it across the room, a tall, handsome, middle-aged man stepped into my path and introduced himself.

God prepared him, then he reeled him in. Right in my path, by the way.

I have learned that just as singleness is a season, happiness is a season as well. Since God works in and among people, sometimes we have to wait, not because of anything we have done or not done, but because God’s love is putting something together that is “greater than we can hope or imagine.”

Hope E. Ferguson is senior writer for the State University of New York's Empire State College in Saratoga Springs, New York. She blogs about faith, culture, and politics at Morning Joy and has written about issues of race for Her.meneutics.