I told my roommate recently that I was planning to write a blog post about singleness. She asked why. “Well,” I said, “I just think there’s a lot of purpose for singles.” “Isn’t that true for married people too? Why do you feel the need to make that dividing line?”
The more I’ve thought about her questions – which are very good questions – the more I realize that the reason why I actually want to write about singleness is two-fold.
1) It’s a part of my current situation in life, and therefore shapes my days significantly.
2) I think there’s a lot of false belief in the church about singleness, and I feel the need as a truth-speaker in general to call us back to what I believe to be a holy or biblical view on it. Since there are actually very few spokespersons (ie, pastors and lay leaders) in the church who are single, I want to give this perspective to the church as a whole.
If I had a dime for every time I’ve heard the following, I wouldn’t need to raise support:
“When I became content being single, that’s when God brought me my husband!”
This one sentence actually encompasses almost every aspect of false belief about singleness that there is in the Church. In case you don’t catch the implication here, what is actually being said between the lines is this: “Just be content being single. Then God will give you what you really want – marriage.”
There are two inherent lies here. What’s really being said? “The goal of my life is not to have sweet communion with God, or to be made more like Christ, or even just to have contentment in Christ. My goal in life is to be married.”
I know that sounds harsh, and you would say “Of course that’s not the goal of life!” But married folks, if this is what you’re telling your single friends who long to be married, then the hope you are holding out to them is not the hope of Christ, but the hope of marriage. Let us be careful of what we truly believe.
Marriage is undoubtedly a gift from God. It is a purposeful picture from God that points us to our own relationship with God in a way no other relationship can. A godly marriage will point those who don’t yet know God to the sweetness and struggle of relationship with God in a poignant and powerful way.
But marriage in and of itself is not the goal of our lives, if we are followers of Christ. It is not a prerequisite for following Christ. It is not a necessity for continuing to follow Christ in that glorious and painful process of being made holy. Marriage is not our sanctifier, although it can certainly be used as a tool in the process of our sanctification; the Holy Spirit is our sanctifier. He can use any tool He chooses.
And that brings me to a major point here: God is good. God is also in control. Marriage is a gift, not a promise or a right. Singleness is also a gift – a good gift!
Consider the fact that Jesus was single. So was the Apostle Paul. And both men affirmed that circumstance of their lives as a blessing (see Matthew 19:10-12 and 1 Corinthians 7:7, 32-35). Singles have the ability and freedom to minister to others, both in the church and outside of it, in ways that those who are married and have families cannot. Both states (single and married) have something of significance to give to the world and the church.
But when we make singleness just a place of “waiting for what God really has,” we rob those who have that gift of the joy of the gift. Instead of finding the purposes of God in their circumstances, many singles spend most of their time proactively seeking a mate instead of proactively seeking God’s Kingdom come, partly because that is what the Church urges them to do. We cannot serve two masters.
What else is really being said? “When you reach a certain set of standards, God will give you what you want.” This is legalistic religion, not Christianity. “If you have this heart attitude [or follow this law, or change this behavior], then you will get God’s favor in the form of the particular blessing you most desire [or that I most desire for you].”
Again, we see that the goal here is not communion with the Living God, but something else entirely. And anything else that we put our hope in is an idol. Idols always demand a certain set of behaviors, and then they never deliver anyway on what they promise, that thing that we really want (which, I would argue, is not actually marriage, but an unconditional love that no person is able to give).
So we try and try and try to live up to our end of the “bargain” (being content with our circumstances), but we find that we fail over and over and over again. Such is the end result of our striving in every area of our lives. We cannot bargain with God, mostly because He has already given us everything we need for life and godliness through Christ’s work on our behalf!
Tim Keller tells a story of a 15-year-old girl in church he pastored many years ago. She was struggling with depression, and after many counseling sessions, she finally made this statement: “I believe I’m going to heaven, I believe that I’m saved, I know that I’m pardoned, I know I’m going to have peace and joy with God forever, I know He’s adopted me, I know He’s given me the Holy Spirit, but… who cares, if the boys won’t even look at you??” I’ve heard variations on this sentiment over and over again among my single friends and have felt that way myself.
Fellow singles out there, we must preach the gospel to our hearts each and every day! If we are not treasuring the beauty, the significance, the delight of God’s love for us, no mate will be able to make us feel beautiful, significant, or delighted for any considerable length of time. We are believing lies, and then hiding behind them while pretending to believe truth. This will not do. We must be honest before God, then fix our eyes on Jesus and allow Him to transform our desires to His desires.
Just to be clear, I am not saying that it’s wrong to have a longing for marriage. We were created to have relationships, and many hearts naturally long for this most intimate human relationship. However, also to be clear, not every single is longing to be married. Many are enjoying the delights of a purposeful life in Christ apart from marriage.
In fact, let me just state here my own heart’s place in singleness: I mostly love it! I love the emotional energy and freedom I have to be able to pour my heart into the women I work with. I love being able to take long chunks of time with God whenever I want to (which isn’t nearly often enough!). I love having the freedom to up and go to Bosnia for a week on 2 weeks notice, like I did this spring. I love being able to jump in the car and be on my way in 30 seconds. I love being able to take seminary classes in another city for 5 weeks – undistracted by needing to care for children. I also would be perfectly delighted if the Lord chose, in His good sovereignty, to bring a husband alongside me in the work He has given me.
So, how do you as a married (or at least in a serious relationship) person relate to singles who do genuinely long to be married? Tune in for part 2… 🙂