(this is a blog post I wrote for my church’s website)
If you would have told me in college that I would be single and 34-years-old I probably would never have believed you, but life tends to ‘happen’ for many of us and here I am. In our wider culture, 34 is still young, and probably on par with the increasingly delayed age at which people are getting married, but in the Church, if you’re 34 and “still” single (I love that adverb “still” that subtly reminds you that you are not like everyone else), you are dramatically the minority.
Even as I write this, I imagine there are those reading in their 40s, 50s, or even 60s that are single that are already thinking “Luke, you have no idea…” in the same way that I inwardly laugh at and make fun of the 23-year-old recent college graduate who complains about their lack of a significant other. I want to say to these bright-eyed graduates, “When you’re 30 and still single, then come and talk to me whippersnapper.”
So here I am, 34 and single in the Church. What makes matters more pronounced is that I’m one of the preachers at a church that’s largely made up of families. When everyone’s world revolves around kids and family, singles can often have a hard time finding their place. We would do well to remember a few simple truths:
The Apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians chapter 7, clearly refers to singleness as a “gift.” However, the reality is that while we often affirm the ‘gift’ of marriage in the Church through sermon series, retreats, marriage studies, and couples activities, I believe that it is also time for the Church to recover the gift of Singleness. What exactly is “singleness as a gift”?
Singleness allows you to be single-minded in your pursuits. Paul wanted the Corinthians to be “free from anxieties” (v. 32) and clearly claims that “the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided” (vv. 33-34). (This is why a disproportionate amount of church planters ‘feel called’ to go to the city that their in-laws live in!) Paul is being realistic about the realities and challenges that married life brings. In fact, he admits: “those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that” (v. 28). Paul knew of the realities of married life would bring troubles that those who are single would never have to deal with. I was talking with one of our Legacy mission partners recently who mentioned that many of those who leave the mission field or return home from doing ministry in cross-cultural environments do so because of a problem with their spouse or their marriage. As a single person, however, you can have a single-mindedness that the practical realities of marriage prohibit.
Singleness allows you to invest in friendships in a way that married people cannot. There is a social agility that comes from being single. You have a lot more open evenings, and you have a lot of time that is not spoken for by a significant other. As long as you are strategic with your time, you can use it to invest in a lot of different people. Think about this: it is much easier for a married couple to invite a single person over for dinner than it is another married couple. For some reason, there’s more pressure when its another couple: to have a perfectly clean house, to have home-cooked food that’s delicious with well-thought-out courses. But, for some reason, when you’re single, in my experience, married couples are a lot more willing to invite you into the chaos of their everyday life and to come on over ‘as is.’
Marriage is not the cure-all for selfishness. You’ll hear people say this all the time. Something like “I was soooo selfish before I got married.” Here’s the mistaken assumption within this: that marriage is the ultimate antidote to sin and self-centeredness. Unfortunately, many people have bought this lie. While marriage can be a tool that helps a person grow towards greater Christ-likeness, so can singleness. Only the Gospel of Jesus Christ can solve our sin problem. Every potential spouse you ever meet will be under-qualified for the job of God. He/she may make you feel happy for a time, but that cannot give you the redemption that you’re seeking. Marriage is a temporary status given to some to for the mutual sanctification of each partner, but God uses relationships of many kinds to help us grow (James 4:14, Matthew 22:30). Spiritual maturity necessitates relational richness.
The only thing that can save you from the two dangers of either wanting marriage too much out of insecurity, or wanting marriage too little out of cynicism or fear is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I have friends in both categories, and truth be told, I have found myself in both categories. Do you see the dangers in each extreme? The insecurity which craves a spouse to fulfill one’s identity is such that no other person can ever fill that inner emptiness. If you are desperately and insecurely seeking a wife or a husband, you will crush every potential spouse with the godlike expectations you place upon them to fill that emptiness within you. On the contrary, if you desire marriage too little because of cynicism or fear of vulnerability, you may miss out on an amazing potential relationship through which God wants to shape and mature you. The good news of what God has done for us in Christ can remind the insecure person that all the love they could ever need is found in Christ, our True Husband, who gave Himself up for us on the Cross and gave us a new identity. That Gospel can also free those afraid of marriage from the need to find the perfect spouse because it exposes the modern idol of independence lodged in our hearts. It also similarly reminds us that we can fully embrace our flaws and the flaws of our potential marriage partner as we see ourselves as sinners in need of God’s grace.
We would do well to recover the gift of singleness, not as a kind of ‘purgatory’ while we wait for marriage, nor as a way of life completely devoid of desire for marriage. We would do well to have this attitude, so well-articulated by Paige Benton Brown (go search her name along with ‘singleness’ and read her article if you haven’t yet … it’s amazing): “Let’s face it: singleness is not an inherently inferior state of affairs. . . . But I want to be married. I pray to that end every day. I may meet someone and walk down the aisle in the next couple of years because God is so good to me. I may never have another date . . . because God is so good to me.”