Just the other day, I was sitting in a cabin full of Christian college-aged girls talking about dating and marriage. As the discussion progressed, many of the girls began to talk about issues regarding common views on relationships and sex. It was fascinating to me that a lot of the girls– especially the older ones– all had very similar things to say when we came to the subject of singleness.
“The church just doesn’t talk about it enough.”
“So many people just see it as a waiting period.”
“I feel like my ability to be a contributing member of the church is limited because I’m not married.”
This widespread frustration shows that many common messages about singleness are unproductive and wrong. Too often, we are told that singleness is a “curse,” a boring period that we should seek to end as soon as possible. Our culture’s focus on romance and sex furthers such notions by proclaiming that happiness is correlated to a relationship status. The curated nature of social media also reinforces this by only allowing us to see the #relationshipgoals and not the difficult reality of loving and serving another broken individual.
Unfortunately, as many of the girls lamented, such notions of singleness are equally– if not more–pervasive in the church. For in addition to the world’s focus on romance, church culture adds a heavy emphasis on calls to marriage which can increase the pressure to get out of singleness and into a relationship. This emphasis is certainly not wrong in and of itself; the Bible does teach the value of marriage as a covenant (Paul discusses marriage in Ephesians 5, and its significance is affirmed in many other parts of Scripture). Yet problems come when we draw this value out of its Biblical context and allow ourselves to believe that relationships, marriage, and family life are necessary in order to be complete. When we make dating and marriage a precondition for joy-filled, fruitful living, we are essentially saying that God is not enough.
We know that’s not right because Scripture tells us that God is always faithful to provide for all our wants and needs according to His sovereignty (Matthew 6:25-34, 2 Peter 1:3-4, Philippians 4:12-13). God is the only one who completes us and the only true source of joy.
If singleness is not what culture tells us, what is it? Singleness is a blessing.
It is a high calling, a time we can use to live fruitfully for God’s kingdom. It is a time to develop our God-given abilities and passions, to pour into others, and to invest in the church. Marriage and parenthood carry serious responsibilities and are meant to be an individual’s highest priorities aside from Christ. This is why singleness is a season that carries a unique freedom to grow and commit to serving the Lord through missions, ministry, relationships, and excellence in vocation. The possibilities for abundant living are endless.
One of the greatest examples of a single Christian was the apostle Paul. Paul never got married; he spent his entire life planting churches and spreading the Gospel. The early church flourished and grew because of Paul’s leadership and dedication, much of which was possible because of Paul’s single status. In fact, Paul found his singleness so fruitful that he wrote this to the Corinthians:
“Now as a concession, not a command, I say this. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.” -1 Corinthians 7:6
In the midst of a broader conversation about marriage, Paul concedes here that he wishes more Christians would pursue singleness as a lifelong calling. This verse is not a firm command, but a concession that shows just how much Paul valued singleness and saw its potential. He implies that ultimately, neither marriage nor singleness is better; they are both gifts which carry different responsibilities and blessings.
Finding contentment in singleness
In my own experience, it can be incredibly difficult to embrace this attitude towards singleness when the desires to eventually get married and have a family persist. Such desires are good and godly, but can easily make singleness a cause for discontent rather than joy. How can we achieve contentment?
Contentment is reached when you surrender all of your hopes and dreams into the care of your Abba, who loves you and cares for you.
Ultimately, the ability to surrender depends on the extent of your personal knowledge of God’s love and faithful provision. Without knowing God, there is no foundation for trust within your relationship with Him. However, when you have experienced his grace and trust His sovereignty, your ability to surrender the future into His care will be exponentially easier because you can be sure that He will take care of you and has your best in mind. True contentment comes when you know the depth of God’s goodness and trust His faithfulness to provide regardless of relationship status. So if you’re struggling with contentment, pray for the Holy Spirit to deepen your personal knowledge of God and pursue a deeper understanding of His character from Scripture.
Called for today
Some, like Paul, spend a lifetime in singleness. For most, the season will last for a few years. Because you cannot always know God’s plans for your future, all you can do is surrender your desires one day at a time.
This mindset will make it much easier to find contentment and to embrace where God has put you. Of course, when making plans and pursuing opportunities it is not always possible to have a narrow, day-to-day view of the future. Yet when it comes to your pursuit of contentment and your internal attitude towards singleness, focus on what God has given you for the day.
Today, you may be called to singleness. That could change tomorrow, or it could change a few years down the road. So embrace your calling for the day that you have ahead of you, trusting that God has today and tomorrow under control for your entire life. Take advantage of the unique freedom that you have to challenge yourself! Pursue opportunities to develop your skills and passions. Prayerfully consider serving on the missions field or in ministry, and see what doors God opens. Your season of singleness may often feel difficult, but you can be certain that for today, you have been called by God to be where you are. And that is a beautiful place to be.
Sacred Singleness, by Leslie Ludy [for young women who desire marriage but are in a season of singleness]
Knowing God, by J. I. Packer [for those who want to understand more about God’s character and the importance of personal knowledge of Him]
[for more blog posts on singleness, check out some of Phylicia Masonheimer’s posts:]