If I am honest, the topic of my singleness oftentimes feels like a cul-de-sac for conversation. In a world without a pandemic, when personal interactions were more frequent and in-person, I was constantly asked if I had kids. See, people already assumed that I, a thirty-one-year-old man, was married; the real question was if I had yet to start a family.
When I would respond that not only did I not have kids, I also do not have a wife, that would either end the conversation with some awkward backpedaling or was perceived as an invitation to start barraging me with questions about whether or not I am dating, want to date, or will get married.
It is uncommon for people to respond to my singleness in an affirming way. The conversation is almost always couched in a subtle comparison to marriage and is often described as the absence of something, as if I am missing out on something. When I can have a helpful conversation about singleness, I take advantage of the opportunity to communicate that while, yes, I am missing out on all the blessings that marriage brings, I am also gaining all the blessings that singleness brings. There are unique challenges to both marriage and singleness and it’s helpful to keep that in mind whenever talking to someone who is in a different position than you.
I want to briefly advocate for singles, though, by helping shed light on some subtle and unhelpful (dare I say, unbiblical) narratives that I personally have had to wrestle with as I walk with the Lord in singleness.
1. “Your season of singleness.”
I always felt a little weird when people would refer to or pray about my “season of singleness.” This is not a phrase that we often use when talking about marriage. The awkwardness of referring to singleness as a season comes from the fact that, for many single people, there is no certainty that our singleness will be just a season. It could be where the Lord has us for the rest of our lives. For others, they may know for certain that they will never marry because of a conscious decision they have made before the Lord.
This phrase makes it challenging to about singleness because it subtly indicates that singleness is a season that will pass. Already, many people I know have had to wrestle with the Lord for contentment in their singleness. So, when singles are made to think that there is something better at the end of this “season,” that contentment becomes even harder—particularly when the “season” of singleness continues indefinitely.
Such a phrase sets expectations and hopes on marriage, not the Lord. If we, on the other hand, take Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 7:8 seriously, we should affirm people in their singleness, celebrate where the Lord has them, and encourage them to persevere when contentment is difficult. Looking to uplift your single brother or sister in Christ? Point our eyes to Jesus, not a wedding.
2. “I just want you to be happy.”
There are a few things I wonder when someone says this to me. First, I wonder why they think I’m not happy. If I am sad, are they assuming that it’s because I’m single? I know marriage is a great and wonderful blessing from the Lord, but it’s not the great and wonderful blessing. I don’t know any married couple that would say that life became more sublime and less complicated when they said “I do”—no matter how great of a marriage they have.
The truth is, many great blessings come with singleness. I am free to make myself available to the Lord in ways that marrieds aren’t. I am more able to drop everything and visit friends and family with little or no consequence. I can pursue lots of friendships and experience relational intimacy with a wide range of people. I was able to easily follow the Lord’s leading to the other side of the world as a missionary without having to think through the implications such a decision would have on a family.
I don’t think singleness comes with more blessings than marriage, but it comes with different blessings. It is possible to be very happy even though I am not married.
3. “Your service to the Lord is not complete until you are married.”
I thought for sure I heard the person wrong. These are words I heard while on the mission field. I was wrapping up my last few weeks in Asia before moving back to America and my friend prayed that I would quickly get married so that my service unto the Lord would be full and complete. I thought, “something is missed in translation here,” so after we said amen, I asked a few follow-up questions. Sure enough, I had heard her correctly—I would not be able to serve the Lord fully until I am married. I was saddened, not because I agreed with her, but because she felt that her service would not be complete until she was married.
The greatest human who ever lived, Jesus, had a full and complete ministry as a single person. The greatest missionary ever, Paul, also was single, a lifestyle he commended to the Corinthian church when he said, “To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am” (1 Cor. 7:8). Just like we see in the lives of Jesus and Paul, singleness is not the absence of something. Singles should be fully integrated into the life of the Church and can be used by God in various leadership roles and capacities.
The Reality of Singleness
For many, singleness is not something that is dreaded. But, like everything in life, it has its ups and downs. There are times when it is really lonely, and there are times when it is really fun. There are days when it is hard, and there are days when it is easy. Ultimately, those who are single need married couples and families in their lives to walk well with the Lord. Similarly, married couples and families need singles in their lives to walk well with the Lord.
When we can glimpse God’s design and purpose for both singleness and marriage, singleness becomes more than a relationship status to lament. Rather, we see it as it is: something to celebrate in the Church.