“Do you think you have the gift of singleness?”
It’s a question pastors and well-meaning church friends would ask me occasionally when my relationship status came up. I never really knew how to answer, but I always thought “Yeah and it’s the gift that keeps on giving!”
Now that I am two weeks away from my wedding, I have spent some time reflecting on my single days, including both my successes and failures, as well as the messages I received from the church and the world. Both, often subtly (and sometimes not so subtly), tell us that “having somebody will make us happier.”
In the words of a popular Demi Lovato song, “You ain’t nobody unless you got somebody.”
And while the world tolerates hookups and casual relationships, and the church emphasizes the bliss of marriage, both often treat singleness as a disease to be cured and not an incredibly significant season in life and the true gift that it really is.
In his book Beyond the Battle: A man’s guide to his identity in Christ in an oversexualized world, Noah Filipiak points out how the church doesn’t exactly do a great job of selling us on the “gift” of singleness.
“When the church paints being single as abnormal and defective and paints marriage as a dreamland of bliss, adoration and acceptance, it’s no wonder the gift of singleness comes across as lame,” Filipiak writes.
He notes that an idealized picture of marriage doesn’t reflect the challenges married folks face.
“For most men I know, marriage is the most difficult challenge they face,” Filipiak writes. “Marriage requires constant sacrifice.”
He points out that in emphasizing the bliss of marriage the church hopes to prevent people from engaging in pre-marital sex and in waiting for the prize of their wedding day. While this is a noble goal, it has its drawbacks.
As Filipiak writes “this approach equips singles to enter the lifelong commitment of marriage thinking it’s going to be about getting their desires met, when in reality it is about meeting someone else’s desires. Overhyping marriage, the church trains singles for the opposite of what they will face.”
As I’ve mentioned, I’m not married yet, but as my wedding date approaches, one of the most frequent pieces of advice and warning I get from married men (both from my Livefree group, guys in my church, and my marriage mentors) is that while marriage is wonderful, it won’t solve all your problems (including struggles with pornography) and it is not easy.
I’m glad for all of the really solid resources available today which give a balanced view of both the joys and challenges of marriage. (These include a short book my Pastor Tim Lucas wrote called You married the Wrong Person.)
As my days of bachelorhood are coming to a close, I want to offer a little advice and encouragement to singles.
The biggest encouragement I can give is to make the most of the opportunity singleness affords you, instead of focusing on what you don’t have.
If I could go back and do my single days again, I would have gone after God harder, developed my talents and career further, and served others more. When I think back on all the time I wasted wallowing in self-pity or chasing women in bars, I wish I had a DeLorean to go back in time and slap some sense into my younger self.
The way I often treated singleness was that it was just something to be endured until I got married and could start really living.
It reminds me of a movie I watched several years ago called Timer, which had an interesting premise: people were able to get a special watch implanted into their wrist which gives a countdown until they meet their true love.
You would think this would make the characters’ lives less complicated and leave them less anxious, but in the film, the characters deal with the same uncertainty and stress many singles do. Instead of making the most of their lives, they fixate on the clock which counts down to the moment when they will meet their soulmate.
I believe this highlights the fact that oftentimes we focus on what we don’t have yet, instead of making the most of the present moment.
As Filipiak points out, “One of Satan’s best tricks is to get married people to wish they were single and single people to wish they were married. In Christ, we have the power to be content, appreciative, and grateful for wherever we are.”
What a great truth!
Yes, being single can be a challenge. It can be lonely and, at times, discouraging. But it is also a time when a person has a great deal of freedom to achieve, try new things, develop talents, build relationships, and serve others.
All three of the most significant spiritual leaders in the New Testament (Jesus, John the Baptist, and the Apostle Paul), were single. They showed that it was possible to live fulfilling lives of deep significance and achieve God’s purpose for them.
I will leave you with a quote from the apostle Paul in one of his letters to the early church.
He says, “I know what it is to be in need and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret to be content in every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through [Christ] who gives me strength.”
God can help us to be content in whatever season we are in, whether single or married. Don’t put your life on hold waiting for the next season to live it.