This weekend, a personal research project sent me back into some books that I hadn't read since I was a teenager: books about being single and preparing for marriage.
I remember thinking, as a teen, that these books were okay. As an adult, I had to keep myself from throwing the books across the room in frustration and anger. In the next few weeks, I hope to write a post identifying possible spiritual abuse in the books, but until that post, I want to write something for those who are like me, long-term singles.
Just this evening, I was talking with a single woman frustrated with her situation in the church. Just last week, a high school friend held a long online debate about the merits of singleness and those of marriage. Wherever I look in the church, single men and women are being pulled down by expectations that the evangelical world has about singleness and for singles.
I want to push back. I want to encourage my peers. So, to the single women and men out there, I say:
You are normal. Sometimes the church pretends that marriage is the norm, that God designed everyone, with the exception of a few random people, to be married eventually. Within the last two weeks, I have found people posting on the Internet that in God's plan for the world, marriage is normal; singleness (by implication) abnormal. But you are not abnormal! You are created by God and designed to be in this place of singleness, at this time. Your singleness is not something unusual. It does not catch our God by surprise. In fact, God designed singleness as much as He designed marriage: Eve may have been created so the first Adam would not be alone, but the second Adam lived more than thirty years as a single man on this world. Your singleness, just as much as marriage, is part of our loving Lord's good plan.
You are strong in Christ. Unfortunately, married people sometimes pretend that their lifestyle is more likely to produce strong believers than a single lifestyle does. Karen Swallow Prior and Marvin Olasky have both written that marriage is God's way to grow people up, to mature them quickly. Not so. David writes in the Psalms that in heaven or in hell or in the farthest parts of the earth he is still in the guiding, tender hand of his Father. You too, whether you be single-never-married or married or widowed or divorced, are in your Father's hand; He is bringing you closer to Him, and those who are married will not get there faster.
Even more importantly, your singleness is not a test that you have to pass before you are spiritually qualified for marriage. I have read authors (I'm looking at you, Eric and Leslie Ludy) that claim that the lonely single years are God's way of cleaning up the bad parts of your character. They imply that you will be married when you have matured enough. Guess what? They are lying. They are corrupting the wonderful truth that we are all - single and married - in Christ, and that every gift we have - including marriage and singleness - is a gracious and good gift from Him. You do not have to pass any test whatsoever to receive good gifts from God. You have received every gift abundantly and overflowing in God (see Romans 8.32), including your singleness.
That your singleness is a gift from God does not mean you have to be happy about it all the time. You do not need to plaster a smile on your face, be upbeat, tell everyone how much you are using these single years for God's sake. Sometimes our loving God assigns us a hard fate: Even His Own Son begged for something different. God is not going to be upset or surprised if you have days when you are discouraged or sad about your singleness; He will not think you are discontent, anymore than Jesus Christ in the Garden was discontent, when you ask Him to bring a spouse into your lives. Please, don't worry about being the perfect, content Christian single. Be honest.
That includes being honest about not wanting marriage, if that be you. Unfortunately, our evangelical culture tries to convince us that everyone wants to get married, that marriage is the norm and not wanting it is a sign of being really weird. Not true. Some of us just aren't built with that desire; others will develop it only when someone special comes into their lives. Either way, it's okay. Be honest: Enjoying your singleness is worth so much more than pretending you really want a spouse.
On a related note, do not try to justify your singleness by extraordinary, draining acts of service. If all we have spiritually is from Christ, there is no need for you to work extra-hard as a single person to prove your spiritual wisdom and worth. You do not have to work yourself to the point of physical and emotional exhaustion; you do not have to ignore your needs and boundaries simply because there is not a family at home waiting for you. You can balance service and your human needs and still be using your singleness wisely. Sometimes, married people will tell me that singles have so much more time to serve God (or the community, or whatever). Not true. On your own, you earn a living, you balance the checkbook, you pay the bills, you schedule oil changes, you wash the laundry, you open the jar lids. You are both husband and wife in your household, and you are strong for carrying both burdens.
To the married people who are reading this: I don't want to imply that you are, by virtue of being married, contributing to singles' discouragement, that you are belittling singleness as opposed to marriage. Certainly not! You are our friends, our brothers and sisters in the Lord, and we value your friendships.
Yet in the end, I'm not really talking to married people in this post. I'm talking to fellow singles: Unfortunately, the church is sometimes abysmal at communicating its value of single people, and that has to change. Sticking up for women's rights is not a condemnation of men, so sticking up for singles is not a condemnation of marriage. It needs to be done: Whatever our evangelical culture says, singleness and singles, as well as marriage and married people, are valued in the eyes of God.