On Singleness: Six Principles to Keep in Mind

Family Issues, Religion — By on July 3, 2013 at 7:00 am

Perhaps the most consistent conversation in the lives of young people (myself included) is that of singleness. While we see this in all young people, it is especially true in Christian circles. Call it a marriage culture, a quirk of the Christian movement, or even a deep respect for marriage in the Christian community, the point remains the same: “single” groups at churches often look like dating pools, both to their organizers and their participants. There isn’t much between the college Sunday school class and the “young marrieds” or the “new parents” classes.

I’m not immune to this phenomenon, of course. I’ve spent countless hours talking about my relationship status (note: single) with family, friends, trusted confidants, younger people, older people, married people, and other singles. These conversations can sometimes be frustrating (either in the “let me set you up with so-and-so since she’s a Christian and so are you” way, or in the “I’ll spend my life praying that you find someone who can make you whole” way), even if they do mean well. There are helpful conversations, of course, but they are few and far between, for the most part.

I’m not here to tell you how to talk to singles. Some have told us what not to do (my favorite is the “pants” suggestion; seriously, read that link). And while a lot of work still needs to be done (if you search for “How to encourage Christian singles,” one of the top hits is “Single For Now”), I’ll see if I can give examples of the sorts of things that are more often helpful.

1. Being single doesn’t mean I’m less than a whole person.

Sometimes, we act like people are the separated half-souls from Plato’s Symposium, rather than full people created in the image of God. There’s a wholeness to people, and there’s something to be said for being whole. In fact, the Scriptures describe marriage as “two becoming one flesh”: God values unity of the self, either to ourselves or with another.

2. Not all Christians are compatible with each other.

In fact, just avoid setting people up, generally. There might be exceptions (e.g., you’re really good friends, you know the sort of person your friend might be interested in, and you have good reason to think the other person might actually be a good match), but generally blind dates are kind of terrible and awkward. It is one thing to invite lots of people to an event, in hopes that two will hit it off. But please don’t invite me out to dinner with you, your spouse, and your single Christian friend. Wink, wink.

3. Singleness does not need a solution.

When we talk about “singleness,” we often frame the entire conversation in terms of “waiting”: I’m single, because I’m waiting for Jesus to send me the perfect woman, or to send me to the perfect woman. The often-utilized alternative is similar: you’re working on making yourself a better person, so that you can be a better spouse one day. We’re told to pray for our future spouses–some even write letters–and we’re rarely taught that we simply might not get married. Our divorce rates rise, and sometimes I wonder if that’s in part due to our emphasis on marriage. Not to say marriage is not worth emphasizing, just that singleness has a fairly decent precedent (Jesus and Paul, to name just two).

4. Just because I’m single, it doesn’t mean I’m lonely.

The converse of this is also true: just because you are married, it doesn’t mean you’ve escaped loneliness. Jason Helopoulos already gave this point a solid treatment, so I’ll leave this point to him.

5. If I volunteer, just let me serve.

The apostle Paul says that “An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife—and his interests are divided.” There’s a lot more to this passage, and it’s a little bit of a strange one to work through, but one clear truth: single people have more time. So when we (single people) ask to serve, seek to be a part of your ministry, or desire to help out with whatever it is you’ve got going on, don’t stop us on account of our singleness. Sometimes we treat marriage as a stabilizing stamp; if someone is unmarried, that doesn’t mean they are too unreliable to settle down, necessarily. Maybe they’re called to service, or maybe they just haven’t met that person God has in mind for them, or perhaps there is some more practical reason. But the point is that we might be uniquely capable of pouring quite a bit of ourselves into a project; give us the space to do so.

6. Lastly, we need your friendship more than we care to admit.

I value my single friends–sometimes to commiserate our mutual single state, other times just because they have lots of free time–but without my married friends, life would be a lot more difficult. Seeing that my friends are still recognizably themselves after they get married is a reminder that single people are people too. Beyond that reminder, however, is just that I have a need for fellowship, same as you. Having fellowship with married people helps keep me from thinking of all fellowship as either focused on dating or focused on talking about dating. That helps me treat everyone as a whole person; I’ve got to follow my own advice here.

So singles: rejoice. You’ve got time and life and love. Befriend married people, hang out with them, babysit their kids, watch a movie, and call it an early night if you’ve got to. Spend time with other single people, but don’t just do it as a dating pool: people are valuable for who they are, not just who they could be to you.

And to married folks out there: rejoice. You’ve got love and fellowship and you get to reflect God’s love for the Church. Try to work us into your schedules, but never forsake your spouses. Don’t set us up, treat us like whole people.

After all, we’re all made in the image of God.


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  • Michael Kares

    Nicely done Master Arnold

  • Em

    Amen and amen! I agree with every single point. I’d also add the caveat that, although singles may have time, don’t think that singles have all the time in the world. Singles still need to do basic life tasks (go to work, mow the lawn, clean the house, pay bills, get groceries, etc.) just like married people… except there is only one person doing it. In addition, meeting any need for socialization takes time, as they do not have the spouse to talk to at home. They must go outside the walls of their home to find someone with whom to talk. I have had numerous conversations with singles who do not feel that their “free time” is an understood point.

  • jamesfarnold

    Em,

    I didn’t intend to communicate that singles have so much free time that they should be asked to do everything. My point was that when we volunteer, let us do things: we’re often equipped with more free time than others. Certainly a different sort of free time.

  • Em

    Yes, I totally agree… it’s a different sort of free time, as you say!

  • Rob

    Sorry, but this post was a downer. The thought of being single forever is depressing. And I’m sorry, but I have a sex drive that it’s unnatural to try to ignore. Contrary to what you’re saying, I believe being married would make me more effective for the Lord, since I would have a partner to help support me in my ministry and stand by me to encourage me, not to mention a healthy sexual outlet. Ultimately, everything is in God’s timing, but to say that being single is so wonderful is totally far-fetched.

  • jamesfarnold

    Rob,

    Thanks for your response. Really. I don’t mean that sarcastically at all.

    One clarification. You say: “I believe being married would make me more effective for the Lord.” That’s awesome! I hope you get married, and that the Lord uses you and your wife to represent the marriage between Christ and the Church!

    That said, I absolutely agree that everything is in God’s timing. And there are times that I’m incredibly unhappy about being single, believe me. We’ve all been there. But getting married isn’t the guaranteed solution to unhappiness that lots of people think it is. Married folk still get lonely, they can still sin sexually, and they may not always feel encouraged by their spouses. I think if the Lord will use us best when we are married, then so be it.

    One of the major take-aways (I hope) for this article is this: singleness is not, intrinsically, a problem. If it were a privation, a lack of something necessary to our selves, I’d have to assume that Jesus was either imperfect or secretly married.

    I’m sorry that my post was depressing. Really, I am. I think being single can be a downer, and the sexual frustration is all too real. But I think God creates us whole, and that seems important.

  • Shaya

    Thanks for the article, James! You made some great points and I appreciate your perspective (as usual). :) I also really enjoyed the “what not to do” link! Hahahaha!! I’ve heard a lot of “advice” and “encouragement” from well-meaning people, but the pants one is new to me! I think a balanced way to handle the praying for your future spouse thing is to go ahead and pray about it and process your thoughts and frustrations to God, but also pray that his will be done no matter what happens and that he keeps you active rather than “waiting.” I read this article recently that I really liked having to do with that: http://gracefortheroad.com/2012/02/03/idontwait/
    God bless!

  • jamesfarnold

    Hey Shaya,

    Good to hear from you. We should still catch up soon.

    That link you provided: solid stuff. I’d seen it before, but I really appreciate it being out in the open. It’s a good one, and the idea behind it is right.

    I think God is most concerned about unity and mission. Some fulfill this better single, and others unified with a spouse. But we’re whole people before, and we’re whole people after.

  • Shaya

    Hey James! So I wrote a big ol’ thoughtful reply last night on my phone, and before I could post it something weird happened to the connection and I lost it all. :( But yes, we should catch up soon. And I agree with your comment about unity and mission and that we are whole no matter what our relationship status, especially if we continually “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness.” There’s nothing wrong with wanting a spouse as long as it doesn’t cross into covetousness or obsession, but I think it’s true that we should “learn in whatever situation to be content” (Phil 4:11). And not only content, but active, so that whether one stays single or get married, he/she isn’t found just sitting there expecting life to magically come together. That sounds so boring anyways. :) Well, have a blessed week friend!

  • jamesfarnold

    “Learn in whatever situation to be content.”

    That’s right. It’s also tricky for many people.

    Something I’d like to explore sometime, possibly in writing, is what it looks like to be “content” while also looking. What does it mean to be dating if you’re content with singleness? What does it mean to be content with your situation in life while looking to change it?

    I’m not exactly sure what that looks like, but it is something I hope we all are striving towards, if not starting to model.

  • KW

    This is the only part I disagree with and I think it’s largely because many of us married folk don’t go advertising our varying situations. You said,” In addition, meeting any need for socialization takes time, as they do not have the spouse to talk to at home.” A spouse is someone to talk to this is true. However, my spouse isn’t my best girl friend whose known me 12+ years and that I can rely on for girl time/talk. My spouse is not my little brother who I share specific family issues with that he would understand immediately but my spouse would not because he had not experienced it, some of which we are still working through.
    I love my husband and I do talk to him but just because I can do this doesn’t mean that need is met 24/7.

    I spent our first year of marriage extremely lonely because we lived 300plus miles away from my friends and family and on top of that it took me 8months to find a job and another 4 to really get to know people at work well enough to call them friends. He was literally the only person I could talk to…and it didn’t help. I still needed to be with other people and get socialization elsewhere. Like I said I think this misconception is the fault of the marrieds because we don’t talk about our loneliness. I remember feeling guilty for even bringing it up simply because I am married and I thought my single/dating friends would despise me for it. I felt guilty for feeling lonely at times because I thought,”Shouldn’t I just be content? I have a spouse to talk to. Why am I unhappy? Why do I need more?” The grass isn’t greener it just might be painted with a shinier green paint to hide the soil.

  • Em

    Thanks for the reply, KW. Yes, loneliness in married people sure can be an issue. I know I have certainly gone through those times as a married person. There is no way your spouse can meet all the deep relational needs. My point was that many of the single folks don’t even have someone to say “hello” to without picking up the phone, much less anyone asking about their day or anything deeper.