“Don’t worry, you’ll find the right man,” she said to me (for the third time) just before shoving me into the dreaded gaggle of single ladies waiting for the bouquet to be tossed.
“Well, what if I don’t,” I asked. “What if I never meet the one? What if I never get married or have kids or ‘settle down?’ Will you still value me?”
It’s a question I have been faced with numerous times in my thirtysomething years: If I remain single, what will that do for my ministry, my growth, my friendships and my relationship with the Church?
Sadly, no matter what I come with, all options seem to be saturated in placating words, pitying eyes and aggressive attempts to set me up. But here’s the thing, in almost all arenas of life, I actually like being single (save for when attempting to recover my comforter after washing the duvet, move a dresser or play tennis). I have chosen it, for now at least.
I get to do what I want, when I want, how I want. I am not embarrassed if I sleep until noon on a day off. I spend my money where I want. I can walk around my house in ratty clothes if I want—because I am not trying to impress anyone. When I have popcorn and string cheese for dinner, nobody cares.
Can it be lonely at times? Sure. But it’s also freeing.
Please don’t misunderstand me, I do wish to be un-single one day. I do want to have children, and I am not opposed to dating. I am not rejecting all potential relationships and I love the concept of marriage, I really do.
Marriage is a beautiful picture of Christ’s love; it absolutely is a gift. I am thrilled when people I love get engaged, and I’ve honestly never been to a wedding where I didn’t cry. I have incredible examples of marriages sprinkled all over my life. I am a sucker for a good romantic comedy.
But, marriage is not God’s only gift.
And it is not the central focus of my life’s trajectory, either. Though, to my disappointment, it feels like until finding “the one” becomes my top priority, I may never fully fit into the mold many within the Church long for me to embody.
At the age of 29, I was turned away by couples-only small groups, told by the attendants—some of my closest friends—that we were no longer in the same stage of life, then placed in a group with recent college graduates. I was once implored to get further involved with the church I was attending and after choosing the prayer group was told it was off-limits, as praying with a married man could cause him to stumble. Oh, and I’ve been told that I will not truly know what it means to love until I am married with children.
Recently, a friend confessed that for many years she was dying for a life partner, because her pastor told her this was the only way to heal previous wounds. She eventually got married and within only a few years, she was divorced.
“The church disillusioned me,” she told me, “life didn’t get better, instead I was my same broken self. And while I should have gone to counseling, I turned to my husband to fix me, to heal me and that was a huge mistake.”
While much of the New Testament speaks of multiplying the Church through community, missions and outreach (and even implores people to stay single), it seems like we have a greater focus on growing the faith through marriage and procreation.
Think about it like this. If you were to get married around 25, be married for about 40 years, lose your spouse at 75 or so and live to be 90 years old, you’d still live almost half of your life single. That’s a significant amount of time! We as the Church need to recognize that although being married is a beautiful thing, so is being single—neither position trumps the other in matters of value or authority. We are blessed to have diversity of experiences among us.
Paul says it likes this in 1 Corinthians 7:7–8:
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. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am.
Just as we are all called to different vocations and residencies, if you are called to be single, awesome. If you are called to be married, also awesome.
And what about Jesus? He was single. If he were to walk into church today would we really throw him into the ‘other’ category, forgetting to invite him to social gatherings and perhaps apologetically inform him that Wednesday’s small group is for married couples only?
Much of the problem I believe comes down to the question of where we put our worth in ourselves and in one another. Just as it drives me batty when people pity or grossly misunderstand contentment in singleness, it pains my heart when I hear single friends of mine express their desire to be married in ways that suggest that their ministry or influence is currently marred because they’re single.
This is by no means a call against marriage. The whole point is that we need to drop the one-size-fits-all mentality we’ve lived with for decades and celebrate one another, encourage one another and learn from one another—young, old, single or married.
If we are putting our value in Christ, believing that he alone can make us whole, we must also trust that he has a plan, just as Scripture suggests.