I love how The Message translation of the Bible puts Paul’s 1 Corinthians 7 message about relationships, and particularly what it says about singleness.
Sometimes I wish everyone were single like me—a simpler life in many ways! But celibacy is not for everyone any more than marriage is. God gives the gift of the single life to some, the gift of the married life to others.
I do, though, tell the unmarried and widows that singleness might well be the best thing for them, as it has been for me. But if they can’t manage their desires and emotions, they should by all means go ahead and get married. The difficulties of marriage are preferable by far to a sexually tortured life as a single. (vv. 7-9)
Paul’s statements about the difficulties in marriage and singleness are really refreshing for this single gal. The church often romanticizes marriage and pats singles on the back. I can’t tell you how many times I have felt like the message from the pulpit was, “Good job! Keep it up! Singleness is a gift, you know.” Meanwhile the pastor himself is not exercising this gift and there’s a church announcement about an engaged couple who is having a shower in honor of their upcoming marriage.
Funny how singleness is never celebrated in the church and celibacy isn’t showered with gifts.
The concept of suffering and singleness was recently introduced to me as I was sitting with a group of coworkers discussing discipleship; I was the only single present. When one person spoke up and stated that he, as a married Christian man, couldn’t imagine what people suffer through a life of singleness, I burst out with “Thank you!” And there may have been tears in my eyes. The sheer fact that someone recognized that it is hard to live a single life consistent with the standard God has placed on his children was the act of love I’ve been hungry for for the past 10 years.
As a single woman (and I’m sure the same is true for single men), there are aspects of singleness that are hard—the lack of intimacy, the lack of feeling wanted for the rest of your life by someone, the lack of additional income, the lack of support through life, the lack of family and children, the lack of being able to offer your whole self to another. Yet no church I’ve been part of has helped me through these places of suffering as a single. I haven’t found a church or small group where I can say, “Singleness is hard! I want a shower with things that would help me live life well. I want to register at Pottery Barn and Williams-Sonoma! I want to have sex! I want someone to share my bills with!”
Instead, I often find myself stifling these words when I’m in church, as there is no encouragement to share. Within small groups of married couples, who share jokes about the bedroom, I sit and giggle along even while I have a longing in my heart to experience sharing a bed with someone who’s committed the rest of their life to me and me to them.
I know, I know—marriages aren’t perfect, they take work, and there’s heartache in them as well. But it seems like the church is more open to talking about marital and family issues on a larger scale. I don’t often hear sermons about the suffering of singleness. And the lack of recognition of singles from the pulpit, or the bulletin, or in general, communicates a lack of value to the single in the church.
Yes, some churches have a “singles ministry,” but this often translates to a dating service, and so I find myself not participating. I come to church to learn and grow closer to God, not to be constantly worried about my appearance or if the guy I had a bad date with will show up. Plus, it labels me as only a single person—not Bethany, who has a heart for discipleship, women’s ministry, and missions. Singles ministry also tends to be done by singles for singles and is often in the shadow of the main family focus of churches.
I’d love to know if there are any churches out there who celebrate the single lifestyle just as much as the family lifestyle. Churches where singles are heavily used in leadership, can talk openly with married couples about struggles, and don’t have comments like, “But don’t you consider yourself married to Jesus?” and, “You should be happy; singleness is a gift!” said to them by those who aren’t experiencing singleness themselves. Churches that shower single men and women with gifts. Churches where a single person can confidently lead a small group of married couples without feeling weird, and where sensitivity to and celebration of singleness is evident.
To the single readers who are continuing to live life to this standard: I understand the hurt and pain that you feel and pray that God will bring someone into your life who will validate these feelings in you.
To the single readers who are just starting to live life to this standard: know that it is not an easy road and that suffering is along the way. But also know that there is reward in following God to the hard places in life. I pray that he gives you the strength and encouragement to endure.
And to the married readers who find this post overwhelming: please don’t read without taking action. Share with your single friends that you don’t understand what they’re going through but that you love them and want to help them live life well in the midst of their suffering. Ask them how you can help them during this stage of life.
And to the church as a whole, pray together for healing between singles and marrieds within the body of Christ.