What Do You Believe About Singleness?

One of my dear friends texted me a couple days ago to say that her senior-in-high-school son asked her if being single was a sin. He was concerned about this after hearing a woman ask for prayer that God would give her a husband and children. I don’t know much else about the context, but can assume that the attitude in which she asked made it seem like she was doing something wrong by not having the spouse + 2.5 kids yet. It broke my heart to know this worried him, because this young man is such a particularly awesome human being. If the American church is making even our teenagers feel bad for being single, how much more must those of us who are older, having been single longer, feel we are doing something wrong?

It’s time for the modern American church to look more closely at what the Bible has to say about the single life, and ask ourselves if not only our words are backing this up, but our tones, our insinuations, and our actions. Many times have I had a pastor or Bible teacher preach truth from the pulpit, saying that singleness is a valid lifestyle choice, a gift from the Lord, then turn around and try to set up all the single women with the single men. In order to counteract young Christians having sex before marriage, many churches champion young marriages and hold them up as the gold standard. The message this sends is confusing and can even be harmful. 

This weekend I was able to speak on singleness at a conference at my home church, Cornerstone West LA. I was asked to discuss how having a biblical view of singleness practically affects our lives. Since I was only able to spend about 5 minutes on each of my main points, I’m going to spend the next few weeks delving into each one a little more in depth.

Let me start with some basics by going into a bit of the theology behind my views on singleness. Rather than forming our opinions on Christian singleness on the cultural standards of today, let’s find our standards in things above. Being single does not mean we are missing something. There is not some gaping hole in us that can only be filled by our soul mate. We are not lacking. 

2 Peter 1:3 claims “his divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.”

The Greek term used here for “has granted” is in the Greek perfect passive tense, which means the action has already been completed and we now are experiencing the final results of it; the passive part means it was done for us, not by us. This means that God has already given us ALL THINGS that pertain to life and godliness and we get to live in the fruit of that. Nothing is lacking. This is a statement which applies to all who are called to his own glory, every Christian. God is not withholding anything from single men and women that we could possibly need for life and godliness.

Sometimes, however, I still feel like I’m missing something. I can look around at my friends who are married or are getting married, friends who have great boyfriends, friends who have kids and dogs and are on their husband’s excellent health insurance, and think what have I done wrong for God to punish me? Here I am balancing 3 part time jobs, filling out paperwork for the Affordable Care Act which may or may not exist tomorrow, and it’s in times like these that I must remind myself that my Father is good, and loves me, and only gives good to his children.

Matthew 7:9-11 says, “or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to given good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”

From this, we can assume that if we’ve been asking our Father in heaven for a spouse or boyfriend or girlfriend for awhile and it has yet to happen, that this is for our good. Instead, He has given us the specific gift of what he knows we actually need, what will be best for us. The good might not be readily apparent, but it is there. This includes Him gifting some of us singleness, whether temporarily or permanently, and others marriage.

In 1 Corinthians 7:7, Paul says “I wish that all were as I myself am [single]. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind, and one of another.”

Do you truly believe this, that singleness is as much of a gift as marriage?

If you are unhappily single and struggling with some things because of this, know that the solution to this struggle is not actually marriage. Lust, loneliness, selfishness, fear about the future, difficulty trusting God with our lives, questions of who we are and our value, all of these issues and more would still be there if you were to marry today. You might trade out a couple for some new ones, but most will not be solved by adding a spouse to your life. This is because it is not another human who will “complete us.” 

Freakin’ Jerry McGuire (look it up if you’re young) and other rom-coms use lines like this, but it is a lie. Only Christ can complete us.

Philippians 1:6 promises “and I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

Rather than thinking the guy needs to get the girl at the end of every action movie and video game, that every story needs to end with the Jane Austen double wedding or the Hollywood happily ever after, let’s place our eyes firmly on the promises of the Lord and put our futures in his hands. All other promises are built on shaky ground, but his rely on the perfect nature of one who loves his children and will never leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).

So, rather than thinking that the solution to all of our problems is marriage, we need to start looking at our struggles and try to figure out why we have them in the first place. What is the heart of the issue?

For singletons like me, we should ask ourselves this question:

Will I be fine if I never marry?

If your answer is no, ask yourself why not? Your answers to this follow up question will give you a great place to start looking at your heart issues. Journal, jot them down in your phone, tell them to a friend. Then start looking at what the Bible has to say about your fears, concerns, and discontentment. I’m convinced you will find that marriage cannot solve these issues, that trusting in our God’s sovereignty is a much better starting point than hoping in some possible future human.

For my married readers with kids, ask yourself this:

Will I be fine if my children never marry?

If your answer is no, ask yourself why not? Then ask yourself if you want God’s will for your children’s lives, or your own will? Look into what the Bible has to say about marriage and singleness and see if you are aligned with God, or just with our culture and your personal preferences.

I have been through many stages of singleness in my life so far, and probably have many more to come so I don’t want to pretend this is an easy issue. In some moments I am more than content with the way things are in my life, but others have been painful and heartbreaking. Know that this is probably true for our married friends and family as well. As one of my fellow panel members from last night mentioned, “life is hard.” And it is hard for everyone, not just single people. You can make it a bit less difficult for yourself and your single friends by speaking about singleness and thinking about it in a biblical way instead of a worldly one.

We are loved.
We are complete in Christ.
We have been given a good gift.
God has plans for us for our good and his glory.
God does not withhold good gifts from his children.
God has given us everything we need to live a godly life.

Let’s try to re-frame our thoughts from this starting point. In the upcoming weeks I’ll be looking at five practical ways this theology should affect how we singletons think and live out our lives with hope and joy and love. I hope you’ll join me.

Redeeming Singleness Conference

On Saturday, May 6th, I will be speaking at the “Redeeming Singleness Conference” at Cornerstone West Los Angeles. It’s from 7-9pm and is free.

Whether you are single or married, this is a great opportunity for you to delve into some of the questions, concerns, and benefits of singleness.

I wrote a little somethin’ for my married friends explaining why this is, indeed a conference for you as well. Check it out: “A Message to the Married.”

For my single friends, here’s an article Pastor Brian Colmery, the other main speaker, wrote for you: “A Message to the Single.”

I’d love to see some Awkward Spinster peeps there. Register today.

Embracing Being Human

When I stepped out of the taxi into the English rain, I took a deep breath to calm my nerves before walking through the front door of the manor house labeled with a small sign that said “Welcome, L’Abri Fellowship, Please Enter.” I was exhausted from so much more than jetlag. 15 years of working in industries that care for and help others, often in the hardest circumstances of life, had worn me down so much more than the jetlag ever could, and I was seeking rest. Leaving my bags in the front hall, I did as I was told on the phone and headed toward the voices I could hear floating from the dining room. I walked into the wood paneled room, shaking with nerves as my social awkwardness hit its peak (no matter how many times I enter a room all on my own, it still freaks me out), to see smiling faces look up at me, and multiple voices in accents from all over the world offer me a seat, a cuppa tea, and a bowl of warm homemade soup. This was to be the beginning of my self-funded sabbatical, a time for God to teach me how to accept help from others, how to rest, slow down, and how to find the beauty in being human.

Growing up in the church, we often look at our humanity with all its limitations as fallen, broken, messed up. We can spend our lives trying to overcome it, trying to be better than human. When we have the perfect God-Man as our example, asking questions of ourselves like “What would Jesus do?” can become more than inspiring, it can become a obsessive search for perfection. Verses like Matthew 5:48, “you therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” weigh heavily. Even when we’ve had it explained in a complete biblical context, it can be the refrain in the back of our heads, impossible and crushing.

We are taught that God came for the broken, that he loves the lost, that we can never be perfect, we will always fall short, which is why we need God in the first place. Yet, this is often not the way the church actually lives. There can be an unspoken pressure placed upon each Christian to somehow be more than human. The “Puritan work ethic” comes to mind, as we learn from youth that “all hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty” (Proverbs 14:23). We’re taught the Proverb of the sluggard and the ant, which ends with “a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest – and poverty will come upon you like a robber and want like an armed man” (Proverbs 6:10-11). We are told by parents, teachers, and pastors alike “whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men” (Colossians 3:23). Even in the best of circumstances, when we are taught these things in balance with the rest of scripture, it can be hard to not focus mostly on this part. The work hard part. The never rest part. The give 110% to everything you do part.

As a single person at work and in ministry, I expected to be able to work and serve non-stop. I remembered hearing “if you work in your own strength you’ll get tired, but if you work in God’s strength, you won’t ever get weary!” I remembered Ephesians 6:7-8, saying “serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does.” Paul, one of our examples of those in ministry, made sure to point out that he worked a day job while he preached, saying “we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you” (2 Thessalonians 3:7-8).

I don’t know about you, but after reading all of these verses, I almost despair because it seems impossible. I’m exhausted just thinking about them.

I think every Christian deals with this at some point, but the single Christian has a particular expectation. We are meant to minister. This is why Paul says, after all, that singleness is better, “to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:35). I sometimes felt I was expected to work longer hours at my jobs, show up to more things, always be on time, never leave early while my married coworkers had to race off to pick up sick kids, or come in later because their spouse had their car, or drop out of a weekend event because of family priorities. Instead, I had “free” time and everyone knew it. If we aren’t using every moment of our “time off” for work or ministry, we can feel judged, guilty.

So what happens when you already work with kids all day and just don’t have it in you to work with more of them on the weekend by helping in the church nursery? What happens when you are just exhausted? What happens when you really need time with friends or family or just to rest?

I realized during my time at L’Abri that a lot of these expectations were actually placed there by me. Somehow, after years of hearing in church and in staff meetings that we needed to work harder, this became the Main Thing in my brain. I don’t think my pastors and bosses meant for this to be the Main Thing. But I’m like the stressed out straight A student in a class of non-motivated underachievers, when the teacher chews out the whole class, it’s kids like me who will get anxious and feel they have to work even harder, even if that isn’t the teacher’s intention.

Some of us need to hear the “work harder” message repeatedly, but some of us need to hear the “rest in his grace and mercy and love” message every day. Every moment.

Last winter, I set out to study rest and discovered, to my surprise, that humans, limitations and all, were created that way Before The Fall. It seems that needing to sleep and eat, only having a certain number of hours in the day, and needing rest, are NOT actually the result of sin and death entering the world. We were, in perfection, created to need rest and community. We were created to be limited. We were not created to be little gods, but to be echoes of His image. We were created human, and it was good. Then, if we add all the new limitations to our humanity after sin and death entered the world – health issues like illness and injury, more laborious work, mental and emotional health struggles –  we need to remember grace all the more.

Yes, we ought to implement the principles found in the verses above and work hard, but we must also embrace our limitations. Humans need moments of rest and relaxation, that ever-elusive “balance.” These are gifts to help us enjoy God and each other all the more.

Consider God’s institution of the Sabbath. I don’t think I really understood what a true Sabbath was until I spend some time in Israel with modern Jews who still honor this day wholeheartedly, preparing in the days before so they could do no work but spend time worshiping God and enjoying their families and friends. Exodus 10:9-10 says “six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work.” and Mark 2:27 tells us “the Sabbath was made for man.” Hebrews 4:4, 9-10 claims “for he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: ‘And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.’. . . So then there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.”

The Sabbath was a gift to us, and though we no longer are under the Old Testament laws that require us to eat a certain way, celebrate a certain way on that day, the idea of one entire day of complete rest, without ANY work, is beautiful and good and meant for man’s good and God’s glory. True rest is necessary and good, not just a day we go to church, then race home to run errands, clean house, carpool the kids to 5 different activities, answer texts and emails, or in my case – blog or work from home, then end the day by plopping down on the couch to watch Netflix. I’m not saying doing these things is wrong, sin, but I am saying we need to reassess what is actually restful to us. And we need to realize it’s not just okay to rest, but it is good. We’re created for it. For lazy days of family conversations, reading books, watching TV with our roommates, taking walks, exploring the new eateries in town, and letting our minds wander to God.

I am a broken human. I am limited. I get tired, overwhelmed, and sometimes a bit lost. But I have a Father who says to me “come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). I have a Savior who, in the midst of one of the busiest, most successful times of ministry, told his apostles to “come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while. For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat” (Mark 6:31). In fact, Christ himself frequently took times of rest alone, going to the mountains to talk with his Dad. And we often find him reclining at table with friends, eating, drinking, and discussing topics of the day. Much of his ministry seemed to be quite personal, just hanging out with people.

One of the best lessons we can learn by embracing our limitations as humans is that we need God. When we are busy every moment, it is tempting for us to think we have some kind of control over our lives, our futures. This can lead to arrogance and a ton of anxiety. Stepping back from it all to rest reminds us that we’re not actually the ones in charge, reintroducing humility and also the peace and joy that flows from allowing God to be in charge. Paul wrote of his limitations to the church in Corinth and, instead of talking about how awful they were or how he was trying hard to overcome them, he rejoiced. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 states “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

So, no, we don’t have to agree to do every single thing asked of us. We don’t need to add extra pressure onto ourselves, expecting to be able to work 15 hours a day, 7 days a week and not wear down. We don’t need to feel guilty when we are sick or tired or just want to relax for a few hours. Yes, this can be taken too far and there are indeed those who are sinfully lazy, but the single people I know who live in LA and the surrounding area tend to be the opposite. We tend to work and work hard, with our careers becoming our identities. We can put pressure on ourselves to do more, be more, and our bosses and friends and families and churches can often play into this by adding more demands, more expectations. Since we don’t have to leave work on time to get home to husbands and wives and kids, since we live alone or with roommates instead of people for whom we’re responsible, it’s easy to feel like taking time out to rest is bad. But that Wednesday happy hour or coffee break with the girls or guys during which we discuss how we’re doing, hold each other accountable to living godly lives, and encourage and lift each other up is just as important as the married couple’s family dinner. We should be using up all of our vacation days, not buying into the workaholic culture that so often prevails in America today. We need to stop bragging about how much overtime we work, how many jobs we have, how many hours a night/weekend we spend on jobs and start encouraging each other to rest. To heal. To recover. To focus on God’s grace and glory.

Stop expecting humans to be more than we can be. And stop expecting singles to give everything we are to our jobs and ministries. Allow for rest and joyful times with family and friends. Eat great meals together. Actually get enough sleep. Remember, God created us this way – limited and yet somehow still beautiful.