Singleness in a Culture that Worships Relationships

I tend not to write much about relationships. Perhaps it’s because I don’t feel like I’m qualified. Maybe it’s because I don’t feel like I have much to say that’s worthwhile. But today I do feel the need to address a topic that’s been on my heart lately. What I will attempt to do is to shed light on an issue I see in our culture, and point out some obvious flaws in our thinking.

Branding Problems

A local church I’ve visited has a young adult (singles) ministry. I’ve often considered attending. It’s a wonderful church full of amazing people. And although I’ve never attended their young adult ministry, I’m already a little skeptical. What’s the problem? They named it Jeremiah 29:11.

For those of you not familiar with this particular verse, here is what it says:

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11, NIV

I love this verse. It was written to the Israelites in a time when nothing was going right. They were being ruled by a foreign power. In fact, this particular chapter opens up with some context for the verse:

This is the text of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders among the exiles and to the priests, the prophets and all the other people Nebuchadnezzar had carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. – Jeremiah 29:1, NIV

Needless to say, the Israelite people had it bad. They were miles from home. They were being ruled by a foreign power. They had very little freedom. This was a time of great turmoil in Israel. God was offering them hope and promising them a future at a time when there was little hope to be found.

So why do I hate that a young adults ministry is branded “Jeremiah 29:11”? Think about the message this sends to young adults. Basically, “Sorry your life sucks, but at least God does have a plan for it.” Or perhaps a more accurate interpretation, “Sorry you’re single, but God has someone out there for you. Just wait and see.”

We’ve effectively equated a time in our lives that brings us the greatest opportunities with a time of some of Israel’s greatest sorrows. Furthermore churches often unknowingly equate a time of singleness with a time of sorrow.

Now I’m sure the church leaders and staff didn’t really think this through. And perhaps I’m reading way too much into it. Both of those are possibilities. But the deeper problem is that the American church looks at singleness as a problem to be solved, not a stage of life to be enjoyed.

Singleness As A Gift

Over the past few months, God continues to teach me to embrace singleness as a gift. The time that I have now will be some of the most important and impactful times in my life. I have incredible opportunities to meet new people, to invest in meaningful relationships, and become more like the person that God has created me to be. Simply put, I need to embrace this time and make the most of it. To do anything else would be to squander the time I’ve been given.

If you think about many of the major figures throughout scripture, many of them lived single lives. Jesus (of course), Paul, and John the Baptist are figures that immediately come to mind. And of course many people who got married also played a significant role in scripture. That’s exactly my point. Both marriage and singleness have their place. Existing in one stage does not disqualify you from anything. In fact each stage qualifies you specifically for different opportunities.

Our culture often talks about how marriage completes us. What we’ve done is idolize marriage and relationships to a point where we genuinely feel incomplete without them. The church has also embraced this attitude. I would suggest that this may be part of the reason divorce rates are so high (both inside and outside of the church).

We think marriage will meet all the needs we have. We think finding that perfect someone will make everything just right. Even the most realistic of us often know that there will be tough times, but we believe marriage does (somehow) make us whole. We believe that without it, we aren’t who we are supposed to be.

And as a result, I’ve watched marriages and relationships fall apart. As soon as the honeymoon is over, husbands and wives realize that they aren’t actually getting all their needs met. So they assume that they must’ve married the wrong person. “After all,” they say to themselves, “marriage is supposed to complete me and make me happy. So if I’m not happy I must be married to the wrong person.”

I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m bashing marriage. I think marriage is an amazing gift from God. My parents are still married after nearly 30 years of marriage. I have so much respect for both of them, and I’m incredibly grateful for the godly display of marriage they’ve been to me throughout my life. I’m so happy for my friends who have found someone to spend the rest of their lives with. I believe that marriage and sexuality are gifts God gives to us. And I believe we don’t need marriage to make us complete.

Someone much wiser than me once said, “If we aren’t content single, it will be nearly impossible for us to be content in marriage. If we learn to be content while single, we stand the best chance of learning to be content after we’re married.” I thought this was brilliant. I’d really like to give credit to whomever said it, but I honestly don’t remember where I first heard it.

Free Advice on Singleness from Married People

Living as a single person is amazing. I’m not kidding when I say that I genuinely enjoy it. Sure, it absolutely has its challenges, but God continues to teach me lessons as a single adult that would’ve been impossible (or impossibly painful) to learn in marriage. Plus, I have a huge amount of freedom with my time, energy, money, and talents that I wouldn’t have otherwise.

Sometimes young married people (typically my age or younger) like to offer me advice on being single. I appreciate their intentions, but I’m generally not going to take their advice seriously. No offense. If you got married at 22, you have no idea what it’s like to be single at 25. And that’s not a bad thing. I yield to you in all things related to marriage. You have far more experience at marriage than I have. But when it comes to being single, please consider the fact that you may indeed know very little about living life as a single adult.

You see, singleness wasn’t your adventure. Marriage was. So embrace your journey, and I’ll embrace mine. If and when it comes time for me to get married, let’s chat. I’d love to know what you’ve learned.

The Worst Reason to Get Married

Perhaps the worst reason I can think of to get married is to cure loneliness. I’ve been in friendships for the sole purpose of curing loneliness, and those didn’t work out so well. When you begin a relationship with someone “just because you don’t have anyone better to hang out with”, you’re missing the entire point of real relationships. That is the most selfish way to approach anything.

To be honest, the friendships I began with that mentality never worked out well for me anyway. I was disappointed, and I left others disappointed. More importantly, I failed to love and support them in a meaningful way. I was in the relationship for my benefit, and they were in the relationship for their benefit. And none of us really benefitted.

I can’t imagine trying to survive in a marriage based on mutual loneliness.

The Catholic theologian Henri Nouwen wrote:

“As long as we approach another person from our loneliness, no mature human relationship can develop. Clinging to one another in loneliness is suffocating and eventually becomes destructive. For love to be possible we need the courage to create space between us and to trust that this space allows us to dance together.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Let’s Change Our Minds

One day I hope to be married. I don’t feel called to be single, but if that’s the path I have in front of me, I’ll gladly accept it.

But I refuse to sit idly by and think my life only begins on my wedding day. Everyday is a day that I can’t get back. So many people choose to wait and wallow in discontentment toward their singleness. I talk to 30-somethings who would give almost anything to have their single days back – if even for a week. Somehow the grass always seems greener on the other side of the fence. But it’s really greenest where you water it. Whether that’s in singleness or marriage, I’m going to do everything I can to keep the grass green on my side of the fence.

Time for a Rebrand

Single people who love Jesus with everything are some of the most dangerous people in the world. They have the time, talent, money, and flexibility to make the world a better place. They have fewer commitments and greater flexibility with their lives. Deep down I believe these people scare Satan the most. They are undercover agents, lone rangers, and watchful vigilantes who are bringing love, hope, and light to world saturated in darkness. Idly waiting for Mr. or Mrs. Right is exactly what we should not be doing. Seeing singleness as a gift is the first step in becoming who we were meant to be.

Even Paul recognized singleness as a gift.

“I wish that all of you were [single] as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that. Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do.” – 1 Cor 7:7-8

So maybe instead of Jeremiah 29:11, we should name our young adult ministries something like John 10:10 (I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full) or 1 Timothy 6:12 (Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called).

Somehow they just seem more fitting.