Yesterday night I had the privilege of hearing a couple speak about their love story. It was truly beautiful to hear how God had redeemed two broken people and brought them together to glorify Him. They talked about staying pure and their boundaries. I didn’t agree with everything they said as a general rule but I realized that these boundaries were right for them (perhaps even right for me…only time will tell). Towards the end of the night the woman asked the single women in the room who wanted to be in a relationship to stand so she could pray for them. I remained seated. She looked at me and asked what was wrong and prompted me to stand. I tried to shrug it off and motioned for her to begin praying. She again prompted me to stand. I did not want to offend anyone. I wasn’t trying to call attention to myself. But in that moment I knew I had to stand firm. Half-jokingly I said “well, what if you’re perfectly happy to not be in a relationship?”. For a couple of seconds there was total silence. My pastor noticed the tension in the room and tried to smooth over the awkwardness by quickly saying “that desire is a gift!” and they then moved on to prayer. I felt my whole body go hot. My first thought was “I hope she knows I didn’t mean to offend her”. And in the next breath I realized that I should also feel offended – I had unintentionally been single shamed.
Simply put, single shaming is an occurrence (common in churches) where a single person is made to feel like there is something missing from their lives because they are not in a relationship. It implies that there is something wrong with singleness, or that it is merely a season that will soon pass. Always, marriage is heralded as the gold star or first place. Singleness is somehow reduced to a consolation prize.
I am not going to discuss my own personal opinions on this – it would no doubt lead to misunderstandings. Instead let’s look at what the bible says about singleness (and marriage).
1. Your life is really not about being single or being married. I say this with all the love in the world…Jesus did not come to this earth so you could get married. Dying for our sins, he came to restore our relationship with (and reconcile us to) God. He empowers us through his Holy Spirit to love others as he loved us. To proclaim the good news. To reach the brokenhearted. To be salt and light in a broken world. Never have I heard it said that Jesus came so we could find “the one” (not a biblical concept by the way).
2. Being married doesn’t matter in the eternal perspective. Please don’t get me wrong. I don’t hate marriage at all! I think it is a wonderfully beautiful representation of God’s love for us while we are on this earth. But the bible says that at the resurrection “people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven” (Matt 22:30). On judgment day God will not ask us whether we were single or married. Instead He will ask “did you feed Me?” “did you clothe Me?” (Matt 25:31-46).
3. Marriage is not for everyone. In 1 Corinthians 7:7 Paul says that some will have the gift of singleness and some will have the gift of marriage. In fact, that whole chapter in 1 Corinthians talks about both marriage and singleness and how in some cases singleness can be very beneficial in serving God (allowing for undivided devotion to God). Jesus himself discusses this as well. In Matthew 19:10-12 it says “The disciples said to him, ‘If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.’ Jesus replied, ‘Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.'”
4. Just because you desire something doesn’t mean that’s your gift. I’ve heard it said that if you truly truly desire marriage then you’re not meant to be a single. Where in the bible is that? And please don’t misquote the verse on God giving you the desires of your heart. Because otherwise half the female American population would be married to Brad Pitt. Psalm 37: 4 actually says “Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” This means that you actually have to spend time with God, getting to know His heart and having your heart turn towards His. This means His desires become your desires. So take inventory. Is it really God speaking? Or is it your own heart? Ultimately it is impossible to really know if you have the gift of singleness until you die (as a single). It may be that your gift of marriage was reserved for much later in life.
5. Many of the figures in the Bible were single. Jesus himself was single. So was Paul. Elijah, Elisha, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, Mary Magdalene, and Lydia were all single. What makes marriage better than singleness (or vice-versa for that matter)? I have heard of churches that do not allow unmarried men to be pastors, elders, or deacons. So Jesus couldn’t be a pastor. Neither could Paul. Interesting.
Again, I feel it is important for me to say I don’t hate marriage. If God were to bless me with a husband I would be extremely happy. But He may choose not to. I don’t think it’s wrong at all to pray for a partner. Or to spend time talking about singleness and marriage. These are both good things that should be talked about. There is much to learn from both camps. I maintain that I was truly blessed to listen to that couple’s testimony. I recognized how God was so present in their love story and how He has plans to use their testimony to glorify Him. My point in writing this entry is not to belittle marriage at all. Marriage is beautiful and a blessing and gift from God. My point is – let’s not forget that singleness is all of that too.