You know the ones. they start with “Why are you. . .? When are you. . .? You’re not yet. . .?” There is a great variety of comments and questions which are recounted on a lot of lists online under titles such as “10 things not to say to singles.” As I have scanned that well-covered category this week, it seems that the questioners are all reading the same book. People in Nebraska ask the very same questions as people in New York. Go figure.
When younger, the questions usually are “When are you getting married?” or “Why are you not married yet?” As years go by, they change a bit to “Why is it that you have never married?” If I had even a quarter for the number of times I’ve been asked those questions, I’d be very wealthy. And if I had THE definitive answer to those “why” questions, I’d be even richer.
I like a response I read awhile back. “My prospective husband took a detour and he refuses to ask for directions.” Well, if that’s possible, mine has been wandering around the wilderness for 40 years just like the Israelites in the Old Testament. What can I say?
Even though many singles are choosing to live together, the common expectation is still that college age men and women will find their “significant other” and hopefully marry one another in a lifetime commitment – that covenant to love and cherish each other as long as they both shall live. While there are many marriages which illustrate that, we seem to mainly hear of the ones which do not. Few walk down the wedding aisle thinking that their marriage will fall apart with relational death. What happens?
My observation: The hard work which goes into a committed, faithful, covenant marriage often fails because the hard work of committed, faithful, and yes, covenantal singleness goes undone. Fidelity is a word which gets much lip service today, but actually living it out is deemed impossible. In particular, sexual freedom is viewed as an entitlement, and little thought is given to inevitable physical, emotional, and spiritual consequences.
In reality, all these consequences meld together because the physical connection is but a visual part of the “becoming one flesh” which Scripture talks about.♥ This process is meant to go infinitely beyond “urges” and “needs.” Animals illustrate those basic things; but we are to transcend those. The physical act is meant to connect the emotions in mutual love and respect, and to point to an even deeper reflection of our spiritual relationship with the God Who put all those complex gifts into our lives.
How in the world can I relate to all this as a single person who believes that this “becoming one” – body, soul, and spirit – is a freedom one is only to have with a spouse? Is remaining celibate an impossible task? More applicable for today, is remaining celibate a laughable and unnecessary goal if one is unmarried? Is it a respected ideal only if one is called to be a Mother Teresa?
There is universal respect for the discipline it takes to be skillful athletes. Olympic skaters, gymnasts, swimmers, skiers, and cyclists wow us with their finesse and speed. What we see, however, is just the tip of the iceberg. Their public successes come only as a result of all the behind-the-scenes work on tiny details. Same with pianists, by the way. A Chopin Etude may eventually take less than 5 minutes to play in concert. The preparation may be 100+ hours of slow, steady practice. A concert lasting an hour may consist of 250 pages of music – traditionally memorized if you are a pianist. All these skills are seen as objects of celebration when done successfully.
So, why do we see fidelity and discipline in the life of an unmarried person as any less a celebration? It is a puzzle, isn’t it?
For those of you reading this who are walking this journey with me, I’m here to say, “Good for you! You encourage me just as I hope I encourage you! God’s blessing of His spiritual fruit be yours in abundance – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control!” Galatians 5:23 goes on to tell us that none of these things are against any law in any situation!
Well, this post has started my mind on a quest for more good responses to singleness questions. More to come! 🙂
♥ Genesis 2:24; Mark 10:8; I Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 5:31
Have you ever heard a comment and have the Holy Spirit sort of say, “Psst, are you paying attention?” I had one of those moments a couple days ago. In a TV interview, Whoopi Goldberg said, “I always thought if I was married I’d be closer to normal.” As I Googled her for more info, I discovered that she tried to be “closer to normal” three times, and is currently not married. While I enjoy watching Whoopi’s skill as an actress, I know any discussion we might have on spiritual things would be a lively one. 🙂
The moment I heard it, though, I thought, “Yes! I’ve never said it quite that way, but that is exactly how I have often felt.”
In 1978 I attended a large single’s conference at what was then Garden Grove Community Church in Anaheim, California. The week held marvelous speakers, good workshops, and a great time to rub shoulders with an eclectic group of singles. After a few days, though, I grew a bit frustrated because so much of it just didn’t speak to my personal heart. During a question/answer period with Robert Shuller, a man finally asked why there had been no workshops for those who had never married. All the workshops were for divorced or widowed folks. Dr. Shuller didn’t pause even for a second. “There simply aren’t enough of you around.” I was shocked. Even though at the time I was only in my mid-30’s, I already felt very isolated as a single in what seemed to be a married world, and now, I discovered I was in an even more minority group within singles.
Did I want to have gone through the pain of death of a spouse or divorce? Certainly not. I did, however, want to know there were others who grieved the loss of what they had never had. I wanted to know how I could relate better to God in all this. Instead, I felt my deepest heart cries were being ignored and now I was being told they were not even significant enough to address. I went through a long period of grief and anger against the God who said He loved the world so much He sent His Son to die for me so I could enter into eternal life. (John 3:16) I simply did not feel it!
Of course, now, there has been a huge shift in our society. There are more never-married folks for a variety of reasons. Seeing the pain of many shattered marriages has caused some to decide not to make that commitment to one person “for life.” Having experienced the pain of divorce of parents has made an indelible mark on lives of the children who are adults now, who remember how they felt when they were small. And, now, “friends with benefits” become easier if couples live together. Even many Christians have shifted their thinking in these areas, particularly if their children and others dear to them not only live together, but have children without the commitment of marriage.
I believe there are many of us out there like me, however. Some of us have “stayed the course,” fought temptation, and continue to live in the process of “working out our salvation with fear and trembling.” Understand that this does not mean that salvation comes as a result of our good works and intentions, however. Paul continues on in Philippians 2:12-13 that “it is GOD Who works in us to fulfill His good purpose.” Hallelujah! Even so, it’s good to hear an “atta boy/atta girl” from friendly cheerleaders once in awhile. Right?
Unfortunately, though, many of us are not found in churches. No matter how hard churches try to include everyone, many singles feel unrelated to as they age, and it is simply easier to not attend. Numerous books and articles have been written asking how churches can better minister to singles, but I know of none which has transformed singles’ ministries on a large scale. I have discovered, however, that consistent fellowship with other believers is part of the answer to “it’s not good that man be alone” talked about in Genesis 2:18. The richness I find in friendship with a wide span of generations in my church is priceless.
In the past ten years, we’ve had two sermon series on “God”s Design for Marriage” and one series on “God’s Design for Sex” – which again mainly addressed marriage. A few regular-attending single folks decided to skip those Sundays. I sat through every word, even though I had to figure out what was applicable to me. The rest I tucked away for possible future reference. It’s still in storage, by the way.
Fortunately, my pastor is approachable, and I became “Miss Burr Under the Saddle” when it came to requesting at least one sermon on singleness. I inundated his e-mailbox with a great many articles and quotes gleaned from the internet, and, of course, my own copious thoughts. I have to admit, it took a couple years, but it did result in a “God’s Design for Singleness” sermon. I still send him articles and, of course, have invited him to access this blog for the real scoop. 🙂
So, do I feel “closer to normal” now that I realize that may have been cause for a deep root of pain I allowed to grow in my heart? Actually, yes! God is still in the business of uncovering my real feelings which influence my relationship with Him others, and myself. The longings for a spouse to grow old – or older – with are planted in the heart by God. That is a normal thing! He knows exactly what’s on my mind, and years of talking to Him about those longings have drawn me closer to Him and have removed most of the anger and replaced it with contentment – most days..
So what do you think? Is this “normal” thing something you have struggled with? It’s possible that something you share here may be exactly what someone else needs to read.
OK. I admit this is sort of a rewrite of the question a couple posts ago, “Did God really say. . . ?” But, I have to also admit that both questions are inherent in many of the “answers” thrown at us from every direction. And, I also must admit that the pendulum has swung 180° from when I was much younger.
When I was a high school senior, a sophomore girl was “sent to stay with her aunt.” This was a euphemism for “she’s pregnant.” When she returned, her little boy was raised by the grandparents and treated like he was the girl’s little brother. Apart from all the whispering among students, nothing was said at school about it. No lectures on teenage pregnancy and how to avoid it. No admonitions on what happens when people go “all the way.” I guess it was assumed this was a rare occurrence and not worth much mention. And, no, this was not in the 1800’s. 🙂
When I was young, there was really not much preparation about what to do with rapidly rising hormone levels and what it meant in terms of relating to the opposite sex. I’m not so sure it is much better now. There is so much input now, that young folks simply do not have a place to put it. The public ways of expressing that relationship have certainly mushroomed. Experience and emotion prove too difficult to control. The consequences of unfaithful activity wreak havoc on lives daily, and we have no way of knowing just how today’s actions will impact these same lives years from now.
The words faithfulness and fidelity have taken a big hit. Of these two words, Webster says:
- Firm in adherence to promises.
- True and constant in affection or allegiance to a person to whom one is bound by a vow or ties of love.
- Firm in observance of duty.
- Worthy of confidence and belief.
- Adherence to what is right.
I think most people would say these things have worth, but unfaithfulness is thrown in our faces daily. We see broken promises all around us in all sorts of relationships. Unfaithfulness, affairs,and immoral and illegal acts are the subject of 90% of movies and TV programs. Unfortunately, these things are often presented as things which are just an inevitable part of life.
But, what causes the deepest pains in people’s hearts? The unfaithfulness and infidelity of someone we love deeply – broken trust and bad judgment in the heat of emotion.
One side of our society’s mouth supports faithfulness and fidelity. The other side is curved into a snide smile – particularly with regard to celibacy prior to marriage. The boundaries of what constitute “having sex” are stretched more and more – maybe to ease the conscience. But, if the boundaries are of smaller and smaller consequence, why do folks feel guilty when they are identified?
When God gave Moses the 10 commandments, they appeared to concentrate mainly on outward action. But, Jesus exposed the real meaning of them by specifically addressing two of them. He said that hatred in the mind and actual murder are related, or that lust in the mind after someone is an act of adultery. So, something does not become sin only when the body acts? Oh, oh. (Matthew 5:21-22; 27)
Why all the pain in face of infidelity? Because God built the human heart to have the intention of glorifying Him in thought, word, and deed. Pain results because the human heart still has an expectation of fidelity and trust and faithfulness because of the infinite expression of God’s faithfulness from the beginning. Has God changed His mind? In light of the common thought that humans just cannot control or resist raging hormones and unbridled imagination, has God adjusted His thinking? Are His instructions for moral conduct different in the 21st century than in the 1st simply because of changes in the mind of humanity? A big NO to that!
So, how can a single person live out faithfulness and fidelity in the midst of a society which laughs at them, but is also broken by their lack?
In my very first blog post here under “I Corinthians 7 – a new look – Part I” I wrote: “I believe that every word of Scripture is ‘breathed by God’ to teach and train us in righteousness. (II Timothy 3:16-17). So, I think the shortness of instruction in I Corinthians 7:32 and 34 to unmarried men and women is exactly what God intended to say to us. Both have the freedom to be more concerned about the Lord’s affairs because they do not have a spouse. That is unequivocally true! But, with all due respect, trying to encourage singles with only these words may fall short. What do we do with our hearts? How do we conduct our relationships with faithfulness? Who serves as our sounding board? Who is as fully vested in the decisions we must make, and helps us make them? How do we have meaningful conversations without having to make an appointment? How do we handle intimacy when even simple things are not ours to enjoy, let alone deep things? How do we satisfy the need to be touched? Who chooses us? Who puts romance in our lives? These are places where unmarrieds live every day!”
I hope this blog stimulates you to find answers to these questions and to share specific questions you may have. Talk to you later. 🙂
- * Deep longings, earnest desires.
- * Natural longings for that which is excited by enjoyment or thought.
- * Eager wishes to obtain and enjoy.
(Was Noah W. really my friend? Well, he would have been if he had lived long enough. Meanwhile, I certainly appreciate his efforts to make words more understandable.)
Desire for deep relationship was planted in the human heart by God at creation. Right from the beginning God says, “It is not good for man to be alone.” It’s interesting to note that before Eve, Adam had total access to God Himself. We know they spoke together, and walked together “in the cool of the day.” (Genesis 2:16; 3:8) However, in light of this incredible relationship with Himself, God saw Adam needed something else – a counterpart, Eve. Obviously, if Adam and Eve had not become a family, we would not be here. The emphasis for us, however, is that God is a relational God, and He made us to be a relational people. I find it very interesting to note that God did not fill that desire in Adam’s heart with Himself – but with Eve.
I fear that too often this phrase, “It’s not good for man to be alone,” is at times taken as “It’s not good for man to be unmarried,” becoming a sort of promise of marriage to all who desire it! At least, it is a verse which was often quoted to me as I shared the desire of my heart for a Godly marriage. For years, I expressed my deep disappointment to God for what I thought was His total disregard for my feelings – the sort of desires of the heart David talked about in Psalm 37:4.
As the years stretched by, I let God know I thought He was toying with my affections. Someone gave me an illustration of a hungry dog jumping and jumping and jumping for a tasty morsel held just out of his reach. He finally gave up and lay down – still hungry. I knew that my comparison of God to the one who was holding the dog treat was exactly how I was picturing God. And, I also knew that this was untrue, no matter how strong my feelings were. Soul ache, physical desire, and spiritual truth were on a collision course.
Then came the day when I began to understand that the desire for intimate relationship is a God-given gift and is meant to be an arrow pointing us to Him. For some, this includes marriage. For some, it does not. But, God’s will for married AND unmarried folks is that we “Love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and love our neighbor as ourselves.” (Matthew 22:37-39)
* The desire for intimate relationship is God-given:
- – Emotional and physical desires fall under the larger umbrella of intimacy.
- – Intimacy falls under the larger umbrella of relationship.
- – Relationship falls under the larger umbrella of God.
- – Every relationship is an opportunity to model God’s love.
- – Desire for relationship is a longing for eternity!
OK. That’s the spiritual language. Now, what do I do with the physical and emotional desires for a husband? I’m still working on that. I used to pray that if I am never to marry, God would remove the desires because they were just too painful a reminder of what was not in my life. He may do that for some, but He certainly did not do that for me. I finally came to thank God for the very desires which brought pain, because they were a reflection of His creation in me. They were indications that my heart and soul and body were responding as He meant them to. I just needed to figure out how to find joy in the “lacks.”
The mind plays a huge part in taking the lead in maneuvering through life. There are many times when I have not acted rightly in imagination and in what my eyes have seen and my ears have heard. My longings and desires have often morphed into yearnings, distress, despair, grief, and mourning for unmet wants. The Psalms have long been my go-to patterns for talking to God. Somehow, David and the other Psalmists gained an intimate knowing of God which included love, joy, peace – and distress, grief, and anger. They discussed everything with Him without trying to make their words sound more religious and respectful. They were transparent in their expression. I decided I wanted that sort of transparency before the Lord. I’m still working on that – for the rest of my life!
How about you? I welcome your comments. So far, I’ve gotten a ton of spam which fortunately WordPress identifies so I can delete it. I can assure you I will do a lot of jumping for joy at real comments. 🙂
Covenant is for Singles, too!
A marriage covenant is a public pronouncement of a couple’s honor and faithfulness to one another and to God. Ideally, this involves careful and thoughtful coming to terms with their sexuality, giving them new opportunity to share that area of their lives in the God-ordained boundary of marriage. It also brings their commitment into the public arena of fellowship with fellow believers. There is no comparable public celebration for the single, however, especially for those who live in faithful “waiting.”
For singles, advice is usually summed up in abstinence and “don’t do’s” emphasizing over and over what we cannot have and still be pleasing to God. Unfortunately, it overstresses that “it is all up to me.” Patience and self-control stand toe-to-toe with desires and raging hormones. Yielding does not show the strength of temptation. Resisting does! The path to I Corinthians 10:13 is arduous, but can become a cherished truth. God does provide a way out of temptation every time, period. It brings one into partnership with God, taking conquering temptation out of the “it’s all up to me” mindset.
While abstinence centers around the individual and his decisions, the practice of celibacy centers around relationship. It always involves another person in thought, word, or deed. While I personally do not feel “called” by God to be single, I am called to be faithful with my thoughts, words, and acts, and remaining celibate falls under that parameter.
The practice of fidelity as a single is the best training for fidelity in marriage. And, fidelity is precious to God whether we are unmarried or married. Grasping that the practice of celibacy is a partnership with God which can lead to a covenant as a single is a way of opening the door for God to change the heart.
While a single’s covenant is not publicly celebrated in ceremony or anniversary, it is nonetheless very precious, and is a very serious commitment. It is quite simply recognition of God’s love and faithfulness to me and my promise to be faithful to Him in all areas of my life. This covenant is only possible with His working out its truth in my life in the deepest part of my soul, for His good pleasure. (Philippians 2:13)
Do I have this mastered? It is a life-long process, and I’m still on the way!
Prayer of personal covenant: Dear God, I commit my deepest longings, desires, hopes, and dreams to You and bring them under Your covenant of faithfulness, acknowledging that I cannot be faithful to You in my own strength, but only with Your grace, mercy, and power. I rededicate myself to You – body, soul, and spirit. I will be honest with You about temptations and struggles, and trust You to transform my life in Jesus Christ. Amen – so be it!
The concept of covenant with God has totally altered the way I think about my prolonged singleness. From the beginning, God has made His faithfulness clear, inviting men and women to partner with Him in mutual faithfulness. We see this affirmed each time a believing man and woman pledge themselves to God and to one another in marriage. An older wording of traditional wedding vows said, “I plight thee my troth.” It means, “I pledge to you my fidelity.” Comprehending that as a single person, I can pledge my fidelity to God just as He has promised His faithfulness to me, is a precious gift. Should I marry, this covenant joins seamlessly with a marriage covenant.
The process has not been easy. Being my only source of income, buying a home, and making life-altering decisions alone became stepping-stones to a deeper authentic life in Jesus Christ. Along the way, I have struggled with desires, dreams, and what I have come to realize was an unwitting vow which killed hope and brought deep pain and sorrow.
God’s promise is true. Psalm 37:4 – Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart. We see this worked out in Eden. Adam delighted in God, and He planted a desire in Adam’s heart which was fulfilled by Eve’s arrival. I find it interesting that God did not satisfy that desire with Himself. I’ve come to believe the same is true for many of us who have prayed for God to remove the desire for a husband/wife if He does not have marriage in our future. For most, He does not answer that prayer quite like we expect. He does not remove the desire because it is a normal Godly and human desire, and it is to be a means to keep drawing us to Himself for the intimacy we long for. His promise goes much further than simply giving us what we want. He plants His desires in our hearts.
For many of us, the two main dreams of career and relationship leading to marriage are the driving forces in our lives. What happens when career dreams come to a resounding halt, quite possibly due to circumstances totally out of our control? What happens whan a spiritually agreeable, mutually attractive man or woman does not choose us to grow old – or older – with? Simply getting married is really not the issue. Finding someone who walks intimately with God and obeys His mandate for purity and faithfulness is the issue.
“I will never let anyone get close enough to hurt me again.” This may seem like a natural response to the painful end of a hopeful relationship. But, if it becomes a prolonged reaction which governs the heart, I believe it is as strong as a vow. For me, the vow took the form of becoming resigned to never marrying, because resignation was far less painful than trying to keep hope alive. My quiet resignation was not confident acceptance of God’s good intent in my life. It was belief that, for some reason, God was withholding the one earthly desire I wanted the most. Being resigned did bring some emotional relief, and I was quite settled in it until the Holy Spirit gently peeled away layers of bitterness and distrust and showed me how dishonoring resignation was to God. With a trusted friend, I prayerfully renounced that unwitting vow, and began to see evidence of God’s resurrection of dreams and hopes in my heart.
it was a Nebraska summer day, and I had the green dishes out, mud pies made, and coffee poured (aka water). I was six, and already had the dream of husband and family. One little pitcher is all I have left after a tornado roared through scattering my playhouse all over the county. But, 60+ years later, that unfulfilled dream lives on. By now, it’s evident to the reader that there is a range of singlehood beyond “older,” which seems to identify someone in their 30s and 40s. I’m in the “ancient” category.
From this vantage point, I see that it would have been very helpful to have a mentor in this “single thing.” But the presence was rare of older Christian singles who were living beyond the dream of marriage into the life of contentment in God’s provision. In fact, I have often felt as if I was forging a difficult trail alone. Sharing mutual frustrations with fellow singles helps only to a certain point, but too often gets stuck in the ruts of disappointment and discontent. Sharing with married folks can be helpful to a point, but their encouragement is usually in the category of “just keep waiting. God has someone for you.”
Then comes a day when reality hits full force. God does not promise marriage to all who desire it.
“I am so tired of hearing how my life is supposed to be worry-free and full of joyful service simply because I’m single.” This sentiment is echoed by many Christian singles regarding Paul’s true words in I Corinthians 7:32-25. Sermon and article alike emphasize these thoughts in giving instruction about God’s purpose for “unmarriedness.” What is too often glossed over, however, is the deep pain and struggle in many a Christian single’s heart, especially if the years stretch through the 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, and to a lifetime.
For those of us who follow Christ wholeheartedly and seek to please God, body, soul, and spirit, sermons on God’s design for marriage and sex can leave us with a lot of input with nowhere to put it. Where does the single find the sort of cherishing love which is intended in a Godly marriage? I’ve asked that question to a lot of married and single folks over the years, and no one seems to have an answer. What is appropriate expression of affection and intimacy for the Christian single? The church celebrates anniversaries of married couples. What does it look like to affirm and celebrate faithful singleness? I have come to believe that this is where the concept of covenant comes into play.