Solitary confinement is considered to be the toughest, most extreme form of prison punishment. People are put into a small hard-surfaced space for up to 23-24 hours a day, with no personal human contact. Even their exercise time is alone. Depending on the prison, they may have very limited opportunity for any stimulating experiences, TV, radio, education, hobbies, and reading. The length of time may be days, weeks, months, even years. Research shows that if a person was not mentally compromised before this experience, they will almost surely be, following lengthy isolation which was thrust upon them.
So, how does this relate to singleness? Well, when a person is single for a lengthy part of his/her life, it can sometimes feel as though they have been put into a box labeled “alone.” And, many of them simply did not “choose” this solitary circumstance. It may feel as if it is a room which becomes smaller and more confining the older they get.
God addresses the solitary part right away in Genesis 2:18 after He had made a huge variety of animals and birds and a man who was given the incredible job of naming all these creatures. How interesting must that have been? But, when all was said and done, God saw that it was “not good that the man was alone.” Now, given that He did go on to provide Eve for Adam – you know the rib story – over the years many have taken that verse to mean that it is not good for man to be unmarried. But, the meaning is far wider than that. No one can survive in a healthy manner totally and always alone.
Being isolated and alone for long periods of time changes who you are!
Unfortunately, many singles go through a period where they make the choice to exaggerate their aloneness by removing themselves from places where they feel their singleness is exaggerated. And, unfortunately many onesomes feel that church is a place where this happens. When marriage is held up as the “normal way to live,” they may wonder, “what about me?” Now, I love seeing little folks running, laughing and playing, and love seeing moms and dads with their growing families. I love seeing little glances couples give one another, and seeing them hold hands as they stand for prayer or singing or scripture reading during worship services. In fact, for me, it is often just those simple things which warm my heart with joy – and which bring tears at the same time. For some singles, going to church alone is simply too hard, and so they find other things to do with their Sundays. In short, many isolate themselves from anything which is uncomfortable when it comes to relationships.
Most folks think of singleness as being a period of waiting – waiting for the next romantic relationship, waiting for that special person to marry, who also wants to marry you. It is also considered preparation time for marriage. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that. However, I can tell you that “waiting” has a whole different feel when you are 20 or 30 than at 50 or 60 and beyond. The Apostle Paul and I would have an animated conversation about a couple verses in I Corinthians 7.♥
Paul: (NIV) Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion. (verses 8-9)
Me: I agree. But I need more details. Is there some sort of “marriage pool” for eligibles? You make it sound so easy.
Me: Uh, I can’t hear you. I’m burning here. (Repeat this last exchange over and over until you realize Paul doesn’t have an answer for you.)
Let’s face it. Just deciding by yourself that you will marry is not enough. Wanting, desiring, longing, wishing, hoping, and even praying are not enough. Going to singles activities, joining a singles group, going on-line to meet others who want relationship, and making yourself as attractive as possible, may not be enough either. After a number of years, energy may wane. And, let’s also face it. It takes two to choose one another!
For many, it feels like solitary confinement which isolates, separates, and disconnects.
So, what is the alternative? Solitary refinement!
Solitary refinement integrates, joins together, and connects, as well as frees from entangling and hindering things – “sin” is what Hebrews 12:1 calls it. And I John 5:17 expands on it by calling it any un-right-ness. Solitary refinement focuses on love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – otherwise known as fruit of the Spirit. Solitary refinement even rejoices when waiting is interminable, when broken relationship brings deep heartache, when God brings spiritual surgery using suffering as a scalpel. “Consider it pure joy” is the way James 1:2 says it. Faith-trials and testing bring perseverance, maturity, and completeness.
Solitary refinement brings freedom to serve the Lord in both body and spirit, bringing undivided fidelity to Him. Note how strongly Young’s Literal Translation says it: I Corinthians 7:35 “And this for your own profit I say, not that I may cast a noose upon you, but for the seemliness and devotedness to the Lord, undistractedly.
In other words, God through Paul is telling us that He does not want to confine us, but to refine us!